Thursday, 01 Mar 2018

ASK US ANYTHING: How do I pitch my songs to radio?

In this news series of articles, we’re taking a look at some questions that our membership team are commonly asked, but don’t really fall within APRA’s area of expertise, and we’re picking the brains of some of our expert friends to find the answers.

First up? We’re often asked ‘How do I pitch my music to radio?’, and we sat down with the very knowledgeable Jeff Newton from NZ On Air to get some in depth advice.

Jeff is the radio plugger and promo guy for NZ On Air, helping to get the music projects that they fund seen and heard. Jeff worked in the radio industry for 14 years in a number of on-air roles at both Mediaworks and TRN (now NZME). After a short sojourn in tourism he moved into record labels as the Promotions Manager at EMI Music NZ before joining the NZ On Air team. Jeff holds a Diploma in Commercial Broadcasting from the NZ Radio Training School and his iwi is Tainui Awhiro.

NOTE: We’ve got a good checklist for you to tick off about half way down, and lots of handy links at the bottom.

So before you even start pitching your song to radio, what do you need to think about?

Well, the very first thing, is that you want to be sure you’ve got the best song you can have. That’s the most important thing. It all comes back to the song, and whether your song can connect to an audience.

But beyond that, you want to make sure you’ve got all the tools you’re going to need - all the bits and pieces that radio programmers might ask you for.

So, it sounds obvious, but they’re going to want to hear the song. And they’re going to want an easy way to do that. So you want to be able to send a link where they can stream the song first, and then download it if they like it. Dropbox is good because they listen without having to download, WeTransfer is good too.

If you can possibly make a video for the song, have your video ready as well. It doesn’t have to be released, it could be a private link, but it might encourage the programmer to listen to the track more than just an audio link.

It gives them context for the act, it gives them context for your song, it gives them an idea of who your potential audience is, and it can give them an idea of the relationship between the song and their radio station.

The next thing you want to make sure you have lined up is your imagery. At least a couple of photo options, or the graphic artwork that is going to accompany the single or the EP /album. It’s great if all your imagery and artwork tell a consistent story – that’s how the pros do it.

I’m not saying that you should send anyone 57 different photos with you looking happy, then you looking pensive, then you looking moody, then you’re in a tree etc, plus all your different graphic options. But make sure you can give people one great photo, and maybe a thumbnail or album cover or poster.

And finally, have a one-page bio ready. People who run and program radio stations are busy people, and in fact worrying about the music, although important, is a very small part of what they do. So you want to make it easy for them to understand why they should be interested in you. So one page briefly explaining who you are and where you’re from, and including some key points about your achievements so far, which might be streaming stats or awards or great reviews, and what you’ve got coming up – maybe a tour or album release.


-          Great song, available to stream/listen or download via a link

-          A link to view a great video if possible (even if it’s unreleased)

-          Imagery

-          One-page bio

Once you have all your tools in your toolbox, do you want to just send one mass email to all the contacts you have?

Not ideally. Before you go sending anything out, you need to do your homework about different stations, and find out where you might fit in. And then tailor your approach to each station, being totally honest about what kind of artist you are, what kind of music you’re creating, and why you’re going to connect with their listeners.

If you’ve had radio play before, tell them about that, if you’ve got a great streaming numbers, tell them that, if you’re brand new and no one really knows about you yet apart from the awesome audiences you get at live shows, be honest about that too.

And then only contact stations you’re potentially going to get played on. Open the net wide, but be realistic too. If you’re a hip hop artist, you don’t need to contact The Rock, if you’re a country act then contacting Flava probably isn’t wise.

Another key point just quickly – only ever submit one track at a time. Never send someone a whole EP or album going, ‘Hey, have a listen and pick the best song’. You pick the best song. No one has time to do that work for you.

In New Zealand, broadly speaking we have four different categories of radio – we have commercial radio, student radio, Iwi radio and community radio. What is the difference in the way you approach each of them?

Alrighty, let’s start with student radio because that’s pretty straight forward. They’re mostly the same in the way they want you to submit music. There will be an email address on their website and maybe some instructions about what they want (we’ve put some links below), and you just follow those. You can also do your research about specialty genre shows and find out about the music tastes of specific presenters, and send them personal emails. Anyone who has interviewed you before or played you before is always a good start.

So they all operate in pretty much the same way, and there is a programmer at each station, just like there is a commercial station, but their playlists are broader, and there’s much more scope for the things they play. So they have large playlists that turn over quite quickly, as opposed to commercial stations which have small playlists that turn over much slower.

So for example on Radio One, RDU, Radio Control, their top song might be getting 14 spins a week, so maybe two plays per day, whereas the top song on ZM or The Edge will get 14 spins a day or 60 spins week for their top three songs. Their separations are much smaller. Their active rotation might be 30 songs, with an overall playlist of about 200, whereas student radio might have an active rotation of 150 songs, and a playlist of 1000.

If you’re from the area which that radio station represents, are you more likely to be supported by them?

Yes, absolutely, that’s a core function for them, and they love to support their local music scene. So if you’re from Palmerston North, Radio Control are going to want to hear from you, if you’re from Dunedin, Radio One are likely to look on you favourably. And that’s a great way in, because if they see people requesting your song, or voting for it in a top ten, and the other stations see that your song is getting a good push, they’ll want to add it as well. Particularly if you’re touring the country and playing in those places. They want to hear from people who are coming to their city, because then it’s more relevant to their listeners.

Ok, so commercial radio, what can you do there?

Commercial radio is a much different beast, but you almost approach them in the same kind of way. There is the opportunity for you to find out who the right person is at each station, who the program director is, and send them an email, much like you would with the student stations, with a link to the song, a link to the video, an image, and a one-page bio.

But, the thing with commercial stations they’re considering on average say probably 30 songs a week which all have high potential to go to their playlist, a real shot at getting played, but they will only add two, or three songs on a good week. So it’s really tough to get a song on commercial radio, because the odds are not in anyone’s favour.

I’m not saying there’s no point in trying – you definitely should, because sending that email will at least make them aware of your existence and aware of your songs, but that alone probably won’t ever make a commercial radio station play your song. You’ve then got to show them that people like you and really want to hear you. So they’re on the look-out for ‘hype’ for want of a better word, you know people talking about you, word of mouth etc. They’re also looking at social media, looking at what bands people are posting about, liking, who’s got a video that’s gone viral.

But the biggest one they’re looking at is data – views, streams, downloads. If your song starts getting some decent numbers, they’ll start considering whether it might work for them on the radio.

The thing you have to remember about commercial radio, which is going to sound quite brutal, is no matter how good your song is, it’s never going to make that station more money. And that’s what they’re most concerned with. But if you connect with their audience, then they might want to play you.

And what’s the best approach with community and Iwi radio?

In general community and iwi radio are easy to access and keen to hear from you, and they love it when people send music in, particularly if you’re from that area, or playing in that area.

And then Radio NZ are also very accessible, with a big audience, and you can submit your music to the people involved in Music 101, or some of the other individual music or art related shows. They’re all pretty active and all looking out for new music constantly, and even thought the RNZ audience is a slightly older more mature audience, they’ll take a chance on a lot of different music.

And if none of these things are working, then maybe you need to go back to the very first point, and think about the song, and whether you should pitch a different one.

Don’t lose heart if nothing happens immediately. Jeff has plugged some songs to radio for 9 months before radio have decided to add it. If you really think you’ve got a brilliant song, keep trying!

Student and alternative radio links:

95bfm (Auckland):

Radio Active (Wellington):

Radio Control (Palmerston North):

Radio One (Dunedin):

RDU (Christchurch): (contact details are at the bottom of the page)

Base FM (Auckland):

The Most FM (Taranaki):

List of Iwi radio at the bottom of this page, linking to their individual sites:

Access Radio stations and links are listed here:

Googling the name of the area +radio will usually also find you any local stations which operate in the area. For example: Waiheke + radio =

Commercial Radio

NZME stations:

The Hits -

ZM -

Mix -

Hauraki -

Flava -

Coast -

(Here’s a tip – everyone who works at an NZME radio station has an email address with the format

Mediaworks stations:

Mai FM -

The Edge -

George FM -

The Rock -

More FM -

The Breeze -

The Sound -

Radio NZ

Music 101 is their primary music program, but lots of the other programs also include music – Afternoons, The Sampler, Lately, Standing Room Only, and many more.

Check them all out here:

Radio NZ hosts and staff all have email addresses with the following format:

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