While the world of music has changed rapidly, the communities that form around college radio stations represent some of the highest concentrations of highly engaged music super-fans in the world. College radio is very much still a thing and a great way to reach passionate supporters of independent music. This article is intended to help artists and music industry people think about college radio and how to strategically approach promoting music on college radio in 2024.
That said, there's a reason people wonder if and to what extent college radio is still a thing. In the 90's, we didn't have streaming platforms or social media, so if you wanted to learn about noncommercial music, you had to listen to college or community radio or hang out in a record store or check out local shows. Increasingly, our social time has turned toward screen time, which means music marketing has become increasingly focused toward online platforms.
Here are just a couple of problems with marketing music on these platforms:
They are commercial platforms and less democratic than they seem
They were not designed as music discovery platforms (arguing that Spotify is not designed for artist discovery is a whole other blog post)
Because of this, artists who gain traction on these platforms do so because they've mastered digital marketing techniques, not necessarily because their music resonates with people in a meaningful way. More and more we're seeing young aspiring artists bemoaning that they need to be posting constantly to get people to listen to their music.
It's can also be difficult to build a lasting community around a developing artist online. Countless marketing dollars are wasted on passive music listeners who don't routinely buy records, merch, or attend concerts. For example, many Spotify playlist listeners might listen to a handful of new artists in a day, but never even register the artists' name.
In contrast, the longstanding purpose and promise of college radio is to offer a curated and diverse array of independent music for listeners to discover and learn about.
Terrestrial radio listenership has decreased, but not as significantly as many people think. According to Pew Research Center, 82% of Americans ages 12 and older listen to terrestrial radio in a given week. And as more of the world turns toward digital life, the people who are still attracted to college radio tend to be very serious about discovering and staying on top of what releases are coming out on independent labels. These listeners are more likely to go to shows in their local market, buy a record, recommend music to a friend, etc. That's why nearly every mid-sized independent label still hires college radio promoters to get their new releases played on college radio stations.
One reason people might not be aware of the cool stuff happening in and around college radio is that, unlike blog press or other kinds of digital media coverage, college radio predates the internet and therefor doesn't have any built-in way to interface with social media. It's safe to say that the majority of the independent artists you like and follow have a college radio promoter working on their albums, but unlike blog press, college radio doesn't naturally produce a digital or shareable asset. Up until recently, college radio has been siloed and hasn't had much crossover with social media.
After nearly 20 years in the industry, and having developed a strong faith in the power in small, dedicated cult fanbases, we decided to start Little Red Radio Promotion with the intention of harnessing college radio promotion and doubling down on the benefit of those connections through the use of social media.
In addition to promoting music on college radio, we create original social content (posts and reels) for our artists to share celebrating spins and chart placements. We help our artists set up social media merch giveaways and create original content around radio to engage directly with followers of the stations that support them. We also connect our artists directly via social media with the stations that play their music so they can thank the stations directly and begin building what will hopefully be a long, wonderful relationship, not just with the station, but with the individual DJs who support their work.
If you're interested in learning more about college radio, give us a shout! Send us your music and say what's up here.