If you're a rising local artist, it's not easy to get a song played on KMEL, but it's not impossible -- and your odds are actually better than you might think if you pay attention to the opportunities the station currently offers to the local community.
Having talent is essential, but it's not enough, in and of itself, to guarantee success. And while KMEL is owned by Clear Channel, which parents stations nationwide, assistant program director Kenard Karter says there is plenty more room for local artists to break through on the air.
But there's an etiquette -- a finesse, if you will -- to getting heard. And there are some pitfalls that it would be smart to avoid:
Do make an appointment on Music Monday
Music Monday takes place at the station from 10 a.m. to noon every Monday, and if you secure an appointment in advance, you can actually go there and play your song for staffers. They listen to about 10 new songs per week in person. "There's tons of opportunity," says Karter, who is also on-air from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays as K2.
Your song will most likely be considered for Home Turf, which broadcasts on Fridays at 11 p.m., but tunes that are successful there have a clear shot at moving to the main playlist. Additionally, each week, three songs are chosen to go on the Home Turf home page and get voted on by the public for a chance at being played on the air.
Do have a backstory
Karter pays attention to artists who demonstrate a social media presence, who have thought about identity through a video or other imaging, or who simply present a compelling meaning behind a song. The radio is no longer a one-dimensional medium, and exposure elsewhere counts. In some cases, Karter says, "People are going to the Web to find new artists and they're essentially telling us what to play."
Do take inspiration from the success stories
Richmond artist LoveRance will soon receive a gold plaque for sales in excess of 500,000 copies of his single "Up," which was first championed by KMEL jock Big Von. "Up" is a great example of a song that began on Home Turf and graduated to KMEL's main playlist before it grew the legs to show off even beyond the Bay Area.
50 Cent, sniffing a hit, jumped on the remix, but the video also prominently features Big Von introducing the song like he would on a radio broadcast. Karter points out other recent success stories that started the same way, including Kreayshawn's "Gucci Gucci," Bobby Brackins' "143," and Clyde Carson's "Slow Down."
Don't be a copycat
Pity Karter and his colleagues, who, we imagine, have to face dreary copycat versions of "Up" (the original of which features the chorus, "I beat the pussy up, up, up") at Music Monday week in and week out. While some might guess that the best strategy to get on air is to mimic what's already popular, Karter cautions that taking this route all but ensures longevity will never be yours.
"People try to sound like Drake or Lil Wayne," he says. "Any figure of the time who seems to get the most play, they will try to duplicate... and you can find yourself trying to chase the next big concept rather than trying to be who you are and truly trying to develop a career at what you do."
Don't be unprofessional
Karter says people turn up with unlabeled CDs or other indications that not much thought has been given to the presentation of the music. The package doesn't have to be super fancy, but these little details are important. As is, you know, the way it sounds. The song doesn't necessarily need to be mastered, but Karter hopes for a "very, very good mix of a song."
Don't be discouraged from trying
"I'm out there looking," Karter insists. "I'm anxious to hear great music and bring it back to the radio."