May/June 2023

by Harri Robinson

Lessons From A Radio 101 Masterclass

by Harri Robinson

Lessons From A Radio 101 Masterclass

Held in a Wellington waterfront venue on Friday 17 March, to coincide with Homegrown 2023, the NZ On Air Homegrown Masterclass Seminars 2023 is your chance to hear from a panel of experts from the music industry – and to ask all the questions you have about securing music funding, achieving radio airplay and growing your audience over social media. This year’s Masterclass has three seminars, including Funding 101 and TikTok 101. Radio 101 was billed as a panel session with radio programmers and music directors from commercial and student radio networks across Aotearoa. Representing Wellington was Harri Robinson who became involved with Radio Active as a DJ in 2017, before joining in 2018 as programme director. Indie vs mainstream, major label vs self-released, it’s easy to spot the differences, but as Harri reports there are plenty of similarities too.

I was excited to be part of the NZ On Air Homegrown Radio 101 panel discussion held in Wellington on March 17, discussing how and why stations across the motu playlist what they do. The panel alongside me consisted of Shawn Cleaver, assistant content director/music director for George FM; Jack Honeybone, assistant content director for The Rock; and Shanieka Trask, assistant content director for Mai FM.

Having this rare opportunity to speak with my commercial counterparts was particularly enlightening for an alternative radio programmer like myself! In the small world of radio you’d think we’d all know each other, but industry-wise we keep a bit of separation between us all. It makes sense really, they are commercial entities or private businesses run for a profit, whereas the SRN is a partially publicly funded service and in Radio Active.FM’s case, a charitable trust. Our intentions have to differ based on those truths alone. However, I was probably most surprised to learn there’s more crossover between us all than you’d first think.

First and foremost all of the people on this panel love music. Each of us aims to program the absolute best of our station’s preferred sound with every song we add to our rotates.

Before this experience I had fallen into the trap of thinking major labels had to be ‘in the ears’ of commercial radio stations – however, the other panellists were quick to assure us that this isn’t the case! If your song suits their sound, they made it clear that they don’t care if you’re signed or not.

The main thing they drove home in that area was how polished songs coming from major labels tend to be compared to bedroom or unsigned recordings – the resources a label provides can give musicians the opportunity to create that overall polished, slick sound, compared to sounds commercial stations are less likely to play. This is something that differs between alternative radio and the SRN – we love bedroom recordings and songs that sound a bit looser!

All on the panel expressed similar needs when it comes to music pitches. Kindness in your emails; emails rather than social media messages; an understanding of how much music we all have to get through; and the need for making your communications as clear, direct and easy to understand as possible.

Download links to wav or MP3 files were particularly favoured, DropBox was mentioned at least twice as a preferred platform for passing your tunes over. Never submit a Spotify, YouTube or any other streaming link! It’s funny to think we’ve all faced the same issues there.

The importance of radio representation for your music is still apparent, made obvious by the opportunities given to artists that are playlisted. One look out the window of the conference centre hosting the panel showed The Rock’s branding plastered over their sponsored Homegrown stage. Checking out the Homegrown line-up showed multiple George FM hosts DJ-ing at the event.

In Radio Active’s case important moments in Wellington’s cultural calendar like Newtown Festival and CubaDupa are filled with Radio Active representation – not only as event sponsors, but also through the people that make the music on our playlists. Over 70% of Cuba Dupa artists, DJs and acts have been played or discovered on our radio station! Radio represents a trusted group of tastemakers with the connections to legitimise your song in a way digital service providers (or DSPs) just can’t do. Having DSP playlist representation is good, don’t get me wrong – however, it won’t get you in front of active listeners as often as a radio rotate will. In Radio Active.FM’s case, our DJs are considered tastemakers for our community.

There’s a large amount of trust given to us by our listeners to make sure we’re playing music they’ll love that suits their tastes and needs. That trust is such a special thing and in Radio Active’s case, something that we’ve cultivated over 45 years of playing the best Aotearoa has to offer.

It’s not just playlist representation either, we provide important moments that artists can’t really replicate on their own. Our live sessions offer the visual prestige of associating yourself with our community, as well as an awesome live video you don’t have to pay to produce. The SRN Top 10 is Aotearoa’s premiere alternative chart and influences the RadioScope national alt charts & overall Top 40. There are so many reasons to partner with radio stations outside of the playlist adds – we’re there to support you and your career.

Local representation helps to build your career outside of the purely online domain, creating space to fill out the other parts of your career that allow music-making to become a full-time profession. Things like gigging and touring on radio station-sponsored events allow you to cut your teeth on line-ups across our nation, again legitimising your work in front of other countries’ acts. Being championed by a local station lets you utilise the station’s vast and well-established networks. If you want to be taken seriously by people outside of the purely online space, radio stations can be extremely helpful and welcome spaces.

I hope the audience at the panel took away some helpful information! I certainly have.

Harri Robinson has been championing Aotearoa-made music both on and off-air since 2011. She’s worked with local industry entities including NZ On Air, NZ Music Commission, Newtown Festival , NZ Ukulele Trust, Fringe Festival, To The Front! Pōneke, 121 brands & Toi Rauwhārangi College of Creative Arts. She was a Radio Active DJ before joining in 2018 as Programme Director.