Originally posted to my journal on 12 October 2005. If you want, you can leave a comment over there.

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How to submit your music to CBC Radio

by Derek K. Miller, October 2005

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In late summer and earlier in the fall of 2005, as part of a contract dispute, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, our country's public radio and TV broadcaster, over 5500 of its on-air personalities, producers, engineers, technicians, and others, leaving the network to run on a skeleton crew of management staff, airing mostly imported material and reruns for almost two months (which wasn't pretty).

While they were on the picket line, many of the CBC staff produced podcasts, and I was fortunate enough that the Vancouver contingent chose to use some of my free podsafe instrumental tunes as background music and a theme song for all five of their "Studio Zero" shows.

Can a truly indie musician get music on the radio?

I wondered whether, since they'd liked my music well enough when they were locked out, CBC staff might consider using it for shows once they returned to work, which they've now been able to do.

Sure enough, in early October, before union members had even signed their tentative agreement, I got this in email from Lee, one of those who'd put together the "Studio Zero" shows:

I mixed and edited all the CBC Unplugged Studio Zeros over the past weeks. I wanted to write and thank you for passing your music along for use in the shows.

I'm a musician too, and I know the thrill you get from hearing your music used for shows. And I think your stuff is good - just as good as some of the stings we currently have in the CBC sting database.

So, I think you should send a CD of your music to our record library in Vancouver. You never know when someone might want to use it for something.

Very flattering—even more so since I hadn't passed my music along. Rather Pietro from CBC found it and passed it along without my knowledge. The first I'd known of its being on the CBC Unplugged podcast was when I'd been shocked awake to hear it while drifting off to sleep one night.

Here's what Lee suggested I do (and agreed to allow me to republish) to help get my music (and now maybe yours) on air on regular CBC Radio. All the tips in the next section come directly from Lee. They're very sensible, and would probably apply well for any public, college, or other radio or TV station—or indeed if you're sending your music to be played on podcasts (though in that case saving your files as to CD as MP3s might be preferable).

Lee's simple steps to help get your music played on air

Burn a CD of your favorite tracks and send it. However, to make sure your CD doesn't get ignored, I've typed up a few things to keep in mind:

  1. A fancy cover is not neccesary. If you want, put a tiny picture somewhere that doesn't interfere with the important info, like track names, contact info, etc.

  2. Your name (as an artist).

  3. Put the words "PRODUCTION MUSIC" somewhere obvious.

  4. The problem I see a lot with indie CDs is people naming their CDs with big titles and they never specify anywhere that the music is instrumental, or what kind of music it is. CBC producers have zero time to usually audition lots of music—if they can grab a CD that's got everything laid out for them on it in an easy to read fashion, they will most likely use it.

  5. Also, put your strongest tracks FIRST. If they get to track 5 and they haven't heard anything they like yet, they won't listen to anything else.

  6. A list of the songs with numbers and times, i.e. 1. Fresh Snow In The Valley (3:43)

  7. A brief but accurate (as possible) description of the tunes: this will help a producer who is looking for a cool funky beat, can skip the tracks that are "ambient."

  8. If you can fit all this info on one side of the CD sleeve (so they don't have to flip through a huge booklet) or on the back of the jewel case, great!

  9. Use a proper size jewel case. You will not believe how important that is. Those thin ones are no good because you can't write any information on the spine. Digipaks get trashed too easily. If your jewel case gets broken, then it's easy to replace too.

  10. Your contact info (if the producer knows you're from Vancouver, you stand a better chance of getting played on a Vancouver show than someone from Moncton). Also put your website there. If they like the music, they will visit it.

  11. Use a good quality CDR. This is going to be handled by the most uncareful hands in the business: think CDs stacked up on top of each other, peanut butter smears, scratched galore. My favorite brand available in stores is FUJI. Maxell are OK, but not great. Stay away from generics and Memorex! If you have another brand that works for you, cool.

  12. DO NOT use a label or stickers on the disc—just write your name and title with a felt pen. The reason is labels can get torn and wreck the disc, and we have old CD players that heat up too easily and would cook the paper.

  13. Include a brief letter with the CD, saying who you are and what it is, and a short history of airplay (podcast or otherwise). Don't put anything on the letter that isn't on the CD info...because the letter will not stay with the CD.

  14. Register your music with SOCAN. Eh, it doesn't pay well but it pays, right?

  15. Address it to:
        CBC Radio
        Vancouver Record Library
        c/o John
        700 Hamilton St.
        Vancouver, BC
        V6B 4A2

...and good luck!

The roundabout route

CBC Radio has always been good at supporting home-grown Canadian musicians, but usually to get played on air you needed at least some sort of following, or a record deal, or a presence of some sort. I've really come through the back door here. But I am remastering my first 14 podsafe tracks in uncompressed audio so that they'll sound a bit better on CD, and will send in a disc to CBC following Lee's tips.

In fact, there's a good chance I may put some packaging together and try selling this music on CD to those interested in buying it too. Sure, you can get it free online and always will, but it will make an interesting experiment. If that works, I will fulfill a strange prophecy I made in 2003: that I could create an entire album by coming up with the song titles first.

Thanks, Lee!

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