Form a band, write a hit song and collect your royalties... right?
Far from it.
How do you get heard? Why would a radio station add your songs to their playlist? Where do you start?
Luckily there is someone answering these questions for Canada’s musicians and her name is synonymous with the music business on both sides of the boarder.
Andrea Morris is the difference between a long shot and a calculated process.
The music business is a business and without knowing the back end of the industry, positive results are hard to come by.
But there is hope for musicians of all genres and that light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of AM To FM Promotions.
Andrea started out as an overnight announcer for a radio station in Jacksonville, NC and ended up as their music director.
She left the industry for several years to work in market research before returning to the music business in the UK and then back to the US before finally ending up in Ontario, Canada.
Now based in Toronto, Andrea is in her element and making a difference in the lives of the country’s rising stars by getting them through the door in the ultra competitive space of airplay.
She acts as the go between for artists and the radio stations informing them which songs to consider for their playlists. Andrea also connects artists with record labels making her invaluable to anyone considering a career in music.
Another important responsibility of a radio tracker (promoter) is to decipher the music into its proper radio format. After that she points the artist towards a digital music delivery service while she begins the all important phone call phase.
It takes a special type of person to not only be forced to think outside the box for nearly every decision but to make and maintain such important relationships for the sake of her clients.
I asked Andrea about her drive and how to rise up in the music industry.
Where do you get your professional drive from? Is it purely passion of music?
I like to tell myself that nothing is impossible. If I took every no as solid and definite I would have given up a long time ago. You have to believe that you can sell to people in order to successfully do it.
Do you seek out artists or strictly filter who comes to you?
I will occasionally seek out if there is someone out there that needs to be heard. I will also have my assistant search the internet for talent. The majority of the time the artists seek us out.
You left the music industry for a few years to work in market research. Why did you leave?
I left because I was frustrated. The station I was working for was taken over by consultants and all of their restrictions. So I moved to LA and got a job in market research, but the music business always gets you back.
Why did you leave the US for Canada? Was the decision purely based on your career?
It wasn’t based purely on my career. It was a couple of things but it wasn’t that hard of a choice. I was in Canada frequently because of my work. The small label I was working with went under and besides I was dating a Canadian who invited me to make the move. I got my work visa and had a job fairly quickly. We of course broke up but that’s another story.
What step by step advice can you give to a musician who wants a career in music but doesn’t know how to do anything but create and perform?
Educate yourself. Read books on the industry and pick someone you admire, not to just copy their path but to learn from their mistakes.
One error I’ve seen over and over is to do with contracts. I’ve flat out told people not to sign certain rip off contracts and to have a lawyer look it over.
Research is the main thing. Even before you approach a radio tracker you should be well versed in who they are and what they are about. You should talk to their clients and find out how they are to work with.
What do you say to the musician who is waiting to be discovered?
Stop waiting and do something. You need to know that just because you record a song doesn’t mean anyone cares about it. There is work to be done to get your music to the masses.
Has a musicians ego ever gotten in the way of becoming a client?
Yes. Well ego has gotten in the way of continuing to work with artists. Some people are bad at taking criticism.
Are there any dying music formats? What about a most popular?
I hate to say it but rock radio. The playlists are getting tightened and that makes getting new talent heard more difficult. As for a popular format, country is doing very well.
I find when the economy is shit, country music does well. The country stations also like to nurture new talent and give the independent artist a shot, but I promote all genres of music.
In an industry based heavily on relationships, where do you start in radio tracking?
It starts with building relationships. The best way to approach working in radio tracking is to work directly with someone already doing it. Learn their skills and methods and apply them into your work.
Is it harder to decide what format a song is suitable for or whether an artist is good enough or ready?
You can tell by the songs whether an artist is ready or not. If I listen to a song or album three times and there is nothing memorable about it then commercial radio is not interested. If the listener is bored they will flip the channel.
Will you take on a client who has the potential to be truly great but isn’t yet radio ready?
I will work with them, yes but not in the same way as I would a client. I will advise them what they should do so they don’t waste their money. Money doesn’t grow on trees and I don’t want artists throwing it away. If they have the potential I will let them know and work with them down the road.
Is there a musical genre that you will not promote?
I stay away form lyrics demeaning to women. I shy away from songs that call women bitches. As a professional woman in the music business I don’t tolerate sexism.
You specialize in radio tracking for commercial and campus radio, why do you think campus radio is so important to the music industry?
Campus radio is important because of how much commercial radio is tightening up.
Campus is willing to play new and different music that doesn’t easily fit into a format.
Is punk rock dead?
God no! DOA is The Canadian punk band. Their new album is topical and timely. I’m loving it. But for punk rock to be mainstream there would have to be a big shake up in the whole approach to radio. To quote Johnny Rotten “anger is an energy.” Music is the best form of protest.
Why is it that bands who make it big in Canada don’t necessarily make it big in the US? The Tragically Hip would be my go to example.
Well the Hip’s music is very Canadian. The states further south don’t relate where as in places like Cleveland where the Hip played a lot there was an American acceptance. The first time I saw the Tragically Hip was on their Road Apples tour. There were about 35 people in the club and it was still one of the most amazing shows I’ve seen. My friend and I ended up having drinks with the band that night as well as their next gig. They were very kind and easy to get along with.
What is the biggest difference between American and Canadian radio?
There are more formats in the States. For instance rock has active alt, americana, aaa (adult alternative.) You also have to keep in mind the population density in America compared to Canada.
Do you have a most memorable moment in the music industry?
Hard to say. There was the time I got to interview Sir George Martin the record producer known as the fifth Beatle. It was at a studio in London and I was told that I had fifteen minutes with him. Well that fifteen minutes turned into an hour and a half. When I ran out of questions and thanked him for his time, he asked me not to leave and stay for tea.
To any musicians out there wondering what constructive steps to take in order to pursue a career in music, radio promotion is essential in getting you out there.
The first question that Andrea will ask you is if you are in it as a hobby or career and your answer better be the latter.