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  • Philip Marsden

Songwriting for Radio and Streaming



Two of the most effective ways to build your fanbase and get your music in front of new listeners are to get it played on the radio and featured in Spotify playlists. Doing so can be a gruelling process and there are tons of different pathways you can take to do it, but each one starts from the same place - the song. If getting your music playlisted is important to you, you should keep some of these tips in mind from the moment you start writing.



Keep an eye on the clock

Radio shows are timed to the second and within each section, there will be a certain amount of time dedicated to advertisements. This means that they have very particular requirements for the length of the songs that they will play. As a result, the majority of modern pop music falls between 3-4 minutes in length and not only is this what radio stations require, but it's what listeners expect. The more song creeps over 4 minutes, the harder it can become to secure those regular playlist spots, no matter how good it is.


In this time, you need to fit a gripping song structure. The average pop song will look something like this - Intro, Verse 1, Chorus 1, Verse 2, Chorus 2, Bridge, Chorus 3. Of course, this is very open to interpretation, but there is a reason it's become such a "go-to" way to structure a song over the past 50 years. As artists we love to experiment with things like this, but remember, your listeners aren't all artists, so keep it simple and accessible.



Fill your song with hooks and ear candy

3 - 4 minutes may not seem like a long time to make an impression on a potential fan, but the reality is, the time that you have to make that connection is even less than you think. Most people will make a decision on whether or not they like a song in 10 seconds or less. For this reason, you song needs to be filled with hooks and ear candy. If someone is looking for a station on their car radio and your song is playing, they need to hear something catchy or something interesting straight away, or they're just going to change again.



Keep your intros short and sweet

A little known fact about Spotify is that if your song is not listened to for at least 30 seconds, it will not count as a stream and you will not get paid. They call it the "Skip Rate". This means that if you're targeting Spotify playlists, but your songs aren't grabbing the listener's attention, sound unprofessional or aren't fitting for the genre, you could be wasting your time and it may even cause Spotify's all important algorithm to work against you. If you want success on the playlists, or on the radio for that matter, it's important that you keep you introductions short and snappy; first impressions are key.



Don't leave your listeners waiting

There's something satisfying about a grand build up towards the chorus of a song, but if you leave your listeners waiting too long, they're going to skip or change stations. Try to detach yourself from your music and think from the perspective of somebody who has never heard of you. Fact is, they don't need to hear you and if they're unsure about your sound, they won't feel obliged to wait it out when they can listen a different song of their choosing within seconds. Try to get to your chorus within the first minute of the song.



Simplicity is key

As right-brained artists we love nothing more than experimentation and innovation when it comes to the music we make. However, most of your listeners will not think in the same way. When listening to a new playlist or their favourite radio show, they want to hear music that makes a connection with them and is easy to sing along to. Keeping it simple and relatable will help you to deeply engage more listeners. This doesn't mean your music has to be simplistic or predictable, it still needs to be something fresh to grab their attention in the first place, but just avoid any complex melodies, confusing rhythms or overly abstract lyricism for the most part of the song.



Be discreet

It goes without saying that if your song is full of profanities, you can forget most of your opportunities for radio play. But further to this, and more than ever with the politically charged world we're living in, radio stations will not want to broadcast material that is strongly political or controversial through fear of upsetting their listeners. I love musicians that aren't afraid to say what they think, but if you're just starting to grow your fanbase and are hoping to get played on the radio, you need to be discreet.



Know these “rules” and break them

Finally, I'd like to clarify that I don't believe in making music to a strict set of rules and at the end of the day, it's all about the art and making something that you're proud of. But, if you're aim is to get radio play and see success on Spotify playlists, then you do need to keep these factors in mind. These expectations will vary from genre to genre and you need to know what your audience will want from your music and write for that. I'm a big fan of the Picasso quote, Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist” . I think this is an attribute that we see a lot in the most successful musicians. Take Billie Eilish for example, her music is massively experimental and for the most part it's unlike anything else we're hearing at the moment. With her album, she knew the rules and broke them, keeping the music simple and radio friendly on paper, but sonically fresh and unique, meaning it's memorable and grabs the attention of listeners right away, whether they like it or not. As a result, her music now seems to be played between every other song when I turn the radio on and she's arguably the biggest artist in the world right now.


Looking to grow your fanbase on Spotify? Download my free guide - 8 Steps to Getting Playlisted and Maximising Your Music on Spotify here.


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