INTERVIEW: Cliff Smith
Radio Disc Jockey
By: Kenny Love
Cliff Smith is a Radio Disc Jockey. He has been a personality at KYOT-FM in Phoenix, WJZZ-FM and WNND-FM in Raleigh, North Carolina, and at WCDJ-FM in Boston, Massachusetts. Save yourself tons of headaches and heartaches by clinging to his every word.
KL: "Cliff, how long have you worked in Radio?"
CS: "Twenty years."
KL: "Where did you get your start?"
CS: "In Atlanta. I went to College there and worked at a College station. It's a 100,000-watt College station and it's like one of the top College stations in the country (WRAS). From there, I moved to WQXI, which is a big commercial station."
KL: "What percentage of product aired today would you say is 'independent' compared to ten years ago?"
CS: "I would say it's about 50/50."
KL: "Really? Have you seen these percentages increase in regard to independent product getting airplay?"
CS: "Oh, yeah! Absolutely! We get Warner Bros., Geffen, Capitol, Columbia, and Sony. Then, the rest are all independents. And, we get a lot of these such as Syndrome and Mesa. We get a ton of stuff from them."
KL: "I spoke with John Wroble of Porcupine Studios and he stated that today, the Majors are becoming, more and more, distributors for the independents."
CS: "Exactly. I would say that's right because, you know, you've got Sony, which has CBS, and there are a lot of offshoots of that (CBS). So yeah, I mean, you've got, like, three big companies that own everything."
KL: "For our readers, please give us the procedure or scenario of what really happens when recordings arrive at a station. Let's say, for instance you receive a CD today."
CS: "If I got a CD, and I was a Music Director, I'd probably take it home and listen to it. I'd 'scratch' a couple of tracks that I liked on the disc and go back, listen to those again, then try to focus in on them. I mean, if it was something that fit the station's format. If it was something that I didn't think fit the station, it would probably become production music, or something. On the other hand, if I thought it fit the station, I'd recommend it to the Program Director. If a Music Director picks three tracks and presents them to the PD, the PD may only pick one track. Then, that track goes into rotation of heavy, medium, or light capacity, depending on several factors. Once Music Directors get everything picked out today (music), they feed it into a computer and today, computers pretty much put the 'clock' together. They have to do it that way because there's so much material. If you tried to play whatever you wanted to play, you might end up playing the same song that somebody else played the day before and it's just too confusing. So, you feed it all into a computer and they have these music systems and software programs that arrange it for you. Once it's initially set up, you simply plug the new material in and the computer will find a place to play it."
KL: "What is an ideal package that Music Directors like to receive from artists or labels?"
CS: "Just a CD, and maybe a brief biography of the artist. A lot of people send ten pages of stuff and photos. We really don't need that. We need something?like a resume even. Just a one-page Fact Sheet."
KL: "What are some mistakes that you see independent artists making in an attempt to get airplay?"
CS: "The package is probably the first thing. Then, calling on their own is probably the next thing. It's better to have a representative of some kind. A Record Rep is best. I mean, an independent Record Rep you can hire for, you know, just a couple of hundred dollars a week, three hundred dollars a week to call a certain amount of radio stations. And, I have a lot of friends who do that and they all do a very good job. And the more you pay them, and the better your product is, the easier it is for them to get airplay for you. If the product isn't outstanding, it might get pushed under all the other stuff I'm getting from other people that I know is good."
KL: "OK, let me give you a hypothetical case: I'm a new artist coming out and, before I send out my CD, I decide to send a 'test sampler' of the 'singles', along with a response card, let's say, to the tope one hundred radio stations across the country. I'm doing this, first because I want to get some feedback from these leading and influential stations to include in my CD release mail-out on my release date. I'm also doing this because it will establish my name as well as my product in the minds of these Music Directors ahead of time. I am hoping that by doing this pre-marketing, it will get airplay much faster for my CD with the Music Directors who really like it. Is this a good process in your opinion?"
CS: "Yeah. I would say that is a very good thing. The 'big guys' (majors) do that all of the time. They send out advance copies and if there are only a couple of songs, a Music Director will say, 'Oh, Yeah! I can listen to this in five minutes'. Make sure you pick your best tracks and that they are your 'single' tracks that you are going to release." KL: "I've heard some people in the business say that artists need to send multiple CD's to each radio station. I mean, independents normally can't afford to send out multiple copies to every particular station."
CS: "No. Don't do that. There is absolutely no reason to do that. There is only one person (Program Director) at a station that's going to have the final say on what's going to happen to it, you know? There's never more than one person that's going to take that from the mail to figure out what to do with it. More than one copy will simply get them thrown around and wasted."
KL: "Are there any major changes in the future of radio you see that artists should be aware of?"
CS: "I would say probably the biggest change is not radio, but more like the on-line stuff. Eventually, there will probably be?in fact, they're already doing it with my cable system, where you can get cable radio with no commercials. And I guess artists now need to also consider getting their product to those people such as the airlines. You know they have that on-air airline radio station."
CS: "I think there are now alternatives to radio that artists need to pursue."
KL: "What's a good time of year, in your opinion, to release a new recording?"
CS: "I would say, you know, the first of the year is great. Avoid Spring and Fall. The middle of the Summer is OK, like July. Everybody comes out with new product in the Fall, just before Christmas, like from September through November. Forget it! And, it's the same with March through June. It starts cooling off again, like in July and August. There's, like, nothing new out during this time frame. So, I would say January, July, and August."
KL: "If a Music Director likes a recording, will he or she often contact other Music Directors across the country and create a radio 'buzz' on the recording?"
CS: "Absolutely! Brian Hughes is an artist who comes to mind right away because he is a guitar player who me and my Program Director in Boston immediately liked his work. We had him come out for a concert and nobody had ever heard of him. We had him come play a free concert in Boston and we made a big deal of it and really got behind him. That incident sort of spread around the country. Other radio people started doing this also."
About Kenny Love: A man with conclusive evidence revealing FBI Agent Fox Mulder is himself an Alien, Kenny Love is also a National Record Promoter and Press Publicist. Promoting all genres of music, he works with "Indies" on a "back-end" deal, saving them enormous up-front service fees.