Making The Star: Meet the person who gets songs by Miley, Elyar Fox, Neon Jungle, Shakira, Britney, Union J, Pink and Kelly Clarkson played on radio

From bossy managers, incredible video directors and powerful record labels to influential fans, Making The Star is Maximum Pop!’s brand new series of articles introducing you to the people off-stage and out of the limelight that help make your favourite band and artists a massive success. Today, Lynn Swindlehurst who helps get new songs from your favourite new artists played on stations like The Hits. Here’s how it’s done.

Name: Lynn Swindlehurst
Job: Radio Plugger
Age: 44
Location: Based in London but travel around the country
Works for: My own regional radio promotions company Escalate Promotions Ltd
Career overview:

  • Managed various record stores
  • Club DJ
  • Regional Sales Manager for Polygram ( now Universal Music)
  • Regional Radio Plugger for BMG/Sony Music
  • Head of Regional Promotions for BMG/Sony Music

Artists you work for?
Paloma Faith, Pink, Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Neon Jungle, Elyar Fox, Beyonce, Rebecca Ferguson, Shakira, The Script, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Pitbull, Kodaline, Union J

What is a radio plugger?
A radio plugger promotes artists to radio and is responsible for maximising their potential (plays and interviews) on air. That means getting their current records playlisted as early as possible and upgraded so they are played multiple times throughout the day. Also, arranging interviews with artists, setting up various competitions to run on air – be it to attend concerts, album giveaways, meet and greets with artists, and taking them into radio stations to do interviews and meet key people. Andddd… persuading Heads of Music to see new bands live as well as taking them to see established acts, putting artists on at live radio events, communicating what is going on in your field with artist management and record labels verbally and in written reports.

Does that mean radio stations don’t just play any old song?
Correct. Commercial radio stations are the most highly researched (Note: ‘researched’ describes the process of people being paid to give their opinion on new songs) stations as by their very nature they are a business that depends on them having as many listeners as possible, so they only want to play records they know will be ‘hits’ and that will work well for their audience.

There are a very limited amount of places on a playlist in any given week to fill, and if records that are already playlisted are researching well and there’s no room to add anymore then you have to wait ’til spaces become available.

Heads of Music at radio stations may have one space to fill that week and 23 new records to consider, some may be brand new artists, some may be huge established acts. You have to make the case as best as possible as to why it should be the record you are plugging should be the chosen one!

Radio stations will only consider records that they deem suitable for their core demographic, hence you won’t hear Slipknot in breakfast on your local radio station…They also want songs to become familiar to their listener to get them to research well and to keep the listener tuned in, so they have a set number of tracks on a playlist, usually categorised as A, B and Cl with A getting the most rotations throughout the day. If they didn’t do this they’d have playlists with literally hundreds of songs on that would only be repeated once every week because there wouldn’t be time in the day to get them all on air, none of them would be familiar because most listeners usually only tune in for so many hours a day.

It’s not as easy as everyone thinks it is, there’s a definite science to it from a radio stations point of view.

What makes a hit?
Well it obviously helps to have as much exposure through radio, video channels, TV appearances, online presence , press, club etc to reach a potential audience who will buy it in big numbers and therefore make it ‘a hit’.

The actual ingredients of a ‘hit’ ? It can be something as simple as a hook , repeated enough that it gets stuck in your head, a lyric that connects with people and they can relate to it, a great vocal, something that makes you dance.

Music is very personal to all of us and there’s numerous things in a record that people pick up on which draws them in, but it may not always be the same ‘one thing’ for every person

There are novelty records that people buy for friends or because it makes them laugh, they may not be technically very good songs, but traditionally to define ‘ a hit’ just means it’s sold the most in any given week . There’s hundreds of GREAT records out there that aren’t ‘hits’ that deserve to be, but they just didn’t get the opportunity to have enough exposure to the right audience at the right time. In our business we ‘hear’ potential hits all the time, but sadly not all amazing records/ artists get the opportunity they deserve for one reason or another.

What’s the best station to listen to, for you? For a pop fan?
Any that plays all the records I’m working! Obviously I couldn’t favour anyone in particular. They all have a purpose and work for a certain kind of listener.

What do radio stations want to know about a new artist?
They want to know the usual ; where they’re from, bit of background on how they’ve started, do they already have a fanbase, have they had exposure elsewhere ( i.e. blogs, online, early press, have they been playing live, do they have a sizeable Twitter / Instagram / Facebook following). how do you anticipate building a fanbase, what do they look like, what is the target audience and most importunately they want to hear the music and the direction of the campaign.

Also with experience you know the things to say that will resonate with individual Heads of Music, if a new artist has worked with a certain producer, or co written with someone that you know a HOM has a penchant for you’ll obviously drop that in to the conversation.

Tell us about a radio tour? You get to on the road with stars?
A plugger has to organise the whole trip from the routing, to which hotels are best suited for each act, to arranging a driver / tour manager, and ensuring the interviewers have all the info they need about the artists, and to prep them if there is a certain topic you want to cover ( i.e. forthcoming single / album release / tour) .

It usually takes around 5 days to cover the key regional stations. You also of course have to look after the artists and ensure they are informed about each station before they go in, make sure they are fed and watered, all the usual things to keep people happy and smiling and motivated! All that and you need to keep an eye on the budget! As with everything you are working for a business that wants to get as much exposure as possible whilst keeping a tight rein on costs.

Do you go on the road with bands?
We go out on radio promo trips with bands and sometimes have to go to gigs in the regions to cover promo if the artists are willing to do interviews on show days.

Any funny stories?
My life wouldn’t be worth living if I answered that as someone somewhere would know who it would be related to! Discretion is a major part of working in the music industry innit.

Any radio interviews gone wrong?
Thankfully not many, you have the usual technical issues , an interview could have gone on for 20 mins then you find out someone didn’t press ‘record’, presenters not getting their research correct and asking someone about something which is untrue (the internet doesn’t always tell the truth so it’s never a good idea to take it as gospel!), getting band members’ names wrong.

We once flew an interviewer out to do an interview with a big U.S R’n’B star and he kept them waiting for 2 DAYS. Every day they’d turn up in the studio and they’d be told said artist would be imminent and so they’d wait for hours, only leaving around 1AM when they’d be told the artist wasn’t coming. They’d have to be back early doors the next day just in case he decided he was ready and that went on for 2 days. I’m sure the trip abroad sounded glam but it turned out to be anything but!! Artist and presenter will remain nameless, they did get the interview in the end but i’m sure they’d have stayed in the UK if they’d have known how much aggro would be involved.

Doing live on-air interviews is always slightly unnerving in case a naughty word pops out, or the artist name checks the wrong radio station, even worse a competitor station!

Do you like fans showing up at stations?
I alas don’t have any fans, but if you mean the acts that I look after then yes! Most artists like to make time for their fans, it’s those people buying the records that put them where they are and sometimes it’s the only opportunity fans will ever have of meeting their favourite act is if they are visiting the radio station. It can be unfortunate if we don’t have time for the act to meet everyone as we are running behind and we have to whisk them away as we have very strict time schedules to run to. Pluggers can be seen as the enemy if we are trying to chivvy the acts up and get them into the vehicle to get them to the next interview on time!

What one song should never be played on radio ever again?
Gotye ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ . Too much!! I heard it PLENTY . That’s my personal opinion and nothing actually against the artist obviously. I don’t know why it makes me want to stab myself in the eye with a rusty fork whilst setting fire to my nasal hair, but it just does. Strange huh? ( see note above about how music is personal to every one of us!)

What advice would you give someone who wants to be a radio plugger? What are normal routes in?
You have to be absolutely madly passionate about music, and all different kinds of music as you won’t ever be dealing with one genre. You need be across what’s going on in all media, not just radio. You need to be good at building relationships as you’ll be dealing with many different people on many different levels, the key to being a good plugger is having excellent relationships with Heads of Music , you need them to trust you and believe in what you say. You certainly need to be able to work under pressure as obviously it’s a results based occupation.

Being a radio plugger is a lifestyle as you’ll work crazy hours, weekends, whatever it takes, and you have to be prepared to commit to that, it’s really not a 9 -5 job. It’s incredibly rewarding though when you see an act that 12 months ago may have been unknown and you’ve played a part in growing them to such a level that they can be filling an arena and everyone knows who they are and knows all the words to the songs.

It’s difficult to get into this field of work as there aren’t many opportunities, but the best routes are usually work experience / work placements / internships in any promotional dept in a record label and try to learn about all aspects of the industry and what each dept does and ask to spend time with the radio team to learn some of the day to day stuff, and whatever tasks you are asked to do make sure you do it amazingly well. You need to go all out to impress in everything you do so if something permanent does come up you’ll be the first person that springs to mind. Good luck!

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