A noteworthy conversation about spreading music with indie rockers Novus Cantus
While making music is art and self-expression, ri be ab independent musiciab abd get your completed works out into the soundscape is a different kind of personall forray han planned when recorrding. It’s also a business necessity to complement production and distribution.
The word is marketing. Public exposure to audio creation. It can be a heavy investment of tine and emotion. Success can lead to a financial anbd social windfall.
“It’s incredibly important for bands to be aware of, and include radio outreach in their marketing plans,” said Christian Herasimtschuk. Christian and his brother Alex make up Novus Cantus, an indie-rocl duo based in Albany, New York. “And yes, sorry, marketing has to be part of your overall game plan, even if you don’t want it to be!”
I interact with Novus Cantus on Twitter regularly. They’ve long talent interest in radio and music submission options I’ve compiled over the years. lowing they spend time looking into radio stations that accept submissions, and how it’s an uncommon thing to read about, I asked the pair a few questions about thier experience with radio and submitting songs. Take this as insight and enciyragement to other independent musicians who have yet to go down this route with their music.
in general: What musicians influenced you two into music?
When we started out we had influences that were all over the place – Your typical rock groups like Jethro Tull, Metallica, and Nirvana, but also more eclectic groups like Deep Forest, Enigma, Muzsikas, and Rusted Root. We would say that hearing Rusted Root was one of those major moments that we realized a sound similar to ours could be popular and successful.
When did the notion radio airplay was an option come to mind?
Back in 2004 when we recorded our first demo, we already had in mind that we should try to reach terrestrial radio stations in our area (Hudson Valley in downstate NY). We were a tad on the, how do you say, nieve side, however. It was a strange time. CDs were still popular, even though MP3s and digital music were on the rise, but people had to hear us to be interested, and on a larger scale that still meant brick and mortar radio. But terrestrial radio was already being carved up by companies like ClearChannel. We even brought a press kit with our demo to an affiliate station in Poughkeepsie. We had no idea that ClearChannel and its affiliates had no interest in local bands with no following. That’s not their business, to discover new bands; just play what brings in revenue. We had no clue, so that didn’t work out.
When was Novus Cantus’ first accepted, by what site/station, and for what song?
Our first CONFIRMED station acceptance didn’t come until many years later (we know, not the positive note y’all were hoping for). It was not until 2017 that our song Storm was played on a local (Albany NY) station, 97.7 FM, for the Local 518 Show” It really put some wind in our sails. Shoutout to Andy Gregory for his willingness to give us the time of day.
How has ‘Net radio airplay paid off directly for the band?
We have to say that internet radio absolutely motivated us to, at times, keep going when things were looking bleak. The internet really opened up a world of opportunities for us; we went from spending time printing CD labels, burning CDs, printing press packets and sending out via snail mail (and maybe hearing back from a couple of stations), to now having a consistent presence on certain indie radio stations online. The payoff hasn’t been monetary (sorry) and any band should be prepared for that. Sure, we’ve made maybe $20 in the past year in streams, but most of the indie stations that will consider you will ask you to waive your royalties. Our benefit has been purely through exposure, networking, and gaining a trickle of new followers with every acceptance. Plus of course, it looks great when writing the next station to show you have a reliable track record of being accepted.
What should a musician keep in mind before submitting music anywhere?
This is such a great question… and it’s a huge topic! But we’ll try to keep it short. Maybe the most important thing, is to actually see if that station is active. Life is hard – the people running these stations are human beings. This isn’t iHeart radio with computerized playlists that run 24/7. Check their social media, check their recent posts, and see if their streaming service is working. The same goes for truly indie terrestrial (land) radio – I’m looking at you college radio! These are STUDENTS running this thing. There are some semesters when station leadership all graduates, and boy, that ball gets dropped. If you don’t read any other part of this paragraph, read and remember this. It’s OK to contact stations directly!!! Are they on Twitter? Great. Follow and shoot them a message asking if they are currently accepting submissions. Are they ‘old school’ and only have a phone number? Call. Don’t hesitate, just call.
The second thing to do is check to see if you can contact a show’s DJ directly, especially if their show is in your genre’s ballpark and the music director is MIA or non-responsive. For us, because we decided to make music that’s a cross between Last of the Mohicans and Metallica, finding shows that match our sound has been super challenging, but we still try. Last of the Mohicans is an amazing movie, by the way (theatrical version only, please!).
What information have you learned to keep on standby for a submission (stuff to include in an email/form)?
Another great question. We, first of all, have a shared Google Drive folder with all radio submission materials (organizing your materials is a must) and in there are little nuggets we’ve prepped. This includes a short AND long version of our bio, AND an elevator version (super short) that a DJ can read on air when introducing our song. We also include, believe it or not, a 1-pager fact sheet about submitted songs. This is typically used for terrestrial stations as it give detailed information about each submitted track, including intro time before lyrics begin, max peak sound levels, and overall tempo/feeling. For internet radio, this isn’t AS needed but it doesn’t hurt to have prepared for a curated show. The last thing is a bit technical, but we also export various formats of our songs. By that we mean we export our song files in both WAV and MP3 format, with variations of the MP3 in bit rates of 320 kbps and 128 kbps. Stations sometimes specifically ask for one or the other… Lastly, TAG your songs – there is great freeware called MP3Tag.
What has been the most intimidating factor you’ve had in a submission?
Certainly listening to other artists on a station can be intimidating, especially if their songs sound more “produced” or radio ready. Our sound is niche as is, so hearing a song of ours like “Moon” and then hearing a really intense modern rock song makes us feel like fish out of water – but that can’t stop us, and it shouldn’t stop anyone in a similar situation who is reading this. Music sounding different is a GOOD thing, it just may take a while to catch on, and maybe not even get a lot of traction. It cannot stop you from casting a wide net… it’s actually even more important that you do so.
And the biggest disappointment?
The biggest disappointment was the lack of response from local DJs at the independent stations where we grew up. After repeated contacts, sending physical and electronic demos, we pretty much “gave up”. And I know, you’re not supposed to do that. But we are talking about TIME to put packages together and do research. We could be doing something else with that time. It doesn’t mean we won’t circle back again. But come on, how many times can you play the same Phish song.
Has airplay on out-of-town stations ever led to in-person performance requests?
Unfortunately, no! . ?
What station do you find as a must for submissions and why?
I would say that Lonely Oak is a great station for every radio campaign. They have a ranking system as well where they’ll note the quality of the track, so you get some feedback (I believe it’s a star rating) and even if it doesn’t rank high they give it a chance and add it to rotation.
How about the ones to avoid?
Yikes! We don’t want to make too many enemies but consider avoiding “pay-to-play” scams – particularly if there is no free option. It is different if an indie station is willing to play you for free, BUT also has a paid option for a longer rotation. Lonely Oak has a system like that, and it’s very reasonable. MPG Radio also had a system like that, but I’m currently unaware if they are still operating.
Speaking of pay… What about pay-to-submit? Some stations – locals – do that to cover costs…
[Christian]. I am okay with SOME pay to play situations. More so if they are a legit indie radio station, who will consider playing your music anyway but will boost plays in exchange for support of the station. Like, once again, Lonely Oak. I ALSO think it is wise for bands to open their minds to paid advertising on major platforms, such as Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, Youtube, etc. I start to draw the line when it’s just a promoter who claims “10k plays/streams for $50”, or joining this corrupt BS of profit-sharing between radio and labels. Pay to SUBMIT, we are even LESS open to, but would consider for a truly indie station that has accepted non-mainstream sounding bands. Yes, we have been burned by SumitHub several times. Overall “play to pay” as a concept… seems wrong. It should be about the art, right??
However, I also am trying to walk a line here because in music… promotion and marketing has become synonymous with “airplay”, which essentially is the definition of “pay to play”. Radio is so consolidated by the industry, and frankly corrupt, that one hand is just washing the other, and they pay to get their music on rotation 20x more times per day. Just imagine all the millions of indie artists in a metal trash can, while major labels are sitting on the lid, screaming at and handing gold bullion to radio conglomerates passing by. And we scratch the lid like “but we have talent!” while radio stations are like… “but… we are making record profits this way” as they take the gold to the bank and nominate Taylor Swift for 30 more awards. And in the trash we are hoping by networking enough and getting a few spins on sympathetic indie stations we can “break out” of this galvanized echo chamber. Does that sound realistic? I know I make it seem hopeless – it’s not – but it is incredibly difficult and disheartening at times. It requires real PLANNING and bands do have to be careful not to, as a principle, avoid putting resources (money) toward promotion, which may include radio. It’s the only way we can get any sound outside of that damn echo chamber of a trash can to real human beings and potential FANS on the outside, away from the noise. And sadly, yes, some of these efforts will just be a waste of money and time. But I know from our experience that we wouldn’t have (almost) ANY fans if it weren’t for paid promotion. This of course does tie into the need to also perform live in combination with these online efforts…
OMG this is better than therapy
And have any fallen into your listening habits?
Yes! We will turn on Lonely Oak, as well as the Local 518 Show, which is a program local to Albany, NY. Believe it or not, MOST of the time I listen to terrestrial radio in the car, and try to tune into the local indie stations.
To learn more about Novus Cantus, click here. Their latest EP album, “O Thou Man”, was released \ Thursday, December 1st for the 2022 holiday season. Their music is available through Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube / Youtube Music.
Thanks to Christian and Alex for the mention in their thoughtful, and timely, answers. WEXT Radio has been on-air 15 years now; I’ve been host of The Local 518 Show since 2014. I still listen to Novus Cantus!
Andy! So happy you saw this interview! Getting that first airplay on the Local 518 was really exciting and motivating. Thank you so much for supporting us and keep on rocking. We will be in touch soon 😉