NSAI: Country Radio 101 for Songwriters

Shawn Bowling- NSAI Song Evaluations Director

Like any commercial art form, the music industry has ever-changing market trends and new artists can spark a new trend at any moment. Keep this in mind as you read further!

As a songwriter, chances are you would like to hear one of your songs on mainstream radio someday. If this is you, I’d like to share a little bit of insight into how radio operates.

Radio stations generally have a target audience they are trying to attract. The exact parameters of this target may vary from station to station based on geographical factors. Once they capture a certain audience, they can then use those listenership numbers to attract advertisers. That’s right: advertising is the primary income stream that keeps radio in business.

The station has a Program Director or Music Director who is responsible for adding songs to the playlist that will keep the attention of the desired demographic.

Keep this in the back of your mind as you read on.

In the country market, some general guidelines can be given as to just who the “average” country music listener is.

1. As a listener she is 25- 45. (Median age is 39).
2. If they are hearing a song on the radio chances are it is between 8-9 in the morning and 5-6 pm the afternoon (drive time). Going to work they don’t like, going home to family they love.
3. They are probably in a relationship and would like to be more validated by their significant other.
4. They are probably struggling financially.
5. They probably did not have an ideal childhood.

Songs that touch on one of the characteristics listed above are sometimes considered a little more radio friendly. Of course, you can find hit songs that deviate from these parameters. We are speaking in generalities here.

A good number of songs that make it to radio are songs with a lyric that a woman would want to either say to or want to hear from her significant other. A lot of popular male artists are singing things a woman would want to “hear from” her significant other.

As a writer, writing positive up tempos with a pro-woman theme is your best bet.

As an aside FYI, the average country-music consumer who actually buys the product is 25.

This number might matter a little more to record labels than radio stations, but it still has an effect on what makes it to the airwaves. Since labels are trying to use radio as a promotional tool to help sell their artist’s music, they employ Radio Promoters who have the sole job of convincing radio stations to “add” certain songs. The decision usually rests on the whether or not the subject matter of the song is relevant to the station’s target audience.

To the average songwriter this all might sound a little overwhelming. Take a deep breath and write what you feel is “truth” first and foremost. But it might not hurt to remember, the female listener generally drives the country market!

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