Last weekend I attended a radio retreat in Medford, Mass., organized by my friend and collaborator, Ari Daniel Shapiro. At the retreat, I gave a short talk on four things producers should-but-often-don’t know about using PRX. I’m summarizing the session, below.
I’m lucky to have something of a 360° view of PRX. As a curator I listen to almost everything that gets uploaded, and I see what stations do and don’t buy. As a help-desk hand I talk to both producers and programmers everyday; I know what about PRX is intuitive, and what folks don’t always understand. And unlike most others on the PRX staff, I’m also an independent producer. When I get home from work, I use PRX as a front-end user to sell my own stories. Here are some things I think every PRX producer should know.
Can I make a living at this?
PRX is a valuable resource for a.) getting mileage out of second-run work, and b.) distributing that awesome creative audio stuff that you do for the love of sound. But you should know that PRX was not designed to pay commission-like rates. We would love to see producers get paid more, and we believe that PRX is a major mover in the effort to improve the economy for independents. In fact, most of the over 9,000 pieces licensed on PRX last year came from independents. But the economic environment for independents is a tough one, so know what you’re working with.
Resource: AIR Excutive Director Sue Schardt’s extensive study, “Mapping the Independent Landscape.”
To clarify about PRX royalties: We don’t take a cut of your royalties, and PRX royalties are no longer a flat rate. PRX allows you to charge $0.50, $1, or $1.50 per minute/per license. If your piece is licensed by a larger station, you may make more than the rate you chose, but you’ll never make less.
PRX is doing a lot to get indie work in front of stations and listeners: More than 400 stations are on PRX; we just launched REMIX Radio as a streaming, satellite and broadcast radio service; last year we boosted royalty rates for producers who get their works aired in major markets; and we are encouraging stations to create local showcase shows so they license and show off more indie work.
9,000 pieces? How do I get some of that action?
There are four identifiable factors that contribute to a piece’s popularity on PRX: Style, length, production quality and timeliness. Here are some DO’s and DON’Ts:
- DO: choose your genre and format carefully. Listen to what’s on the air! Be wary of commentary and radio drama. On the whole, folks just aren’t buying them. (However, excellent productions of each of these genres have gotten good responses, especially when presented with a holiday or news hook.)
- DO: get lots of different kinds of sound. Do things that stations may not have the time or resources to do themselves. Get field sound, find lots of perspectives, do unexpected stories, write clever narration, and be creative.
Stations are overwhelmingly interested in two kinds of pieces. Hour-long documentaries, specials and weekly series; and segments under 5 minutes. Keep in mind that programmers are often working within very specific network clocks. Resources: network clock diagrams and more stats about piece length.
Good quality sound and clean editing make all the difference.
- DON’T: use low-quality phone interviews. DO: use a tape sync or two-way.
- DO: know what tools and skills make great radio. Resources: mic, recorder and software comparisons from Transom.org; production technique advice from AIRmedia.org.
WAIT! Retrofit your audio before you upload.
Picture yourself a year from now in a different part of the country, listening to your piece on the local public radio station. You want your story to make sense then and there just as much as it does in your home city today.
- Edit out all station IDs. DON’T say: “You are listening to WXPN.” DO say: “This story comes from WXPN in Philadelphia.”
- Make it evergreen. Edit out any references to dates or events that will make your story irrelevant next week or next month. DON’T say: “Two weeks ago at the corner store.” DO say: “In the spring of 2007, at the Petunia County corner store.”
- Do a podcast? Great! But don’t say it on the air. Most stations won’t air anything identified as a podcast. So DON’T call it: “The Big Bad Podcast.” DO call it: “The Big Bad Show.” And DO direct your listeners to find your show online, by subscribing to your show’s podcast. It’s subtle, I know.
Pull on them pitch-pants and get marketing.
- Make it look good. You probably spent 10 or 60 or 100 hours on whatever it is you just uploaded to PRX. Take the time to make it searchable and appealing. Resource: How to Make an Ideal Piece-page.
- Work that news peg or holiday hook. Send your calendar-pegged stories to the PRX editors. We will consider featuring your stories in playlists, on the homepage, and in our weekly newsletter: prxeditors(at)prx.org. And don’t stop there. Timeliness is magic when it comes to getting on the air. Tell stations about it!
- Know who’s buying. Every year we publish all kinds of stats from PRX. Get to know the most active stations. We also have a constantly updating feed of purchased pieces. Know what’s selling and who’s buying. Resources: PRX Zeitfunk Awards and our feed of recently purchased pieces, which is also on twitter.
- Certain local shows rely heavily on PRX for work from independents. Research the show or station you’re contacting and send them stories you know will appeal to them. Keep your eyes out for:
- KUT O’Dark 30
- KUOW Presents
- NHPR Word of Mouth
- WNPR Where We Live
Resource: We can’t give you the email addresses of Program Directors, but you can learn about contacting stations in our FAQ. And keep those stories coming!