The Unsigned Artist and Radio Airplay. Part Two: An Interview with Country Broadcaster Pete Walker

The Unsigned Artist and Radio Airplay. Part Two: An Interview with Country Broadcaster Pete Walker

By Matthew Holtby

It’s cool. I’m the first to admit I’m not a country bumpkin by any stretch, but I will say this… country is absolutely kicking ass. Yeah, I’ve even penned my fair share of songs that I’d be over the moon to have any Luke, Kenny or Kacey turn into a hit, but today’s “New Country” is something I’m just not well versed in. I have friends killing it on those sides of the tracks. Really amazing artists, writers and performers with publishing and/or record deals. I won’t play the name game out of respect for each of them, but some are on the charts and living the dream in Nashville. Others are still here in my neck of the woods, but not for much longer. I’m happy to say, a lot of people I know and love have “made it” playing country music. Aside from those I know personally, there are country artists in my playlist. Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, and the new Kacey Musgraves to name a few. I’m also a huge fan of the classics like Willie, Johnny, George and Tammy. I’ve recently found myself learning Patsy Cline songs to add to my solo live set as well. It’s not that I don’t love the music, I don’t know a lot about that world.

Mathew Holtby

However, my good friend and ex co-worker Pete Walker does. He and I used to share an office as fellow Music Directors. He on KX96 and yours truly at 94.9 The Rock. When I think of someone in music meetings discussing new country artists, or being the liaison from label to the airwaves, it’s Pete. He and I used to make stupid Simpsons references, talk in a language all of our own, strum guitars (I once purchased an old Fender from him for $50) and best of all, laugh our asses off together. Pete is now the Host of The Early Show on New Country 92.3 FM in Fredericton NB. He was sweet enough to reply in great detail via email, and I truly learned a lot. I hope you enjoy my chat with Pete Walker. D’oh!

 MATTHEW HOLTBY:

 What advice would you give an up and coming artist looking for radio airplay?

PETE WALKER:

 It's first and foremost about the song. Is it well-produced, hooky or catchy enough and will it speak to a broad audience? The song, melody and lyric for country music, is the​ most important thing. It's difficult to straddle the "being true to yourself vs. being commercial-sounding enough to get on the radio" fence but hopefully your music can find that niche. DO NOT try and copy what's on the radio today though you should definitely listen to that stuff, if you don't already. Your song would have to sound like it will fit in, sonically, between those songs.  Country production has taken big leaps in the last 6 or 7 years...trap beats and finger-snaps, mixed with acoustic instrumentation sort of thing. All sorts of other genres are being incorporated into the production - see "Truck Bed" by Hardy or "Fancy Like" by Walker Hayes.

Also, there are more than enough songs out there right now about how "country" someone is so avoid those and drinking songs too, unless yours has enough of a different take. Relationship stories, of love or friendship or the betrayal therein, make the best, most-timeless country songs.

MH:

How has the country music landscape changed in the past 5 years for artists?

 PW:

 I can't really speak for artists, but it was difficult enough in the past for them, trying to get signed to a label or get their song on enough stations back in the '90s and 2000s... if anything with the advent of tiktok and other SM, it's become easier for some to get their music noticed. Outside of "commercial country radio", there is a HUGE alt-country (for lack of a better term) market, with any number of artists either establishing themselves there or breaking there... Se Tyler Childers, Zach Bryan, Kacey Musgraves etc.

I think it's really important to develop and draw a large live following and make your name big enough that radio and other media can't ignore you. Work on your stage show and setlist and get that crowd of fans growing. That's what I see here in NB

 MH:

 What are the things you look for first when considering an “add” ?

 PW:

 Back when I used to be the guy who helped decide these things, I usually knew within the first 30 seconds of a song, if it was worth a spin on the air. A song needs to grab you and quickly, either through its lyrics, melody or voice and hopefully all three. First thing I'd notice though would be the production. If it's inadequate, I'd still try and consider the song if it was strong enough in those other three ways.

Pete Walker

MH:

 What are the “do’s” and “don’t’s”  for unsigned artists looking for exposure?

PW:

DO form relationships with music directors/on-air peeps locally in your area and pick their brains, asking for their critiques.

DO seek unbiased advice from others in the business and accept it without taking it personally.

DO work as many gigs as you can and go to big name shows when you can and take mental notes

For songwriters, DO make sure you try collaborating especially with more established writers and artists.

DON'T get discouraged by negative nellies. Musicians can be the most bitter, jaded people. Try not to let them infect you.

DON'T write and sing cliched, unoriginal music.

DON'T be an asshole

DON'T DO WHAT DONNY DON'T DOES!

MH:

Tell me a recent success story of an up and coming Country Artist stepping into the spotlight and onto the radio.

PW:

 Robyn Ottolini of Uxbridge is a great example of a young new artist (who'd been at it since her early teens) who developed her sound, style and overall vibe, with fresh modern production and great personality.

Hailey Benedict out west has done similar things and is really becoming a great writer.

Sacha from Warkworth ON is also starting to hit down in Nashville and has good things coming.

Tyler Joe Miller, Owen Riegling and Josh Ross are all great new Canadian writing and singing talents who are following their own paths with great success.

Pete Walker Facebook: www.facebook.com/PeterCWalkerRadio/

Matthew Holtby website: www.matthewholtbymusic.com/