The Stacks News

How Does A Song End Up On The Radio? Ask This Guy

John Boulos has been in the music business for over 30 years and as the Senior Vice-President Of Pop Promotions for Atlantic Records he has helped many of today’s superstars get their first big break on radio and propel them to the top of the charts. But how does this all work? We caught up with Boulos to learn a little about who he is, what he does and why radio remains to be such an important medium. Oh and along the way he even shared a few of his favorite rockstar stories with us. If you’ve never gone to a fast food restaurant with a pop diva, trust us, you’ll want to read on.

How would you describe your job to people who aren’t in the music industry?
When people turn on the radio and they hear music, they have no idea what goes on behind the scenes to get a song actually played. So little music that’s recorded and made ever gets on the airwaves and a lot of what we do is promoting, marketing and convincing the people who make decisions at radio stations why our song will make listeners return to that radio station. Each situation is so unique and different and so is each song; in over 30 years I don’t believe I’ve ever promoted any two songs the exact same way.

What qualities are important to your job?
I’ve worked at twelve different record labels, I’ve run four different promotion staffs, I’ve trained people, I’ve done all different elements and I think the most critical thing about doing the job that we do is to have a chameleon-like personality. You have to be tenacious, be creative and have credibility, but most important is having a very strong personality because we deal with all types of people. I have to travel to every market and everyone is different. Everyone is telling radio stations that their song is great, so I have to prove why mine is better.

How do you know when a song will work for radio?
The way I approach it is every song is a hit until proven otherwise. Some songs sound better to my ears for certain formats because it’s hard to get a guitar song played on pop radio, for example. I can listen to something and evaluate it based on that but I never really know until I play it for people. Nothing is a hit until the public tells you it’s a hit and I’ve heard many great songs in an office that were exposed to the public and they didn’t react.

Why is radio still such a vital medium?
When I was younger people had their favorite radio station and you lived and you died by it — and I don’t think there’s a loyalty like that with the newer generation, but I think the one thing that is still happening as weird as it seems is that kids still listen to radio. They may be hearing it in the background or have it on in the car, but it’s still there. It’s also localized and I’m a very big fan of that. When I put on the radio station I want the guy talking about the blizzard we had that messed up his day too — and when you’re on Pandora you’re getting your music but you’re not getting your connection.

You have worked with so many amazing artists over the years. What moments stick out to you?
I have a lot of amazing memories because I’ve toured with the Rolling Stones and stuff like that but one thing that stands out in my mind is the time I did a promo tour with Tina Turner. We were in Chicago and I was in a limo with her and her manager and we wanted to get something to eat and I was like, “Let’s go to McDonalds!” That was a very surreal moment because the whole place was staring at us when we sat down and we were sitting at a table and she goes, “you’re killing my image” and I was like, "don’t worry about it, eat it, it’s a cheeseburger."

Then later that day we were walking through O’Hare airport and everyone is looking at us and I’m oblivious to the fact that she has an image and I’m wearing something that I probably bought at Target because I don’t live in that world. We got to the lounge and she looks at me and says, “In one day are you trying to destroy what I’ve worked to build for 25 years? And that jacket you’re wearing, it’s falling off of you and the sleeves are too long.” Three weeks later right before Christmas I got a gift and it’s a beautiful sports coat with a note that says, “now you have one that will fit” but it had safety pins and shoelaces holding it together. She was making fun of the way I was dressing but in a really classy way. That always stuck with me.

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Yolanda Pinkney

I NEED A SONG TO HIT THE RADIO!!!!!!!!!PLEASE LORD!!!!

Posted Apr 11, 2013

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