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Jen Cloher discusses the power of community radio

Story Published Thursday 20 April 2023
Jen Cloher - photo by Marcelle Bradbeer

Community radio is an essential way for emerging artists to get their music heard.

We recently sat down with singer songwriter Jen Cloher to discuss the important role community radio has played in the development of their career.

With nearly 5 million weekly listeners across hundreds of community radio stations, there's a good chance you'll find your audience there.

Amrap (the Australian Music Radio Airplay Project) - is a free service that distributes music to community radio programmers and hosts. Community radio presenters also use Amrap to discover new Australian music for airplay.

Do you have your music on Amrap? If not, why not? It's free! Jen Cloher is one artist who connected with community radio early in their career to build their fanbase and it still supports their music today. We asked Jen about their experiences with community radio.

Can you tell us about the first time you experienced listening to community radio?

I don’t think it was until I moved to Naarm / Melbourne in 2001. Before then I’d mainly listened to Triple J and Radio National. A presenter on Triple R Breakfasters, Fee B Squared, started playing my first ever single The Longing Song. She then invited me onto the show and I remember serenading her co-host Sam Pang who she had converted into a Jen Cloher fan. Lols. It was a big deal for me, to be supported in that way when I was still relatively new to Naarm. It made me feel as though I was part of the culture in a city that is full of incredible music.

The community radio network in Naarm is like no other in the world. It’s fertile ground for early career artists looking to have their music heard by a local audience and can draw a crowd to a show. It’s also where many of our great presenters have started their careers including Namila Benson and Zan Rowe. What I love most is that feeling of it being owned by everyone. You especially feel that during Radiothon fundraisers and events like the Community Cup.

Is there a station you have discovered and loved outside of your hometown when travelling?

If you want to know what’s happening in a city then community radio is the best way to find out. As soon as I land in a new place, I’ll turn the radio on in the car and tune into the local community station. It’s a direct line to the people who live there and the quickest way to connect to the culture. I also love stopping past community radio stations when I’m on tour. They always feel like home. Unpretentious. People are happy because they genuinely want to be there and you’re always offered a cuppa. I love the worn sofas and the walls covered in band stickers. Most recently I stopped past 4ZZZ in Meanjin / Brisbane before playing an in-store at Jet Black Cat Music and was really impressed by the research the presenter had done around my new album. It’s a great feeling when a presenter has taken the time to know your story and it deepens where the conversation can go.

What’s the importance of community radio in Australia for artists as well as music fans?

Over the decade that I ran I Manage My Music workshops for early career artists, I would always stress the importance of connecting with community radio stations. It’s one of the first places your music can be heard because presenters are always looking for local music and live gigs to recommend to their listeners. It’s often the place that you’ll first be discovered and because many of the local ABC programmers and presenters started their careers at community radio, there’s a good chance you’ll see your music move onto the ABC network too. I tell artists who are starting out to make sure they have some shows coming up when they release a new song as presenters will give them a plug after you’re played. Win, win.

For fans, it’s a great tool for discovering your new favourite band. And what an amazing feeling when an artist you’ve followed for a long time stops past to play live. I remember losing my mind when PJ Harvey did a live set on the rooftop for Triple R.

What’s been the value of community radio to you as an artist?

It’s helped me to build a career in this country. Hundreds of thousands of people listen to community radio every week. I love that this opportunity is open to everyone and that there are specialist shows who cater to your music no matter how niche it might be. It’s helped me to feel part of something bigger and to feel less isolated in an industry that can sometimes feel overwhelming. I’ve also developed working relationships with presenters over the years who will support my music and give it a spin when I release something new. That’s pretty special.

What advice would you give any artist looking to connect with community radio, both in their local area and across the country?

Start listening and become a subscriber to your favourite stations and shows. Find out what shows play music that’s similar to your own and email the presenter when you’re releasing new music. If you show a genuine interest in a presenters show and are enjoying with they do, let them know. Most presenters are volunteers who play music because they love it and the majority of community radio isn’t play-listed, if they play your song it’s because they like what you do. That’s a real compliment.

And of course, sign up to Amrap as a way of servicing your music to community broadcasters all around Australia. It can save you a lot of time and put your music in front of the people you need to hear it the most.

You can discover all the great Australian music championed by community radio on the Community Radio Plus App, featuring the diverse range of community radio stations nationwide in one handy spot!

Check out our article on pitching your music to community radio. If you still have some questions about what Amrap does, check out this tips piece.