While growing up in New York, Risa Matsuki always knew that she wanted to work in the music industry. She currently owns an independent radio promotion company called MRP Los Angeles, gaining airtime for records, talking to radio stations and analyzing which songs are getting the most play. She also works for various labels, such as Island Def Jam and SONY, and previously worked at Myspace Records here in LA, before the company shut down in January 2010.
LA Music Blog recently sat down with Risa to talk about what it took to work her way up in the industry, how the advancement of the internet has changed the face of radio, and what it takes to break a song in this new, evolving music industry.
To start at the beginning, when did you first realize you wanted to have a career in the music industry?
I was a teenager in high school. I had been going to shows for a long time, and when I’d see the people working them, it made me think about working shows too so I could be a part of what I loved. It was one of those things where I thought, “What would be the coolest job to have? Oh, working in music.” [LAUGHTER]
How did you actually get your start in the industry? What was your first job working in music?
I was very fortunate because I went to a high school in New York that offered internships in fields that students wanted to pursue careers in. As a high school with performing arts programs, it offered internships at Broadway shows, record labels, and other venues of that manner.
I was lucky enough to land an internship at a record label. At the time it was called Polydor before is became Polygram, which today is essentially Island Def Jam/Universal. That was how I got my start. At first I was covering shows by putting up posters all over the venue and around the venue, but I did go in to organize CDs and file things and get coffee. [LAUGHTER]
How did you transition from the internship to eventually getting into the world of radio promotion?
It was a twisty road because I went from being an intern at this label to then being lucky enough to go on tour with one of the bands, which helped me meet new people and network. Every time I went on the road, I’d continue to meet more people, and I would keep in contact with the people I was meeting. Back then, keeping in touch wasn’t about texting and emailing; it was done through phone calls. It just came down to networking and building those relationships.
Finally, after working on various tours, I moved to San Francisco to go to school and continue working in the music industry. About 5 or 6 years in, I got a job as a assistant at AMFM Radio networks, which eventually became Clear Channel. I met the music director at a local radio station, and he hired me to become his assistant. In that time I had made so many connections that I got the assistant job immediately. The time it took me to work my way up was beneficial because all the people I had met in the past were helping me with my new job.
Once you made it to that point, when did it finally hit you that radio was what you wanted to stick with?
Working at the radio station was actually really eye-opening because you see the effect radio has on an artist. It’s crazy to have a radio station that plays a song five to ten times a day and see the difference it makes for an artist. If the song is played five times a day, people will know the song, but not the artist. When the song is played ten times a day, it’s almost like they know everything about the artist and the song—they crave it and they want to know more.
I found that very fascinating and knew I wanted to be able to work with that. At that time, as an assistant, I didn’t know there were record representative jobs that actually got to do just that. All I ever saw my boss at the station do was listen to music. I never saw him actually meeting with anyone, so I thought, “He’s just picking songs. He’s got such a great ear. This is amazing. He must love this stuff because he’s playing it so many times.”
One day, he finally told me that there were record reps. He said he had weekly meetings with them and that he’d introduce me to some of them the next time they came in. Later, he got me into an interview at Sony as an assistant for a record rep. I realized that was exactly what I wanted to be doing. I thought, “I could become an assistant at a major label and learn how to be a record rep from my bosses. I know I could do what he is doing and do it better!” [LAUGHTER]
Now, for people who don’t actually understand what record promoters or radio reps are, could you give us a little bit of a day in the life of a radio promoter.
It isn’t very glamorous. [LAUGHTER] First thing in the morning, I start out by logging into the various reporting sites to check spins for the records. Then I look for the problem spots, like if any stations have taken a downturn on spins. It’s not little things like when a station drops from playing a song five times one day and then four the next. It’s more like, “Oh hey, this person isn’t playing the song anymore” or “They’re only playing a song twice a week, and they used to play it ten times a week.” That’s what I analyze.
We also have call sheets, and I know what time and what day I’m supposed to talk to various radio stations. I have to organize that and make the calls or send an email or an IM. I have to get in touch with the station and talk about what’s going on with a record, why they should be playing it, or why they should play it more. It’s my job to give them any information that would make them want to play my songs. I basically talk to people all day.
You’ve been in the radio world since the early 2000s. How has that facet of the music industry changed over the past few years?
It’s much more constricted in terms of the things you can and can’t do. Back in 2000, you could mix and match formats, and bands weren’t categorized as much. Now, if you’re a new band and you get signed to a label, that label will categorize you. They’ll say, “Well, you’re a rock band, but you play more mellow rock music, so you’re a hot AC band. You’re not alternative.” For example, in 2000, KROQ was playing the rock band Tonic. Now, Tonic cannot be played on a KROQ station. They would be played on a hot AC station. Once a label puts a band in a category, it’s almost like they can’t leave it.
The sell of an artist has also changed. With the advancement of the internet, people don’t need as much information from radio stations because they just search for it online. Back in 2000, they would literally talk for five minutes about the artist, what they were up to, and where they would be playing. Now it’s more cut and dry—they present the song, the artist, play the song, and then go on to the next one.
That actually leads to my next question. Has the rise of the internet made it harder or easier for you to do your job?
Personally, I think it’s a lot easier now because I can send a program director a link with all of the information instead of going through it with them verbally the way we used to. I’ve found that a lot of my program directors and music directors want that quick fix instead of a lengthy conversation. It’s also flashier when you can send them an e-blast with a pretty picture and the information at their fingertips.
What does it take to get a song to break on mainstream radio today?
A lot of tenacity. [LAUGHTER] The average time spent listening, or TSL, for a person in a car is 3.3 seconds. In that 3.3 seconds, your hook better be so freaking catchy that the listener will want to continue to listen to your song. That’s really hard to do. Basically if they are only listening to that song 3.3 seconds every day, they will have to listen to it 150 times to become familiar with it. That’s a lot of airtime. and most stations aren’t willing to commit to a song that long. It’s our job to make sure they do commit. A song can’t just be on a station for a month or two because it will never work.
After a song gets on the station, you have to work on marketing with the radio station, being on their website, and being part of the lifestyle of that radio station. Obviously, as a band, you will have your own digital and regular marketing, but you have to be everywhere. You need to be in people’s faces There is too much information out there and too many artists. There are so many ways to hear music now, so if you get your song on the radio and decide that’s how you want to break your song, you have to associate everything you do with that style of radio station.