Learn How Long a Radio Edit Should Be
Where You Want Your Music to Be Heard Determines the Length
When you want to get your song played on the radio, timing matters. The length of your song can have a major impact on its chances of getting played. How long should your radio edit be to maximize your chances of getting played?
First things first: Getting onto radio is incredibly competitive. And getting onto the playlists of commercial radio stations in major radio markets is extremely difficult if you're a musician not signed with a major record label. If you're an indie musician, that doesn't mean you'll never get on the radio, but you might need to be a little creative to get your foot in the door.
Commercial Pop Radio: Top of the Food Chain
Most (but not all) musicians want to get their songs played on pop, mainstream radio because of its massive reach and audience size. But this radio format is the most restrictive, and the most difficult to break into.
If you want your song to have a shot there, it should not be longer than four minutes.
Ideally, you should keep your songs on the low end of the three-minute range, or shorter if possible. Anything else is going to take up too much space in the playlist (and eat up too much advertising airtime), so it's not going to make the cut.
Don't assume that your pop masterpiece just can't be cut and that radio stations are going to swoon over it so much that they'll play it no matter how long it is. Things are done a certain way for a reason, so best to just make your song four minutes or less for pop/mainstream stations.
Other Station Formats
Other radio formats tend to have more flexibility in their playlists for song lengths. You'll notice that your local classic rock station is more than willing to play Stairway to Heaven in its entirety. It is true of stations that play genres of music that tend to have longer songs, like some types of jazz, some types of reggae, and so on.
Non-commercial radio stations have the most flexibility when it comes to song length. Additionally, non-commercial radio stations are usually the outlets for the genres that don't play by those pop rules. Jam bands, blues bands, jazz acts, bluegrass groups are among the genres likely to find a home on non-commercial radio stations.
Since so many college and indie radio stations are non-commercial, it's is the most likely starting place for an up and coming independent artist. College radio, in particular, is a good fit for new artists.
Don't mistake non-commercial radio as somehow lesser than commercial stations. Some non-commercial stations are hugely popular and are often where commercial radio and others discover new acts.
Know Your Market
Ultimately, when you are making a radio edit, you have to consider your market. Stick to the rules for a pop track you're pitching to mainstream radio. If you're playing outside the box, like on a non-commercial or non-pop radio station, don't send them a 20-minute opus, but don't sweat the four-minute mark. In the latter scenario, it's more about knowing when a song should end than knowing when a radio station needs it to end.