Canadian Radio VS USA Radio

I have come to learn a lot about the differences between the Canadian and American Radio markets lately, so I thought I would share some of that knowledge with you today for your own use.

College Radio


In Canada, college radio is a lot smaller, and is not used to break artists into the big leagues. College radio often consists of indie and alternative artists, and older music that has been out for some time. College radio is not really a “thing” in Canada that artists can use or rely on to further their career.


In the states, college radio is a big and thriving market. If you are trying to start to make a name for yourself in the USA, the college scene can be a smart (and more affordable) way to break, on over 300 high traffic college stations in the USA. Getting your music to American college radio is worth the time and effort – getting played on it can get your momentum moving.

There are companies out there that can get your music to US College Radio for you, check out a recent hire Planetary as an example:

Specialty Radio (In the USA only)


The states have something called Specialty Radio, which consists of roughly 150 stations nation wide. Speciality radio features new, independent and/or unsigned artists that commercial radio doesn’t necessarily support. When submitting your music to specialty radio, a radio tracker will be submitting your music to these 150 speciality stations, as well as the two main speciality charts: FMQB’s Submodern Report Chart and U.N.C.L.E Promo’s KKBB Chart; as well as Sirius XM, Music Choice, Time Warner Cable, AOL Radio, etc.

A lot of artists can “break” on specialty radio as well as on college radio.  Radio promoters can also build somewhat of an awareness campaign around you from speciality radio plays, to bring attention to you or your band from various labels, publishers, booking agents and management companies.

Promotional companies can do the work of getting your music to speciality radio for you, and are a reliable source in the eyes of the stations. Double C Promotions is an example of such a company if you want to check them out:

Commercial Radio 


Commercial radio in Canada is run off a heavy influence of “what is charting” in the USA. Canadian radio is also made up of Canadian CANCON artists, in order to to make up a certain percentage of Canadian content that is required to be played on air (giving you the Hedleys, Mariana’s Trenchs, Nickelback, Avril’s, Michael Buble, etc). However, in Canada it is unusual for a major label to own a radio station and thus control the music played, whereas in the states this is often the case. Canadian Labels of course have their strong connections with their in house Radio Promotions teams and Radio Supervisors, but it is never a guaranteed thing.


Commercial Radio in the states is heavily driven by the major labels. They “own” the radio and it’s tough to be a new artist on this format, as you will competing with the Foo Fighters, Rhianna, Kings of Leon, Katy Perry etc., and will be as I would like to think “eaten alive”.


There is a difference of what is being played on US and Canadian radio today as well in terms of genres. USA has a heavy Country/Pop influence. They are also very particular about which Country/Pop artists are played, its heavily influenced by the biggest artists who are all signed to major labels.

While “rock is dead” in Canada, rock is still played on radio in the USA. Just on a much smaller level that it would have been say 5 – 10 years ago.

Some of Canada’s CANCON artists do make it to American radio, and some are “too Canadian sounding” (yes…that’s a thing) to break in the US. Some of Canadians biggest artists have never made a dime in the USA for that exact reason. In saying so, Canada has a bit of it’s own “genre” that would not be seen in the USA.

A couple of other things

-In the USA , they still send out hard copy CDs to radio, in Canada that is frowned upon and we are on a very digital level.

-In the USA and Canada, your going to have a hard time without the help of a radio tracker. It will be money well spent. For more info on radio trackers see my post on the subject here:

-To be considered a CANCON Artist, and thus be Canadian content, your music needs to meet two of the following MAPL criteria:

M(Music) – the music is composed entirely by a Canadian artist

A(Artist) – the music or the lyrics are performed mainly by a Canadian

P(Performance) – the musical selection is wholly recorded in Canada, or performed and broadcast in Canada

L(Lyrics) – lyrics are written by a Canadian writer

– Being considered Canadian content means you will help radio stations meet the required 40% canadian content CANCON requires of them. This is a huge plus when suggesting they play and promote your music.  However, just because you are Canadian, doesn’t mean they will automatically play you on radio, it just means you have a 40% window on air, and competing with all of other CANCON artists out there.

Once you gain some traction at radio, it’s going to be easier to get signed to a label, book shows, sell albums, attract management, ect. Radio play is a massive asset – make sure your recording quality is up to par with other radio singles, and make sure to hire a tracker or promotions company  with a known reputation to properly pitch you to radio.

Good luck!



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