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FORMAT X-RAY: AN AC MUSIC SCHEDULING ANALYSIS (2)

by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

Looking for ways to get your target audience to tune in more often and listen longer? Give them a better sense of your station’s sound.

Our ‘Format X-Ray’ of an AC station might give you ideas to optimize your music. Thoughtful category setups and smart format designs can greatly improve your logs and further enhance your flow to then increase your tune-in occasions and expand your Time Spent Listening. So, let’s have a look at rotations & clocks!

‘PLAY THE HITS; NOT MAKE THE HITS’

AC is trend following; not trend setting in terms of playlist adds (image: Island Records)

AC is trend following; not trend setting in terms of playlist adds (image: Island Records)

ANALYZE YOUR MUSIC MARKET

Before we can analyze this station in terms of music category sequence, we have to know which songs are in which category. We can get an idea of tracks rotating frequently (and therefore currents or recurrents) by counting how often a song appears in a day. There are several airplay monitor tools out there, but we did this exercise manually. Apart from taking notes from a three-hour recording, we relied on the station’s website, which allows users to enter a certain time to see which songs played around that time.

The site didn’t show which songs (if any) were played between midnight and 4 a.m., and also the final half hour of that day (between 11:30 and midnight) wasn’t available for this analysis. But we do have a nice 19.5 hours of music data available, which is sufficient to analyze song rotations within high-rotating categories on a basic level. If you don’t have an airplay monitor service (or would like to check its accuracy), you can apply this method to track competing stations on a regular basis, which is relatively easy if the website shows you the full playback history.

SEE YOUR COMPETITOR’S ROTATIONS

The following downloadable spreadsheets (in PDF format) will show you all songs played during these 19.5 hours, sorted in different ways for different purposes, so we can easily identify the most-frequently played songs on the station:

PLAY YOUR ‘CURRENTS’ LONGER

The ‘Possible categories 2 overview’ includes 12 songs that played four or five times during the 19.5 monitored hours. Even if this is a limited sample, it’s likely that they were rotating at least three and possibly up to 12 (although that seems like a lot) Power Currents at the time. It’s indicated by three titles scheduled five times, and nine titles scheduled four times. Some of these nine tracks might have been scheduled one more time (during the 4.5-hour ‘blind spot’). The songs that were played two or three times during those 19.5 hours can, for now, be classified as Secondary Currents or New Songs, depending on their release date.

Obviously, AC stations usually play the hits; not make the hits. Adult Contemporary formats will often add currents later (and often play them longer) than the average CHR or Hot AC would do. An example is I Took a Pill in Ibiza by Mike Posner, which came out in July 2015, but still aired at least four times that day – therefore an apparent Power Current for this AC station, even if it was over a year old when we made this aircheck (Nov. 2016). So, we can now categorize songs that played two or three times a day like this:

New Songs: released during Sept., Oct., & Nov. of 2016 Secondary Currents: released in 2016 or in the second half of 2015

Power Recurrents: released in 2014 or in the first half of 2015

Power Golds: released in 2013 or earlier

‘THE CATEGORY RATIO SHOULD BE EQUAL FROM HOUR TO HOUR’

This category order & ratio could be more consistent (image: Thomas Giger)

This category order & ratio could be more consistent (image: Thomas Giger)

STRENGTHEN YOUR MUSIC POWER

As you see in the ‘Possible categories (sorted by release)’ tab, focusing on tracks from 2013 or earlier, five songs that would usually be a Power Gold are getting the same amount of plays as four songs that would normally be a Power Recurrent. Even if Sportfreunde Stiller’s Applaus, Applaus (German hit song) and Bastille’s Pompeii, both from the first half of 2013, would still be running as Power Recurrents, you’d expect both Coldplay’s Viva la Vida and the two Sunrise Avenue songs on the list — especially their Fairytale Gone Bad from 2006 — to be Power Golds, right?

That Fairytale Gone Bad was played at least twice that day — as much as, for example, Ed Sheeran’s Photograph from 2015 — which could indicate that this station (temporarily) brought back some Power Gold songs as Power Recurrent titles to automatically increase their rotation. Maybe they couldn’t find enough Power Recurrents based on research, and therefore added top-testing Power Golds to the Power Recurrent category? It’s a nice idea, but it diffuses the desired clarity of ‘one theme per category’ and the listener’s (subconscious) natural distinction between songs that are just a few years old and (that therefore play more often than) songs that are older.

VISUALIZE YOUR CATEGORY SEQUENCE

Of course, it could be a coincidence. The music director may have used the extra Viva la Vida, Fairytale Gone Bad and Hollywood Hills tracks to manually replace other titles on the music log for a certain reason, and may have missed or disregarded that these songs were already scheduled elsewhere on that day. Or the scheduling software may have done it for some reason, like bypassing a ‘breakable’ rule?

In any case, we now have a global picture of which songs are likely to be Power Currents, Secondary Currents / New Songs, Power Recurrents, and Power Golds / Power Recurrents, which enables us to analyze this AC station’s music format on a basic level. Getting back to our three-hour aircheck, we can now assign possible music categories to every song played. Again, as we have monitored a single broadcast day, based on 19.5 hours of data, and as we don’t exactly know if these songs are actually in those categories, it’s an indication. But we’ll still get a pretty good insight into this station’s music exposure:

MAKE YOUR FORMAT CONSISTENT

It looks like each of these hours is built in a different way. While it’s okay to have some variety, making a format less predictable, you always want to follow balanced patterns that reflect your entire music format. In other words, while the category order may be slightly different from hour to hour, the category ratio should be basically equal from clock to clock. An improvement could be a better balance of older & newer songs, which now seems off with five versus six versus seven Golds played an hour.

Power Currents and Secondary Recurrents are balanced pretty well, but while Hour 1 and Hour 3 include as much as two Secondary Currents, there are none of those in Hour 2. That hour features a New Current, while the other two hours don’t include one (although it’s perfectly fine for an AC station to schedule an ‘unfamiliar song’ category every other hour; not every hour). Finally, there’s no Power Recurrent in Hour 3 versus Hour 1 and Hour 2. The category order can be better, too, as we see several older (or several newer) songs scheduled back to back on multiple occasions. So there’s a need for more balance and more consistency. Here’s one way to achieve it:

‘THE BEST MIX OF YESTERDAY AND TODAY’

This format could be a good base for this AC station (format & image: Thomas Giger)

This format could be a good base for this AC station (format & image: Thomas Giger)

STREAMLINE YOUR MUSIC CLOCK

The above format example includes what I call a RhythmicRatio™. In this case, older vs. newer songs (classic, contemporary — classic, contemporary) to communicate to listeners the essence of the format, like ‘the best mix of yesterday and today’ or ‘yesterday’s hits and today’s favourites’ (to quote frequently used format positioners). Even though recurrents may be up to a few years old, they’re included on the ‘contemporary’ side of the RhythmicRatio™ flow, as it creates a distinctive contrast with the ‘classic’ part of the music library.

By including only two Power Currents an hour (but with fewer songs in that category than we found in the analysis) and two Secondary Currents an hour (with more songs in that category), there should be an greater feeling of passion for the hottest currents thanks to greater distinction with other currents. The same solution has been applied to each hour’s Power Recurrent slot and Secondary Recurrent slot. New Current is placed in the middle of the hour as it’s now embedded in familiar songs — in this case, two Golds (of which at least one should be a Power Gold).

ROTATE YOUR FORMAT CLOCKS

Note that in one of the hours, one Secondary Current has been replaced by a New Current. Hours 1 & 2 are now based on one basic clock; hours 3 & 4 on another basic clock (where positions of Power Currents and Power Recurrents have been switched). It will help ensure songs from high-rotating categories don’t end up in the same slots within the hour, which would make logs too predictable over time.

A great way to increase this ‘shuffle effect’ is rotating your music clocks across the days of a week or ideally multiple weeks, as explained in previous articles on using format clock grids to rotate hot clocks. I hope this post will give you good ideas to further tweak the music format of your own (Adult Contemporary) station. We’ll do more Format X-Rays in the future. Let us know which format you’d love to have examined next!

(In this straightforward exposure of strengths & weaknesses, the station, show & presenter names, as well as the air check recordings, are not included for respectful discretion towards the radio professionals involved.)

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.

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FORMAT X-RAY: AN AC MUSIC SCHEDULING ANALYSIS (1)

by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

Music genre, artist gender and tempo flow are all important factors in music scheduling. How could all of these influencers work together even better?

Every experienced music director knows that a great music log (and a successful music station) doesn’t depend on your playlist selection alone; it also matters in which order you play them! The right variety of genre, gender and tempo will help you to create music sweeps that will keep people tuned in. Here are a couple of thoughts, based on analyzing the midday logs (11 a.m. – 2 p.m.) of a major market German AC station.

Resources: Download aircheck notes in Microsoft Excel format (.xlsx)

‘THE MORE RULES YOU HAVE… THE MORE COMPLEX IT BECOMES’image-01

A ‘completely perfect’ music flow as seen above eventually becomes ‘almost perfect’ as factors like song rotations and scheduling rules, come into play (image: Thomas Giger)

SERVE YOUR ENTIRE DEMOGRAPHIC

Before we dive into this music scheduling analysis, some general thoughts. Adult Contemporary is a mass-appeal format, and programming for a broad 20-49 year-old demo (like our case station does) means programming with a challenge. First of all, you want to reflect your entire format in any given 20-minute segment — or, as listening sessions get shorter, every 10 minutes.

‘Every time I tune in, they’ll play a great song, or they’ll play it soon’ is what you want your desired audience to (sub)consciously think! These positive listener expectations drive ratings by keeping loyal P1 listeners happy, and, over time, convert occasional P2 listeners into more regular ones as they keep sampling your station and liking your music. A way to go about this would be dividing your demographic target into smaller sub groups.

CALCULATE YOUR CATEGORY RATIOS

AC is also a ‘balance format’. You want to create a good mix of eras & genres, based on carefully defined ratios. One factor is obviously listener age. You can divide your music catalogue into Recent Classics versus Older Classics. Say your target audience is 20-49, then you may want to serve 20-34 and 35-49 equally (or, to sound a bit fresher, put a slight emphasis on 20-34). As people mostly connect to music during their teenage years, an AC station can (in terms of non- current music) attract 20-49 year-old people by playing classics between 10 and 40 years of age.

In 2019, your oldest songs may be originating from the late 70s. To achieve era balance, your Recurrents could cover 2018-2019, Recent Classics 2000-2018, and Older Classics 1979-1999 — but it depends on how you wish to separate (and expose) your era groups. Another way to define audience segments is by music taste. If your mapping study shows a large cluster of Pop fans, a medium cluster of Dance lovers, and a small cluster of Pop-Rock heads, then you might play a ratio of 3 Pop songs : 2 Pop-Dance songs : 1 Pop-Rock song.

FOLLOW YOUR MUSIC MAP

Your desired genre ratio should be reflected in any random 20-minute (or ideally 10-minute) segment. If, for example, your #1 target audience music cluster is Pop, basically every second song you play should be Pop. If your #2 cluster is Pop-Dance and your #3 cluster is Pop-Rock, then you don’t want to play two Pop-Dance songs in a row; certainly not two Pop-Rock songs in a row (nor in close range from another). Hence, align your music scheduling rules with your music cluster strategy.

In our example, Pop, Pop-Dance; Pop, Pop-Rock; Pop, Pop-Dance (and then repeat from the beginning) could be the perfect music flow. Of course, that’s theory! In daily practice, many more factors come into play. A major one is song rotation, which is influenced by category load (how many songs are in each category) and category exposure (how many times does each category appear in your clocks), as well as separation rules (such as song, title & artist separations, plus tempo, gender & mood separations). The more rules you have… the more complex it becomes. The AC station that we’re looking at now, has an interesting song exposure and music rotation.

‘MAINTAIN A CONSISTENT SOUNDING STATION FROM HOUR TO HOUR’

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This station could improve its balance of artist gender and genre feel, and/or how songs are positioned, thus achieving a more consistent sound during the day (image: Thomas Giger)

BALANCE YOUR GENDER PLACEMENT

Going over our aircheck notes column by column, what immediately stands out is a male artist dominance. Especially in the first hour, where 10 out of 12 songs are sung by males, and seven of those playing back-to-back! Of course, the ideal ‘male; female; male; female’ gender flow isn’t easy to realize. For example, if your station plays mainly current music, and your Current and Recurrent categories are mainly filled with male artists, you’ll get many songs with male lead vocals in your music log.

That should not be a problem for this AC station, as it’s playing a mix of current and non-current music. Plus, it’s easy to avoid gender sameness when you use content from other categories to compensate a temporary (gender) imbalance in some categories. If your Currents are mainly male songs, you can rely more on the female parts of your Recurrent and Classic categories (as long as they’re available). There’s no excuse for playing seven males in a row. Even if, for some reason, you can really only play two or three female artists an hour, you could (use a gender rule like ‘maximum four male singers in a row’ to) position a female title after/around every fourth male one.

TWEAK YOUR MUSIC LOGS

Adult Contemporary formats can reach many listeners during work hours, as their mass-appeal format often makes them ‘the station that everyone in the office can agree on’. Therefore, for daytime hours like we’re analysing here, it’s essential to check prescheduled logs and repair scheduling inconsistencies. Swapping an equally-categorized ‘male’ and ‘female’ song within the same hour twice would have been a quick & easy fix here.

Gold songs are awesome for this purpose, so you can avoid affecting rotation patterns of higher- repeating Recurrents (and even faster-reappearing Currents). I’d first try to replace two Secondary Gold songs (or two Power Gold songs) with another to maintain format consistency throughout the hour as much as possible. Should that not work, you can simply take a male song out, and insert a compatible female song in its place — as long as it doesn’t heavily affect the rotation patterns of those songs. Again, preferably do this with songs from low-rotation categories.

IMPROVE YOUR GENRE EXPOSURE

The next column in our aircheck notes is called ‘genre feel’. Feel, because many of today’s songs include many musical influences (like a Pop song with a touch of Rock and some Dance beats). Even this subjective classification may give you a clear impression of the genre exposure on this station. You’ll see that Hour 1 not only has an imbalance of artist gender, but also regarding genre feel (with six Pop songs, versus only one and three in the two following hours). And that there’s a Pop- Dance spike in Hour 2, which could be forgiven because it’s (branded as) a ‘request’ hour, so people may expect that it’s different from regular hours. Outside specialty programming, you want to maintain a consistently sounding station from hour to hour.

If this AC would usually play up to six Pop songs an hour, Hour 1 would not be so extraordinary as it seems. Considering the four Pop songs playing right after another during the first half of that hour, the music director could do an even better job regarding how and where songs are scheduled. Over the course of three hours, there is actually a very nice balance between Pop, Pop-Rock and Pop-Dance, it’s just that most listeners won’t stay tuned for three hours in a row! The fact that the station just plays a few Pop-Urban songs is understandable, as it’s an AC format where many HipHop and Rap tracks quickly become borderline cases. But our case station could position its Urban tracks a bit better throughout the day.

‘A SECRET OF GREAT MUSIC SWEEPS IS TO GRADUALLY INCREASE YOUR TEMPO’’

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A good tempo balance from hour to hour matters as well — in this case, it could be better, as we compare Hour 2 with other hours (image: Thomas Giger)

SPREAD YOUR SIMILAR SONGS

This German station doesn’t seem to play much national product. Over the course of three hours, we’ve found five German productions (1 Pop-Dance; 2 Pop-Rock; 2 Pop-Urban). Just two of those are in German; the other three are in English. For music variety, you want to (use music scheduling rules to) separate similar songs from another. In Hour 2, the station plays 3 German products, with two German artists going back-to-back. That could have been better scheduled. Luckily, the latter songs are both sung in English, and many listeners may not know or care about the fact that both Mark Forster and Reamonn are German acts. Lyrics are more relevant.

To separate foreign language records; songs in a language, dialect or accent that is different from the one heard in the majority of your playlist, you may want to use a language code, and set a rule for it (like ‘keep a minimum of 35 minutes between two German-language songs’). If a certain language, dialect or accent is a minority within your music universe, you could make that rule ‘unbreakable’. This station may have set a German-language separation already, as those records performed in German are already positioned apart from each other well.

KEEP YOUR COVERS APART

You’ll notice two covers, both from 80s songs, going back to back in Hour 1: Total Eclipse Of The Heart and Fast Car. For an Adult Contemporary station, where many listeners know the original versions of cover songs, it’s good to separate covers with a generic ‘Cover’ code & rule, and/or to use specific ‘80s’ code & rule (when your playlist not only features many 80s hits, but also many modern interpretations of those. Used this way, an ‘80s’ code & rule can also prevent that 80s covers are being surrounded by actual (80s) Gold songs, which is luckily not the case here.

The ‘Cover’ code & rule can also be applied when only a recognizable part of a work, such as a vocal sample or melody line, is included in the newer song. An alternative to applying the ‘Cover’ codes & rules is using Secondary Artist name fields in your music database. In terms of playing the exact same song (like two versions of Fast Car, by Tracy Chapman and Jonas Blue) back to back, your Title Separation rule — set lower than your Power Current repetition time in order to avoid scheduling conflicts — should do its work.

OPTIMIZE YOUR TEMPO FLOW

Finally, let’s have a look at tempo feel. Again, this is a very personal impression. Jonas Blue’s interpretation of Fast Car does include some uptempo parts, but overall it feels more mid-tempo. Looking at totals over three analyzed hours, we see only three slow titles (nicely divided; one each hour), and an almost equal ratio of mid-tempo versus up-tempo songs. However, you can notice the significant difference between individual hours. Hour 3 is excellent and Hour 1 is reasonable, but Hour 2 could have been way better scheduled in terms of tempo flow. It includes four times as much up-tempo as mid-tempo songs!

Looking at individual segues, we see three mid-tempo titles going back-to-back in Hour 1 and Hour 3, and six up-tempo titles following each other in Hour 2! A few tempo rules can make it easy to achieve more variety and better flow. A secret of great music sweeps is to gradually increase your tempo (like slow; mid; up, and repeat), instead of decreasing it (like up; mid; slow, and repeat), as the first option creates growing excitement and forward momentum. The exception is when you come out of a break, and kick off a new music sweep — then you often want to schedule an up-tempo (or at least a mid-tempo) song to inject a musical steroid.

In the next part of this AC Format X-Ray, we’ll look at rotations & clocks!

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.

Header image: 123RF / Le Moal Olivier

5 Music Scheduling Tips 4 Station Image Building


by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

Does your music format reflect your station’s USP, turning listeners into brand devotees by consistently meeting positive expectations?

The essence of radio programming might be ‘saying what you do’ while ‘doing what you say’; each & every time someone tunes in. The more stations in your market, the more essential your distinction (and the more segmented your approach). Some inspiration to give your brand an exclusive music image — and to be consistent in doing so!

‘All (power) songs in every batch should receive enough exposure before going inactive’

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It’s an important aspect of platooning parts of your music library (image: 123RF / Cougarsan )

1.  Differentiate your library deliberately

If you have a direct (or close) competitor in terms of music format and/or audience demographic, create a distinct sound profile, also through music scheduling; starting with your playlist. When conducting your mapping studies, auditorium music tests and callout music research, you’ll likely identify songs that your competition also spins. Play all power songs for your target demo that fit your format core, but test — and, if eligible, play — some (secondary) songs that your rivals are leaving out, and leave out some (secondary) songs that your opponents do play.

When your format includes currents, it’s even easier to create a distinct music profile, because of the higher rotation (more exposure) compared to recurrents & classics. How quickly your station adds new music compared to other stations can position you as an early adopter / trend setting / more progressive vs. a late adopter / trend following / more conservative brand. So when your format competitor has a slightly ‘older’ image, you may benefit by positioning yourself as a bit ‘younger’ station by (spinning a bit more current music and/or) adding new songs a bit sooner, conveying a greater sense of being up to date.

2.  Separate your categories clearly

Speaking of new music; keeping these unfamiliar songs apart from familiar currents, recurrents & classics can help you achieve your desired familiarity level in every program hour. Power Current and Secondary Current categories should never include brand new releases. That would create format diffusion and familiarity imbalance, as some of your logs would include a smaller amount of familiar music compared to others. Fresh tracks belong into a New Music category, and its position within your clocks should be kept apart from your Power & Secondary Current slots, allowing you to reach a consistent ratio of new vs. established music for your station.

You also want consistent popularity (‘power’) ratios in any given hour. Something like a Stay Current category (for songs that are in between their current vs. recurrent cycles) requires proper maintenance, or it can quickly deteriorate your music logs. Check on a frequent and regular basis which songs still qualify to be played now, and eventually which songs should be moved to your Power Recurrent or Secondary Recurrent list or should be (temporarily or permanently) switched to ‘inactive’. Remove any song that doesn’t qualify any longer to keep playing nothing but strong music for your audience. Start cleaning up your highest-rotating; most-exposed categories.

3.  Platoon your playlist equally

An image of ‘sounding fresh’ doesn’t only depend on playing a decent amount of current music; it can also come from regularly platooning a certain part of your playlist; switching a batch of active songs to ‘temporarily inactive’ (while switching an equal batch of inactive songs back to ‘active’), which is usually done with back catalogues of recurrents & classics. Platooning is a fantastic tool to achieve a sense of “wow… I haven’t heard that song in a long time!”. Which categories and which percentage of those you’ll platoon with which frequency depends on several factors, like your overall format and individual rotations.

Within a current-based format, your New Music, Secondary Current, Power Current and Stay Current cycle will be dynamic enough, so you could platoon 1/3rd of your (Power Recurrent and) Secondary Recurrent list every 2-4 weeks. Slower-rotating categories, such as (Power Gold and) Secondary Gold, could be platooned every 2-4 months. All (power) songs in every batch should receive enough exposure before going inactive. Also, rather platoon similar groups of songs within each category (e.g. not a huge group of up-tempo songs in one batch, and then a large collective of slow-tempo songs in another batch) to maintain your music images.

‘Include rules that differentiate your format from others’

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Any music genres associated with your competition should be scheduled carefully (image: 123RF / Alexander Bedrin)

4.  Code your songs consistently

You can also achieve clear music positions through consistent sound codes. Think of audience expectations (based on listening experience and brand image) of your station and of your rivals. Ask yourself (and do research to find out) which music genres and sound types are expected from you, and which ones are attributed to others — when building your database as well as coding all titles. Any sounds that are more attributed to competitors should be left out or (when they test well, and are compatible with the rest of your format’s music cluster) should be considered as ‘extremes’ within your playlist and therefore spread out, using code-based separation rules.

Let single person code your entire library to be consistent, and code songs one by one; one aspect at a time to stay focused. Example: first code the genre of every song; then the tempo of every song; etc., rather than all aspects of one song; then all aspects of another song. Never use existing sound codes from external music libraries; always recode it for your local situation. Also recode your library every 6-12 months or every 3-6 months when you’re contemporary-based, as music tastes, song perceptions and market situations are changing all the time! For example, a song that may feel like ‘extreme’ now, might be accepted as ‘mainstream’ in a year from now.

5.  Implement your rules strategically

Use scheduling rules that differentiate your format from others. When your competition has a strong position for Soft Pop, while you have a strong image for Mainstream Pop, then any Soft Pop work on your playlist is a deviation from your format core and should be scheduled carefully. You want to avoid two Soft Pop titles being scheduled back to back, and let a Soft Pop song be followed by two or three Mainstream Pop tracks— ideally also covering multiple (sub) genres of Mainstream Pop for music variety along the way. In this example, you may also deliberately add most of your Soft Pop songs to your secondary rotations (instead of to your power categories).

While you want to offer your audience variety in tempo, gender, energy, texture, and what not, you may need to focus on a couple of criteria that are essential and/or that are dierentiating for your format, positioning your station against others by building your music image. Communicate your core format clearly, every time a listener tunes in, and deliver your music promise all the time.

When you’re a CHR, you want variety; not sound like an Urban-driven Rhythmic CHR during one half hour, and then like a Pop/Rock-intensive Hot AC during another half hour. Take the 10-minute test to see how your station is servicing the average PPM panelist or diary keeper with consistent balance of all genres within your format, or if you can still tweak your scheduling rules a bit.

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.

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DOES YOUR MUSIC FORMAT PASS THE 10-MINUTE TEST?


by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

As radio audiences listen in fragments, we as programmers rethink our strategy. Does your format clock pass the 10-minute test?

PPM research shows that across all radio formats & markets in the US, the average listening occasion is 9-10 minutes. This indicates that the often-used 20-minute rule for music scheduling is up for a redefinition. You therefore might want to reflect your entire music format during every 10 minutes; not 20. Here are some ideas to get you started.

‘EACH TYPE OF PLAYER HAS A FIXED POSITION’

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Fixed positions in your format clock for general segments of your music library let you alternately rotate category sublevels for recognisable exposure of your entire format (image: Flickr / Jon Candy)

SEE RESEARCH IN PERSPECTIVE

Considering people usually listen for only 10 minutes per tune-in occasion, we can re-write the traditional radio programming playbook, while keeping in mind that this idea is based on US data, so it doesn’t necessarily apply everywhere. In Europe, the average Time Spent Listening is much higher. Then again, ratings in many European markets are based upon dairy, and Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing — all driven by recall and influenced by ’top of mindness’ — so the perceived (long) listening time may be different from the actual (shorter) listening time.

GIVE LISTENERS INSTANT GRATIFICATION

Even though you always base your programming strategy on custom research data for your unique market, it’s a universal fact that people listen in shorter increments than we assumed in the pre-PPM age. People will flip a lot between stations that they have top of mind (so branding still matters in PPM, as you wish to maintain or improve that position). Knowing that average TSL and attention spans are relatively short, no matter what the market, makes it even more important to fulfil listener expectations — every single time people tune in.

BUNDLE SIMILAR CATEGORIES TOGETHER

We can now apply this principle to music scheduling. For example, when your music format sequence includes 8 different categories, you can let similar categories alternately appear on the same basic position in the format clock. It’s like a soccer team where each type of player has a fixed position. If the coach substitutes individual players for others, the team construction and game strategy remain the same. Now, we can take the classic 20-minute rule — reflecting your entire music format in any 20-minute segment — to what I’ll call the 10-minute rule.

‘LOOK AT YOUR FORMAT FROM AN AUDIENCE PERSPECTIVE’

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Basic music categories that listeners will perceive, are ‘older songs’ versus ‘newer songs’, so you could create your music format based on those category groups (image: Thomas Giger)

SPLIT YOUR MUSIC LIBRARY

If you’re programming a Modern AC aimed at 20-40 year-olds, you’ll probably want your music library to go back no further than 30 years ago (when a 40-year old person was 10 years young), and sound fresh by focusing on the newer segment that goes back no further than 20 years from today (when a now 30-year old person, who might be your defined core target listener, was 10). Another (or an additional) way to create a young image is playing at least 50% currents & recurrents, and no more than 50% classics. Here’s an example of a possible category setup:

Current (e.g. 2019)

C 1 – Power: the most popular current songs right now C 2 – Secondary: current songs on their way up or down

(You may wish to split songs on their way up vs. down, and also add a category for new music, which we’ll both demonstrate in our second example. For this first case, we’ll stick to the above two levels, in order to keep it simple.)

Recurrent (e.g. 2018-2019) R 1 – Power

R 2 – Secondary

Classic Recent (e.g. 2004-2017) A 1 – Power

A 2 – Secondary

Classic Older (e.g. 1990-2003) B 1 – Power

B 2 – Secondary

THINK LIKE A LISTENER

Having 8 active and equally appearing music categories like these seems like way too much to cover the entire format in a 20-minute sweep, because 8 x 3.5 minutes per average song = 28 minutes. If we would edit our songs down to 3 minutes each, that would still be 8 x 3 minutes = 24 minutes, and that’s without commercials! Luckily, there’s an easy solution. It all comes down to how your listeners perceive the songs on your station – so when you determine which song categories are essential, just look at your format from an audience perspective.

USE 2-POSITION AC CLOCKS

What listeners will distinguish the most, are currents & recurrents vs. recent & older classics. Therefore, we basically only need 2 main positions in our Modern AC format clock – even if it’s actually filled by no less than 8 different music categories:

  1. ‘Older songs’ – alternately A (1, 2) and B (1, 2)
  2. ‘Newer songs’ – alternately C (1, 2) and R (1, 2)

These 2 basic positions easily fit into the average 10-minute listening occasion, as 2 x 3.5 minutes per average song = 7 minutes. Now, let’s build a format clock based on that!

‘DIFFERENTIATE SECONDARY AND TERTIARY CURRENTS’

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A Modern AC music format including currents, recurrents and classics, with a format clock for music-intensive hours consisting of 16 songs and 2 short breaks (format & image: Thomas Giger)

CONSIDER 2:3 POWER/SECONDARY RATIO

Let’s assume that our Modern AC format should be a 50/50 mix of older and current music, and that we’re in a very competitive market where we wish to play at least 66% (best-testing) power songs (so every secondary record is followed by two power songs), then one of the format clocks of our ‘station on steroids’ could look like this:

B 1 – Power Classic Older

C 2 – Secondary Current

A 1 – Power Classic Recent

R 1 – Power Recurrent

B 2 – Secondary Classic Older

C 1 – Power Current

A 1 – Power Classic Recent

R 2 – Secondary Recurrent

B 1 – Power Classic Older

C 1 – Power Current

A 2 – Secondary Classic Recent

R 1 – Power Recurrent

B 1 – Power Classic Older C 2 – Secondary Current A 1 – Power Classic Recent R 1 – Power Recurrent

SEPARATE INCREASING & DECREASING CURRENTS

Let’s look at one more case. What if you have a CHR format, which is based on current hits and some new songs, plus and a back catalogue of recurrents? You can split non-Power Currents into 2 subcategories: Secondary for songs on their way up vs. Tertiary for songs on their way down, according to music research (like call-outs). And when we decide to, say, play songs that are maximum 2 years old with a focus on songs that are less than 1 year old, we could split our recurrents into more recent vs. less recent. Based on this, our music categories could be:

New

N – New (unfamiliar songs, even though the artist might be familiar)

Current

C 1 – Power: the most popular hits

C 2 – Secondary: hits on the way up (increasing popularity, but low burn)

C 3 – Tertiary: hits on the way down (very familiar, but increasing burn)

Recurrent

R 1 – Power Recent (less than 1 year old)

R 2 – Secondary Recent (less than 1 year old) R 3 – Power Older (1-2 years old)

R 4 – Secondary Older (1-2 years old)

SANDWICH UNFAMILIAR & FAMILIAR SONGS

Why don’t we simply include new (N) songs in our tertiary currents (C 3) category? Because even within Top 40, playing unfamiliar music is a bit of a risk. We want to schedule an unfamiliar song in between two familiar ones, and put a (relatively) burned song in between two popular ones. It therefore makes sense to differentiate secondary and tertiary currents; separate currents that are in their adoption vs. their decline phase.

‘50% (OR MORE) OF YOUR LOG SHOULD FEATURE BEST-TESTING SONGS’

05

CHR music format, consisting of currents, recurrents and new music, with a program clock for a music-driven show that has room for 16 songs and 2 short (news & service and/or commercial) stopsets (format & image: Thomas Giger)

USE 3-POSITION CHR CLOCKS

A Contemporary Hit Radio audience will often be able to distinguish (unfamiliar) new music from (familiar) chart hits, and current categories from (even more familiar) older songs. Based on this, we could work with 3 main positions in our CHR format clock:

  1. ‘New songs’ – N
  2. ‘Hit songs’ – alternately C 1, 2 & 3
  3. ‘Older songs’ – alternately R 1, 2, 3 & 4

These 3 basic positions almost fit into the average 10-minute listening occasion, as 3 x 3.5 minute per average song = 10.5 minutes. Even if a listener would tune-in for only 9 consecutive minutes, chances are that he or she will hear at least one entire song and a good portion of the two adjacent songs (unless you’re in commercials during that time). Now… how could this CHR  format clock look like?

PLAY MINIMUM 50% POWERS

If you claim to be [Market]’s #1 Hit Music Station, or something along those lines, you’ll want to make sure that every second song is either a current hit or a recent hit. Ideally, 50% (or more) of your log should feature best-testing songs. Let’s assume we’re the only CHR in the market and there’s not a crossover station (like Hot AC) that’s bothering us, so that this minimum percentage is usually sufficient, then one of the format clocks could look like this:

R 1 – Power Recurrent Recent

C 1 – Power Current C 3 – Tertiary Current

N – New

C 1 – Power Current

C 2 – Secondary Current

R 3 – Power Recurrent Older

C 1 – Power Current C 3 – Tertiary Current

N – New

C 1 – Power Current

C 2 – Secondary Current

R 2 – Secondary Recurrent Recent

C 1 – Power Current C 3 – Tertiary Current

N – New

BUILD IMAGE, CUME & P1s

I hope these cases of a Modern AC and CHR format have inspired you to increase your audience loyalty with every tune-in occasion by creating and consistently fulfilling listener expectations. A 10-minute basic category sequence that meets the duration of the average listening occasion of 9-10 minutes will support your image, build your cume, and may even convert some of your P2 listeners into new P1 fans, as their love for your station grows once they’ll like what they’re hearing and get what they expect (every time, whenever they tune in).

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.

a

The Ebb & Flow of Music Scheduling: Structure Tempo To Increase TSL


by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

A great flow in music scheduling captures the feeling of every daypart. How to oer a better listener experience by creating a mood-based tempo cycle?

While you can apply these concept to other aspects, like genre, energy, mood and texture, the following ideas are solely based on music tempo for ‘flow dynamics’. Three examples of ‘tempo tides’ to give your brand a competitive edge — even if you and your rival would play the exact same 500 songs. ‘Cause a better flow could result in a higher TSL and a winning share!

1.    Relaxed feeling in easy dayparts

 

Think ‘feel’, not ‘numbers’

Think ‘feel’, not ‘numbers’

Depending on your format strategy and brand imaging, you may wish to sound lighter during certain slots compared to your average music ‘excitement level’. Think of late nights in traditional AC with ‘easy listening’ through softer music, such as love songs with listener dedications. Such hours usually contain mostly slow-tempo songs (let’s call these level 1), some medium-tempo records (level 2), and hardly any up-tempo tracks (level 3).

You could certainly work with five tempo levels — level 1 (slow), 2 (medium slow), 3 (medium), 4 (medium fast), 5 (fast) — for more refined flow formats, but for the sake of this article, I’ll stick to slow, medium & fast. You may want to keep in mind that a 105 BPM track isn’t automatically a ‘medium’ one, as it may have an up-tempo feel (which is what listeners will perceive; no one is counting beats). So, which format is suitable for relaxing hours with lower excitement?

Use unbreakable rules carefully

After you have coded your library this way, you can create a tempo sequence where, in this case, a short ‘peak’ is followed by a longer ‘valley’. The speed pattern could therefore decrease lineally (level 3 — level 2 — level 1) or decrease gradually, and then stay on a low average tempo for some time, such as: level 3 — level 2 — level 1, followed by level 2 — level 1 — level 2 (before returning to level 3). Now, how to implement all of this in your music scheduling software?

Use smart tempo grids to achieve perfect flow, while avoiding scheduling conflicts and rotation inconsistencies. You may wish to combine an unbreakable rule (for example: every ‘level 3’ song has to be followed by a certain amount of songs that are either ‘level 2’ or ‘level 1’ before returning to another ‘level 3’) with a breakable rule (for example: every ‘level 2’ should ideally be followed by a ‘level 1’ (or ‘level 3’) to achieve tempo variety, while supporting song rotations.

2.  Consistent mood in average dayparts

Control your tempo patterns

Control your tempo patterns

In most dayparts, like office hours, you may wish to balance every up-tempo track (and every slow-tempo work) with a medium-tempo record, using ‘level 2’ songs as a connecting bridge (3 — 2 — 1 — 2, repeat) for natural transitions. Doing so during mornings would start people’s day not too slow and not too fast. However, if you’re a contemporary format with high excitement, like a (dynamic morning show on a) hit music station, you could switch to a higher gear (see further).

Zooming out to a larger scale, you can apply this principle from show to show. To control your flow from daypart to daypart, use medium-excitement hours to build a bridge (between high- energy shows and easy-listening segments). Without necessarily adjusting your format clocks, you can now segue from a powerful afternoon to a relaxed evening to a romantic night show, simply by stepping down your overall tempo.

Check your library content

There’s another major factor to schedule every position and ensure perfect rotations, which is your music library. Include enough songs of each tempo level in every music category that appears in your clocks, so your music scheduling software can always find a match. That’s easier with larger (‘library’) categories than with smaller (‘current’) categories, as your ‘current song’ playlist follows today’s music cycle.

You can tailor format clocks to fit your daypart flow. For example: program a smaller amount of current songs in easy-listening evening hours, where you’ll need many ‘level 1’ songs. Because otherwise, in weeks where you don’t have enough ‘level 1’ content in your ‘current’ categories, scheduling those hours would become rather challenging. Just make sure to pre-check if (and how) adjusting these clocks may affect your day-to-day ‘current song’ rotations.

3.  High momentum in active dayparts

Glue different songs together

Glue different songs together

Your station will sound exciting when you increase your music tempo throughout several different songs; then drop the tempo suddenly to start building it again. Basically: 1 — 2 — 3 (and repeat), ideally kicking off music sweeps (coming out of your Top of Hour, a commercial break, or a long talk) with a ‘level 3’ or ‘level 2’. You can create variants, depending on how many ‘level 3’ peaks you want. For example, 1 — 2 — 2 — 3 (and repeat) could work for slightly less energetic hours.

Instead of playing ‘level 1’ and ‘level 3’ songs (and vice versa) back to back in cold segues, you may wish to smoothen transitions with connective elements like station imaging or jock talks. Listeners, as we all know, dislike sudden changes (like jumping from a really slow to a super fast song), unless a perfect segue is integrating everything. It could be your reason to reinstall good- old transition jingles, and to use tempo-matching BPM sweepers.

Simplify your scheduling system

Instead of using tempo rules to create flow, there’s also another possibility — which means a different view on format clocks and music categories. You could, theoretically, attach tempo levels to song categories. Say your Gold category is called G, then you could split this category into G1, G2 and G3, for slow-, medium- and fast-paced classics. It allows you to create different clocks for different dayparts (like including, in terms of oldies, only G1s and G2s from 10pm to midnight).

However, it would also split this category’s rotations, as ‘G songs’ would no longer rotate through all G slots in your clocks, resulting in three different rotation patterns. And how would you make

sure that your ‘best testers’ come around often enough? You could add PG1, PG2, and PG3 (for ‘Power Gold’), but that would mean 6 sub-categories for Gold alone — and create a need for several clock variants to avoid that the same songs appear at the same position too often.

A beautiful dance of art and science

Define your tempo ratio

Define your tempo ratio

Music scheduling is a balancing act; a beautiful dance of art and science; a perfect combination of flow and rotation. I believe in format clocks with easy structures, so songs rotate naturally with the right exposure. At the same time, I love wonderful patterns of music flow; perfect segues for a great experience for your audience. How to use the best of both worlds; combine ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’; logic and creativity? The answer might be surprisingly simple.

First, assign tempo ratios to certain hours. For example: you may want your afternoon drive show to include about 20% slow-tempo songs, 40% medium-tempo records, and 40% up-tempo tracks, which is a 1 : 2 : 2 ratio. Tempo grids (as explained earlier) allow you to define tempo-sequences like 1 — 2 — 3 — 2 — 3 (and repeat), if all categories (currents, recurrents, golds, etc.) contain enough songs of each level. But it all comes down to using the right (combination of) scheduling rules.

Make your scheduler’s day

Minimise (or zero) your number of unbreakable rules, because even a rule that there should be four ‘level 2’ or ‘level 3’ songs in between two ‘level 1’ songs could conflict with ‘forced’ scheduling of your power currents; your fastest-repeating category that (depending on your format and market) may include very few titles. Or, instruct your software to schedule along these (still breakable) rules only after your highest-spinning songs have been placed on their math-based positions.

Also, you can allow your software to schedule slow-spinning categories(like secondary golds, secondary recurrents, and maybe even secondary currents) more loosely, so the program doesn’t necessarily have to pick the first song that’s up next based on its rotation, but that it can ‘dig a few song cards deeper’ instead if necessary. This, along with the post-scheduling art of manual log editing, may help you to get (close to) your desired tempo flow pattern for every daypart!

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.

music-scheduling-song-segues-music-flow-ppm-portable-people-meter-radio-market-03[1]

Super Song Segues: Creating & Maintaining ‘Forward Flow’ In Music Logs


by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

Great music radio has great music flow. How do you sound both amazing and increase TSL? That’s where super song segues come into play!

A segue — from the Italian segue [se:ɡwe], which means ‘follows’ — is what Wikipedia calls ‘a smooth transition from one topic or section to the next’. Segues are obviously important in a PPM world, where you want to keep things flowing and avoid sudden changes or perceived breaks (plus consider attention spans; presell what’s coming, go there quickly, and make it worthwhile). Some ideas to optimise music scheduling for more forward momentum and longer Time Spent Listening on your music radio station.

Pleasing the majority of your audience most of the time

Hitting a home run every second song will keep your music core hooked (image: Thomas Giger)

Consider your music clusters

Before covering gender, tempo, energy & mood in music transitions, let’s look at the all-important genre factor, as music flow is partly achieved through music variety. One of the benefits of radio, compared to music collections and streaming services, is the surprise factor, leading to curiosity and anticipation (contributing to forward momentum). Variety is also key to satisfy every music cluster (taste group) of your target audience within any given segment of 10 minutes; the average listening occasion time in many markets. In any case, you want to reflect your station’s entire music format in less than any random 20 minutes (again, 10 is ideal), keeping in mind that longer commercial breaks will be like pushing a reset button. After a long stopset, you basically start all over with a mostly new batch of listeners.

Assist your scheduling software

If you’re an AC station, and a mapping study tells you that one half of your target audience is into Pop, and that the second half consists of equal amounts of Rock and Dance fans (for the sake of an easy example), then you’ll probably build a music library based on 50% Pop, 25% Pop-Rock, and 25% Pop-Dance. You’ll probably avoid heavy Rock or extreme Dance songs, keeping your Pop music core happy with mainly Pop-leaning Rock and Dance, while giving Rock and Dance fans some of what they want as well. However, building a library where you not only include the right (good-testing) songs, but also have the right genre percentage in each song category (also based on how many slots for each category you have in your format clocks) is one thing. Scheduling those songs in the right order is another.

Improve your genre sequence

When your music strategy is playing 50% Pop, 25% Pop-Rock and 25% Pop-Dance, you may not only want to hear that 2:1:1 ratio in each hour as a whole and, as explained, in a given 10-minute segment — or, in this case, a given 15-minute music segment as you need 4 songs (of about 3.5 minutes each) to reflect a complete 2:1:1 format. You also want to play those 4 titles in a certain sequence, pleasing the majority of your audience most of the time. Instead of:

PopPop — Pop-Rock — Pop-Dance

you obviously want a strategic music genre flow like:

Pop — Pop-Rock — Pop — Pop-Dance

to please your music core at least every second song, no matter when they tune in, keeping that essential part of your audience hooked for as long as possible to boost your Time Spent Listening and (with frequent tune-in appointments) grow your ratings. But there’s a paradox.

Unbreakable rules are perfect to separate music genres that do not appeal to the majority of your audience.

Especially a mass-appeal format needs music variety and music balance (image: Thomas Giger)

Streamline your station sound

While variety creates flow, it also contradicts flow. Especially when you program a broad, mainstream format such as AC or Top 40, you’ll sometimes have to play two less compatible records back to back, like transitioning from a soft & slow ending Pop song to a powerful & uptempo starting Rock or Dance track. Unless you have a jock talk (or other break) in between two very different songs, you can use (PPM-friendly) station imaging to make good segues. I’m not talking about classic transition jingles (long sung themes with a break in the middle, where they’re morphing from like Rock to Dance, and/or from like slow to fast) necessarily. It is possible, when these jingles are well produced (and correctly used), but if you want to use sung imaging to connect two songs, you’re usually better off with short versions like Shotgun IDs, or (partly sung) power intros a.k.a. branded intros. Non-musical elements, like sweepers, are great as well.

Match your songs & imaging

You can produce multiple versions of every sweeper, using a Beats per Minute grid (such as a click track in Pro Tools) to put your voiceover parts rhythmically on the beat before adding impacts & whooshes to glue everything together (and muting your click track before rending your audio file). Once you’ve added your sweepers to a Sweeper category in your music scheduling database, and tagged both your sweepers and your songs with a BPM number, you can define rules in your music scheduling software to mix & match songs and sweepers. Add your jingles to a Jingle category, treating them like songs (as jingles are musical elements) with codes for genre and tempo. Define these codes for both the intro and outro of your jingles, so you can create perfect transitions. When you’ve conscientiously entered song and imaging intro & outro times in your scheduling software — and carefully entered start & end cues for all songs and imaging in your automation software — you can, after some testing and fine-tuning, enjoy a great song-to-imaging-to-music flow.

Code your database efficiently

Before you start (re)coding your songs, ideally done by one and the same person for consistency reasons, you want decide which sound definitions really matter to you(r audience). For most music formats, relevant sound codes are:

  • Genre: defined by music style (Pop, Rock, Dance, etc.)
  • Gender: defined by lead vocals (male, female, or mixed)
  • Energy: defined on a scale (e.g. level 1 is very low, level 5 is very high)
  • Tempo: defined on a scale (e.g. level 1 is very slow, level 5 is very fast)
  • Mood: defined on a scale (e.g. level 1 is very sad, level 5 is very happy)
  • Daypart: defined in a calendar (showing days & hours where it can play)

Your music scheduling rules (based on chosen sound codes) could be set to ‘breakable’ first, maybe except for your (usually unbreakable) Daypart rule, and then switched to ‘unbreakable’ one by one (for rules that make a difference). Unbreakable rules are perfect to separate music genres that not appeal to the majority of your audience. If you’re an AC station with a Pop core, you may want to avoid two Rock or Dance songs back to back, or more than two level-1 or level-5 songs in a row (or a sudden jump from a level-1 to a level-5 song without a level-3 song in between). But it would be acceptable (yet not perfect) to play two Pop songs, or two level-3 songs, after another. You can tweak your sound code matrix by scheduling test logs, and making necessary adjustments.

This station’s energy, tempo & mood sounds pretty good

However, many level 2 or level 3 songs could have been better spread across the hour, considering the fact that some of them have been scheduled close to each other, while there are many level 4 or level 5 songs in a row (image: Thomas Giger)

Rethink your scheduling rules

Above, you see a random hour on a major-market AC station, so we have a nice case to analyse song segues from a sound code perspective. Therefore, I have left rotation-based categories such as Currents, Recurrents and Golds, as well as station imaging, out of this analysis. Looking at the ‘Genre’ column above, the station’s main music clusters seem to be Pop and Dance in a ratio of almost 2:1 (9 songs versus 5 songs). Seems like there’re no real Rock or Urban on the playlist; no surprise for Adult Contemporary formats. But considering how these Pop and Dance songs are positioned, this station could define rules to achieve an even better genre flow throughout the hour, as we not only see 3 Dance-alike songs back to back, but also 6 Pop-based songs in a row! Even if Pop is likely the station’s music core, and even if there are many sub genres within Pop (as we see in the third column) to create variety, an even better music flow could be:

PopPop — Dance — PopPop — Dance

which you could theoretically achieve by defining a rule like ‘maximum 2 Pop’ and ‘maximum 1 Dance’ in a row, adding a rule that Dance has to be followed by Pop. If that would cause scheduling conflicts or affect song rotations, you could set it to ‘maximum 3 Pop’ in a row, and, as a last resort, accept ‘maximum 2 Dance’ in a row (as an unbreakable rule).

Balance your (re)current songs

Of course, as Currents and Recurrents have higher turnovers than Golds (especially when they’re powers), they have to play at certain positions to maintain excellent rotation patterns, but you can use your secondary Recurrents and Golds to balance your genre exposure. The side effect is automatic ‘platooning’ of your back catalogue if your front catalogue is influenced by music trends. If today’s music cycle is Pop, many of your Currents & Recurrents will be Pop-based, thus you’ll rely more on Dance- and Rock-sounding songs in your Gold categories, causing your Pop-sounding Golds to play less often. Solution? Leave your Power Gold category as it is, so you’re still playing the best-testing Golds. Rebuild your Secondary Gold library by testing some Dance- and Rock-feeling classics to qualify for your Secondary Gold segment, making that category appear a few times an hour (close to your Power Currents and Power Recurrents). Important is that your Power Golds are still playing as often as they should.

Tweak your music gradually

Four females and four males back to back (see ‘Gender’ column) can be solved by tightening your gender separation rule. First, make small, step-by-step adjustments, like taking it from ‘maximum 4’ to ‘maximum 3’ males or females in a row. Run a couple of test logs. If it works, you can try ‘maximum 2’, as long as your rotation patterns remain intact. The music mix is powerful, upbeat and positive (with average levels of 3.9, 3.6 and 3.6, so basically 4, 4 and 4). Within this context, it does feel a bit off to start with a ‘3-3-2’ song after the Top of the Hour. The ‘Mood’ rules could be adjusted, so that lower-level songs are more embedded within higher-level songs (of which we’ve seen eight in a row in that hour). A good rule is to always follow a low-level (1 or 2) song with a higher-level (3 or 4) song, like this station seems to be doing well. Music scheduling is also ‘mood management’. All of these factors combined could give you a better sound, and a longer TSL. Have fun optimising your music flow, and creating super song segues!

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431 (1)Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.

christmas-music-scheduling-holiday-music-categories-christmas-format-clock-christmas-tree-background-01[1]

Clockin’ Around The Christmas Tree: Holiday Music Scheduling Tips

by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas :-). Time to double-check your holiday library coding & categories, and fine-tune your Christmas format rotations & clocks.

If your station is like most, you’ll launch your holiday music format somewhere between (American) Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Assuming you already know which songs you’re going to play, we’ll focus on how to give every Christmas song the right exposure, and share some ChristSTmas music format clocks which you may be able to use.

INCLUDE ENOUGH MUSIC VARIETY

Uptempo songs on your Christmas music playlist help you balance your flow (image: Columbia Records)

Uptempo songs on your Christmas playlist can balance your music flow (image: Columbia Records)

CHECK YOUR SOUND CODES

You probably have coded your songs when you added them, but you may have done this a few months ago. It could be good to go over every song once again with fresh ears (and actually listen to it) so you can make sure that each and every title is perfectly coded according to essential criteria. These may include:

  • Gender: male, female or duet (in terms of lead vocals)
  • Sound: defined by genre (Contemporary, Traditional, Religious as well as Pop, Rock, Soul,
    etc.)
  • Mood: defined by level (like 1 for very sad, 5 for very happy)
  • Energy: defined by level (like 1 for very low, 5 for very high)
  • Tempo: defined by level (like 1 for very slow, 5 for very fast)
  • Daypart: defined by days & hours (when it can be played)

If you don’t play 100% Christmas music (yet), then your set of sound codes for Christmas music should be the same as the one for non-Christmas music, in order to make your scheduling rules work for every possible combination (e.g. a Christmas song followed by a non-Christmas song).

SET YOUR SCHEDULING RULES

Essential sound codes are the ones you’ll use to separate similar-sounding songs apart from song, artist & title separation. Just make every scheduling rule match your song exposure and library content (or vice versa). For example: when you’re playing 100% Christmas music and 70% of your Christmas library includes songs with female lead vocals, you may want to make your gender separation rule breakable instead of unbreakable (or take off some female / add some male lead vocal songs).

KEEP YOUR LIBRARY DIVERSE

Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You is obviously a contemporary-sounding song with (after the intro) pretty high mood, energy & tempo levels. Songs like these are great to include. They let you balance the character of the average Christmas song. You can play All I Want… anytime you want (maybe except from dinner time on Christmas Eve, when you might want to play background music, depending on your station format and image). White Christmas could be classified as a traditional song, and Drummer Boy as a religious song. A modern interpretation (like Justin Bieber’s cover) may be an exception. Bieber’s voice is very recognizable, and could give a traditional-religious standard a contemporary feel. After coding your songs with your rules in mind, analyze your Christmas playlist again. Does it include enough music variety for easy music scheduling? For example, does your library include enough songs from all genders, sounds, moods, energies, tempos and dayparts?

APPEAL TO MULTIPLE LISTENER GENERATIONS

Playing modern interpretations of timeless classics can update your Christmas format (image: Island Records)

Playing modern interpretations of timeless classics can update your format (image: Island Records)

DEFINE YOUR MUSIC CATEGORIES

Especially when you have a broad target audience which will appeal to multiple listener generations, you may want to split your music library into a younger and older part. If your target demo is 20-49, you can address 20-34 and 35-49 year-olds equally by creating 2 categories:

  • X – Recent Christmas: songs from 1990-2016, mostly familiar to younger listeners
  • Y – Classic Christmas: songs from before 1990, mostly familiar to older listeners

Of course, holiday music is a unique category because many of the most-played songs are (or have their origin in) older works. Winter Wonderland was composed in 1934 but everyone knows it because it’s been re-recorded about 200 times (!) and because it’s being played year after year. But even if younger people will know many of the Christmas Classics, you can use the X and Y categories alternately to achieve a good era balance (when that is what you want).

Powergold Music Scheduling helps you manage Christmas music easily and quickly with Special Programming Tags. Learn more.

REGULATE YOUR SONG ROTATIONS

You already divide your Currents, Recurrents and Golds into power and secondary categories, so why not assign your Christmas songs to high-rotation and low-rotation categories as well? When you choose to separate Christmas Recent and Christmas Classics as seen above, you could then split those into 2 levels:

  • X1 – Recent Christmas Power: most popular recent Christmas songs from 1990-2016
  • X2 – Recent Christmas Secondary: additional recent Christmas songs from 1990-2016
  • Y1 – Classic Christmas Power: most popular classic Christmas songs from before 1990
  • Y2 – Classic Christmas Secondary: additional classic Christmas songs from before 1990

Check every category to make sure that you have enough songs in each one to create a good rotation pattern. And, in any case, you want to have more songs in your level 2 (secondary) categories than in your level 1 (power) categories, so even if you’ll position your level 1 and level 2 songs in your format clock equally, your most popular / best testing songs will appear more often.

CREATE YOUR FORMAT CLOCKS

When you choose to increase your holiday music percentage gradually (over the course of a couple of weeks leading up to Christmas Eve), the following 5 format clocks may give you inspiration for your holiday music scheduling. If you flip to a 100% Christmas format all at once, the final clock will be interesting for you. I’ve designed the clocks for a fictitious Modern AC station, serving a 20-49 audience (with an emphasis on 20-34) by playing a mix of Currents, Recurrents & Golds. (Talk & stopset positions are not included in order to focus on the songs.) The music categories are:

  • N = New
  • C = Current
  • R = Recurrent
  • G = Gold
  • X = Recent Christmas (level 1 for Power, level 2 for Secondary)
  • Y = Classic Christmas (level 1 for Power, level 2 for Secondary)

and this is how the main format clock looks like:

Music format clock for a Modern AC with the best mix of yesterday & today (format: Thomas Giger)

Music format clock for a Modern AC with the best mix of yesterday & today (format: Thomas Giger)

Powergold Music Scheduling offers you Clock Layers so you can change your base clock regularly rather than creating and managing multiple clocks, saving to tons of time. Learn more.

1. REPLACE YOUR OLDEST CATEGORIES

The above Modern AC format clock is built around a ‘Recurrent-Current-Gold-Current, Recurrent-Current-Gold-New’ category sequence. It could run on any day outside of holidays. This will be the master clock for the Christmas variants. You can replace Power/Secondary Gold positions by Power/Secondary Christmas slots, which is a nice fit, as most Christmas standards are basically Gold songs. It also keeps you sounding fresh as you’re still playing currents, recurrents and new music, thus maintaining your overall listener expectations for your station and format. You could introduce your holiday music subtlety, like 1 or 2 songs an hour. We’ve already moved a step ahead with the below clock, designed for 25% Christmas music = 1 out of 4 songs:

Music format clock for 25% Christmas / 4 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)

Christmas music format clock for 25% Christmas / 4 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)

2. REPLACE YOUR MIDDLE CATEGORIES

A few weeks after introducing Christmas music, you may want to increase the hourly percentage of holiday music. We can achieve a level of 50% Christmas if we replace the Recurrent positions from the master clock by X slots, and turn the Christmas positions from the 25% clock into Y slots. To bring back 2 of the 4 lost Recurrent positions, we can replace the 2 positions for New songs from the 25% clock by Recurrent slots, based on 1) the fact that people generically prefer familiar music over unfamiliar music, and 2) the idea that holidays are inherently connected to honouring traditions and enjoying famil(iarit)y. And thanks to 6 positions for current songs, our Modern AC remains sounding contemporary:

Music format clock for 50% Christmas / 8 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)

Christmas music program clock for 50% Christmas / 8 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)

3. REPLACE YOUR YOUNGEST CATEGORIES

A few days before Christmas, you may want to play 75% holiday music, which calls for another format clock variant. You can now replace some of your Current positions by Christmas slots. Because most of your holiday songs will no longer be separated by normal songs, it becomes extra important to create a good category sequence in terms of Recent versus Classic Christmas. You may want to re-assign the X and Y categories, like in the example format clock below. You’ll notice that each hour includes 8 recent and only 4 classic Christmas songs (meeting listener expectations for a Modern AC station), plus 2 Currents and 2 Recurrents for additional freshness:

BP / Clock Music format clock for 75% Christmas / 12 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)

Christmas music hot clock for 75% Christmas / 12 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)

OPTIMIZE YOUR SONG ROTATIONS

If you don’t flip your format to ‘all-Christmas’ as early as mid November, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are usually a good reason to play 100% holiday hits. Our format clock for all-Christmas music scheduling includes 8 recent as well as 8 classic songs, as holidays are celebrated in a family circle (so it makes sense to tailor our station towards a broad cume for top ratings). Adjust the ration according to your brand image, (usual) station format, target audience and market position. You also want the right balance in terms of Power vs. Secondary Christmas. The below format includes an equal amount of powers and secondaries, but because your power categories are smaller than your secondary categories, you can let your best songs turn around faster. Note that there’s a power song scheduled after the ‘top of hour’ and ‘top of half hour’ where, after a stopset, you may jingle back into the music:

Music format clock for 100% Christmas / 16 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)

Holiday music format clock for 100% Christmas / 16 songs an hour (format: Thomas Giger)

ROTATE YOUR ROLLING CLOCKS

When you want to keep your music format recognisable without using the same clock endlessly, you can rotate your format clock 1 or 2 positions to the right (or left), and voilà… you’ve just created another version of this week’s format clock. When you have 5 of these sub clocks, you can rotate them through a 24-hour day. Beginning each day at midnight with another clock from the day before, it will take until day #6 in your week grid until the exact same clock appears in the exact same hour. The 100% Christmas format clock above would only allow for 4 variants, as it includes only 4 different music categories (X1, X2, Y1, Y2), but 4 clocks will do the trick as well. Simply skipping the first clock that would normally appear at midnight will achieve the same.

Merry Christmas & Happy Programming to you!

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.

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Music Research: Format Studies For Music Clusters Explained

by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

When you’re mapping your market with a format study, hoping to find a competitive gap, considering these principles may help you succeed.

Our guest author Stephen Ryan is managing director of Ryan Research, a UK-based radio programming & research consultancy. Here, in the latest in a series of articles on music research, he talks about conducting a format study for your radio market. This first parts looks at how to approach a format study effectively.

Developing the music proposition

This differentiates a focused format study from a broader market study (image: Ryan Research)

This differentiates a focused format study from a broader market study (image: Ryan Research)

In a developing radio market, the initial entrants will have an open field to play with. These trailblazers tend to focus on broader appeal formats such as CHR and AC. If the range of competition remains limited for a reasonable period of time, it allows these early entrants to create a strong heritage and loyalty.

A new station needs to decide whether it is strategically possible to go head to head with heritage players or whether it should provide a different or unique proposition. If this new entrant has access to sufficient funds to market heavily, and has the benefit of a greater strategic sophistication using research to fine-tune the proposition, then it may be able to take the heritage player or players head on, and win. However, given time as the market develops, the main players tend to become more sophisticated in strategically developing their format and proposition.

Map your market strategically

For anyone considering to enter a more developed and competitive market, it may be more and more difficult to find a so-called ‘hole in the market’. Unless you have the resources and finances to attack the heritage players, you need to identify a gap where you can effectively launch a new station. This is where a format study (sometimes named ‘mapping study’) comes into play.

The terms ‘format study’ and ‘market study’ are sometimes used interchangeably. While there are similarities, format studies tend to focus on developing the music proposition for a station. Market studies tend to have a broader remit; looking not just at music, but also at other key elements of your proposition such as personalities, morning shows, features and promotions. For this set of articles, we focus on music testing, thus speaking about a ‘format study’.

Understand your format clusters

While the more mainstream formats have the advantage of attracting a large range of listenership, the ability provides both a strength and a weakness. Their strength is the broad appeal, but at the same time, their broadness means that they have more difficulty protecting and maintaining ownership of all sub-genres that make up their product or format. The use of a format study can help identify the appeal of the sub-genres, and whether the ownership of the genres with sufficient appeal is strong or weak for the existing players.

A format study is not the exclusive preserve of the new entrant. It is also a strategic tool for existing players in the market. Stations may wish to broaden or tighten their formats, or indeed totally flip a format. As we will see, a format study doesn’t just highlight the strength or weakness of individual music styles and genre types, but also how compatible each genre is with all the other genres tested. This allows you to see how the various music styles fit with each other.

Keep your target focus tight

When you’re launching a new station against an established competitor with a broad target (e.g. females 20-49), you could focus on a certain segment (e.g. females 35-44), when your research indicates it’s a market gap with good potential (image: Thomas Giger, 123RF / Sergey Nivens)

When you’re launching a new station against an established competitor with a broad target (e.g. females 20-49), you could focus on a certain segment (e.g. females 35-44), when your research indicates it’s a market gap with good potential (image: Thomas Giger, 123RF / Sergey Nivens)

Broaden your format research

The approach to the format study depends on your strategic aims. If you wish to investigate the market as a whole (as you have don’t have a predisposition to a particular format type), then you would need to test enough music styles to have a total representation of all the main station formats available to listeners in the existing market. You may also want to include music styles that are not currently heard in the market, but that you feel may prove to have a sufficient appeal. This approach will give you the broadest insight into the existing market.

However, it can prove to be an expensive piece of research. The survey may take 20 minutes or more per respondent, hence the fieldwork costs will be high. If you are using a consultant, the fee will also be higher due to the complexity of analysing and cross-comparing a large number of styles. A wide age spread will also be required, which means that a large sample will need to be recruited.

Meet your competition focused

Depending on how deep you will want to go in the analysis, every gender- and age-based cross tab will need to have a minimum of 30 people in it. As we have shown in previous articles, the bigger the sample; the more expensive the fieldwork. Ideally, each sub-age group in the sample should have a 5-year span (e.g. 15-19, 20-24, and so on).

However, if you are conducting a study on the full market (like 15-54), and if cost is a concern, then each sub-age group could be broadened to a 10-year spread. Before making that decision, keep in mind that when you’re launching a new radio station against strong existing competition, you should keep your target focus tight. You can consider widening your approach after you have established yourself.

Limit your session duration

If you wish to develop your music format based on a set of sub-genres of an existing broader format, then you can potentially reduce the number of styles to test. You can also focus the sample required to concentrate on those potential listeners the format would most appeal to. For example, if an existing Soft AC in the market has a broad genre mix from the 70’s through to today, there may be an opportunity to focus in on a narrower set of eras and drive it solely through females. The first key step is choosing the song hooks that will represent each of the styles to be tested.

Normally, each music style comprises 3 song hooks that are each 7-9 seconds long. You could include 4 hooks, but keep in mind that this will impact the duration of each music style, making the survey longer (thus more expensive). If we have an average hook length of 8 seconds, each music style takes 24 seconds. If you are testing 18 music styles, that’s already 7.5 minutes of audio. Using 4 hooks will add another 2 minutes, so you might want to keep it to 3 hooks per style.

You conduct what is basically a mini-AMT

You can either define your market’s key music styles yourself, or let your target audience cluster them for you through some kind of (auditorium) music test (image: Ryan Research)

You can either define your market’s key music styles yourself, or let your target audience cluster them for you through some kind of (auditorium) music test (image: Ryan Research)

Select your hooks carefully

There are two main approaches to deciding what music styles to test and which song hooks to use. The first is based on your (or your consultant’s) music programming experience. Here you need to monitor the existing stations in the market and identify the key music styles that listeners are exposed to on a regular basis. Once you have a list of the key music styles, you then need to identify the song hooks you are going to use to demonstrate each of them.

Selecting the hooks is always a delicate balance. You want to choose familiar & popular songs, which can be based on the amount of airplay and the number of record sales/downloads. If a song has been played a lot in the market, it can be assumed it has had an enduring appeal. You may also want to review current Top 40 charts, or legitimate past charts.

Increase your research reliability

Avoid mixing mega hits with weaker songs, as that one hit may skew the result. Remember, the respondent is being asked to rate a style; not the individual songs. You will also want to have an A and B version of each music style, where 50% of the sample will hear version A and the other 50% will hear version B. This dilutes the chance of a particular song skewing the results for an individual style. For example, once you have put together the 3 song hooks for ‘music style 1’, that becomes the A version. You then identify 3 more song hooks that can represent the same ‘music style 1’ that becomes version B.

The other method for selecting songs for each style is more scientific, and requires an additional piece of research prior to the format study being conducted. This involves a cluster study. There are mixed views amongst consultants about the efficiency and benefit of conducting a cluster study. It is, of course, an additional expense. You can use them in certain circumstances, where they can prove their worth. There is an example of this later in the article.

Define your clusters carefully

How we as radio programmers split music styles into separate music genres may not necessarily be how our listeners perceive or understand them. A cluster study allows your audience to choose how music genres are defined. In this type of study, you conduct what is basically a mini-AMT (auditorium music test) with a list of 70 to 80 songs, representing the various music styles heard in the market. The difference here is that each of the songs in the list is rated individually by the respondent, rather than styles.

The analysis conducted after the fieldwork is completed, is quite sophisticated, so you may require the services of a consultant. Clustering techniques such as the Euclidean method are used to take the ratings for each song, and then cross-reference them to all the other songs. The result is the formation of clusters, where the songs contained therein fit the closest together. The clusters are then labelled as the music styles to be tested in the format study.

Combining music styles should be approached with extreme care

Some music styles work better for you as a stand-alone music style, illustrated by a huge diversity of 90s Pop: from power ballads & teen pop to techno/house & modern rock (image: Thomas Giger)

Some music styles work better for you as a stand-alone music style, illustrated by a huge diversity of 90s Pop: from power ballads & teen pop to techno/house & modern rock (image: Thomas Giger)

Discover your station’s USP

A cluster study has the benefit of showing you how the listener views the music heard in the market. Let’s say you wish to decide what music styles to test, and you’re in a market where, as well as international hits, there are local versions of the various styles produced by indigenous artists. Looking at 90s Pop, do you have to have a 90s International Pop style and a 90s Local Pop style, or can you combine both into one? If 90s International Pop songs cluster well with 90s Local Pop, you could consider combining them. (As far as the listener is concerned, they’ll fit under the same umbrella.)

However, combining music styles should be approached with extreme care. You could accidentally remove or dilute a key music style, which should have been left as a standalone style. By doing so, an opportunity to find an elusive gap in the market may be missed. If you are using music styles that were defined by using a cluster study, you do not need A & B versions. In the next part, we’ll look at the analysis side of a format study, and what you should be looking for from the results depending on your strategic goals.

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.

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MUSIC SCHEDULING Q&A – HOW TO BUILD YOUR SONG CATEGORIES?

by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

How many songs per category create perfect song rotations? The mind-boggling formulas behind ratings-increasing turnovers (with category rotation visuals).

Thank you for your positive response to our first music scheduling Q&A, which led to a follow-up question: how many songs create perfect song rotations and ideal category turnovers? Ideas & insights to determine the right number of songs for a certain amount of slots per hour, including practical examples to see which combinations work best.

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

Flexible categories, based on reliable mathematics, may be the way to go (image: Thomas Giger)

We’re gonna start this music scheduling Q&A with a question from Dieter via email:

Hey Thomas!

I came across a couple of your articles where you mention splitting your secondary category into two — Secondary Up and Secondary Down. How many songs do you have in each of those categories? Just curious, as I currently run one secondary category.

SPREAD YOUR SONGS CONSISTENTLY

Thanks for your question! First a recap on why to use two ‘secondary current’ groups. Separating your ‘less familiar, but fresh’ currents (growing in popularity) from ‘more familiar, but tired’ currents (decreasing in popularity) lets you balance your current music exposure. For a consistent on-air product, you do not want one hour with mainly ‘hits on their way up’ followed by another hour full of ‘hits on their way down’; rather an equal ratio of both, since your highest-rotating categories (your power & secondary currents) create a big part of your music images and listener expectations.

Splitting secondary currents makes scheduling specialist shows like ‘new music hours’, for which you may only utilise Current Secondary Up and New Music (leaving out your Current Secondary Down and Current Power) categories, easy. However, that will affect the rotation patterns for categories that are now more often (and for categories that are now less often) exposed than normal. For perfect song rotations, use the same category ratios in each and every hour, or program your new music show every day — using a consistent music format clock for it.

OPTIMISE YOUR CATEGORY SEGUES

Furthermore, defining secondary currents as ‘ups’ versus ‘downs’ helps you improve your category segues. For a current-based format, which sequence feels better? Current Secondary Down; Recurrent Secondary; Current Power, or Current Secondary Up; Recurrent Secondary; Current Power? The first option schedules two ‘tired’ songs back to back, because a Current Secondary Down is an early Recurrent (even if it may not actually make it to Recurrents after its current hit cycle), while the second one juxtaposes a more ‘fresh’ song in front of a relatively ‘tired’ song.

You can’t always avoid that a Current Secondary Down is followed by a Recurrent; you may have to make a compromise when designing your format clocks, like I did when creating 12 CHR Music Format Clocks You Can Adjust & Apply Today. But you can often control what kind of a Recurrent it is. As you’ll see in the example clock, there’s one position per hour where a Current Secondary Down is positioned next to a Recurrent, but it’s a Recurrent Power — not a Secondary — so there’s a good chance your audience loves hearing this ‘popular hit from a while ago’ again.

EVOLVE YOUR MUSIC CATEGORIES

How many songs should be in Current Secondary Up vs. Down depends on your category policy. One approach is a numerus fixus (like always having an X number of power currents in rotation) with a downside: rotation patterns will never change, and you may not always find X really strong songs). Another method is a flexible volume per category, which has a downside as well: your ‘hit factor’ per hour may vary. One week you’ll play X; another week Y currents an hour (as you adjust your format clocks to your number of songs/category and matching number of slots/hour).

Therefore, I believe in the best of both worlds: combining flexible categories with reliable mathematics. Because the rotation pattern for fast-repeating categories like current hits could quickly become predictable for (thus potentially more repetitive to) your P1 core audience, you should be free to make weekly changes to current music categories by adding and (re)moving titles, without being stuck to a fixed number of songs per category, but also without being random. We’ll therefore share ground rules for ‘category calculating’ based on the following practical examples:

Bonus:

  • Download song rotation examples from this article (Apple Numbers, original)
  • Download song rotation examples from this article (Microsoft Excel)
  • Download song rotation examples from this article (PDF)

(available soon)

NOT ONLY YOUR DAY-TO-DAY ROTATION IS ESSENTIAL

To fix week-to-week rotation pattern repetition, you can use the ‘kick trick’ (image: Thomas Giger)

This example is based on a question from Armando in an article comment:

Thomas,

I really enjoyed your article on CHR format clocks. The bulk of my work experience has been in the Urban AC and Urban (Hip Hop) format in the USA. I wanted to know how many songs do you suggest in the other categories outside of Power Current for which you recommended 7.

  • Current New
  • Current Secondary Up
  • Current Power
  • Current Secondary Down
  • Current Stay
  • Recurrent Power
  • Recurrent Secondary

CONSIDER YOUR FORMAT CLOCKS

Thank you for your question! A solid answer needs a strong foundation, starting with the ‘even-odd rule’. An odd number of slots per hour usually calls for an even number of songs per category (and vice versa) for a desireable rotation pattern. When you have 5 Power Current (‘A’) slots an hour, 6 ‘A’ titles in rotation would let each one ‘jump’ 1 slot ahead, every time it’s being played, cycling each track through all other ‘A’ slots before it appears at the same play location in your format clock. Unfortunately, this happens in every 6th hour — a caveat, as we’ll see in a minute.

When your number of slots per hour and your number of songs per category are both even or both odd, it will often lead to inefficient scheduling. For example, if you would have 4 ‘A’ slots an hour (like one per quarter) in your format clock and 6 titles in ‘A’ rotation, then, for starters, each title would only touch 2 out of 4 play positions. But 4 ‘A’ slots an hour with only 5 ‘A’ songs in rotation lets you achieve an efficient song spread where each song plays in every other slot before returning to the same position (in every 5th hour — perfect, as we’ll see). But the even-odd rule is not everything.

MIND YOUR CATEGORY TURNOVER

The turnover of your (fast-repeating) categories should NOT be multipliable to the number of hours a day, because while rotations of 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 or 24 hours (or certain multiplications of those, such as 3 x 12 = 36 hours) are beautiful round numbers, they can lead to repetitive rotation patterns. Category turnovers of 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 or 24 hours cause every song to play in the exact same slots, at the exact same times, day after day (until you replace those songs). Multiplications exceeding 24 hours are a bit less predictable, but will still cause inefficient song placement.

You therefore want to make sure that your category turnover times are uneven numbers that cannot be multiplied to 24. So what are the first options that come to mind? They are, indeed, 5 and 7 hours (the first ones fitting in between the ‘non-ideal rotation’ list of 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 or 24 hours). If you need a shorter rotation than 5 or 7 hours, like when you program a current-based music format, you can divide those numbers by a factor 2. For example: 5 / 2 = 2.5 hours, and even 2.5 / 2 = 1.25 hours (because 24 / 2.5 = 9.6 hours, and 24 / 1.25 = 19.2 hours).

FINE-TUNE YOUR CLOCK GRID

Not only your day-to-day rotation is essential; also your week-to-week repetition matters. When you rotate 7 ‘A’ songs through 5 ‘A’ slots per hour, you get a perfect pattern where all songs are amazingly spread out, playing in every slot of every day. However, this happens after precisely 7 days, causing this complete song placement pattern to repeat week after week, in other words: every song would constantly play on the exact same location as during the week before! Luckily, there are several different, easy-to-apply solutions.

Refreshing (a part of) your ‘A’ list every week is not enough. You should use the ‘kick’ function (in your music scheduling software) to, for example, ignore the ‘A’ song that would be scheduled in the first ‘A’ slot right after midnight (night from Sunday to Monday) starting with the second ‘A’ song in line instead. Another option is to use a different grid for your format clocks from week to week, as shown in the article about CHR format clocks. When you apply both methods together, make sure they don’t work against each other; check your rotation patterns.

 

In the next Music Scheduling Q&A, we’ll share additional principles, and a complete category setup for:

  • Current New
  • Current Secondary Up
  • Current Power
  • Current Secondary Down
  • Current Stay
  • Recurrent Power
  • Recurrent Secondary

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.

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BBC RADIO 2 MD JEFF SMITH: “WE’RE NOT WAITING FOR RECORDS TO BURN”

by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com

An adult music format playing unfamiliar classics and breaking new songs; even taking currents off after they became hits. Does that work?

Seems like it does for BBC Radio 2, looking at their reach of 15 million. Where some Adult Contemporary stations only add a record after it’s peaked in Top 40, chances are that Radio 2 has dropped it weeks before to replace it by another highlight. At Radiodays Europe 2017, Head of Music Jeff Smith shared how they curate the playlist. And why they sometimes play a forgotten song from the past. “There are a lot of things that are part of the secret sauce.”

“WE NEEDED TO FIND A NEW DIMENSION IN POP”

BBC Radio 2 supported UK Country artists like The Shires and Ward Thomas, partly because there was a lack of suitable mainstream Pop for the station (images: Anthony D’Angio, Sony Music)

KEEP YOUR BROAD APPEAL

The playlist is an important programming tool for BBC Radio 2, which has certain music quota attached to its broadcast license. The station is required to include 20% new music. According to Smith, they deliver about 26%. He specifies that 76% of that comes from UK artists, indicating it is “another big thing for the BBC” to adhere to. Radio 2 plays about 2 to 3; sometimes 4 currents an hour, which he thinks fits the station. “Our audience is far from dead; we’ve got an average age around 52.” As a Full Service with a broad range, they play some crossover songs that fit the format. “That Katy Perryrecord is a fantastic record”, he says, pointing to the single cover of Chained To The Rhythm“It will stand the test in 20 years time. They want to hear that to be relevant to their kids.”

CHOOSE YOUR ADDS CAREFULLY

The door of BBC Radio 2’s music team seems to be very open for everyone. “Producers of playlist-using programs and specialist programs come and visit us from time to time, and advise us about music.” While the station receives a great deal of material every week, only a fraction makes it to the BBC Radio 2 playlist: “We have a choice of between 50 and 100 records, of which 5 go on.” To decide which are the happy few, they have a playlist committee of about 12 to 15 people, chaired by him as the station’s Head of Music. During the 1.5 hour music meeting, they only listen to a handful of songs. “I expect them to have heard the music beforehand, and select the songs they want to champion; to really pound the table that they want this record on the playlist.”

DIFFERENTIATE YOUR MUSIC IMAGE

Former lead acts of BBC Radio 1, such as Robbie Williams, have become core artists of Radio 2 over the years, while others, like Ed Sheeran or Emeli Sandé, are played by both. “But”, he adds, “we’ve got distinct, individual things we’ve made by ourselves. There was not a lot of music coming to us a few years ago which was dedicated for Radio 2, other than very soft; very mellow ‘super AC’. We needed to find a new dimension in Pop. That’s part of the reason why we have embraced UK Country. The Shires and Ward Thomas are great stories about UK artists breaking through due to Radio 2’s core support.”

“THERE’S ALWAYS ANOTHER GOOD RECORD COMING ALONG”

BBC Radio 2 is not doing research nor following charts to determine which singles or album tracks they’re removing from or adding to their playlist (images: Asylum Records, Atlantic Records)

SUPPORT YOUR LONG-TERM TALENTS

Gavin James is one of the station’s Pop artists of today. Jeff Smith calls I Don’t Know Why (an A lister in March 2017) as “an incredible accessible Pop song” that “sounds contemporary” and is “one of those great radio records”. A “current core” act for BBC Radio 2 is James Blunt (“a smart guy, who reinvents himself all the time”), and in the Country realm, Maren Moris is in power rotation with My Church. “What I like to do, particularly when they get to an A list status, is have a discussion with the label about where the music is going. I’ve never seen the point of supporting an artist for one track, like I’ve never seen the point of playing a record once. When you get behind an artist, you get behind an artist.” The station has therefore played a few different Maren Moris songs so far.

WIDEN YOUR ARTIST SPECTRUM

It looks like BBC Radio 2 chooses to play some unusual artists, if their songs fit the format. Adding Something Just Like This was something he didn’t see coming, even though it’s featuring Coldplay. “We have never played The Chainsmokersbeforehand — but I wouldn’t say we wouldn’t, because songs like Paris will come through to be something like a Radio 2 record in the future.” A surprising name on that week’s B list (of current records) is Deep Purple, which celebrates it 50th anniversary in 2018. He thinks that the band’s recent album is a particularly good one. “One of the areas [where] we do get quite rightly criticised on a little bit at the moment is Rock.” It was one of their reasons to represent the “iconic” Rock of the British band. “It works within the mix.”

FEATURE YOUR TOP ALBUMS

At the moment of the session, Shape Of You is already a big hit for Ed Sheeran, but he’s not on BBC Radio 2’s current A list. Instead, they went with Galway Girl for the B list. “We’re on and off, and faster than anybody else”, the music director says about how they’re dealing with current songs; a refreshing approach for an Adult Contemporary centred radio station. “There’s always another good record coming along for us, because we don’t test [songs]. Because we’re not waiting for records to burn, we got rid of Castle On The Hill and Shape Of You two or three weeks ago.” He considers ÷ to be a “very strong” album, and therefore likes to play all great songs from an album that fit the format, rather than just a few. “Galway Girl clearly is working for the audience. It’s a really good, contemporary Radio 2 record.”

“IT’S IMPORTANT TO HAVE THAT UPLIFTING VIBE”

BBC Radio 2 plays upbeat music in The Chris Evans Breakfast Show (image: Radiodays Europe)

MAINTAIN YOUR STATION TEMPO

The BBC Radio 2 playlist is completed by a C category of low-rotation currents, which will get about 3 to 5 plays a week. “Father John Misty is an interesting experiment for us”, Smith says. While comparing the album Pure Comedy, from which they play the Ballad Of The Dying Man to Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connectionhe does realise that you will usually want to avoid playing a ballad on high rotation, unless it’s a huge record. “We think it will really work for our audience, but it’s quite a slow record; hard to play an awful lot.” The C list also reflects the musical breadth & depth of the station (as we’ve seen in part 1 of this article), with London Grammar’s Big Picture right next to Sailing by Vera Lynn, who then just recently celebrated her 100th birthday.

INCREASE YOUR MORNING PACE

Speaking of tempo, how important is it to play mostly upbeat songs during morning hours, especially because BBC Radio 2 morning host Chris Evans has an energetic style of presenting? “It’s one of the discussions we’ve had with Chris when he started the Breakfast Show; he wanted to play that kind of music. We were saying that within Radio 2, we want to play a broad mix. But even for people who love laid-back music, this time of day is the most challenging to do that. There is an excuse with Pause For Thought at 9.15 every morning, where we sometimes can come out with a slow record. But on the whole, it’s important to have that uplifting vibe for the show.”

SELL YOUR UNFAMILIAR SONGS

Certain songs will also be played for certain occasions, like Skee-Lo’s I Wish and Bob & Earl’s Harlem Shuffle on a day when the show got a visit from the Harlem Globetrotters. Other songs, such as C+C Music Factory’s Gonna Make You Sweat, are there from the idea to bring back 90s songs that people haven’t heard on the station for some time, hoping to attract a 30+ demographic. The music director is happy to work with presenters who love music, and who are able to introduce unfamiliar songs in an engaging way, enhancing the station’s music profile. Here’s how morning personality Chris Evans creates excitement and attention for Tracies’ The House That Jack Built, a ‘forgotten 45’ from the 1980s, using a certain theme as an excuse.

“WE PUT THEM AT 7 PM NOW”

BBC Radio 2 is giving specialist shows a greater chance to be heard now (image: Thomas Giger)

USE YOUR ‘SPICE’ SPARINGLY

Session host Nik Goodman notes that you wouldn’t expect the biggest radio station in the UK to play such an obscure song at 7:40 the morning, asking with a smile if that is part of BBC Radio 2’s secret sauce. “I think there are a lot of things that are part of the secret sauce; I’m still discovering it myself as I go through it”, Jeff Smith replies. He once heard former colleagues describe rarities like these as ‘once-a-year songs’. “Tracie is like that; you want to play it once a year. When you have the uniqueness of Chris, his love for pop hits from the past, and a theme, it’s a perfect opportunity. If you look at those hours, though, I see my Recurrents; I see the two playlist records; I see the hour openers… that’s all there.”

PROMOTE YOUR UPCOMING SHOWS

Radio 2 offers a lot of specialist shows during evenings and weekends, once of them hosted by singer/songwriter and pianist Jamie Cullum, who did an excellent interview series with Bill Joel for his Jazz program. After Smith was appointed as Head of Music, in March 2007, a lot of specialist shows that were programmed in the late evening, were moved to the early evening. “We put them at 7 PM now, so they are getting half a million listeners per day straight off the back of Simon Mayo Drivetime, and he links into them. He’ll chat with the presenters, and play a tune into them as well, so there is that push through from our daytime into our specialist program.” Apart from specialist evening shows, Radio 2 offers thematic playlists at night.

VISUALISE YOUR STUDIO SESSIONS

The station also has musicians coming in for interviews and live sessions. “I’ve never been the biggest fan of live music in daytime; I think it can get in the way of lots and lots of things. But if it’s great, and if it’s unique, and if you can extend the content into visualisation; another aspect of what we do in radio nowadays, I think that is a good reason.” Speaking of live, BBC Radio 2 does outdoor events as well; “immersing the audience in the brand” as marketing people would name it. He recalls doing this for the first time during his earlier days as music director of Radio 1, with an event that would evolve into today’s annual Big Weekend. “It’s a way of getting exclusive live content, but also — most importantly — representing our station to the audience in person.”

“55.000 PEOPLE”

That’s said to be the number of visitors of the Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park 2016 festival (images: BBC)

START YOUR PRODUCTION EARLY

One of their live music benchmarks is the Radio 2 In Concert series, featuring artists that can be heard on the station; from Robbie Williams and A-Ha to Noel Gallagher and Van Morrison. But the station’s main image event is probably the annual one-day Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park festival with a line-up including some of the biggest UK and international acts that fit the station’s music playlist and/or brand feel. According to a BBC Music video, Radio 2 Live in Hyde Park 2016 was attended by “55.000 people”. The production is on a tight schedule. “I’ll start working on the next year as soon as this one’s over.” While Jeff Smith can’t reveal this year’s line-up yet, he hints that it will be a special edition, as BBC Radio 2 celebrates its 50th birthday on September 30, 2017.

31a8ca497da06282eb497b8005c82431Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.