How Important Is New Music On Your Station?
March 10, 2015
A lot of programmers aren't going to like this, and many won't agree with it, mostly because they don't want to agree with it.
Lots of programmers and music directors got into radio because they love music.
There's nothing wrong with that, of course. But passion for music often leads to making music decisions that aren't in your station's best interest.
In a head-to-head battle between playing familiar hits and breaking new music, what wins?
The familiar, if somewhat burned, hit? Or that new song your "gut" thinks will become popular?
Here's the thing:
Music discovery, meaning those people actively seeking new music on the radio, is in the minority. It's not mainstream. It's niche.
Most listeners react positively to their favorite songs, mixed with a few (very few) up-and-coming, yet still familiar, songs they have already decided they LIKE.
That's why, if you're a contemporary (Top 40, Hot AC, Hot Country, some Alternative, etc.) station, the most powerful categories in your library are songs you've already moved to recurrent, and a small number of power currents.
Even online services such as Pandora, Spotify and iHeart's app are discovering the power of familiar music. Have you noticed your streams are much more hit-driven than they once were? That's not a coincidence.
At any given time, there are only a few current hits. How many? Less than 10. Almost certainly less than seven, which is the number of songs you're probably playing in power current alone! And probably less than five, which is the magic number those hyper-conservative stations play as a power. This varies by format, of course, and is dependent on music cycles, but it's unusual to find more than a handful of true hits.
That means you probably play too many power currents. And the true hits? You probably don't play them often enough.
Mainstream audiences -- you know, those listeners that deliver more quarter-hours, higher ratings and increased ad revenues -- know what they like, and they like what they know.
And there just aren't that many legitimate hits. Don't believe me? Look at all the music you played last year, and make three lists:
- Every song you added as a current in the past year.
- Every song that became a power and stayed there for at least three weeks.
- Every song added that still tests well enough to play (recurrents).
If you can find 50 songs that appear on all three lists, you're probably either forcing some songs into power rotations or don't have a tight enough filter on that category. 50 songs? That sounds like a lot, doesn't it? That's less than one a week. And I'm sure you average adding more than one per week.
Now, look at how many songs are only on the first list, and don't make the other two? Most of those songs were a waste of your time, not to mention the listener's time. For more detail, calculate the total number of plays for each of those wasted songs. Then, multiply it by 4:00 per song. How much air time was placed on songs that yielded little to no value?
Note: Don't share the amount of wasted time with your GM or Sales Manager … they'll want to add commercials, which are a greater tune-out, of course, but not by as much as you might think.
What About New Music?
But it's also important to keep the music mix fresh. They certainly want to feel like they're in touch with what's new and cool, or at least that they're not out of touch, but their definition of what's new and your definition are radically different.
The challenge is to play the hits and keep your station sounding fresh and exciting.
So what's a responsible programmer to do? Here's how you can stay fresh and relevant while programming to the masses:
Be selective. Every song added to the playlist should be "power potential." If it doesn't, you're investing airplay in a title that has no future. There are exceptions, like when a major artist releases a new song that you aren't convinced is a hit but there's still significant interest because of the celebrity appeal. But those instances are rare.
Take it seriously. This isn't a hobby. It's your profession … a fun job, but it's business. Keep your passion for new music burning, but satisfy that desire with your private playlists.
Celebrate. Be proud of the new music you play. If you're only adding hits, it's promotable! Sell it on the air. Showcase it. Produce the hook into station promos. This helps familiarize the song more quickly and builds credit for playing it.
And don't stop promoting recent adds just because you altered the playlist this week. If you evaluate music through the listener's perspective, you'll realize that you play far more "new" music than you think, That new "add" from three to four weeks ago is still fresh and new to your audience.
You don't listen like they do.