CRS 2016 Preview Part 3: The Tortoise And The Hare – Country Charts vs. Pop Charts
January 22, 2016
If you’re filling out a dance card of must-see panels at CRS, take my advice: you need to include Tuesday, February 9th at 4pm, for “The Tortoise And The Hare,” a comparison of Country and Pop charts as it relates to the life cycle of singles in each respective format. It’s the final panel of the day, and I have a strong feeling the conversation will spill out into the hallways and bars long after the 60 minute session concludes. WARNING: If you’re looking for a nuts and bolts chart panel deconstructing the algebra behind points or spins accumulation, the mysteries of station weighting, and other multi-syllable mathematical mumbo jumbo, this is NOT the session for you. Similar to the adamant “It’s not a tumor” declaration, uttered by detective John Kimble, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the 1990 comedy classic “Kindergarten Cop,” let me reiterate: It’s not a chart panel!
Session moderator Bob Richards, who in his spare time serves as VP/Programming for Emmis/Indianapolis, home to Country WLHK, further explains, “This is kind of like pulling back the curtains to see how programmers and music directors look at Country and Top 40 charts, and use that information. Then maybe we can pull the best practices from the Top 40 guys and see what strategies and tactics they use which might work in Country.” A lot of discussion in recent years has centered on the speed – or, as some people feel, the lack thereof – of singles on the Country chart compared to Pop formats. While some feel it’s faster than ever, many bemoan its sometimes glacial movement. Actually, in many ways, it’s both.
A look at last week’s Mediabase Country chart (Week ending January 16th) finds LoCash “I Love This Life,” Jana Kramer “I Got the Boy,” and Brothers Osborne “Stay A Little Longer” ranked #2 through #4 with respective lifespans of 32, 41, and 40 weeks. On the other hand, you have Thomas Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man,” which – at this writing – was headed to a fourth consecutive week at #1 with just a 17 week vintage. That’s fast for a typical Country single – outside of the format superstars – and unusual for Rhett compared to his four previous #1 singles, which averaged 25-30 weeks of life before topping the chart. The latest, fastest #1 for Rhett may signal that he’s making the jump to another, higher level as a reliable, hit-making artist. If so, he is nearing rare air: membership in a small group of established superstars whose shelf life as a current is vastly different and whose singles ordinarily soar in and out of the charts, such as Luke Bryan’s “Strip It Down,” which rocketed to #1 in less than 15 weeks, as did Carrie Underwood’s “Smoke Break.”
Meanwhile on the Top 40 chart ending the same week (1/16), Selena Gomez’s multiple #1 single “Same Old Love” was 18 weeks old, followed by Justin Bieber “Sorry” at #2 and 13 weeks old, and Alessia Cara “Here” at 25 weeks. By the way, Justin Bieber “Love Yourself” was next at #5 after just six weeks. Hmmm … one artist with two top 10s at the same time? Another conversation for another time.
“In our discussion while prepping for this,” said Richards, “[KILT/Houston PD and CRS Agenda Committee member] Bruce Logan said one of the goals as a format is not necessarily speeding things up, but finding the hits faster, and we’d like to stop playing those songs that aren’t going to be hits sooner.” Richards and his panel believe Pop radio seems to have a better formula for that.
Another topic for this panel, says Richards, was raised by one of his panelists, iHeartMedia Top 40 KIIS/Los Angeles PD John Ivey – who is almost a ringer, in a sense. While he oversees arguably the greatest Top 40 juggernaut in the USA, in the nation’s second largest market, for the biggest radio company in existence, he’s also a Country music aficionado with a vast knowledge of this format. What he’d really like to do is program a Country radio station. Richards says Ivey questioned, “the seven to nine spin overnight position that a lot of stations have for weeks and weeks,” believing it doesn’t do anyone any good.
And Richards says, therein lays a conundrum. “You can’t find the hits faster, because you aren’t playing them enough to get an indication of it.” True, and here’s the reason, not to mention part II of said conundrum. Says Richards: “As a format, we’re seen as being much more amiable and partner oriented with labels.” True again – and Lord knows we could probably have another entire panel on the benefits of that.
But Richards adds that if you approach it from a purely objective view – doing what is absolutely best for the music, with each song as a marketing statement on your radio station, “It is impossible for the Country format to see it that way, because of how intertwined radio and labels are. I’d say that – at times – the benefits that a station receives for that overnight placement of a song for a while outweighs what you don’t receive in getting good research or feedback on a song for a while. But then again, if you look at it purely from a music standpoint, it’s the reverse.”
Among other topics that will surely come up when comparing Country to Pop is the philosophy of burning it in versus burning it out when it comes to music. Richards says one panelist from outside the format wondered why songs quickly disappear from a heavy or mega-heavy rotation on Country radio. There’s definitely a different strategy in Top 40 when it comes to that.
That probably has much to do with the uniquely intertwined Radio-Label relationships Richards earlier mentioned. So often, the mantra from labels is – and I’m paraphrasing, “Okay, 15 weeks to #1. Okay, alright, here ya go! We’ve got another one!” And, as Country has moved in to younger demo success, Richards reminds us, “We’re in more direct competition to Top 40 than I can ever remember in the format’s history.” That dynamic will be explored too.
I can’t wait for the discussion from a strong lineup of panelists. In addition to Richards as moderator, “The Tortoise And The Hare” will feature John Ivey, whom I already mentioned; VP/ Programming CBS Radio/Miami Rob Morris, who has Country experience, having programmed KMNB/Minneapolis; Atlantic Records EVP/Pop Promotion John Boulos; and Curb Nashville artist Lee Brice. Be sure to check it out: Tuesday, February 9th at 4p (CT). As always, I welcome your comments. You can enter them below, or email me direct here.