CRS In Action: 'From The Outside Looking In'
February 10, 2016 at 3:24 PM (PT)
COUNTRY RADIO SEMINAR (CRS) 2016 offered an altered viewpoint from a different vantage point with this AFTERNOON's (2/10) "FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: OTHER FORMATS GIVE THEIR TAKE ON COUNTRY." Moderator ALL ACCESS NASHVILLE Editor RJ CURTIS led the discussion with panelists that included iHEARTMEDIA SVP/Urban Programming DOC WINTER, CUMULUS Hot AC WPLJ/NEW YORK PD GILLETTE, iHEARTMEDIA SVP/Programming and CHR KIIS/LOS ANGELES Brand Manager JOHN IVEY, and CUMULUS Corporate PD/Rock TROY HANSON (THE 'VILLE 2/3). CURTIS playfully yet accurately subtitled the discussion: "Enough About Me, Let's Talk About You. What Do YOU Think About Me?"
With representation from the Top 40, AC, Rock, and Urban genres, panelists were able to pinpoint similarities between their format and Country, as well as some key differences. HANSON noted, "We are going after and sharing a lot of the same audience, 18-34" in relation to his Rock brands, while WINTER pinpointed the Urban relationship to Country as being "from a passion standpoint, the formats are very similar."
Piggybacking on the discussion from YESTERDAY's (2/9) panel entitled "THE STORY OF THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE," (NET NEWS 2/9), panelists discussed perceived differences in Country programming as compared with their own formats' programming and music cycles. "Everyone talks about cycles," said IVEY, "but you can always find a hit. We [in CHR] are going to go out and try to find those so we can stay balanced." The group touched on the seemingly unbalanced music mix of Country radio as perceived from the viewpoint of other formats, noting the "Bro Country" movement, a lack of females in the format, and lack of texture. In regards to the latter, IVEY said, "Shake it up! STAPLETON? Great! How could you not?"
As for selecting those potential hits, HANSON noted, "If you want to be in the lane of affecting people on a weekly basis, you have to be hotter. 'Pop' stands for 'popular;' why would you not want to play something that is popular?" GILLETTE noted that a key difference between Country's relationship with the music cycle and his relationship in Hot AC is the concern with how a label will react to decreasing spins or passing on a record. "I put a song on my station, and 100% of my concern is for the audience," explained GILLETTE. "I'm thinking about what is the best way to engage my audience."
And how does he select what goes on his station? GILLETTE says it isn't always about who a label is working, or what song they are pushing. He also says he isn't waiting at his phone on a given day and time to take music calls. If he likes a song and metrics such as streaming data, sales figures, or SHAZAM numbers have indicating scores, it goes in to rotation. "There's not really a rule, except for the rules you make and the box you put yourself in," said GILLETTE.
But not play a record the label is pushing? Could Country ever even consider that? And if we aren't playing exactly what the labels deliver, how will we find hits? "I've found myself having relationships with artists directly," said WINTER. "They invite you to come in to the studio to listen to music, because they aren't in agreement with the label on what direction to go."
Each panelist related a story of how the personal connection directly to an artist, whether signed or unsigned, has helped to break an artist, pinpoint a hit record, and brand their station as a platform for music discovery. But all agreed that Country gets it right in many areas. "We are trying to find hits, but we are also trying to build artists," said WINTERS. "That's what I've grown to admire about Country is the relationship between radio and the artists."
So, once a hit is pinpointed, how do the other formats treat it in comparison with Country programmers? "In our format, the shelf life is a lot higher than it has been," said WINTERS. "We're talking about 1,000 to 2,000 spins on some records." IVEY highlighted the fact that Country tends to take longer getting a song up the chart, but then the drop off after peak is almost instantaneous. "[In Country], it goes from #1 to 20 to out," explained IVEY. "We tend to trend down and out a lot slower."
The panelists also noted that Country has a tendency to let songs live in overnights or with very few spins per week for an extended period of time. "'Let's play it for the people who are asleep, and if they love it, we'll play it for the people who are awake.' That doesn't work," said IVEY. "Play it, and get the research." Research from callout, SHAZAM metrics, sales figures, and more can only come from solid daytime play, the panelists explained.
In summation, the panelists concluded that they do think Country is on track, but would like to see more risks taken on a programming level. HANSON made a bold suggestion, saying, "Get back in the TAYLOR SWIFT business. Why give up that real estate?" IVEY wants to see Country radio "take a chance. Don't be scared of shit!" And GILLETTE reminded attendees that while the formats differ, music cycles vary, and company programming policies may be wide-ranging, "it's human, not just business." Radio is still an art form, and Country has a chance to paint with a full slate of colors.