Shazam Peaks First: Do We Care?
February 9, 2015
A number of pundits have blogged about the lag between the peak popularity of songs on Shazam and digital music platforms like Pandora & Spotify and radio airplay.Â Radio is always last and always continues playing songs long after they’ve trailed off elsewhere.Â After all, the thinking goes, if radio wants to retain its position as a leading source of new music discovery, it needs to get in sync or even push ahead of these other sources.Â
Yet, this ignores what radio’s role is in the music business.Â Radio’s goal has never been to sell music.Â Music sales driven by radio airplay was a by-product of being a place consumers hear lots of songs and were likely to hear a new song first.Â As new programming sources (and new metrics) have emerged, radio has taken a step back in the food chain of where to hear the newest songs first.Â We at NuVoodoo think that’s just fine.Â
Radio’s image as a source of new music is a leftover from the pre-digital age when you had to go to a store to buy a disc or tape with a recording of a new song; a time when the only places you were likely to hear a new song were the radio or a handful of TV shows (and TV channel once MTV emerged).Â Some of us are old enough to remember running to a record store to buy a 45 or an album the moment we’d heard it on the radio.Â Without email and with TV mostly disconnected from music culture, the place you were likely to hear about a new release from a favorite artist was on the radio.Â The dedicated music publications were monthlies â€“ unable to keep up with the very latest releases.Â
But the goal of those who’ve owned radio stations has never been to sell music.Â The goal of radio with regard to music has been to use music to attract and retain as wide an audience as possible.Â Think how we’ve explained our primary audience metrics â€“ cume and AQH â€“ to account-execs-in-training:
- Cume is how many different people come into your store within a specified range of time.
- AQH is how many people are in the store on average during a 15-minute period within a specified range of time.Â
It’s about balancing the number of people we can attract (cume) with how long we can keep them tuned in (time spent listening or, in PPM terms, average time exposed), in order to generate AQH.Â
So, yes, we could play emerging songs earlier, when fewer people are familiar with them, and jump off them more quickly to make room for even newer songs on our playlists.Â And the music business has been trying to get radio to do that since the 1950’s (sometimes resorting to less-than-legal methods), because their job is to sell recorded music.Â If that paradigm worked for driving AQH, we submit that radio would have perfected it a long time ago.Â Actually, the radio landscape is littered with unused T-shirts of stations that tried to please the early adopters instead of the wider audience and failed to maintain sufficient ratings.Â Radio’s goal remains to attract and retain as wide an audience as possible, in pursuit of higher AQH.Â
Shazam will capture tags from consumers who are fans of an artist or genre.Â Consumers who are fans of these artists and genres will ask Pandora, Spotify and others to create streams based on new songs.Â And audience music testing metrics in radio will see song popularity peak as songs become accepted by a wider audience, including people who are not be fans of that artist or genre.Â Radio will continue airplay after the peaks in Shazam and streaming because the appetite to hear those songs remains.Â
Are these new metrics useful in predicting the wider-appeal radio hits of the future?Â Yes.Â Except when they’re not.Â Yes, in that they can certainly alert a programmer to songs to watch or test in her/his own music research.Â And past experience has shown that sometimes those songs will turn into wider “radio hits.”Â But sometimes they don’t.Â And the only way to know for sure is to continue engaging with radio listeners and ask their opinions.