Massaging The Music Freaks
November 1, 2011
Consistency Is Still Key
For several years now, I've been talking about the "music freaks." Who are they and why are they important? They are everywhere. They are those listeners who selfishly only use radio as a music source. They just want to hear their own personal favorite jams over and over. During the summer they multiply. They're important because of both the time they spend listening (TSL) and their occasions of listening. One of the keys that will help keep them fixed on your frequency is musical consistency.
It is especially important this time of the year to recognize this and realize that with a few tweaks, you can capture them and make them part of your primary audience. The problem is that programmers, many of whom may oversee more than one station and/or have an air shift in addition to their programming duties, have precious little time to program each station. Because of their schedules and time constraints, programmers may not get a second chance to make the right decisions. The real tragedy is that it is virtually impossible for a busy rookie programmer --who hasn't fully learned the basics of how to soothe these music freaks -- to survive.
One way to stroke and sooth these music freaks and grow some audience is to stay consistent and not limit yourself. It is also important to be willing to air some fresh new music and artists to please these "music freaks." They are part of an audience that takes more time to listen to the radio, much of it in cars. When their favorite radio station doesn't give them what they want, studies show they will hit three buttons in the car and then switch to some other device, such as the Internet, Pandora, satellite, iHeart or an iPod. These kids all struggle with peer pressure and parents will often tolerate their kids' demands for a particular station with the thought being that not to let them listen to what they want to hear is not just denying them a choice they would like. Many parents feel they would be denying them "membership" in the social club of the moment.
Unfortunately, a lot of programmers haven't realized that Urban stations need to be aware of this and they need to stay fresh. Even the Urban Adult stations need to expose some fresh new product -- all varieties of it, including some hit rap songs that fit (once they become familiar). Today's music freaks don't want to listen to just one very narrow type of music, especially in the car. If the station is too narrow, so is its audience, its ratings and its program director's head.
The key to pleasing the music freaks is to find a hole that your station can fill in the market. Then focus ... put the blinders on and execute
There is an old theory that says if you listen to the listeners, they will tell you what they want to hear on their favorite station. One of the problems with this theory is that there is just one contributing theory for the trend with all songs - not just certain songs. The other consideration is that when your listeners do hear it, it's more background now than it used to be. To that end, once the jam becomes familiar; the same thing that took it forever to get there is making it take as long to go away.
That's one reason many Urban AC stations play so much gold. Because when a track becomes one of their audience's favorite songs, not only could they hear it five times a week for five months, they could probably hear it five time a week for 10 years not have it bother them at all. These are the true "evergreen songs." How do you find them? Research, of course.
But wait, according to recent national surveys there is reluctance on the part of early adopters to participate in callout research -- while the opposite is true with online music testing, which is more likely to reflect the tastes of more active listeners. The truth representing the entire audience probably lies somewhere between the two. And then you have to ask, what are my P1s saying and are they sick of it? You have to look at factors other than the burn score being higher than average.
Smart programmers follow their research and gut closely to keep their station synchronized with the audience. This research, properly interpreted, will reveal what the music freaks love most and just as important, what they hate most. It's not unusual for there to be less than 8-10 jams they're really into that aren't short-term recurrents.
Many stations with aggressive new music positions are finding that less than half of the music in current rotation survives and makes it to the recurrent stack. The percentage is even smaller for tracks that ultimately make it into the station's library.
We have observed an interesting development lately. In a recent series of callout tests among upper-demographic age groups, artists and jams that had traditionally only tested and scored well with the young-end demographics began to change. Not only are some songs scoring better in the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups, we're also noticing significantly higher scores among 35-44 year-olds for some titles. In these comparisons, the 35-44 demo scored artists Mario, Beyonce, Chris Brown, Drake and Kelly Rowland very high. They actually scored an average of 40% higher during the summer than in April and May. Why? It is because of the summer music freaks. More and more we're finding growing popularity for songs as they cross format and demographic lines. Urban, Urban AC and Rhythmic stations lose exclusivity as these songs cross over. Heavy exposure on multiple sources can increase burn scores in the callouts and Mscores and ultimately shorten a song's life on the station that got it started.
As vital a tool as research has become, it is still necessary to take a proactive approach to music, particularly in the Urban format. Here, programmers with strong instincts have a clear advantage. Some jams will test just "OK" in the beginning. Of these, a few important songs may eventually emerge. But belief and gut always precede research, which can take time. Some of our best, most evergreen songs don't test immediately, so it's important to have a very sharp idea of what your music freaks want and don't want.
What will research help us touch the "music freaks?" I strongly recommend that in addition to research that programmers count on their strong intuitive feel for the audience. Use research to only educate your gut. For pure rap songs, even ones that you might feel initially could become "adult party songs," there's usually a cutoff age around 29 or 30 for men, a bit older for females, especially for songs that have love lyric integrity.
When you use research properly and regularly, you are less like to be victimized by surprises. With frequent checkups you can avoid mistakes that might otherwise leave you clutching your heart in panic. Research may help you see exactly what is happening to you now, and often it can provide you enough of a glimpse into the future. A glimpse that could keep you employed.
It's extremely important to know exactly what kind of company and manager you work for.
There are only two kinds, you know. The first is the type that likes to be on the cutting edge - to do what hasn't been done before ... to embrace the new. This kind will provide the resources to support that notion. The second is the type that fears anything new, holds back and always wants someone else to go first. They're afraid to push the envelope.
Pushing the envelope too much can push the audience to a competitor. Being too aggressive with the wrong new music can damage Time Spent Listening (TSL) above a station's natural cut-off age. In a few years, especially with PPM, it may not matter as much, but it is always something Urban stations need to be wary of. Musical styles are cyclical; so are the music freaks. Patience is prudent. As we peer out over the horizon, we see another new format opportunity whose time may be nearer than you think.
Are you ready to defy gravity? The only way to do it is to have enough acceleration and courage to take a chance. There are risks. Sometimes you win. Sometimes the atmosphere wins.