Same Artist ... Different Songs
September 18, 2012
Solving Artist Separation Issues
For years now, the problem of scheduling the same artist with two different songs has been a problem. This week we examine some solutions. The old premise is that if it's a big enough hit, the audience doesn't care. How many times have you heard that?
Many of the things programmers spent a great deal of time worrying about in the past have become even more important today. If one artist has two or more songs on the current station playlist ... that may be great news for the artist, but it's a headache for the PD or MD. And it's not just an Urban problem, it's a problem for any music station. The secret is to try to keep similar sounding songs away from each other. That's something that's becoming a lot tougher at a time when one core sound has come to dominate Urban formats. We are in a current cycle where the variety of textures may be limited. Contributing to that, in many cases, are artists and subgenres that had unique sounds a year ago but that have now converged.
Sound Coding, Mscores & Genre Separation
Sound coding is something a lot of young, first-time programmers fail to do because they don't set it up correctly. Sound coding is far more nuanced today, but there are still things programmers need to avoid that have to do with sound coding. These issues with sound coding come at a time when artist separation issues have already fallen -- a victim of numerous guest appearances and accelerated single release schedules on a given artist. We've seen minimum separation between artists has been shrunk to 20 minutes on some Urban stations. Then you have hot producers who create tracks for different artists that sound similar. How can programmers be expected to separate not only artists, but producers?
Then there's the issue of PPM ratings measurement and the availability of Mscore data that shows the stickiness of individual songs in PPM and tighter than ever playlists. First of all, listening occasions may be reduced to 10-12 minutes under PPM, making song-to-song strengths more important that other considerations. That's because working to create impressions of variety is still key even with the reality or shorter average listening visits. This has caused some programmers to schedule some weaker songs just for balance and variety.
Next we look at genre separation. While it's harder to achieve, it can be done with enough attention to detail. That means busy programmers can't simply just hit the F10 key and let the machine do the scheduling. Often if a programmer is doing multiple stations, coding becomes an oversight -- or the PD has less interest in sound coding and breaks the rules for various reasons. Even if strength is most important, sound and variety can't be ignored because if there are too many hits that sound the same in-a-row; the variety expectation of the station is broken.
Generally speaking, artist separation rules have to be flexible, especially with new songs populating the playlists. Most smart programmers we've spoken with say they try to keep similar sounding songs away from each other. The problem is it's becoming a lot harder at a time when artists, particularly, hip-hop artists, are collaborating or featured on each other's tracks. While those trends have often led to directional shifts in the format, the sense of similar songs playing next to each other seems more noticeable now.
Artist separation parameters vary from station to station. Some scheduling conflicts are voided by being mindful of which categories the songs are placed in. Some stations have artist separation rules that are flexible with new music. Listeners still want to hear fresh jams when they're hot. In spite of the thought and attention put into artist separation, it's important not to obsess over it since the average listener isn't even aware of these rules.
A very successful programmer in the mid-South said that he was recently faced with the problem of having two Chris Brown songs. Initially, he felt he might have to choose between one or the other, but in the end he wound up playing both songs. "We want to play the best jams that we can, and it just so happened that Chris Brown had two really good songs." His theory is that if one artist has two songs that test better or are more reactive than all the other songs, there is no reason to hesitate to schedule both. With both jams receiving more than 60 spins a week, it's unavoidable that they may be scheduled too close for some programmers' comfort level.
Ultra-fast power rotations have long been common on Top 40 and some Rhythmic stations. Often these tactics are used for a launch or a re-launch. The prevailing logic has been that Top 40 stations are going to be stuck with the image for high repetition anyway. Several successful Urban programmers we spoke with said that is a problem now with Arbitron's PPM, where a station's cume is larger but its Time Spent Listening (TSL) is shorter. For other programmers, ultra-high spins are not just a matter of spinning the strongest jams available at any given moment; they're also about burning the hits out for their competition and creating a war of attrition.
Still other programmers claim power rotations and ultra-high spins are not a distinctive statement and there are risks. They claim it might be possible to play the hits too much. When the burn scores in Urban radio start to top 50%, the risks increase proportionately. This time of year there are fewer hits in most genres. While one response is certainly to pound the jams that do exist, there's something to be said for not burning out your power songs because you don't know how long you'll have to live with them.
Artist separation parameters vary from station to station. Some scheduling conflicts can be avoided by always being mindful of the category in which they are placed. While they may be small differences, small differences in your performance can lead to large differences in your results.