When I started programming music I made the same mistake most young programmer’s make, I programmed sonically. Being a life-long fan of country music, who happened to grow up in a country station, I thought I had such a pulse on what the modern day country listener wanted that I could simply listen to every song and determine whether or not it would become a hit. I would like to think that I was right more often than most, but the challenge was, when you’re programming sonically you’re always one step behind the listener and any emerging trends within the format.
At that time all you had to go on was feedback from the request line, the word of record promoters paid to embellish the popularity of a song and the various charts that tracked physical sales and adds by other stations. Plus, if you could talk your GM or owners into it, maybe some incredibly expensive call out research that was fairly dated by the time it got to you. So, programmers who had a good ‘gut feel’ for whether their listeners would take to a song were a valuable commodity. Hence why many of us went to great lengths to hone and sharpen that skillset.
But now the guesswork is gone. There are multiple free ways to assess the actual popularity of a new song that everyone has access to. However, that doesn’t mean the programming skills we’ve all acquired over the years are no longer valuable. They just need to be applied differently. All decisions on what to add or cut from a station’s database in 2021 should be 100% data driven. But it takes an experienced programmer to build the category structure for that database, decide which songs to put in which categories, how to code sonically and by tempo or mood to create great quarter hours and so on.
For our new Playlist FM formats we’re tracking the weekly views on YouTube and plays on Spotify for each of our currents and power recurrents. For recurrent and gold we track those monthly. Because seeing the total views/spins just tells you the overall popularity of the song and what matters to a radio station is how popular that particular song is right now. We also closely monitor TikTok for hits and hip hop. Once we launch in April we’ll begin pairing that with local, regional and national data we collect on our own through music feedback we solicit from listeners by offering daily, weekly and monthly prizes. All of which we’ll share with our Playlist FM affiliates and all of our consulting clients.
A few things that stand out recently include a bounce back for the Hits format led by Olivia Rodrigo, The Weeknd, Dua Lipa and Ariana Grande as well as a handful of artists who broke on TikTok. Hip Hop is incredibly strong right now, if a new Hip Hop song isn’t getting 1 million or more plays a week between YouTube/Spotify then it shouldn’t be added. Luke Combs is dominant on country and Morgan Wallen is still strong despite his recent scandal but overall the format is struggling to find its next crop of stars. There are only about 10 to 15 new rock songs that are legitimate hits right now, hence why many rock stations are leaning heavily on recurrents/gold.
How do you feel about following the data or your gut? Comment below or email me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.