How Important Is Tempo? By Andy Meadows

When I’m building a format for somebody from scratch, regardless of what kind of format, one thing they always bring up is tempo. Some will say they don’t want any slow songs out of stopsets, most will tell me they don’t want any back to back and virtually all will request that we don’t have too many per hour. All of which is easy enough to do by coding slow songs, setting up separation rules and simply watching how many total slow tunes there are in the active database. I get the rationale, after all too many ballads can kill the pacing, vibe and overall feel of the station. But, lately I wonder if being so strict on tempo is still the best approach. 

On recurrent-based formats it’s pretty easy to cherry pick popular songs from the biggest artists that are mid to uptempo and then include a handful of really strong ballads. However, that’s a delicate balance to strike so we’re still picking the most popular songs from artists and not trading out huge slow songs for lesser known, less popular songs that just happen to be uptempo. 

Current based stations are especially tricky because new music ebbs and flows and may be more ballad-heavy at any given time. That certainly was the case for pop music during the pandemic and some CHR and Hot AC stations stepped over a few very popular ballads opting instead to throw slightly less popular uptempo songs into high rotation categories in their place. That may seem like a small thing, but every decision we make on a station with very tight rotations has a massive impact on the overall sound of it. 

I’m clearly not the only one that is internally debating this, hence why many programmers have switched to coding more by energy than tempo. Which seems to work well on some formats. But, determining the energy of a song is such a subjective thing to do and by no means an exact science. 

I’m of the mindset now that on currents we should solely follow the data and play the absolute most popular songs, regardless of tempo. Then on all recurrent categories, we choose a couple of the biggest artists’ strongest, most popular songs (Obviously going deeper in artists based on the size of their following and how well their tunes held up). After that, we code for tempo and set up a separation rule so we don’t have more than one true ballad per quarter hour (Strategically resting a ballad here and there if we have to for rotation purposes). But, I fear going beyond that in any format can lead us down a path of choosing weaker, less popular songs and hurting the broad appeal of our stations. 

What do you think? Comment below or email me at Andy@RadioStationConsultant.com. 

Pic by KonstantinKolosov for envatoelements.com.

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