Today’s music industry looks vastly different than it did just ten years ago. So, why are so many radio programmers across formats still using databases and categories that are structured exactly as they were a decade ago? Labels and artists have certainly adjusted, finding innovative ways to make a splash in the internet age. They’re releasing multiple songs at once, extending the life of songs by quickly releasing remixes or duets and drastically shifting their promotional efforts away from radio promotion and toward content creation and social promotion.
They fully understand that artists are now blowing up on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, which they then parlay into massive amounts of Spotify plays. But, that’s not a disadvantage for radio as long as we also adjust. Social media and the internet are doing all the heavy lifting now for breaking music and providing us with free tea leaves to read that let us know exactly how popular a song is before we add it. The guess work is gone as long as we know where to look and take the time to do so.
One of the difficult challenges of programming over a long career is keeping our finger on the pulse of what’s happening musically within a format to decide which of the old radio rules still apply, which ones need to be tweaked to adjust and which ones should be abandoned entirely.
So, how should our category structure and rules be tweaked to address these changes? For starters we should add songs sooner and stay on them longer than we traditionally have. Additionally, we should be more fluid with the song count in our current categories, adjusting to how many songs truly are popular within our format at any given time instead of trying to hit some arbitrary predetermined number.
One of the biggest modifications, and honestly one I’ve been slow to embrace on certain formats, is artist separation. To their credit most CHR/Hot AC programmers, and many Hip Hop/Urban ones as well, have virtually abandoned artist separation all-together over the past few years. Taking the mindset that if an individual artist has multiple songs that are all among the format’s most popular tunes, then they should all be in current categories and separation for that artist should be completely disabled. Even though that might cause the same artist to come up literally two or three songs away from themselves. This is an understandable decision, right now Olivia Rodrigo has three of the top ten most popular pop songs. I agree with turning off separation for her and a handful of others depending on market and other competitive factors. It’s also worth re-examining artist separation rules across all formats including recurrent/gold formats to see if they should be shortened.
Rock programmers have correctly responded to a weak new rock scene by leaning heavier on recurrents and gold and drastically reducing the size of their current categories. Something country would be smart to consider on a smaller scale. The country scene is certainly stronger than rock, but only a handful of artists are currently carrying it and it seems to be struggling to find which fork in the road it wants to take next, and who other than Luke Combs are its next big stars.
What do you think, how have you adjusted your programming to address changes within the music industry? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.