Friday, October 16, 2009

Taking Music Risks

As the role of Music Radio changes from a dominate taste maker for music (old and new) to a world where there are many other players in the game we are faced with new challenges to stay in the game. At the core of radio's music model is the need to hit as many people under the signal as possible. Our first mission is to build as big of a cumulative audience as possible and then try to find some way to hold them as long as we can. It used to be much easier when the only options where the other stations in the market or maybe someones cassette collection in the car or Walkman.

Obviously now the options are nearly infinite and growing every day. With the customizable media the audience can really build their own stations. They catch new music on MySpace, You Tube, and through blogs or websites.

Yet we still pretty much hang on to the old rules, strategies, and tactics when it comes to programming our music as we did in the old days of broadcast domination. Tight is right. You're never hurt by what you don't play. Sort the test to 90% familiar, 80% acceptance, and play those powers as much as possible. So what if you only play 200 songs? If they are the right 200 songs.

We've also gotten pretty tight when it comes to breaking or adding new music. It's one of the biggest complaints we get from the audience on the street and on-line, but we still play a game of wait and see with the charts.

Our tightness and reluctance to take any chances or risks over the years is adding up. If you go back to the days when radio built it's huge influence in music (the 60s and 70s) you see a lot more boldness in adding songs and playlist size. Can you find a CHR station today that actually plays 40 current songs? Probably not - seems like most are around 25 or 30. In Rock we spent the 70s often adding 2-3 songs from an LP when it hit - not just 1 song. Rock used to have 800-1000 songs in the old card rotation system and the freedom to really take requests as well the jocks throwing in a personal pick here and there - now you probably average 500 songs or less.

It's lead the audience to start discovering music in many different places. Just take a look at the Big Champagne download charts and you'll see music that radio has only touched lightly pretty high on the charts. In fact Led Zeppelin's tour a while back built 2 song lists for the shows. One came from rock radio plays and the other from Big Champagne downloads. Reports are that they were quite a bit different with Plant and Page using the Big Champagne list with good results.

We are going to have to find a new way to balance our need for that huge cume that fuels the core of our business model with the endless variety of new opportunities the audience has to explore music and hear more than we offer on our playlists.

The key may be taking a few risks and working to make them pay off as big as possible. Letting down our guard here and there to open the door more to lead the audience instead of just following them.

It's not all science - there has to be an equal balance of risk and art.

If you would like to learn more about Big Champagne catch this article in Wired.

You can also see condensed versions of the Big Champagne charts in All Access under charts.