The new music discussion, and what it means to your station’s success

There is a lot of discussion in our format about new music.  In fact, the only music discussion in our format is about new music.

Online forums, trade magazines, charts, and record company promotion folk spent much time, space, and energy in dialogue about what new songs your station should be playing.  The foundational problem with this dialogue is that “new music” isn’t really a category of music at all, although the very discussion assumes that it is.

I’ve heard this assumption carried to such an extreme that at one station it was mandated to play a certain number of “new” songs each hour.

Let me start with some basics.

Everyone’s favorite (music) station is the station that plays their favorite music.  Since a listener cannot obviously love music they don’t know, “new” music cannot be a favorite.  So, if your station is playing a lot of “new” music, it is less likely that your station will be anyone’s favorite.

Let’s drill down on this a little more.

I am NOT saying that your station shouldn’t play new music.  Not at all.  What I am saying is we should not view “new music” as a category of music in the same way we consider “hot currents”, “recurrents”, or “power gold”.

The very first programming lesson we all should have learned is every category is comprised of songs with similar appeal which is determined through your station’s music research.  If not, then it is not a real category at all, but just a bunch of songs that your music software will schedule with the same rules.  Many stations with low ratings don’t know that programming fundamental.

Bonus tip: If you’re a GM, go ask your PD which category is the most important one.  His answer will tell you a lot about how seasoned he is in programming fundamentals, particularly if he doesn’t understand the question.

If you take a look at a list of your listeners’ favorite songs, you’ll see that it varies somewhat from a year ago, two years ago, and certainly ten years ago.  In any contemporary format, a successful station and its music are always morphing to reflect the views, tastes, and attitudes of their audience that day.  The change is so gradual, however, that it is not obvious.  It’s a little like seeing your newborn nephew several months later and noticing how much he’s grown.

What I’m suggesting is that you think of your “new” music in several distinct categories based upon what you’ve learned over time about your listeners’ tastes and preferences.

For instance, you might mentally create several new music categories that might be described as 1) “songs that all my experience and expertise tells me are going to be huge hits”,  2) “songs that have a chance to be fairly good hits”, 3) “songs that might kinda-sorta end up being medium level hits maybe”, and 4) “songs only my boss will like”.

After you discard the last category as an option, then evaluate your investment in these “new” songs based upon your study of your listeners’ preferences.  Invest fully in option #1 and be more cautious with options #2 and 3.

The assumption that new music is, in fact, a real category reminds me of a riddle I heard as a kid.

Riddle: How many legs has a sheep if you call a tail a leg?

Answer:  Four.  Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.

John Frost

About John Frost

John has been a successful major market DJ and PD for such companies as CBS, Gannett, Cap Cities, Westinghouse, Multimedia, and Sandusky and publishes the Frost Advisory.

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