You know a good promotion can drive listening to your radio station. But how can you capture the attention of your consumer when, as Barenaked Ladies sang so poignantly in 1998, “It’s All Been Done”?
Although radio contesting is tactical in nature, it can have the benefit of strategic image building if executed correctly. That is, a well-executed contest can not only draw more listening out of someone, but it can also positively boost their perceptions of your brand. We have seen large scale promotions such as Double Your Paycheck, Phrase That Pays, and Pay Your Bills have remarkable association with the radio stations that run them. Contests can add brand depth to stations, on top of being known for great music and/or personalities.
But only if they stick with it.
A classic sign of Inside Thinking—i.e., not viewing your brand like a normal consumer—includes assuming that your listeners are paying close attention to everything your station does. Stations that adopt this mentality run a big six-to-twelve-week promotion and then misinterpret the results. If the ratings aren’t as good as hoped, they are quick to blame the contest and proclaim, “Our listeners are bored…it’s time to change it up!”
And so, when it’s time for another contest, the Inside Thinker will:
Move on to a totally different contest in order to “mix things up”;
Run the same contest, but change the rules and execution enough to “keep it fresh”;
Add layers of complexity to “goose listening”
Meanwhile, the Outside Thinker, who adopts the mindset of the consumer, recognizes that listeners have more on their minds than your contest. The Outside Thinker will understand that it takes time, marketing, and consistency to build an impactful contest. Not everyone will be aware of it or know how it play it initially, but if you stick with it, you may find that it benefits you more and more as the audience gets to know it better and better each time you do it.
The Outside Thinker also recognizes that different contests can provide different benefits. Some are fantastic at driving habituated listening. Some build music or personality imagery. Some create market buzz. And some are just plain fun to play along with.
But the most important piece of advice is pick one big contest and go all-in. Just one. Make it easy to understand and easy to play. Do not change the rules. Promote it internally and externally. Make it a “franchise” promotion that runs year after year. Then watch as your audience grows, and you build strategic images.
Your listeners will not get bored, and you won’t tire of the long-term benefits.
This is the second of our two-part blog series focusing on a roundtable discussion about the impact of 2020’s upheaval on the audio entertainment industry. Last week’s post focused on what the social justice movement, the election, and the pandemic meant for how people consume and what they want from audio entertainment.
In this second installment, our Senior Consultants—Warren Kurtzman, John Boyne, and Sam Milkman—share their thoughts on nonmusical content, podcasting, and the need for thoughtful innovation.
Coleman Insights Senior Consultants (L-R) Sam Milkman, Warren Kurtzman, and John Boyne
This was already true to some extent before all of 2020’s craziness, but we enter 2021 with the sense that the margin for error is slimmer than ever. Hyper fragmentation and democratization of the media was already making it challenging for audio entertainment brands to cut through; now with economic uncertainty and so much of what we’ve always known to be true about how and why consumers use audio entertainment potentially changing, every client we work with really must get things right as often as possible.
Personality content is going to be more important; there is a race to create unique unduplicatable content that is happening in radio, with podcasts, and even the streaming platforms focusing on this, too.
We used to talk about how crucial developing nonmusical content was for radio, but now it’s vital for all audio brands. And it’s not just about the brand value of personalities; developing unique, compelling personality content is expensive, and understanding the behavioral impact personality content can have—whether it drives consumers to use an audio brand—is going to be more important as audio companies make ROI decisions on this content.
As personalities become a bigger part of the strategy of almost every audio brand, how do you make sure that you are truly reflecting what your audience wants both in terms of content and tone? For example, we saw many Hip Hop radio morning shows adapt to the heaviness of 2020 with less of a focus on comedy and celebrities and greater emphasis on social issues.
It’s important to have great talent and unique content, but more than ever, our clients are demanding more sophistication in the development and execution of that talent and content. That’s where qualitative research and content testing are becoming a bigger and bigger part of our business.
Right, John. That’s where the discussion about the Hip Hop shows Sam mentioned continues. Many shows adjusted their content based on the gut instincts of some very talented hosts and producers who are successful because they are in touch with the audiences they serve. But now, they must refine what they offer. Have all of these shows got the balance between entertainment and issues exactly right? Are they truly reflecting what the audience wants from them right now and will that change over time? Will it be different when we’re no longer in a presidential election year or after the pandemic ends?
I think this extends well beyond radio morning shows. Our podcasting clients are going to need to get a handle on how their audiences are responding to their content if they want to keep growing.
There’s so much room for growth with podcasting. We don’t know what the ceiling will be.
Let’s stop treating podcasting like it’s a nascent category; it’s part of the lives of so many people.
Yet there are still so many people who haven’t tried it yet.
But it is now a big business. Look at how companies like iHeartMedia, Spotify, Entercom, Amazon, SiriusXM, etc. have snatched up podcasts and podcasting companies. That’s happening because it’s growing and starting to generate revenues in a big way.
Which is my point. We anticipate doing more and more research for podcasters who recognize they’re in a big business. They need to measure the health of their brands, and they need to do content testing to see what works and doesn’t work with their audience.
All three of us having been doing this for a long time, and as I reflect on that, it’s striking how much more complex and challenging things are than when our business almost exclusively consisted of perceptual studies and music tests for radio stations. It’s invigorating and I know all three of us—in fact, our whole team at Coleman Insights—can’t wait to get to work on exciting opportunities for our clients in 2021.
Every time we turn over the calendar to a new year, it makes me think of thoughtful innovation. This may be truer this year, as we emerge from the pandemic and look for new opportunities. We do a lot of research on how consumers feel about and perceive things that exist; I’m hopeful that 2021 will include more work on innovations that audio companies could potentially offer to listeners.
Agreed. This harkens back to many of the points our founder Jon Coleman made in his “Should Radio Go Back To Normal?” blog post in December. I hope that many of our clients pursue Blue Ocean Strategy ideas in 2021 and that we have many opportunities to provide them with the insights they need to make those ideas succeed.
In January 2018, when we last utilized our Tuesdays With Coleman blog to offer our outlook for the coming year, we had no idea how easy we had it. Observing trends in consumer behavior, tastes, and perceptions is our bread and butter and has always allowed us to project future happenings in the audio entertainment world.
That was pre-COVID, and we admittedly approach our look ahead to 2021 with less confidence than we have in the past. We won’t let the uncertainty of our times stop us, however, as our Senior Consultants—Warren Kurtzman, John Boyne, and Sam Milkman—share their thoughts over a roundtable discussion as we begin 2021.
Coleman Insights Senior Consultants (L-R) Sam Milkman, Warren Kurtzman, and John Boyne
This is the first of a two-part blog series in which we focus on the impact of 2020’s upheaval (the social justice movement, the election, the pandemic, etc.) and what it means for how people consume and what they want from audio entertainment.
I think before we get too far into this, we should state that we are extraordinarily empathetic to our clients’ challenges and we are thinking anew about those challenges.
Yes, we are going to focus on the path forward in the belief that things will get better at some point in 2021. That said, we are not turning a blind eye to the difficulties that many of our clients are facing.
Which is why we are emphatic that if you are involved in audio entertainment—radio, streaming, podcasting, etc.—you must make sure to really understand the short- versus long-term impacts of the pandemic. It may create the need to reintroduce your brand; it may make you rethink your role in your listeners’ lives.
Coming out of the pandemic, things may be different in ways that we can’t anticipate right now. But historically when we have big events, things change. We should be on the lookout for changes that will impact all forms of audio entertainment.
These changes may not only impact the quantity with which people use your brand, but also how and why they use it.
More broadly speaking, the pandemic will likely cause long-term changes to the way people use audio entertainment and it is incumbent on us to understand those changes. There are many people now just discovering streaming, podcasting, etc. because of the pandemic.
Our lives and behavior after all this won’t be the same, even if a lot of things return to pre-COVID normal. A lot of people will be going back to a workplace, but there’s little doubt that the number of people or at least the number of hours worked from home will be much higher than before, and that will have a big impact on how audio is consumed. Obviously, commuting consumption goes down, but there are also opportunities to reach those who no longer commute as they work from home; they have more flexibility and ability to listen to audio when working from home.
In every moment, media meets the challenge. Our challenge now is to pivot to the needs of the audience in this new world.
For example, music has historically been influenced by societal changes. What will music look like in 2021 and even 2022? There is a sense that contemporary music across many genres was not very strong heading into the pandemic and then so much stood still in 2020; does that put us on the precipice of something big? Is there a new genre that will emerge? We don’t know right now, but more than ever, we should keep our eyes and ears open for the next big thing.
Some of the best Rock emerged from protesting the Vietnam War; Rock in general was a rejection of the way things were previously. That’s what made it cool.
Grunge emerged in the early 90s with a grittiness that seemed to be a direct and jarring counter-response to the glitz, glam, and excessiveness of the 80s. Of course, also around that same time, Hip Hop’s explosion seemed to reflect young people’s hunger for something real and authentic.
Who is going to take all that has gone on between the social justice movement, the economic distress so many are in due to the pandemic, and the political polarization of our times, and wrap that up and speak to this generation in music?
Music outlets are clearly responding to aspects of the social justice movement—for example, there have been very public efforts to feature more artists of color on Alternative radio stations and streaming channels and CMT launched an important campaign to highlight female Country artists—and it will be interesting to see if their responses have measurable impacts and capture the essences of the movement.
You can envision something coming out of this that is different from what we’ve had before.
I remember how there were certain songs or sounds that lost relevancy when the planes hit the World Trade Center on 9/11. There is going to be some artist or sound that will fall completely out of bed because of what’s going on.
Speaking to 2020 has been one thing; it’s mostly been heavy for obvious reasons. But speaking to 2021 could be completely different, especially if the vaccine rollout gets done early in the year and we emerge from lockdown. People may want crazy, mindless fun in that case. But, if there’s still a great deal of economic challenges or the pandemic doesn’t end as soon as we hope, people may want something very different.
Finding the right tone or voice with our audience is crucial right now. Our brands must reflect the new reality not just in the music we play, but in our take on the world. How we say things. How we package things.
Next week, our roundtable discussion will cover nonmusical content, podcasting, and the need for thoughtful innovation.
To be clear, “linear” means a shared experience for all listeners at that moment. You tune in from London at 2 PM local time, I tune in from Raleigh at 9 AM local time, and we hear the exact same thing. It’s live and there’s no skipping ahead. Just like listening to your favorite local radio station…except for the “local” part…and a few other things…
Traditional Format Lanes
For the most part, Apple Music has positioned its three live radio stations in traditional format lanes:
Apple Music 1 (“The new music that matters”) is their Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) station.
Apple Music Hits (“Songs you know and love”) is their 80s/90s/2000s Classic Hits station.
Apple Music Country (“Where it sounds like home”) is their Country station.
Aside from 80s/90s/2000s being a more modern era focus than is heard on most Anytown, USA Classic Hits stations at the moment, these are three formats that will feel pretty recognizable and comfortable to programmers and listeners alike. In this regard, Apple Music does not seem to be trying to reinvent the wheel.
One thing I wonder about is whether there might be some initial listener confusion related to the branding of Apple Music Hits. I’m not arguing whether or not the songs they play from the 80s, 90s and 2000s are technically “hits.” But, in many markets, consumers may have been taught that the word “hits” in radio means contemporary hits (e.g., Z100 – New York’s #1 Hit Music Station). So do some listeners tune in expecting new music hits from Apple Music Hits instead of Apple Music 1? And are some fans of 80s/90s/2000s music left on the table because they do not realize that Apple Music Hits is where they should go to hear such music?
Collections of Distinct Shows
The three Apple Music radio stations have highly structured schedules, consisting primarily of one- and two-hour-long shows. And while each station sits in a general format lane, there is quite a bit of diversity from show to show. These shows are distinctly branded and programmed, with prominent hosts (e.g., Zane Lowe, Strombo, Ty Bentli) and unique content elements (e.g., artist interviews, special music features, countdowns).
Zane Lowe is a prominent host on Apple Music Radio, as well as Apple Music’s Global Creative Director.
As a listener accustomed to music radio stations that, by and large, are consistent in programming outside of perhaps a high-profile morning show and an occasional music feature, the structure of Apple Music’s radio stations can at times be jarring. For example, one hour of Apple Music Hits may give you Easy Hits Radio, in another you may hear Rock Classics Radio, and later you may come across Hip-Hop/R&B Throwback Radio.
Speaking personally, The Apple Music 1 List (“hear our current obsessions and new discoveries making waves”) and The Chart Show (“Brooke Reese hosts chart countdowns from around the world along with the biggest guests in pop music”) feel very much “on brand” and consistent with my expectations of Apple Music 1 (“The new music that matters”). But the string of throwbacks I heard earlier on The Rebecca Judd Show and the in-depth interview Zane Lowe had with Metallica’s Lars Ulrich were not what I was expecting when I turned to Apple Music 1.
This is not to say that any of these things are examples of unappealing content. It’s really a question of brands and expectations. What happens when you go to McDonald’s and there are no hamburgers on the menu for an hour? I may love the alternative, or I may go across the street to the other burger joint.
One more thing: maybe it’s my expectations that need to change. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel after spending more time getting accustomed to this structure.
The Human Touch
With these three radio stations, Apple Music has put the human touch front and center. As noted in their launch announcement, “Throughout its evolution, Beats 1 [now Apple Music 1] has established an inherent camaraderie with the artist community and championed human curation and discovery — an approach that will continue across the three stations.”
Both hosts and artists are prominently featured, with the latter sometimes playing the role of the former. Zane Lowe, who also wears the hat of Global Creative Director for Apple Music, has a deep passion for the music that comes through in his interviews with the artists who make it. Ebro Darden, who in addition to his Apple Music duties is the morning show host of Hot 97 in New York, brings the global audience to the streets of the city; you may hear him highlight influential Hip Hop classics or you may hear him trash the local police department for endorsing President Trump. These are not easy-to-miss background voices. And that’s the point, right? Give interesting, entertaining people a chance to shine, promote them accordingly, and hope it attracts an audience.
I’m not sure how this will eventually play out for Apple Music 1, Apple Music Hits and Apple Music Country—but it’s fun to see both some old things and some new things being tried.
Below is a reprint of Richard Sands’ interview with Executive Vice President/Senior Consultant John Boyne in the May 14th edition of the weekly Alternative music newsletter The Sands Report, now celebrating its 18th anniversary!
JOHN, GOOD TO HAVE YOU BACK. HOW ABOUT A REFRESHER FOR THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW COLEMAN?
We’re a media research firm specializing in the audio entertainment space, with a long history of radio research. We use research tools such as Plan Developer perceptual studies, FACT360 Strategic Music Tests, 20/20 Focus Groups and mediaEKG Deep Dive content testing to help our clients better understand the tastes and opinions of their target audiences. Although we work in all formats, some of our long-time clients in the Alternative world are KROQ/Los Angeles and KPNT/St. Louis.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN THERE PERSONALLY?
2020 marks my 20th anniversary with Coleman Insights. I came aboard as a college intern and have been here ever since!
TELL ME ABOUT CONTEMPORARY MUSIC SUPERSTUDY 2.
It’s our second annual study of contemporary music tastes. It’s essentially a really big music test. We start by compiling a list of the songs that were most streamed, sold and played on the radio last year. This includes titles from 2019 back to 2015. We supplement that list with top tier titles from the year-end charts of individual genres. Then, we test all these songs with a big, broad group of people—1,000 12- to 54-year-olds in the U.S. and Canada—to assess their popularity. The idea is to track and trend mass music tastes.
HOW DID ALTERNATIVE MUSIC FARE IN THIS STUDY?
Even before we get into the results of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, you probably don’t need me to tell you that Alternative/Rock has lagged behind other genres in recent years. Whether you’re looking at streaming, sales or radio airplay charts, you’re going to find more Hip Hop/R&B, Country and Pop than Alternative/Rock.
BUT WE ARE REPRESENTED, RIGHT?
Yes. In Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, 12% of the Top 100 songs are Alternative/Rock. The full genre distribution of the Top 100 is 34% Pop, 23% Country, 19% Hip Hop/R&B, 12% Alternative/Rock, 8% Dance/Electronic, 2% Latin and 2% Other. The best-testing Alternative/Rock title is Imagine Dragons’ “Believer.”
The top tier of popular Alternative/Rock titles consists of (in alphabetical order):
Imagine Dragons – Believer
Imagine Dragons – Natural
Imagine Dragons – Thunder
Imagine Dragons – Whatever It Takes
Lovelytheband – Broken
Panic! At The Disco – Hey Look Ma, I Made It
Panic! At The Disco – High Hopes
The Man – Feel It Still
SHAED – Trampoline
DO ALT FANS’ TASTES LOOK DIFFERENT?
The hits are the hits, in the mass market as well among format fans. The top-tier songs listed above are also the top-tier songs among Alternative/Rock fans. It’s not like core format fans have turned on the mass-appeal hits of the genre.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THAT PDS PLAY THESE SONGS MORE?
While faring well in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 is a good indicator, a Program Director should not assume that the tastes of their target audience will perfectly reflect what we see here. Evident from all of the custom research we do is that different markets, demos and strategies will yield different music recipes.
HOW DO THIS YEAR’S RESULTS COMPARE TO THE FIRST CONTEMPORARY MUSIC SUPERSTUDY?
It’s very similar. Alternative/Rock’s 12% share of the Top 100 is up a hair from the 11% seen in last year’s study. Moreover, it’s a lot of the same material. Seven of the nine top-tier songs mentioned above also fared very well in last year’s study. The new additions are “Trampoline” and “Hey Look Ma, I Made It.”
CAN YOU GO BACK AND COMPARE THESE RESULTS TO 10 OR 20 YEARS AGO?
The short answer is: we don’t know. We wish we had Contemporary Music SuperStudy data going back that far. It is likely, based on what we know from other indicators, that Alternative/Rock fared better back then, but by how much, we don’t know. We hope to continue the Contemporary Music SuperStudy series in the years to come so that we can build such trends.
ONE “NON-STUDY” QUESTION. AS YOU KNOW, WE RUN A P1 STREAMING CHART EVERY WEEK PROVIDED TO US BY BRIDGE RATINGS. OVERALL, HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK STREAMING DATA SHOULD BE TO PDS?
If I were sitting in a Program Director’s chair, there are a lot of data points I would want to consider, including streaming metrics. Of course, as with anything, you want to be smart about what streaming data tells you and what it doesn’t.
THANKS FOR SHARING ALL THIS INFORMATION AND YOUR INSIGHTS, JOHN. WHERE CAN READERS GO TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FINDINGS OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC SUPERSTUDY 2?
On our website, you can find a recording of the webinar and read further about the study in our Tuesdays with Colemanblog. You can also sign up to receive notifications about future blog posts and the upcoming release of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 song ranker.
Last week, we shared some of the major findings of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2—our second annual test of the past year’s biggest songs in streaming, sales and radio airplay, conducted with 1,000 people between the ages of 12 and 54 across the United States and Canada. These initial findings include that Pop is the best-testing genre, Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” is the most popular title and Post Malone has the highest number of top tier songs.
This week, let’s take a look at some of the interesting trends between last year’s study and this one. (Note that some of the trended data looks a little different than as reported a year ago because of adjustments in scoring methodology; we have applied the revised methodology to the older study so that we have apples-to-apples comparisons.)
COUNTRY’S SHARE OF THE 100 MOST POPULAR CONTEMPORARY SONGS HAS NEARLY DOUBLED
While Pop remains the best-performing genre, the award for “most improved” goes to Country. Country titles have gone from 12% of the Top 100 in the original Contemporary Music SuperStudy to 23% of the Top 100 in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.
For context, Country’s performance in last year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy was not great. In that research, Country music accounted for 21% of all songs tested, but just 12% of the Top 100—a substantial level of under-performance. In this year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, Country again represents 21% of all songs tested, but its 23% share of the Top 100 now shows a modest level of over-performance for the genre.
The improvement in Country is largely the result of songs that weren’t in last year’s study, either because they hadn’t been released yet or because they weren’t consumed enough in streaming, sales or radio airplay to qualify for the test list. Of the 23 Country songs in the Top 100 of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, 15 weren’t tested in the first Contemporary Music SuperStudy. The remaining eight performed well in the original study, all in the Top 125.
No one artist dominates Country performance, though several have multiple popular titles. Dan + Shay, Jason Aldean and Luke Combs each have three of the 23 Country songs in the Top 100. In particular, Dan + Shay stand out for having three of the top five Country titles.
Dan + Shay have three of the top five Country titles in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.
Several of the most popular Country songs might be considered “poppy” in sound, but that is not a new development and it tends to be true of any genre. Mass appeal titles are oftentimes rather accessible and broadly appealing. Almost by definition, the biggest hits are the ones whose appeal expands beyond their core lane. “Meant To Be” by Bebe Rexha featuring Florida-Georgia Line is the top-testing Country song in both last year’s study and this year’s study.
POP, HIP HOP/R&B AND DANCE/ELECTRONIC HAVE TRENDED DOWN
While Country’s share of the 100 most popular contemporary songs has grown most substantially, a few other categories are also up a bit. Alternative/Rock has gone from 11% to 12%, Latin has increased 0% to 2%, and Other—which covers songs that do not fit into one of the six major genres—now makes up 2% of the Top 100, up from 0% last year.
Meanwhile, performing less well in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 than in the first Contemporary Music SuperStudy are Pop (declining from 42% to 34% of the Top 100), Hip Hop/R&B (23% to 19%) and Dance/Electronic (12% to 8%).
THE PERCENTAGE OF TOP 100 TITLES FROM THE MOST RECENT YEAR IS DOWN SLIGHTLY
In the first Contemporary Music SuperStudy, we tested the songs that were most streamed, sold and played on the radio in 2018. This included material from 2018 back to 2014. Of the 100 most popular titles in that research, 40% were released in the most recent year, 2018.
Now, in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, we have tested the songs that were most consumed via streaming, sales and radio airplay in 2019. This includes songs from 2019 back to 2015. Of the Top 100, 36% were released in the most recent year, 2019.
Thus, in relative terms, the best-testing songs in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 are not quite as contemporary as the best-testing songs were in the original Contemporary Music SuperStudy.
THIS YEAR’S #1 SONG WAS LAST YEAR’S #2 SONG
As noted earlier, the most popular song in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 is Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.” This title did not come out of nowhere—it ranked #2 in last year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy.
Which title was ahead of “Shape Of You” in last year’s study? That would be “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars—a song that didn’t quite make the qualification cut for this year’s study because of its consumption metrics and age.
Check back next week for further insights from Contemporary SuperStudy 2, including findings about the differences in tastes between younger and older, male and female, urban and rural, and streaming service listeners and radio listeners.
A year ago, we were delighted to share the results of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy, a groundbreaking study of music tastes. Now, we are just as excited to come back to you with findings from this year’s version of that research, Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.
Mirroring the structure of the original study, Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 is a big, broad look at contemporary music tastes. We start by compiling a list of the most consumed songs of 2019, using streaming, sales and radio airplay data provided by MRC Data/BDSradio. (Fun fact: Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was the top song in streaming and sales last year, while Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” sat atop the airplay chart.) We supplement this list with top-tier songs from individual genre charts. Finally, we eliminate titles that are more than five years old, which knocks out a few Queen tunes, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Then, using our FACT360SM Strategic Music Test platform, we have assessed the popularity of each of these titles by testing them with 1,000 people between the ages of 12 and 54 across the United States and Canada.
Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was 2019’s most consumed song via on-demand streaming and sales according to MRC Data/BDSradio
To be clear, this is an intentionally broad view. The goal is not to, for example, zero in on which brand new songs are starting to click with young Top 40 fans. The goal is to gain big-picture insights on how recent titles and genres are performing in the mass market—and then track that over time.
While next week’s Tuesday with Coleman blog will explore some of the interesting trends between the first and second studies, this week we will focus on what Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 tells us about the present lay of the land.
POP IS THE BEST-TESTING GENRE, FOLLOWED BY COUNTRY AND HIP HOP/R&B.
Although categorizing songs by genre can be subjective, we have tried to do so in a way that is consistent with Billboard charts and other industry standards. Most numerous in our test list is Hip Hop/R&B, which as a heavily consumed genre last year accounts for 29% of all songs tested. Next are Country (21%) and Pop (18%), followed by Alternative/Rock (12%), Dance/Electronic (9%) and Latin (9%). This is the baseline make-up of what was tested, not of what tested best.
In assessing song popularity, our primary metric is the Evaluation Average score. This is a good measurement of mass-appeal because it encapsulates the full range of opinions on a song, from highly positive to highly negative. Upon ranking songs based on their popularity, we find that Pop is the leading genre, with 34% of the Top 100. Next are Country (23%) and Hip Hop/R&B (19%), followed by Alternative/Rock (12%), Dance/Electronic (8%) and Latin (2%).
There’s a reason why they call it “Pop,” and that is its widespread popularity. While this genre accounts for 18% of all songs tested, it comprises 34% of the Top 100—a big-time level of over-performance. Pop titles tend to be broadly appealing, faring well among young and old, male and female, urban and rural. For fans of many other genres, Pop is the next-best, most-compatible style.
WHILE MANY HIP HOP/R&B TITLES EVOKE HIGH PASSION, THEY ALSO EVOKE ENOUGH NEGATIVITY FROM OTHERS TO LIMIT THEIR MASS APPEAL.
As the genre with the most number of highly consumed songs last year, Hip Hop/R&B accounts for the largest share of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 test list. Yet, as noted in the preceding section, Hip Hop/R&B’s 19% share of the Top 100 Evaluation Average songs is well behind Pop’s 34%.
However, when looked at a different way, we find quite a bit of passion for Hip Hop/R&B. If we rank songs based on the percentage of people who rate each with a Like A Lot score—essentially measuring the fan base of each song—we find that 30% of the Top 100 are Hip Hop/R&B titles. That is nearly as big as Pop’s 32% share of the Top 100 Like A Lot songs.
The reason for Hip Hop/R&B’s drop-off from Like A Lot performance (30% of the Top 100) to Evaluation Average performance (19% of the Top 100) is that the fuller perspective of the latter measurement reveals polarity. Although the fan bases for many Hip Hop/R&B titles are sizable, outside of those fans we find above average dislike scores. Such negativity lessens the mass-appeal of the genre.
This helps explain why Hip Hop/R&B material is more prominent in on-demand audio consumption than in radio airplay. Many of these titles have big fan bases and thus do well when consumers are choosing exactly what they want to hear in an on-demand environment. But, these same songs may not be as widely heard on a radio station that is trying to both maximize positives and minimize negatives in order to reach as big an audience as possible.
OF LAST YEAR’S MOST CONSUMED SONGS, MANY OF THE MOST POPULAR ONES ARE OLDER.
Remember: this is a study of the most consumed songs via streaming, sales and radio airplay in 2019. It is not a study of 2019 songs only. In fact, almost half the test list consists of titles released in 2018, 2017, 2016 or 2015.
Moreover, upon testing this material, we find that nearly two-thirds of the most popular songs are older than 2019. Among the Top 100 in Evaluation Average, 36% are from 2019, 42% are from 2018, 18% are from 2017, 3% are from 2016 and 1% are from 2015.
The fact that, among the most consumed titles of 2019, many of the best-testing ones are older is not completely surprising. The older songs that are still being consumed highly enough to qualify for this study have, inherently, exhibited staying power. Meanwhile, not every new song that initially generates high interest and consumption will eventually stand the test of time.
THIS YEAR’S BEST-TESTING SONG IS ED SHEERAN’S “SHAPE OF YOU.”
The mega-popular “Shape Of You” from the mega-popular Ed Sheeran is the number one song in Contemporary SuperStudy 2. Earlier we mentioned that Pop music tends to over-perform and older music tends to over-perform. “Shape Of You” checks both boxes, as an unabashedly Pop tune released in January 2017. It benefits from being both highly familiar and exceptionally well-liked among those familiar with it.
Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” was the best-testing song in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.
THIS YEAR’S MOST PROLIFIC ARTIST IS POST MALONE.
Despite not having a song in the Top 10, Post Malone is notable for having eight of the Top 100. The biggest of these is “Rockstar” featuring 21 Savage, coming in at #12.
Post Malone has eight of the Top 100 songs in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.
THIS YEAR’S WORST-TESTING SONG IS PINKFONG’S “BABY SHARK.”
As the world has turned upside down for the foreseeable future, the team at Coleman Insights has been engaged in conversations with our clients about how to navigate the new landscape. We recognize the ability of radio stations and other audio-based media to shine in moments of crisis, and there are already numerous examples of this occurring. On the other hand, we also recognize the lack of an “adversity road map.” There is no playbook that dictates how each brand should respond. Should you continue to deliver your format without any significant modifications? Is this a moment to break format completely and provide relevant crisis information instead? These are difficult strategic decisions. The specific choices are also hard.
Our consultant team has been having ongoing internal discussions about strategies for the audio entertainment industry. The result is the following special Thursday edition of Tuesdays With Coleman, a compilation of thoughts and ideas our team would like to share with you, with the understanding that there is no single solution for everyone.
Recognize unusual times call for unusual measures.
Everyone has something to contribute during a global emergency. Regardless of what your brand regularly delivers, your listeners are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and your response should reflect this. Your brand has a voice and a platform to be heard when listeners need it the most. Known, trusted personalities should play a major role and leverage the intimate connections they have with their listeners.
Consider the role of your brand in COVID-19 coverage.
Understand the need your brand fulfills.
News brands have a responsibility to provide comprehensive, relevant coverage. These brands might consider whether there are opportunities to go outside the typical format. For example, does more long-form programming or an increased number of updates make sense? These decisions should be determined by the role of the brand–in this case, being a provider of constant, reliable and trustworthy information during the crisis.
Listeners may be visiting your music station to get away from news coverage, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to stay connected. Does it make sense to employ a “We’re following the news so you don’t have to” approach? This allows talent to play a reassuring role; listeners can count on enjoying content on a music station without feeling like the world will pass by if they aren’t watching CNN or Fox News at that moment.
A full-service Adult Contemporary station may play a more personality-forward role of providing news and information. On the other hand, if your brand primarily provides comfort and escape, like a Soft Adult Contemporary radio station, constant news updates may be a harrowing intrusion and contrary to your brand. In fact, brands built on comfort and escape should lean in to that image, as it is particularly valuable when the real world is more chaotic.
Recognize that listening patterns are likely in significant flux.
If many people aren’t going to work or school, typical in-car commute listening levels no longer apply. What about everyone who is temporarily working from home? Or businesses that have been forced to close, like bars and restaurants? Will radio listening increase or decrease?
Reduced commuting will have a significant effect on listening patterns
With that in mind, consider the impact on how people may be consuming your station, podcast or streaming service and the programming options you may have.
With entire families now at home throughout the day, what about specialty programming geared to them during traditional at work hours? Should you do this on your main platform or would offering this through podcasts, separate streaming channels, etc. make more sense?
Aggressively promote all your listening platforms, keeping in mind that smart speaker listening is heavier at home than in the workplace and a surge of at home listening may be taking place.
Provide increased authentic and actionable listener engagement.
Listeners will find comfort in others going through the same issues. You may find yourself broadcasting from your home, which may be out of your comfort zone. Rather than trying to project a sense of business as usual, embrace the change! If the dog barks, the child screams or the husband sighs in the background, that’s real life. It’s exactly what your listener is going through. Let sharing be the mantra–you could, for example, have listeners upload pictures of their home offices to your social pages and share yours.
Find experts to feature on your shows. You don’t have to have all the COVID-19 answers yourself, and some of the best content is being generated by personalities across multiple formats interviewing those on the front lines of the crisis.
NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) Director Anthony Fauci has been extremely media-friendly in providing crisis guidance
Consider taking more listener phone calls. Allow them to share feelings and information that may be valuable to other listeners.
Think about brand-appropriate actionable advice you can offer listeners that is applicable to the current environment (i.e., how to work at home while the kids are in online school, the best binge-able series on Netflix or which delivery services have waived their fees).
Modify your tone. Be empathetic to the new needs of an uncertain audience.
Rally your community.
In times of crisis, “Community” surges to a higher level of importance on the Image PyramidSM. As they would with aggressively promoting a Base Music or Talk position, brands should be going over the top with their community efforts. Build real community bulletins (here’s what is open, new hours for grocery stores, new restrictions, etc.). Be the voice of the community, invite listeners to participate and share as appropriate. Listeners will tell people where they can buy toilet paper (well, maybe they’ll share that information), who delivers groceries and how to find free learning resources for kids. Post the information on your website.
Don’t just think of your community as your market. Your community is your audience. A Hip Hop station and Classic Rock station will not rally the same communities, but each has the power to inspire, engage and activate their respective followers.
If you make a concerted effort now to think about what you can really do for your community and your audience, your efforts will create a halo over your brand when things settle down.
Consider reading two Tuesdays With Coleman posts in which we covered the important role of radio in a crisis:
I’m going to let you in on a little inside joke I have with my colleague, Jay. Our shorthand for an attention-grabbing, memorably branded media personality is “Fart-Head.” Whose name only needs to be said once in order for it to stick in your brain? Fart-Head. Who are you irrationally curious about? Fart-Head. Who are you likely to tell your friends about? Fart-Head.
What about Jim? Don’t care.
What about Melissa? Snooze.
What about Kevin? Already forgotten.
But Fart-Head… I don’t know what he’s all about, but tell me more!!
Now, it’s up to Fart-Head to deliver the goods. If he fails to entertain, that’s on him and his memorable brand is forever remembered in a bad way.
But, the point is that he got my attention.
So in a world in which we are inundated with countless messages and presented with oodles of entertainment options, while we’re by no means advocating the return of shock jocks, we are advocating that you consider what it takes to make an impression…
THE NAME: I bet it’s a lot harder for “Jim” or “Melissa” to draw attention than it is for “Conan” or “Jed The Fish” or “Marshmello” or “PewDiePie.”
THE DELIVERY: I bet it’s a lot harder for the super-polished talent who sounds like all the other super-polished talents than it is for the talent who talks with an accent, a memorable speech pattern or some kind of not-your-run-of-the-mill delivery.
THE CONTENT: I bet it’s a lot harder for the personality whose content consists of well-researched, interesting pop culture updates than it is for the personality who does something really unique and buzzworthy.
So look, maybe you’re not on board with Fart-Head. I get it. It’s silly, crude and unbecoming of a semi-respected researcher to even talk about.
But, you’ve got to admit, it’ll be hard to forget…
Maybe the auto insurance industry is on to something, because State Farm brought the tune back to their commercials.
And how about, “Liberty, Liberty, Liberty. Liberty.”
“We are Farmers. Ba, ba, da ba, ba, bum bum bum.”
“Nationwide is on your side.”
Are those jingles played out? Is it time for them to mix it up?
And sure, those are national advertisers with very large spot buys, but they don’t have the market cornered on successfully using audio signatures…and it doesn’t have to be a jingle.
Audio signatures, like jingles, are memorable and create sticky brand connections.
Here’s one of the simpilest, most effective audio signatures of all-time:
What do you think of when you hear this?
The simple ticking of a clock means 60 Minutes is on. Just a few bars of the Fox Sports theme means it’s time for football.
Are those played out? Is it time to mix it up?
When you hear this:
You may not only instantly recognize Curb Your Enthusiasm, you may associate the music with the beginning of the show, the end of the show, or anytime Larry David does something really stupid. This audio signature isn’t just identified with the show, it helps define the show’s brand.
How effective is the theme music on the Serialpodcast?
The song has been played nearly 300,000 times on YouTube.
What if Serial decided to change the song every season or every episode to “keep it fresh”?
Is it played out? Is it time for them to mix it up?
The audio signature is memorable and creates a sticky connection with the Serial brand.
This works on a local level, too.
I still hear jingles for local radio stations in my head. I don’t say Mix 101.5, I sing Mix 101.5.
Even a voice can be a very powerful audio signature. Jack FM listeners may not know the name Howard Cogan, but they surely know his voice. It is synonymous with the attitude and essence of the brand.
Is it played out? Is it time to mix it up?
The answer of course, is no.
When you’re in the business of building a brand that incorporates audio, consider how a jingle and/or audio signature can create that stickiness you’re looking for.
It just might get stuck in someone’s brain.
And in 2019, when the battle for attention is more ferocious than ever, getting stuck in someone’s brain sounds like a good idea.
BRANDING, CONTENT & RESEARCH STRATEGY
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