October 29, 2015

What Songs Should Be In My Library Test?

Coleman Insights recently introduced the FACT360 Strategic Music Test. FACT360 is online music testing done right through the latest sampling techniques and data collection capabilities, and includes the same benefits that Coleman Insights has provided through its FACT Strategic Music Tests for more than 20 years. These benefits help radio stations build the most appealing and strategically on-target libraries possible.

In the spirit of our launch of FACT360, we present the third in a series of five blogs authored by Coleman Insights executives covering important considerations about music testing and music strategy. This blog is written by vice president John Boyne and covers how to select songs for your next library test.

In the previous entry in this blog series, my colleague Sam Milkman wrote about the importance of using the “right” sample when you test your music library. Equally important is testing the “right” songs, which I will address in some detail here. There are important parallels between these concepts.

Much like how it should drive the design of your music testing sample, strategic research—such as the Plan DeveloperSM and FLIPSM studies Coleman Insights provides to many of its clients—should drive what you test. You should walk away from a strategic research project with clear direction on your station’s music strategy, specifically, which styles of music should be at the core of that strategy, which should comprise secondary and “spice” roles and which should be avoided altogether.

These insights should then drive what you test, as the composition of your test list should generally mirror the music strategy that emerges from your strategic research. For example, if you program a 70s- and 80s-based Classic Hits station that features 80s Pop Rock, 70s Pop Rock and 70s Corporate Rock as its core sounds, you should be exhaustive in testing titles from those three genres, making sure that they are well-represented in your test list. Meanwhile, if your strategic research advises being cautious about your Classic Hits station going too far into Classic Rock territory, you would be wise to limit your testing of titles from sounds like 70s Classic Rock, 80s AOR and 80s Hair to just the very biggest hits. In other words, be more adventurous and try to go as deep as possible in testing songs from the genres at the core of your strategy; be more cautious and try to stick to the more “tried and true” titles for sounds that are on the fringes of your strategy.

Taking this point further, I urge extra caution about going on what we like to call a “fishing expedition.” This is when a programmer tries to use a music test to assess whether or not their station should get into sounds that it currently does not play. For example, going back to Classic Hits, this could involve testing a lot of 90s and 00s titles in an effort to see whether the station should evolve. As tempting as it can sometimes be to explore new territory, music tests are not the tool for making this assessment. Such questions should be answered by a strategic study, which takes into account your larger competitive landscape. Thus, strategic research should drive your station’s music strategy and music testing should be looked to as a tool for executing that strategy. We have seen far too often stations get off track because they let their music testing drive their strategy instead of vice versa.

At Coleman Insights, we also encourage stations to test every title in their libraries. This even includes those titles that you see test well repeatedly and have no question about the frequency with which you play them. Why? First, to gain insights into how your target audience feels about each song, you need songs to be rated relative to those songs that you know are popular. Second, and perhaps more importantly, testing your full library is necessary to learn about the relationships that exist between the appetites for every music genre you play. High quality music testing gives you these insights (for example, our FACT360 Strategic Music Tests do so through a measure called Compatibility, which will be the subject of our next blog in this series), but can only do so comprehensively if your entire active library is represented in your test list. Moreover, even if your station is fortunate enough to conduct new music research on a regular basis and you use that as the primary tool for deciding which Currents to play, including your Currents in a library test is a good idea because it allows you to learn more about the Compatibility between the newer and the older sounds you play.

Sam’s previous blog talked about “garbage in, garbage out” and how testing your music with the wrong sample could produce results that send your station in the wrong direction. The same is true with constructing the list of titles in your library test. I encourage you to avoid getting garbage results by testing titles that conform to your station’s music strategy as closely as possible.

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