Tag Archives: music research

Pop Reigns Supreme (Again!) in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3

Coleman Insights is releasing findings from its Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 in a three-part blog series, followed by a free webinar on May 13th, in which the findings will be covered in greater depth. Details to register for that webinar are below.

In last week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog, my colleague John Boyne evoked memories of the classic movie Groundhog Day when summarizing the findings of our Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3. The time-freezing impact of the coronavirus pandemic was evident in our findings, including how Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” finished as the number one song in the study for a second year in a row and how six of this year’s top ten songs also finished in the top ten in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.

This week we will delve more specifically into how different music genres fared in the study. While there are many similarities to our findings from a year ago, there are some differences worth examining in detail.

The most obvious similarity between our new findings and the results of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 is—as given away in the title of this blog— the continued strength of Pop titles. If you read my preview blog post about the study two weeks ago, you know that the list of titles we tested represent the most consumed songs of 2020, along with additional selections from the Alternative/Rock, Latin, and Dance/Electronic genres.

At 20%, Pop comprises only the third largest group of titles in the test list, behind Hip Hop/R&B at 31% and Country at 20%. When we focus on the Top 100 titles in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3, however, we observe that 40% of them are Pop songs.

This “over performance” by Pop titles represents a pattern we have continually observed in our series of studies. Furthermore, Pop has now been the genre with the biggest share of the Top 100 in every Contemporary Music SuperStudy, and its 40% performance this year represents an increase from 35% last year.

Another similarity between this year’s results and previous editions of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy is the continued health of Hip Hop/R&B, which looks even stronger this year than in the two previous studies. While at 27% of the Top 100 it slightly under performs its 31% presence in the test list, Hip Hop/R&B makes up the second largest share of the best-testing titles and is up from 23% and 18% from Contemporary Music SuperStudy 1 and 2, respectively.

Finally, as we have seen in the two previous studies, Alternative/Rock and Dance/Electronic remain as secondary appetites among 12- to 54-year-olds in the United States and Canada. Alternative/Rock and Dance/Electronic are present in the Top 100 at roughly the same levels as they are among All Songs Tested, but at 10% and 9% respectively, their presences among the best-testing titles are relatively low.

The biggest difference we see in our findings pertains to the performance of Country titles, which have been on a rollercoaster ride across our first three installments of the Contemporary Music SuperStudy. This year, Country titles make up only 13% of the Top 100, which is considerably lower than their 21% presence in the overall test list.

This represents a turnaround from Contemporary SuperStudy 2, in which Country’s presence in the Top 100 nearly doubled from 12% in the previous year to 23%. When we shared these results roughly a year ago, it generated some optimism that Country music was poised for improvement from the struggles the genre appeared to be suffering. With its downturn this year, the sustainability of Country’s rebound comes into question; with that said, we should be cautious about making long-term projections based on data collected during what we know is a unique time in music and audio entertainment consumption due to the pandemic.

A noteworthy aspect of Country’s surge last year and weaker performance this year is revealed when we break out our data by geography. As it has in all three of our studies, Country led the Top 100 among Rural consumers in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3, and its 43% presence this year is down only slightly from 48% last year. Among Suburban consumers, however, Country’s fortunes have clearly changed. Last year, Country’s 27% presence in the Top 100 among Suburban consumers represented a tripling from 9% in the first Contemporary SuperStudy; this year, the same figure has plummeted to 7%.

Breakdowns like these—covering age, gender, ethnicity, politics, media consumption, and more—will be the subject of the final Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 blog from Sam Milkman next week.

In addition, register now for our Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 webinar on May 13th from 2p-3p EDT, when we’ll go in-depth on the state of contemporary music. In the meantime, keep an eye out for next week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog for more sneak peek findings from the study.

Please join us for both!

Tracking Contemporary Music Trends

A major benefit of the long-term relationships we have with so many audio brands is that we get to look at trends. Lots and lots of trends. By measuring things in a consistent manner year after year and study after study, we get unparalleled insights into how the behaviors, tastes, and perceptions of consumers change over time. I’ll admit to being a geek about a lot of this stuff, especially when it comes to music.

That’s why I am looking forward to our upcoming release of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3, a preview of which we are presenting at this week’s virtual All Access Audio Summit. Sure, I enjoyed the two previous studies in 2019 and 2020, but now that we’ve arrived at the third edition of our now-annual assessment of the state of contemporary music tastes in the United States and Canada, I am geeking out about the opportunity to share some real trends.

This opportunity is perhaps more intriguing than it would otherwise be this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve been through more than a year with almost no live music performances and many artists have held back their releases of new material, so it will be especially interesting to see if this has impacted the state of contemporary music.

If you’re not familiar with our Contemporary Music SuperStudy series, let me give you a quick primer. We compile a list of the most-consumed songs from the previous calendar year and then test those songs with 1,000 consumers in the United States and Canada using the same platform we use for delivering FACT360SM Strategic Music Tests to our radio station clients. The list is built with help from our friends at MRC Data and is based on consumption via radio airplay, streaming, and sales. We drop any songs that are at least five years old and then add songs that are among the most consumed from each major genre that make up the world of contemporary music so that each of those genres receive adequate representation. The 1,000 consumers who participate in the study are representative of the population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, and geography.

By using this consistent methodology every year, the Contemporary Music SuperStudy is worthy of its designation as the benchmark of contemporary music tastes. Many of us in the radio, music, and streaming businesses get glimpses of how music tastes are changing through the many individual audio brand studies, music tests, and new music research reports we see over the course of the year, but the Contemporary Music SuperStudy gives us a truly objective view of those changes on the macro level.

When we began to analyze the data, many questions—informed by what we learned in the two previous editions of the study—immediately popped into my head and the heads of my colleagues. These include:

  • What will supplant last year’s top song—“Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran—as the best-testing song this year?
  • What new songs released in 2020—and therefore appearing in the study for the first time—did consumers rate highest?
  • Will Pop titles continue to outperform their presence in the test list?
  • Will the improvement we saw for Country titles between the first and second study continue with the third study?
  • Has the pandemic impacted the demand for contemporary music?
  • Will Hip Hop/R&B titles continue to lead the tastes of younger listeners?

The good news is that if you have similar questions to ours, the answers to them are on their way. If you are attending the All Access Audio Summit this week, be sure to join us at 2PM Eastern/11AM Pacific this Thursday, April 22nd when John Boyne, Sam Milkman, and I will reveal many of the topline findings from the study. Our presentation will cover the best-testing titles overall, how this year’s most popular songs compare with previous years in terms of genre and era, and how music tastes vary across demographics, geography, political persuasion, and media habits.

In addition, we will devote the next three weeks of Tuesdays With Coleman to more detailed discussions of the study’s most important findings, culminating in a free, publicly available webinar on Thursday, May 13th in which we will take a deeper dive into our findings. (Registration for the webinar will open later this month.) Finally, later this spring, we will provide online access to the song-by-song data from the study to all active Coleman Insights clients as part of our Coleman Complete service.

At Coleman Insights we often say that music tastes change and that’s why we track them. For my fellow data geeks and music fans, the next few weeks should be a lot of fun. My colleagues and I hope you gain a lot of insights out of our Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 findings and look forward to your feedback.

Coleman Insights Releases Sortable Song Data From Contemporary Music SuperStudy

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC, August 1, 2019 – Coleman Insights is now offering free access to a sortable spreadsheet containing song-by-song data from the Contemporary Music SuperStudy it released in March. Visitors to the company’s website, www.ColemanInsights.com, can now view how each song was evaluated by listeners, with breakdowns by age, gender, ethnicity and more.

The study’s major findings, which Coleman Insights previously shared at the Worldwide Radio Summit, via webinar and through its Tuesdays With Coleman blog series included:

  • Hip Hop/R&B was the most consumed genre of 2018, but is also the most polarizing;
  • Pop is the one genre that fans of all other genres can agree on;
  • The appeal of Hip Hop/R&B titles is concentrated among younger, male listeners, while Country titles perform best among older, female listeners;
  • While the music tastes of supporters and detractors of President Trump vary significantly, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars is the top song with both groups

It was based on a test of 2018’s most consumed songs with 1,000 12 to- 54-year-olds across the United States and Canada utilizing Coleman Insights’ FACT360SM Strategic Music Test platform.

“We are making the song-by-song data study available after receiving many requests from our clients,” said President Warren Kurtzman. “The real value in this study is in the insights we previously released, but we believe the industry will enjoy having free access to this resource. While programmers should not make any music decisions based on this data, they can use it to ensure that many of the stronger-testing songs in their stations’ formats are included in any customized music research they do.”

The Contemporary Music SuperStudy sortable data is now available under “Free Studies” in the Resources section at www.ColemanInsights.com. That section also includes the more detailed analyses Coleman Insights released earlier this year.

About Coleman Insights

Coleman Insights, headquartered in Research Triangle Park, NC, with offices in Philadelphia and Hamburg, Germany, is a firm that has helped media properties build strong brands and develop great content since 1978. Its clients include hundreds of media properties in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, including those owned by iHeartMedia, Entercom Communications Corporation, Bonneville International Corporation, Hubbard Radio, Educational Media Foundation, Stingray Radio, Emmis Communications, SummitMedia, Salem Communications, Connoisseur Media, Corporación Radial del Perú, Service Broadcasting Corporation, CRISTA Media, and Townsquare Media. Additional information about Coleman Insights is available at www.ColemanInsights.com.

The 90s Music Research Conundrum

Tuesdays With Coleman

In theory, if you turn on an Adult Contemporary radio station in 2018, you should be hearing a healthy dose of 90s music. If you graduated high school in 1995, for example, you would be around 41 today—right in the wheelhouse of the 25-54 demographic. But of the major eras played on most Adult Contemporary stations, the 90s tend to get the least exposure—maybe about 10% of spins. You’re more likely to hear the 80s, 00s and 10s.

Similarly, we are not seeing Classic Hits radio stations accelerate into the 90s as quickly and aggressively as they once accelerated into the 80s and, before that, the 70s.

So what’s going on? Why aren’t the 90s taking over these formats?

In a word, Compatibility.

Don’t confuse the lack of 90s music exposure with the desire for hearing 90s music. If your music tastes came of age in the 90s, you are likely just as passionate about the music during that era as an 80s kid was about the 80s, a 70s kid was about the 70s and so on. Many people love the idea of hearing 90s music. The problem is not that the concept is unpopular; the problem is that the concept is challenging to execute.

Successful radio stations play a group of sounds that work in tandem with each other. In our FACT360SM Strategic Music Tests, Compatibility indicates if fans of one sound are likely to also be fans of other sounds. While diversity of eras and textures can help expand the scope of a station’s coalition, Compatibility helps ensure that it’s a variety blend that works well together. When Compatibility is poor, a station will have trouble keeping listeners from one song to another, as it zigs and zags across the music spectrum.

With the 80s, the golden era of MTV, we generally find that there are popular, diverse sounds that have high Compatibility with one another.

This means if you’re a fan of:

Straight ahead 80s Pop (like Michael Jackson and Madonna);

80s Pop Rock (like Bryan Adams and John Mellencamp);

80s Flashback Pop (like Eurythmics and Simple Minds);

or 80s Rock (like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard), there is a good chance you’re a fan of more than one and perhaps all of these sounds.

The reason the 80s works so well today is because listening to Michael Jackson, John Mellencamp and Bon Jovi on the same station isn’t a train wreck.

The 90s, however, brought an era of fragmentation, as opposed to the shared experiences of previous eras.

For several styles of music, the 90s was a golden age. Alternative, Hip Hop and Country launched the careers of a multitude of stars and a vast number of hits. In formats targeted to these genres, we continue to see high passion for their 90s hits. But just because Nirvana, 2Pac and Garth Brooks songs remain highly popular does not mean that a Nirvana/2Pac/Garth Brooks radio station would be highly popular. What is lacking for the 90s is high Compatibility between genres. Playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “How Do U Want It” and “Friends In Low Places” back-to-back-to-back may be a fun experiment in variety and nostalgia, but it probably isn’t going to generate great ratings for a mainstream music station.

The lack of high Compatibility between genres in the 90s makes it difficult to effectively blend them. It also makes it difficult to find a lot of mass market hits. You may find huge passion for a song among its home genre fans, yet its mass-market appeal is watered down by low scores from everyone else.

Compounding things is that the 90s lacked a robust center lane of Pop music to help make up for the incompatible edges. Aside from the Teen Pop wave of Britney, Christina and the boy bands at the end of the decade, we’re largely looking at a cobbling together of poppier offshoots of the edges (e.g., Matchbox 20 from the Alternative side, Shania Twain from the Country side). The tide turned in the 00s and 10s. The edges cooled, and mass appeal Pop hits came back in a big way. There were massive hits on the softer side (e.g., Adele); huge artists and hits down the center Pop lane (e.g., Maroon 5); and monster crossovers from the rhythmic side (e.g., Rihanna).

Again, it’s easy to overestimate a station’s ability to effectively incorporate the 90s based on the generational affinity for this decade. Because we’re in the 90s wheelhouse generationally, it makes sense that we see signs of 90s revivals. It’s why Rosanne (now The Conners) was brought back to television. It’s why the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block reunited (and even toured together). The desire for 90s nostalgia is there and completely real.

Ultimately, however, it is the Compatibility conundrum that hinders the 90s as a major ingredient on most Adult Contemporary and Classic Hits radio stations today. While time softens the perceived tempo and edginess of music, the fragmentation of the decade’s music will continue to pose a challenge for programmers.

What Radio Stations And Diets Have In Common

Tuesdays With Coleman

About a month ago, I started on one of those “two shakes a day” diets.

Wait, I’m not supposed to call it a diet. About a month ago, I started on one of the two shakes a day LIFESTYLES.

I’m only slightly embarrassed to say I needed something to get me started toward a healthier way of living.

So I’m on the plan. Shake for breakfast, shake for lunch. Modest dinner, mainly protein, and healthy snacks along the way. You know what? The pounds and inches that I picked up in the radio station kitchen (who brings all those free donuts?) are starting to fall off.

I’d like to maintain this LIFESTYLE as long as I can.

The process gets me thinking… besides eating the donuts in the kitchen, what other bad habits might I have picked up at the radio station, and how can we “shake” them?

Radio programmers generally do a great job of keeping good habits. But like diets, it’s easy to lose your way. Here are some ways radio stations fall “off the diet”:


At our presentation at the Worldwide Radio Summit, Outside Thinking: Flip The Script On How You Think About Your Radio Station, we demonstrated how delivering too many messages at once inhibits any of them from breaking through. Check out this guy I ran into at an amusement park.

Outside Thinking Too Many Messages

He’s wearing a radio station t-shirt featuring their name, call letters, an extra frequency, slogan, morning show and workday positioning. Whew! That t-shirt could lose a few pounds.


You’re utilizing music research as part of your radio station’s strategy. “The Plan” says 00s Rhythmic Pop music not only doesn’t add potential audience, it is incongruent with your brand and the fans of your most appealing music don’t like it. “Yeah, but that song tested really well!”

Doesn’t mean you should play it.

This also applies to adding titles in between library music tests. “It’s only a few songs”. The next thing you know, your library is bloated with titles you shouldn’t be playing.

Put down the cookies.

Trust the music research and stick with your strategy.


Your listeners are the lifeblood of your radio station. They often provide the most valuable feedback you can hear, giving you the opportunity to do more of the best things and cut out things they don’t like. Get out of the office and talk to them. You’ll even burn a few calories in the process.


You’ve done a market research study, you’re clear on the strategy, but who is in charge of delivering your radio station’s message day in and day out? Your air talent.

By regularly airchecking your jocks, you can create powerful buy-in from your team and ensure the plan is executed properly.

Just as a personal trainer is charged with keeping me disciplined and sticking to a workout schedule to stay fit, a program director is charged with keeping air talent disciplined and on message.

The bad habits of radio stations really aren’t that different from the bad habits of a diet.

Unfocused messaging? Kind of like bouncing from diet to diet. “You know, I tried that one for a little while but it didn’t work”. Why didn’t it work? Because it was the wrong diet (message) or because you didn’t give the diet (message) a long enough chance to be effective?

Not following the music research? That’s like straying from the diet here and there. “Hey, a little ice cream won’t hurt me.” “I can cheat with a few slices of pizza.” When you have a plan, whether to better your radio station or change your life, you have to remain focused and disciplined.

Maintaining focus and discipline will be the only way I continue to be successful with my new lifestyle.

And it’s also the only way you’ll continue to be successful with your radio station.