Tag Archives: Music Testing

Is Your Music Changing With Your Audience?

Tuesdays With Coleman

After working as a Program Director at radio stations in various formats over the course of 20 years, I was fortunate to be involved in my share of research projects.

Six months ago, I began my new role as an Associate Consultant at Coleman Insights. I work on projects for radio stations in just about every format in markets of various sizes. I’d like to share a few things that have sparked my interest and attention on the research side:

Listener tastes can change in relatively short periods of time.

While I often had access to music research, I was sometimes limited to working with “safe lists” (lists of songs that have done well in the format that should, in theory, be safe to play). There were songs some people felt we didn’t need to test because “they always test well”.

It’s fair to say there are songs that generally do test well just about everywhere. But it’s also fair to say that tastes change and vary by station and market.

One of the first FACT360 Strategic Music Tests I’ve had the opportunity to analyze was for a Country client of ours. In that test, we found that 34 percent of the songs testing in the Top 200 had changed from the previous test. A year earlier, this rate of Title Turnover was 25 percent, meaning the rate of change increased.

Title turnover

The sound of the radio station stayed consistent because this client knows that a music test should not dictate their music strategy. That’s what their perceptual research is for. But, with 34 percent Title Turnover in the Top 200 and 41 percent in the Top 150, this station—by conducting regular library testing—is staying on top of what’s appealing to their listeners in their market and they can play the right songs at the appropriate levels.

History can reveal changing listener tastes when reviewing Billboard Hot 100 charts.

I once had a General Manager tell me to look through Joel Whitburn’s Hot 100 Charts book to look for ideas of songs to play. True story! And yes, you can get ideas of songs to play from year-end charts. On the other hand, if all the #1 year-end songs were on the radio, you’d be hearing “The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand, “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John and “Macarena” by Los Del Rio more often.

Los Del Rio Macarena

They were the #1 year-end songs from 1974, 1982 and 1996, respectively.

The number one Hot 100 song of 2017 was “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran. The number two song was “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee (featuring Justin Bieber). Will one, both, or neither stand the test of time? Only time will tell. Music testing will help determine their longevity on your station and in your market.

Artist appeal can change.

When I programmed WBBB/96rock in Raleigh-Durham during the 2000s, Grunge was a consistently strong-testing sound and it wasn’t unusual for us to get at least seven Pearl Jam songs to test. “Even Flow”, “Alive”, “Jeremy”, “Better Man”, “Daughter”, “Black” and “Yellow Ledbetter” were staples in rotation.

In a recent analysis of what songs have stood the test of time based on Spotify airplay, the author makes note of how Pearl Jam has been “lost in time”. While testing results can be completely different at another station in another market, two separate FACT360 studies of a Rock station we work with showed five Pearl Jam songs testing in the Top 200 in 2015. In 2017, there were only two.

2018 brings fresh data, new trends and insights and I can’t wait to dig in! Keep your eye out for a new blog each Tuesday.






Why Does Tactical Research Need Strategic Research?

Tuesdays With Coleman

In the last couple of “Tuesdays with Coleman” blogs, I’ve revisited a Radio & Records column I wrote in 1999. The column introduced four scenarios I ran into when speaking with radio station managers about research projects. As I mentioned previously in this series, despite the dramatic changes in the radio industry over the last 18 years, my colleagues and I still encounter these scenarios, which prevent managers from getting the full benefit of conducting research on their stations.

Today, we’ll discuss Scenario 3 – Confusing Tactical and Strategic Research. In this scenario, a Rock station hires us to conduct a strategic study—at Coleman Insights, we call this a Plan Developer study—after years of relying on rudimentary music testing from another research provider. After those tests caused the program director to “yank” the station back and forth between newer and older and between softer and harder sounds, the general manager—who was frustrated with the station’s mediocre ratings performance—prevailed upon ownership to fund strategic research.

Plan Developer

Among other findings, the study revealed that the best opportunity for the station was to focus its music mix on mainstream Classic Rock titles primarily from the 70s and 80s. The program director, however, would have none of this, claiming that he couldn’t get a lot of that material “to test.” He said that his testing revealed many of his station’s listeners liked Alternative titles from the 90s and Flashback songs from the 80s and bristled at our suggestion that these sounds should be eliminated from the library.

The PD was right—the people participating in his tests gave 90s Alternative and 80s Flashback titles high marks. However, he was wrong that his station should be playing them.

First, the design of his music testing sample was off-target from where the real opportunity existed—focused on mainstream Classic Rock from the 70s and 80s. Our Plan Developer revealed that the station should focus its music testing on men in their late 30s and 40s; the PD was testing his music with a younger sample that was balanced between the genders. Second, the test list he prepared for each test was not focused on the sounds the Plan Developer suggested should be at the core of the station’s strategy. Third, the Plan Developer revealed that the audience expected Classic Rock from the station and that if it could simply grow its images for Classic Rock, its performance should improve significantly. This was eye-opening for the general manager. The station had not done a strategic study in years and its annual music tests did not include any measure of audience expectations, such as the Fit measurement Coleman Insights includes in its FACT360 Strategic Music Tests.

Long story short: Management instructed the PD to follow the Plan Developer music recommendations, including bringing its future music tests in line with the strategy. The PD rebelled, eventually left on his own accord and a new PD came on board and implemented “The Plan.” She looks like a genius, as the station now consistently finishes in the top five in a very competitive market.

While all the research you deploy should have elements of strategy in it, when it is predominately tactical in nature (i.e., rudimentary library tests, simple callout, listener surveys, etc.), the results should never be allowed to take your station off course. Stations that practice having their tactical research—especially their music testing—flow from their strategic research usually win.