There were a lot of drowsy people stumbling through their days this past Wednesday: those of us who stayed up late to watch the premiere of the new CBS-TV Late Show with Stephen Colbert. During the show, parents of driving-age teens cringed as a cinematic-looking commercial came on showing three teens in a car, listening to loud music. We know how these commercials work – some terrible calamity is about to befall these kids. We’re slightly relieved that the one holding the smartphone is NOT driving, but we still know they’re about to be T-boned by a drunk driver or a speeding fire truck, whose siren they couldn’t hear above the din of the rock & roll on the car stereo.
Oh … wait, it’s a commercial for Pandora. It tells us that they’ve “already studied every note, every beat to bring you this song, your song.” It’s Pandora’s pitch that they analyzed the sonic qualities of songs to determine which songs you’ll like. It’s their attempt to build value into their music selection process. With a service that’s a collection of unhosted streams, with commercials sprinkled in (sparingly, for now) every few songs, it’s critical that Pandora builds value into some aspect of its service – not only compared to Broadcast Radio, but also compared to Spotify and all the other streaming services.
In the radio version of the TV commercial, the voiceover would say something like, “We’ve already studied how you feel about every song to bring you this song, your song.” Music radio’s selection process is a little different than Pandora’s. Radio determines which songs people like, curates a playlist and then painstakingly schedules sequences of music to make a pleasing experience. (If it’s not painstaking, what are those people slumped over Selector doing all the time?)
But, the way in which radio selects its music is pretty much a black box for consumers. When we at NuVoodoo have asked consumers how their favorite music radio station selects its music, we get back a splattering of answers – indicating people are really just guessing. The truth is that music radio works damn hard to get the right songs on at the right times for the types of people who turn on the stations. It’s a shame music radio stations neither take nor get the credit they deserve for the work that goes into music selection and scheduling.
Pandora does need to build value into its music-selection process in order to justify either the cost they’re asking for a commercial-free experience or for chewing up listener’s wireless data plans to listen in cars. While music radio remains free, with listeners “taxed” only by the clumps of commercials and other announcements interspersed with the music, it still seems that it should be reminding consumers of the tremendous value in all the free service it provides. We’ve quoted it as Geddy Lee, but it was drummer Neil Peart who penned the line that we in radio love, “Emotional feedback on a timeless wavelength, bearing a gift beyond price, almost free.”