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Do Listeners Know Which Songs Fit?

Sure, respondents will respond to questions used by some researchers asking if songs “fit” on a station. The question is whether or not the responses are meaningful.

Faced with questions like this, most respondents answer based on what they’ve heard on stations over time. If they haven’t heard that song much on the station – if at all – it must not fit. Incorporated into playlists, the resulting metrics tend reduce the pleasant surprises that make it fun to listen to music radio (compared to albums or music playlists where you know which songs are coming up) and gradually erode station variety images. If you’re selling research, it’s a good deal since you may then get to sell your client a perceptual study to figure out what’s happened to your variety image.

Most music station P1’s in our most recent NuVoodoo Ratings Prospect Study say they’ve been pleasantly surprised by a song on the radio within the past week. We’d argue that stations need to be working harder to build in those surprises, but these little surprises are clearly part of the music-radio experience.

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The truth is that listeners don’t think about what songs belong on a station. They think about what matters in their lives. Are their kids going to be okay at school today? Will those leftovers in the fridge be okay for dinner tonight? Why has that one hemlock in the hedge out front gone brown? Does the boss really need that report completed by noon today?

It’d be like asking most of us whether or not we’d like more marjoram or less rosemary in our gravy at Thanksgiving. Never thought about it. Don’t really have a wide base of experience with what’s involved to know. Let me taste the finished product – or experience the resulting station music mix – and I’ll have a better idea. It’s why master chefs – and master music PD’s – are sought-after individuals. If respondents could reliably tell us which songs fit on stations, there’d be fewer PD’s at music radio stations.

At NuVoodoo we believe in allowing respondents to answer questions that mean something. Do you recognize that song based on the hook? If so, how do you feel about the song, using a very simple scale? We’re trying to keep them out of their heads – answering by reacting to what they’re hearing, just as they will when the song comes on their car radio. It’s not a reasoned decision to switch stations or turn up the volume – it’s a reaction.

The resulting music test data tell you which songs are familiar, which songs people really like and which ones they either dislike or are just tired of hearing. From there, it’s up to expert programmers to make decisions using their experience and intuition. Online services like Pandora do the best they can getting consumers to listen through their teeny commercial loads with playlists built from automated algorithms and analyses. Meanwhile, radio shoulders much greater commercial inventories and maintains TSL with playlists guided by actionable research and human-curated schedules.

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