Instead of ‘always the same songs and lots of repetition’, how to make your listeners think ‘always a nice song and lots of variety’ about your music?
When you have a focused playlist of best-testing titles, creating (an impression of) diversity may sound like a challenge. Luckily, you can increase your variety, without widening your library, by improving your rotations. Some ideas to achieve a great song exposure on your station, no matter how small your playlist may be, by spreading your songs even better over the course of several days & weeks.
‘Besides changing your category content, you can adjust your category size’
Schedule your playlist effectively
Music rotations have pros and cons. A benefit is that you can build an image by defining your format. That format is, among other things, based on what you are playing (and not playing), on which moment you’re adding it (soon after its release vs. long after its peak), and how often you’re playing it. The turnover time of (current) music categories obviously also depends on your music format, and on your station’s total listening time, as well as average listening occasion time (which tends to be shorter for most Top 40 stations, and longer for more AC stations). A disadvantage of music rotations is that you could get a potentially negative image by overexposing certain songs (if they’re not people’s favourites). Apart from playing overall better music in that regard, you can improve your overall song exposure (while still playing your top-testing songs enough).
Assign your rules carefully
Before talking about making your music logs less predictable, let’s refresh some basics on what determines music rotations. Apart from how many songs you have in a music category, it’s about how many positions you assign to this category in your format clocks (and how consistent those are in terms of category exposure). However, these factors determine your natural song rotation, which is often modified by all kinds of scheduling rules: daypart restrictions, artist separations, sound codes, etc. Only make rules that are necessary, and only make really essential rules ‘unbreakable’, keeping less essential rules ‘breakable’ to avoid unnecessary scheduling conflicts. With this in mind, let’s explore ideas to make your music logs a bit less predictable (and your variety a bit more prominent) for heavy listeners of your station by optimising your song rotations with a focus on fast-repeating categories, like for current hits.
Change your category content
The obvious way to keep music logs interesting is refreshing your source material by adding songs, moving songs to other categories, or removing songs from active rotation. Sometimes permanently; often temporarily, like when you’re resting a Current for a few weeks before bringing it back as a Recurrent, or when you’re platooning some titles (parking them for a while, while bringing back an equal number of previously inactive titles). This especially works well for larger categories such as Recurrent and Gold (‘Wow, I haven’t heard that in a long time!’). But besides changing your category content, you can adjust your category size to shuffle your rotations. In one week, you might play 5 Power Currents; in another week you might play 7, depending on how many songs qualify for your A list. The downside is that regular (P1) listeners might feel your difference in ‘passion’ for these songs from week to week, a side effect that will be less strong with larger categories (like rotating 14 Secondary Currents in one week, and 12 in another week).
‘Find balance between necessary scheduling rules and natural song rotations’
Kick your first song
A great way to naturally rotate music categories, is using the even-odd rule. When your format clocks all include 2 Power Current slots an hour, or when you’re playing say 50 of these a day (as your number of Power Currents an hour may vary, depending on the daypart), then you want to have 3, 5 or 7 songs within your Power Current category (as 9 songs could be too much to make them stand out as hits) so they’ll be scheduled across several different slots within multiple hours. A category of 3 Power Currents lets each of them repeat once every 1.5 hours (which may be only suitable for a Top 40 station in a highly competitive market). Should you end up with 4, 6 or 8 songs in your Power Current category after all, most music scheduling tools allow you to skip one song, once a day. You may skip the first Power Current that would normally be scheduled right after midnight, and schedule the next Power Current in line instead; creating a different rotation pattern for this category from day to day. The number of category slots per day divided by the number of included songs in that category should result in an uneven number (e.g. 48 slots / 5 songs = 9.6 plays per song).
Differentiate your song cards
Drawing a comparison with playing cards, you’ll shuffle a card deck before every game. In a similar way, you can do this with your song cards. This can be useful for larger music categories, such as Recurrents and Golds. As mentioned before, the number of songs in (and the number of slots for) each music category will determine that category’s natural rotation pattern, which is then affected by scheduling rules. But there’s another factor that influences a song’s rotation: it is how deep you allow your music scheduler to dig within a particular stack of cards (category of songs) before it needs to make a choice, sometimes combined with how far you allow your scheduling software to put that song card back into the stack after the song has been scheduled. Titles that should turn up more often, you might want to put back somewhere in the middle of the stack, instead of all the way back. As you modify these individual song parameters (like when you have new music research data available), you will automatically influence the rotation of some of your songs. It’s a way to refine your song rotations, besides assigning them to Power Recurrent, Secondary Gold, etc.
Modify your scheduling rules
As your collective of music scheduling rules (for artist, gender, tempo, etc.) affects your rotations, you can try and see what happens when you loosen (or tighten) certain rules. First, run an analysis of your rotation patterns for categories as well as songs. Are any songs playing more (or less) often than they should? And is it likely to be caused by rules? Then you might want to adjust those. What you can do, is switching off all rules, turn one single rule ‘on’, and run a test playlist to see what happens. Do this for all rules that you have. You can also build it step by step by switching one more rule ‘on’ every time you run a test log. You are then likely to find rules that are causing trouble, so you can fine-tune them, and run another test log to see the difference. The more (diverse) songs you have in a category, the more (consistency) rules you usually need. Just find a good balance between necessary scheduling rules and natural song rotations; between consistent flow and desired exposure. This is where science & art of music scheduling meet.
‘Why not do the same as you do with certain groups of songs?’
Rotate your clock variants
Last, but not least, you can improve your song rotations by optimising your format clocks, and using them strategically. You might already have several different clock variants (based on one default music clock) available. A set of 5 or 7 music clocks will allow you to rotate several different music formats throughout different days & dayparts. Make sure that the number of clocks you are actively using cannot be multiplied to 24 (hours). Therefore, 4, 6 or 8 clocks would be less suitable. Unless, of course, you’re ‘kicking’ one clock manually by starting your clock grid with, for example, Clock 1 on Monday, Clock 2 on Tuesday, etc. (basically doing the same as ‘kicking’ a song at midnight, as explained earlier). When creating your clock variants, mind your format consistency, letting every program hour reflect your overall format. An easy way is turning your master clock one or more positions to the left or right, automatically creating variety in each hour while maintaining music flow and category balance.
Daypart your music clocks
To achieve specific daypart goals, such as playing more current hits and/or more power songs during morning drive, you can create daypart-specific master clocks and alternate clocks. Doing this only for essential hours lets you maintain your station-wide format consistency, thus building a recognisable music brand based on clear listener expectations. A positive side effect of using some daypart-specific clocks is that they could automatically shuffle your rotation patterns for those music categories that are a getting a different exposure compared to their exposure in your non-dayparted clocks. It may contribute to less predictable placements of songs from those categories. When you are rotating 5 or 7 main clocks, then you also want 5 or 7 additional clocks for every daypart where you need specific clocks (like your morning hours), so you can create a consistent grid of format clocks.
Platoon your format clocks
While format consistency and listener expectations are important, you also want to achieve (an impression of) freshness and variety. That includes introducing new format clocks every now and then, as you don’t want to use the same category order forever and ever. So why not do the same as you do with certain groups of songs — and platoon your clocks? You could build an ‘A set’ and a ‘B set’ of clocks that you can then swap every once in a while. It will make your category order and therefore your song rotation come across as new and different, without having to re-invent the (clock) wheel. You just park one set, and activate another one. Having the exact same amount of clocks in every clock set will make it easier to adjust your clock grid. However, for even more variety, you could have one set of 5 clocks and one set of 7 clocks, which will shuffle your category turnarounds even more. Have fun reloading your rotations!
Header image: 123RF / ruslanshug