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Global Radio Ideas: Challenges And Ideas for Radio in A Streaming World

May 27, 2022

I had the privilege of appearing with Ken Benson from P1 Media and Andreas Sannemann from Benztown discussing radio’s challenges in a streaming age especially during the Doldrums Of The Music Cycle. I’ll be appearing again in June discussing how to integrate streaming and social data in doing rotations.

Here is the link to the video.

It was such an honor to be part of the discussion with the legendary Jhani Kaye with Media Path hosts Louise Palanker and Fritz Coleman! We had fun hope you enjoy listening!

Mediapath
Circular

How To Create A Winning Playlist In A Streaming Social World

Global Media Snap

Part 1

Part 2

Music Cycle 2023 Year Four Of The Doldrums And How We Got Here

Well, I do not think it’s any surprise to anyone that we’re in The Doldrums of the Music Cycle, but as I stated early last year, “We’re in the ‘worst music Doldrums’ in history and certainly the worst for radio itself.”

Music Cycle 2022

Usually, the hallmarks of The Doldrums are that you see more AC, usually less Pop, more Country and often a little more Rock than average. This had happened in each Doldrums phase for 40 years. But this changed beginning with The Doldrums of 2004, with Top 40 radio concerned about a 90s Doldrums that saw the loss of over 500 stations.
Knowing this downturn for the format was partly due to an avoidance of Pop music, Top 40 began to over-focus on it and asked labels to produce more of it. So, Top 40 radio tried to force a new reality on the percentage of music it played over the next two decades where it spun Pop music so much that it was as much as 2/3 of the most spun songs of the year. Doing that created a pattern of forcing Pop music in tough times when it was harder to find Pop hits. That meant that HipHop and R&B, AC, Alternative and Country hits, which made the Billboard’s Year End Top 100 from other formats, were being avoided by Top 40, a practice that damaged its hit factor, variety, and its expectation of genre variety by listeners and over time, diminishing the number of fans to the format.

I will show the numbers below after a quick refresher course on the Music Cycle and the signs that show we’re in The Doldrums.

Doldrums is the last of 3 phases of the 10-year music cycle, and in any given 10-year music cycle, The Doldrums is worst phase for music and music’s gatekeeper – Top 40 radio.

The Music Cycle is composed of three phases that have repeated every 10 years since 1956, where the balance of core styles differs from phase to phase
— Plenty of Pop hits, plus Rock and HipHop/R&B are more Pop, more melodic.
— Moves toward the edges, away from Pop, and Top 40’s ratings begin to dip.
Mainstream Top 40’s R&B and Rock edges soften and much of Rock and R&B music hits are being avoided from play, entirely. Mainstream Top 40 ratings dip even more.

What brings back The Rebirth Phase, which is when a new Cycle happens, when a genre or an artist or a music platform brings about another change in music.

Music Cycle #1 1956 Artists: Elvis
Music Cycle #2 1964 Artists: The Beatles
Music Cycle #3 1974 The Albums: Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder
Music Cycle #4 1984 Platform + Artists – MTV and its generation of artists
Music Cycle #5 1997 Platform: The Internet and Napster allowing for free music and trading files
Music Cycle #6 2005 Platform: American Idol
Music Cycle #7 2015 Platform: Technology: Mobile Phone and Streaming Music

So, what are the factors that cause the shift in music phases during the music cycle? One factor is the differences in generations. Each generation wants something they can call their own as they mature – little sister never wants the same music that big sister or (heaven forbid) Mom/Dad are into. Music is driven by the leading-edge listeners who adopt what is hot today; and what’s hot today is yesterday’s news in a few years. So, the Cycle repeats as each generation demands its own style of music (even if it’s still a form of Rock, Pop or R&B or Country).

What else causes music to move through these phases? People argue that the dominant music platform i.e., the gatekeeper radio (and now) streaming platforms have a choice and can control the Music Cycle, so that the overall music balance you hear does not need to go through the Extremes or the Doldrums and can always stay balanced as it does during the Birth/Rebirth phase. These Music Cycle cynics believe that the music cycle itself is not real and under human control … but it’s really not! Yes, they can cause the intensity of the Extremes or the Doldrums to be more pronounced or less so but they can’t control the ebb and flow of the popular genres and songs that listeners love. The changes from one phase to the next and finally to the rebirth of a brand-new Music Cycle are simply based on human nature.

2022 Popularity Charts Vs Top 40 Airplay

Top 40 is stuck in a rut and NOT reflecting the most popular songs as Year End charts for Top 40 Airplay Vs Year end charts for the popularity have about 50% duplication, meaning Top 40 is playing 50% of the most popular hits. There are lots of hits from other genres that could be played, but Top 40 remains too focused on pure Pop and Dance with some Hip/Hop R&B and some Rock, Country, and AC when so much more of Country and AC/Hot AC as well as a little more Rock could be played, as they are reflected in larger proportions on the Billboard Year End Charts.

2022 marks the biggest departure of Top 40 airplay from the popularity charts (Billboard). We see a drop we’ve not seen in over a decade, from the Pop + Hip Hop’s dominance and the largest proportion of non-Pop music. since the 80s. It also marks the biggest percentage of Country hits of alll times with 26% a number and a 21% average so far in the 2020s.

Here are some key takeaways!

• 2022 marks the all-time lowest duplication between Top 40 airplay chart and the Billboard Year End chart at 46%. Extraordinarily low when you look back to 2010 and before that where the duplication was 80% or higher.

• R&B/HipHop lowest percentage in a decade on Billboard 24% (avg since 2010 is 37%) and first time in a decade where Top 40 airplay was greater for that genre vs popularity/Billboard at 26%.

• AC/Country/Rock + Latin for 2023 highest in a decade for Billboard at 48%, 2010s (23%) and highest since the 90s (31%), while Top 40 airplay is still only 19%.

• Pop which has averaged at 30% historically on Billboard’s Year End popularity charts drops slightly to 28% (avg since 2010 is 37% highest since the 1960s) And it still remains double that in top 40 airplay at 55% (down slightly from 2021)

• Dance songs were up to 24% for Top 40 airplay the highest percentage since the mid-2010s

Billboard Year End Data
Music Genre Data

Worst Doldrums Of The Music Cycle Means Tough Times For Top 40 Radio

So why is it the worst Doldrums cycle ever for Top 40 radio because over the last few years we’ve seen Top 40 radio’s average ranking in the ratings reached its lowest point ever.

During the early 2010s it was averaging 2nd 6+ in Nielson. By 2020 it was tied for 4th 2021 5th and in 2022 its 7th, In many markets it’s barely Top 7 looking at 6+, with many stations out of the top 10 completely with Classic Rock, Classic Hits and AC formats dominating.

This same weak trend for Top 40 has occurred for all 3 years of The Doldrums.

While the good news is Top 40 radio’s average has held its 18-34P and 25-54P rank position, its share has dropped dramatically since 2016 when the decline began. In 18-34P Top 40 is #1 tied with AC, but minus 50% and 25-54P #3 and minus 30%

Much of the Top 40 ratings decline is caused by an exodus of the under 30 audience and to a lesser extent 30-50P to Streaming platforms, TikTok and Satellite but also to more Gold-based formats.

Yearly Average Ratings Courtesy of Nielson

Yes, we know more people cume radio than any other platforms but in total time spent consuming audio radio itself is struggling mightily especially with Gen Z and Gen Alpha.

 Also, America is getting older with the median age now at 38 not 28 like it was in the 70s, but the radio listener average age in Jacob Media’s Latest Tech Survey 2022 is even older at 55.8. So, we’re seeing not only the worst Doldrums for Top 40 radio, but for radio itself.

Tech Survey

How did we get here? Death By 1000 Cuts

Yes, radio itself also faces a steep decline in time spent listening – with the massive increase in use of streaming platforms and apps on the mobile phone become the number #1 way to consume audio and its future. But radio suffered through the “Death Of 1000 Cuts” to get here (and no it’s not too late for radio!). Some of this was due to the massive debt load radio overpaid for radio stations, which created a lack of continued investment like we had done prior to Consolidation after the Telecom Bill in 1987. We just haven’t done enough in protect our medium.

Here are just a few of the 1000 Cuts:

Radio’s Focus On A Ratings Service, Not The Listener


Radio essentially has become more and more of a background medium not a foreground music medium after Arbitron’s Soft Diary in 1986 which created a focus on workplace and being a utility. Listeners were asked to write down what they “hear” passively in the background and not “listen” to a radio station passionately. To make matters worse, Arbitron added the workplace as a listening location for the first time, which meant that background music stations like Adult Contemporary got 10 times the credit at the workplace as what had been a normal long listening diary to a foreground music station.

In the Summer of ‘86 after the Soft Diary took effect background AC stations that were used at the workplace shot to the top of the ratings all over America, and music formats like Top 40 and Rock dropped to #5 or #6.

So, Arbitron changed the radio landscape by exaggerating the value of passive listening and formats Like Top 40, the newly created Hot AC format and others began to focus on a strategy of getting workplace credit to succeed in Arbitron’s new methodology. Radio would never the same again after stations began to be focused on being the best background utility they could be, and as it entered the 2000s, we tried to remove irritants to workplace listening like energetic personalities and intense production.

Arbitron methodology no longer represented the value of a large contingent of listeners accurately and that strategy worked in reverse as it offered a radio offramp to Napster and Spotify for those passionate music fans who no longer were getting as much fun and energy as they wanted from music formats in radio.

Radio’s Mobile Strategy?!?

After Steve Jobs refused to include radio tuner on the iPhone in the early 00s, we did not push hard enough to get an antennae chip so mobile phones could pick up radio terrestrial analog signals on the Android phone. Even recently in order to receive Emergency alerts the FCC asked Apple to install FM Chips, but they refused. Android has an FM tuner but its hidden and has to be unlocked.

Luckily, streaming platforms for radio were created by iHeartradio along with Tune-In, but radio didn’t focus nearly enough on promoting its presence there and the benefits of listening through the app. So, the result as you can see from the Larry Rosen/Edison Research graph, only 12% of listening to radio occurs via streaming and that is a disaster!

Fewer and fewer people actually own radios, and Apps and Bluetooth enabling streaming platforms are invading Radio’s safe place – car listening With the majority of listeners consuming radio on mobile phones, radio as a medium has got to make an all-out effort to advertise the value of our medium on other platforms and convert existing audience to listening to streaming if we’re to survive in the future.

Larry Rosen of Edison Research “Share Of Ear Report” shows the following:

Share of Ear

Commercial Load: It is very hard to compete with a streaming platform or app where you have little, or no commercials and you have at times 18-20 commercial an hour. That over-commercialization is a lasting brand impression of radio that will be hard to erase.

Personalities, The Next Generation (Radio’s Last Best Hope):
Most of the great personalities of today have been on the radio for 20-30 years, and great ones like Scott Shannon have retired while others like Howard Stern moved on to SiriusXM satellite radio. Sadly, we have not invested enough in finding and developing successors to these great shows, personalities that can communicate with the future listeners of our medium: Gen Z and Gen Alpha. We so desperately need these personalities, and we need them in every daypart. We need them live AND local so they can be in constant contact with a new audience that has an ever-shrinking attention span.

Radio and the Top 40 format have lost the long time #1 position as the gatekeeper of the music discovery where the hits start, also radio has lost the large amount of listening from passionate music fans looking for music discovery. Now that’s #1 position belongs to Streaming platforms and apps.

The factor that has built hits in the past, a consensus of agreement on the most popular songs due to exposure by radio (and especially Top 40 radio). Radio has lost its gatekeeper crown and there are multiple streaming platforms (and their playlists ) and TikTok as well as radio to hear the songs. The challenge is that the star making platforms that expose music are no longer at ONE CONSENSUS destination. For 55 years Top 40 radio as a whole picked up on 90% of the same hit music – when a song reached CRITICAL MASS with a huge number of listeners after it was high on the Billboard Charts and in POWER ROTATION at the same time across the country by these Top 40 stations it became a massive hit almost automatically. Those days are gone.

So, it’s so incredibly hard to build consensus because the share of ears is spread across so many platforms streaming, apps, satellite, and of course, radio. And because with all these media platforms it’s hard to build consensus around one song and even building hits and hit artists, and that journey to the top can take a long time.

Some of this effect and loss of control of the starting the hits is reflected where we see less and less super hit titles – what I call consensus A’s, which are a majority of top 40 stations play as powers. Those numbers have shrunk every year, dropping dramatically from the number we have 5-10 years ago where this is the lowest amount of these major hits in history.

Year
2020
2021
2021
Consensus Hits
28
27
23

That also means the biggest hits are staying on longer, slowing all the other songs in rotation. When a song or album becomes a hit, they stay on the Billboard and Mediabase spin charts or Streaming charts even longer leaving much less room for new music and new artists.

There are a number of different ways hit songs start today:

1. A hit today can come from massive streams that a superstar artist dropping a song receives because it’s immediately embraced by streaming services. The top places for music discovery today happen to be on Spotify, Today’s Top Hits, Rap Caviar, Viva Latino PLUS a place on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist is hugely influential in a song become a streaming hit.

2. A song that starts at TikTok and is embraced by Streaming services like Gayle’s “abcdefu” or Em Behold’s “Numb Little Bug”

3. Top 40 Radio can no longer break a song alone unless it becomes a massive hit is put in power rotation by most of the Top 40 panel and THEN gets picked back up by Streaming services…case in point was “Levitating” by Dua Lipa, which came back in June last year to become the biggest song of the year 3 months after it was moved to recurrent by the Top 40 charts and dropped dramatically in streaming.

4. If a song is extremely lucky and is included in a super-popular streaming series like Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things,’ ‘Ozark,’ Disney’s ‘Encanto’ or HBO’s ‘Euphoria’ and gets massive exposure that can have a profound impact in stimulating audio streaming.

5. “Running Up That Hill” got that massive exposure and was central to the series for entire season on ‘Stranger Things,’ so it exploded in Streaming audio. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” by the Encanto Cast was at 30 million streams a week hit for two months until radio touched it when it was already practically burned out.

Bottom line, there are so many places for listeners to go to listen and discover music, so it is very hard to break a current hit song. Unless there is a dominant platform that a majority of consumers go to discover music there will be less of a chance for a consensus of agreement on hits and we might not see a Rebirth phase and more hit music again for a while.

Radio Losing Audience Streaming & TikTok Are Losing Steam Too!

The Streaming Platforms are losing their power over the hits as well. Streaming service like Spotify and Apple are experiencing a loss of streams and TikTok is widely projected to be their successor to Streaming platforms in driving music popularity is losing its influence in driving streams. Labels are saying that TikTok is the most powerful marketing tool in music today.

We are seeing the songs at the top of Spotify’s playlist Today’s Top Hits stream a lot less than in previous years and some of that is due to the popularity of TikTok. Gen Z and Gen Alpha want something that the major streaming services do not offer. They want to take a more active role in the creative process of music making their own videos and content and not just be passive. But TikTok does not always help an artist develop a relationship with the audience as its user focused and not artist focused. It does not use the artist’s videos and instead the artist’s music is being used as background music for the user’s video. So, listeners are connecting almost as much to that artist on TikTok than they would if they were watching the actual artist video. Another problem is that so many new songs have a lifespan of just a few weeks.

Also, we’re seeing a decline in the value of TikTok breaking hits as the top 10 TikTok tracks were streamed far less in 2022 than they were in 2020, fueling worries that app usage isn’t “translating” as well to consumption.

Top 10 Singles Per Year On TikTok In The U.S.
2020 4.9 billion
2022 1.9 billion

That is a drop of roughly three billion streams, or 61%, in two years.

So TikTok is not influencing the biggest hits as much as even a year ag .

Radio Losing Audience Streaming & TikTok Are Losing Steam Too!

Breaking a current hit today is so very hard when 80% of what is being consumed by music consumers are catalogue titles It’s all about the sheer number of ears/eyeballs that a given song reaches through exposure in the following ways:

One of the biggest signs of The Doldrums is a resurgence in popularity of Gold music, remakes of older songs, and older songs themselves becoming currents again. Never in the history of Entertainment has there been more consumption of older music (as well as recycled movies and tv) especially from the 70s and 80s. We saw “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac make a return to the streaming charts a TikTok user posted a video of himself skateboarding to work while drinking Ocean Spray and lip-synching to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”.

Also, in the last 3 years some of the biggest music influences has come from video series like ‘Euphoria’ and ‘Stranger Things’ based in the 80s bringing back hits like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.”

But we should have seen this changing tide from new to old coming as it’s been happening over the past 2 decades. Gold titles were becoming more popular than current music in 2004 – in the U.S., catalog titles accounted for 35% of music sales that expanded in 2014 to 50% of the revenue for music. The last 3 years has seen streaming and sales catalog according to Luminate expand to 65% (2020) then 69.4% (2021) and finally 72.4% (2022). So, in 2022 we’ve seen Current music’s share fall by a full 3% to just 27.6%.

For decades movie studios focused on creating new movies and television and labels focused on finding and developing new artists, now movie studios are looking for sure things with older movie stars being the highest paid and in most of the blockbuster movies. Also, you have older people with money being the consumers who are buying most of the music, so labels are trying to find ways to leverage their gold catalogues of older artists for repackaging as well as for song syncs with major advertising or consumer brands.

Also, you have the effect of the major streaming platforms algorithm leaning toward the same old songs because they are more familiar (and more common to most people). But with the massive amount of music available for streaming on the major Streaming platforms by their very nature will have more older music than new and so older music gets exposed, more.

Recently music industry executives seeing that over 70% of what listeners buy or stream are catalog titles are becoming more risk adverse toward contemporary music and new artists.
They believe it’s a fait accompli, a done deal before it’s finished … catalog titles will make up most of the revenue for labels and the it’s harder to justify that investment in new artists, as radio has seen in building the hits, it’s exponentially harder today for label’s marketing departments to develop new artists and hit songs because audiences are shared/split amongst SO many streaming platforms (Spotify, YouTube, etc.) as well as radio and of course that time is also shared with other forms of entertainment like gaming, streaming tv series and podcasting.

Also, some music labels are even saying they don’t want to pay huge amounts of money to established stars. Which gives a bleak outlook for future new artist development and long
term hitmakers. Just wait until the advent of “Web 3,” and when it becomes mainstream further eroding the hold of the creative community powerbrokers and places creators themselves in total control of their content. Then the share of ears and eyeballs will be spread out even further making it even harder to attain consensus of popularity for any one song artist (or video) and we may see even less songs become hits.

So, what we are seeing now and possibly in the future makes it “the perfect storm” of challenges and this is worst Doldrums of all times for hit music.

Recommendations For Radio As A Medium

6. We need to find the next great Personalities that can communicate with Gen Z and Gen Alpha

7. We want those personalities to be Live AND Local and 24/7

8. In a mobile phone world, and with listeners short attention spans shrinking all the time we need them to have constant and almost immediate communication with listeners thru social media (TikTok, Facebook Live) and texting. If they react with you and you don’t react with them almost immediately, they will get bored and move on

 9. We need to find a way to reduce the commercial load to 6 minutes and charging more for spots to make for the loss of revenue.

 10. Once we fix our problems, we need to promote the advantages of our medium on platforms where Gen Z and Gen Alpha and Millennials spend the most time.

Luckily, we actually have an example to copy, almost all of the above is being done by station in Canada, consulted by Global Radio Consultant Ken Benson, 102-3 Now in Edmonton, Alberta which has 6 minutes of commercials an hour, great personalities in all dayparts, and constantly communicates with its listeners through texts.

Musically For Radio

1. “Play the F’ing Hits” and keep powering them! With Spotify TikTok as popular as they are and Shazam a frequently used method millions use to identify songs, you have 3 great tools to help you identify what new songs to play and even use to help build your developing categories. You also have Hitpredictor and Sales as well as further indications of the hits. But you can’t tell what songs are most popular with radio listeners without highly targeted callout for your audience to figure out what those songs are. These are the most important songs on your radio station – those songs are your building blocks, your spokes in building your music hours. There are only a handful of songs at any one time that are LOVED by your core and cume. Also people are listening less to radio so you can actually play songs even more weeks than we currently do as long as they still research well. This year with only 23 consensus hits you cannot wait months to add a hit song that is a massively streaming #1 song like Encanto’s “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” which radio waited 2 months too long to play when it was 30 million streams for weeks and it wound up being burned out by the time it was played and radio lost a precious hit song to power.

2. Play All the Hits (even the slow ones) When the People Meter first launched lead programmers in the Top 40 format developed a belief that downtempo songs were tuneouts in PPM. Yes, playing slow songs back to back on a format where tempo is an expectation should be followed but avoiding downtempo when a large portion of the biggest hits of all time have been ballads is foolish. Out of 12 songs an hour, you could easily play 4 maybe 5 slow songs an hour and still be a largely uptempo music hour.

3. Play all the Hits (even songs that aren’t Pop) We saw 54% of the most popular songs not being played enough to make the Year End Top 100 of Top 40 radio. Radio should be exposing AC, Rock, Country and melodic Hip Hop if they stream well.

4. Listen – Use Your Ears Check out music from every streaming platform and app out there and find your own hits: As a radio or satellite music programmer, don’t just depend on the labels or the charts!!! Whether it’s a new TikTok song you love, an unreleased album cut, a hit overseas, or a song from another format if it’s great and it sounds right on your station, and if it’s one of the best songs available, don’t be afraid to play and spin it enough and then patiently check our own data to verify that it’s a hit.

I know that programmers/Music Directors have 10 times the responsibility and a fraction of the time programmers like myself had to listen to music, but music is still, to quote Jon Coleman, ‘the base of our station image pyramid’ the main reason or one of the main reasons besides personalities that people listen to a music station …it was a #1 job in our time as programmers. When it comes to finding the next hit song and new artist that becomes core to your format, it may rest on your shoulders!

5. Give songs the time and exposure to be hits Give songs – especially the songs that show they are a hit in streaming enough exposure (6 weeks 6a-7p spins) to make sure they get a fair shake when you research them in callout.

Remember the average radio listener listens 15 to 30 minutes a day and that low level listening makes up 70 to 80% of the ratings. So, you need to give a song spins every few hours especially during the day each week often for 8 weeks to make sure they are exposed enough to all your listeners and then be patient and not kneejerk to early callout.

Also, do not give up on a song in callout until its 85% familiar for multiple weeks in a row then you can judge whether a song is going to be a hit for you.

For Labels

I really worry about the effect of labels facing a changing and challenging world for music exposure and who are demoralized and hurting financially, if they don’t have song that are streaming but will test well at radio. They are considering a greatly diminished investment in new artists (and major artists). I know that may be a short-term recipe for financial success but it’s also a recipe for long term creative failure. It will have a disastrous effect for the music industry and the radio/satellite/streaming formats/channels that depend on new music and what was always a guarantee of “fresh new songs and artists.”

The solution for labels is not new in fact it’s “old school” and in many ways it’s just to maintain the discipline they’ve used for years.

Just like any new product that a company creates whether it’s a new breakfast cereal, a radio station or a music artist, they require:

A. substantial investment
B. time and patience
C. product expertise (producers to help mold and develop the artist)
D. marketing to create and build an image and find ways to connect with potential fans
E. management expertise (touring merchandizing etc.).

It requires from the company, who invested in this new artist, a hell of a lot of patience … often, many years (Warner’s own Fleetwood Mac took almost a decade to break). Yes, I know that is the old model, but it still works for every other industry! However, using an artist/song streaming as the new revenue model for the music industry has changed our focus away from this strategy that has always worked. If there is going to be less focus on developing new acts, that means artists will be doing their own artist development – which is good in perhaps some aspects, but it also means that our industry loses a lot of the label’s experience and expertise in developing and marketing new artists and music.

The Doldrums: How Long Will It Last?

So far there have been seven other Doldrums beginning with the first one in 1960 and we’re in the 8th Doldrums now. The Doldrums usually lasts 3 years, sometimes less and sometimes more like the worst Doldrums up until now which was The Doldrums of 1991 through 1994. But oh yes, we’re living in the worst Doldrums in history for radio and especially Top 40 radio. If The Doldrums lasted through 2023 that would tie for the longest period for The Doldrums ever. But with what’s going on with new songs and artists depending on the huge spread for listening through streaming platforms, apps, satellite and radio it’s not hard to imagine a period where Top 40 radio struggles for longer than the longest Doldrums of the early 90s.

Brilliant Matt Bailey Integr8 Research’s projects: A generational influence on “the next wholesale mainstream new music evolution when today’s high school seniors turn 21 in 2026 — give or take a year or two.”

I certainly hope that we see at least a Rebirth in the Music Cycle by then because that would make it 6 years. However, with share of listening splintered among multiple music platforms and we see “User Focused” creative world approaching with Web 3 technology there is now a greatly reduced chance for consensus of popularity for music and artists and so it may be even longer before we see Rebirth.

Music Cycle Updated, Part 1

February 14, 2022

Beginning Year Three of the Doldrums In 2022, We Need To Change Our Ways Of Finding New Hits

As we’re a month and a half into a new year, and especially if you’re in Top 40 radio, you don’t need to be told that we’re in the second year of Doldrums of the Music Cycle, which began in 2020 with COVID, as well as a weaker period of music for Top 40 radio.

SIGNS OF THE DOLDRUMS

The biggest Doldrums indicator is when Top 40 ratings are low. Just like in 2020 for most markets, Classic Rock, Classic Hits and AC formats continue to dominate, and Top 40 is barely Top 7, with many stations out of the top 10 completely. Some of this drop is because the audience which consumes a lot of radio is aging. As we know, radio may be the most listened to medium on a weekly basis, but streaming and apps like TikTok are becoming more and more where people under 30 spend most of their time when they listen to music, while more 30+ listeners are the ones who listen most to radio.
It’s easy to see this when you look at the Top 40 radio format overall, which has lost 33%, the second biggest share of listening drop over the last decade from 2011 of any radio format. (Rhythmic Top 40 had the biggest drop at 53%.) As Edison Research’s Larry Rosin mentioned in his great article, Music-radio-a-kingdom-of-gold/ Larry Rosin on CHR ratings loss “One sees Classic Rock, Classic Hits, Mainstream AC, along with News and Sports stations taking the top slots. American music radio is rapidly becoming a ‘Kingdom of Gold.’” He also notes that none of the current-based formats today are “thriving based on current music.”
Table
Nielson 6+ Format grid from Larry Rosin’s article Music-radio-a-kingdom-of-gold/ Larry Rosin on CHR ratings loss.

For 50 years, hit songs came from television shows as well as movies, but it’s been years since a hit song broke from a network television show, even from music event shows like “American Idol” or “The Voice.”

For 2021, there were no music television shows — not “The Voice” nor the Grammys — which had been in the Top 20 television shows in recent years. Eighteen of the 20 were mostly NFL or college football games, something scripted, and the Oprah Winfrey interview with Megan and Harry. In fact, music television’s premiere event, the Grammys, dropped by 52% from 2020 to 2021 at 8.7 million viewers, and has dropped 32 million from 2012 when it had 40 million viewers.

Yes, some of the Grammys decline is because of visual content consumption fractionalization as network television and cable are in an existential battle with streaming visual audio, but a lot of the drop is also due to less interest in current music. Just like music, streaming video has also changed that consumption pattern.

Television does not have the draw it once had, due to cable and multiple streaming video services. There are so many different choices in different locations available that the potential audience is splintered among many different sources. As a result, there are fewer mega blockbuster shows that draw a huge audience. But there are still shows that build up a big enough audience through streaming video that expose new (and old) music to new younger audiences.

One of the biggest Doldrums indicators, besides Top 40 ratings, is the amount of Gold music that is exposed/consumed. The amount of current music being bought versus previous years dropped dramatically in 2021, as Ted Giola wrote about in The Atlantic. In the first half of 2021, 82% of music sales/consumption was catalog music compared to 2020, when that number was 63.2%.

It’s even more dramatic when compared to what we saw in 2006 and 2007, when it was 37% catalog sales. It remained the around the same throughout the 80s and 70s at 36% So that means that current music sales/consumption today is 18% vs 64% in 1970.

Another interesting fact is the amount of Gold that is becoming popular on apps like TikTok, and also making its way onto traditional and satellite radio. This started with the “Guardians Of The Galaxy” movie franchise and the famous “70s Mix Tape,” which relaunched the popularity of early to mid ‘70s titles. This continues today with popular young adult shows like HBO’s “Euphoria” exposing Steely Dan and Gerry Rafferty hits to an entirely new, younger audience.

Also, you see ‘70s songs showing up on TikTok’s Trending 10 weekly survey on SiriusXM, with those songs getting Top 200 Shazams and becoming popular on streaming. On average, half of the most TikTok’d songs every week that make the Trending 10, consumed mostly by teens and young adults, are Gold! Can you say DOLDRUMS?

I posted in the last music cycle article that the 2020 number of consensus A-Power hits for Top 40 was 28. Nothing really changed much with the amount of consensus hits this past year, as there were only 27 A-Power hits in 2021. That is the lowest number of powers during these past two year that I’ve seen in decades.

When you look at your A-Powers and B-Medium secondaries together (i.e. the Top 20 hits) as Sean Ross with BDS Radio’s Adam Foster did last month, looking at BDS Radio, it showed that the amount of Top 20 hits is almost exactly what it was in 2016, but lower than it was in back in 2013. For 2021, it’s up 13% from its average between 2018-2020.

So, bottom line, Top 40 is in the worst Doldrums period it’s been in since the early ‘90s for several reasons. Certainly radio faces an existential threat from more competition than its ever had, especially from a music standpoint, from streaming services and apps like TikTok. Also, it is radio’s biggest challenge to find, attract and keep the best air personalities on radio and not have them be drafted by the streaming services and apps. But still another major problem exists and that’s a music issue–especially for Top 40. Top 40 radio wins when it plays the hits! But let’s drill down on that, because it doesn’t mean play ALL THE POP GENRE HITS. It means play ALL the hits (regardless of genre).

GENRE HISTORY THROUGH 60 YEARS, PERCENTAGES OF POP REMAIN SIMILAR

Let’s take a look at the history of music, looking at genres for Billboard year-end lists as a guide. We know the basic formula of Rock, Pop and Hip Hop (along with AC and Country) has been around for 65 years since Elvis Presley hit the scene in 1956.

I went back through every year-end chart for every year back to 1955, noting that 1960 is where Top 40 radio was firmly in place as the radio leader in playing the hits and music discovery. Let’s start there.

What you see in EVERY SINGLE DECADE is that the hits are a variety of genres. Those percentages of genres may ebb and flow, but the BALANCE OF GENRES hasn’t really changed. The Country average hadn’t changed until the last decade, when Country exploded in the Doldrums in 2011-2013 (as well as 2014) and again in 2019. And in 2020-2021, the average percentage for Country is at an all-time high at 18% (see the 2nd genre graph).

AC was a huge portion of Billboard’s Year End Charts in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, but began to fall off in the ‘90s, and is now below double digits the last two decades. Rock (plus Alternative) was a big part of what was popular through the decades peaking in the ‘80s, and was still in double digits during every decade until the 2010s That combination of AC/Rock/Country/other I’ll call the “Variety Mix” (because it adds a uniqueness that is currently an underplayed part of Top 40 radio).

The percentage of Hip Hop and R&B began to explode in the ‘90s and 2000s, and still remains the biggest segment of the most popular year-end songs at 43% for the past two years, and it’s still underplayed by Top 40. You can see by the balance of genres on the popularity chart, driven until recently solely by radio airplay, most of that being Top 40 for the majority of the 60 years.

One thing Top 40 programmers have done is make sure they were checking all the formats and listening to songs from those formats that could cross over and become hits for Top 40. That should never have changed, but it has during the last 10 years!
Takeaway #1
Pop has been about the same for Billboard’s most popular year-end charts, averaging 30% and ranging between 25-40% for 60 years. It’s currently 30% for the past two years, but it’s definitely not the 55-65% like Top 40 has played since 2012 (see the 2nd genre graph).

Takeaway #2
Other genres like Hip Hop and Country have replaced Pop in popularity. So, it’s really critical to be open to both Country and “melodic” Hip Hop at Top 40.

Takeaway #3
Pop will always be the glue for Top 40, BUT the format’s #1 mission going back to its birth in the ‘50s, and continuing for the last 60+ years, has been to “Play The Hits,” regardless of genre.
Decade Table
So why do we think Top 40 is so sonically focused on Pop? We know Pop is the “glue,” as Cox CEO Bob Neil used to say to me, and it holds the other genres together for Top 40. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, Top 40 programmers have been nervous about straying from that approximate 60% airplay focus of the Pop genre for the past decade.

I think a lot of it stems from the previously worst Doldrums of the music cycle in the early part of ‘90s. That was when Top 40 played too much AC music and wouldn’t embrace Pop (or Hip Hop or Rock). So labels stopped producing a lot of Pop-genre current product, and didn’t promote Rock and Hip Hop R&B to Top 40. The results were disastrous. Ratings plummeted, and owners took 500 Top 40 stations out of the Top 40 format.

Top 40 returned to success finally in 1997 when the Pop genre came back with the boy bands and Britney/Christina in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. Great programmers like Tom Poleman and Z100 led the way out of the Doldrums by re-embracing the Pop genre, but still insisting on playing All The Hits from multiple genres again as well!

GENRE PERCENTAGES 2021 AND THE LAST DECADE OVERFOCUSING ON POP

Let’s drill down to the last decade to understand the quandary that Top 40 finds itself in. First, let’s do a comparison of the Popularity Year End Charts (Billboard) versus Top 40 Spins Year End Charts (Mediabase). Look at traditional genre percentages this last decade for the big three genres of Top 40: Rock, Pop, and (Hip Hop) R&B, as well as Country and AC. One factor to take a special look at is, again, what I call the Variety Mix of AC/Rock/ Country/other. Also, combine that with a look at the difference between popularity vs Top 40 spins for Pop as well as R&B/Hip Hop

Pop is 30% of 2021’s Billboard Top 100 Year End Most popular songs, versus Mediabase’s Top 100 Year End Top 40 spins chart, which is 57%. That’s slightly better than last year, but still, that’s too much Pop compared to what you see in Billboard’s Popularity Chart! In 2021, R&B Hip Hop vs. 26% for 2021, which is consistently where it has been the last four years for Top 40 spins (Mediabase). Top 40 can still afford to play more Hip Hop and R&B when it is melodic.

Also, another sign of the Doldrums is you should see growth at Top 40 for the Variety Mix of AC/Rock/ Country/other. Let’s take a look at the genre spin percentages for Top 40 during 2011-2013, where Top 40 ratings were still doing well. Top 40 spins reflected the hits back during that Doldrums period, as Top 40 continued to play Pop as the glue, but it shifted the amount of Pop down even as low as 45% in 2011, and in the 55% range during 2012-2013.

During that Doldrums period, those percentages of Pop were replaced by adding more Rock (16%) and melodic Hip Hop/R&B (35%) in 2011, more AC (12%) in 2012, and both Rock (17%) and AC (12%) in 2013. However, we haven’t seen the growth you normally see for the Variety Mix of AC/Rock/Country/other during the first two years of this Doldrums period, 2020-2021.

Finally, take a look at the duplication between Top 40 spins Year-End Chart (Mediabase) and the Billboard Year End Top 100. This is the best index we have to determine whether Top 40 is staying true to “Playing the Hits.” It has gone from the 80% range back in the late 2000s through 2010, to 65% duplication in the first half of this decade to around 54% the last four years. That a dangerous departure from Top 40’s #1 mission, “Play the Hits!”

Sure, we know that there will always be “deep format” sounds that were extremely popular with fans of that format and made it high on Billboard. Examples are harder Rap for Hip Hop and R&B that appeal to that format only, or super twangy songs for Country that only appeal to Country fans and, occasionally, super hard Rock songs that appeal to Active Rockers. And yes, those songs may not be perfect for Top 40.

Also, we know streaming doesn’t necessarily reflect the entire mass audience completely yet. And yes, you have a group of people that still get their hits primarily from radio. However, the amount of non-streamers is growing smaller and older by the day.

One other factor that you have to consider when looking at streaming is, with one person still counting as 350 streams a week, you have chance that fan clubs can still jack a song up the streaming chart, and that has a huge weight in the Billboard charts. Nevertheless, we know with every year that passes, streaming is becoming that much more and more the best indicator of a song;s popularity with the mass audience.
Billboard Table
Definitely in the last few years Top 40 programmers began to get stuck in a rut and cling to the Pop genre that began during the Superstar Pop explosion, and that brought on a rebirth of the Pop Music cycle between 2014-2017. That period in the past decade had the most amazing group of Pop artists since the ‘80s.

As I talked about a year ago, don’t get caught up in a bind thinking you have to focus 65% or more of your airplay — basically your entire station’s sound — on the Pop genre. We know as Jon Coleman taught us, music is the base of the “image” pyramid for a music station, so there is a “music” reason that ratings are low for top 40, and that reason is that the format is stuck in a “Pop Genre” rut, and has been for eight years since 2014.

Back in 2014 it made sense, and Top 40 ratings were strong with that strategy when Taylor Swift and Katy Perry were queens of Pop, Adam Levine and Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars were reigning kings of Pop. Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez were maturing hit artists, and today’s Pop queen, Ariana Grande, was coming on the scene.

When you also include the great EDM artists like The Chainsmokers, you had an amazing group of hitmakers. However, over the last few years, it was clear that other genres were replacing Pop as the most popular genre. Both Hip Hop and Country have enjoyed a big gain in popularity. Hip Hop has become the #1 genre in the world!

Next week in Part 2, Guy cites a specific hit song that he feels was ‘missed,’ and points out a glaring example of very similar situation that’s happening right now with “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” He also wonders if Top 40 should be making some demo adjustments, and makes suggestions about how to keep your listenership loyal.

Music Cycles, Part 2

February 21, 2022
This week in Part 2 of Guy Zapoleon’s updated for 2022 ‘Music Cycles’ presentation he explains how to program your way out of the Doldrums and improve both ratings and revenue.
Beginning Year Three of the Doldrums In 2022, We Need To Change Our Ways Of Finding New Hits

MISSING THE HITS

In the past few years there have been great songs that have basically been lightly played or avoided entirely because programmers had their hands too tightly on the wheel, looking straight ahead and not seeing the hits, instead favoring the Pop genre to the extreme. These programmers didn’t believe that these songs from other genres fit their Pop-centered sound, and because their stations were so Pop-centered and not balanced, it was a self-fulfilling prophesy!

One example of a missed hit for Top 40 is certainly the huge Country hit “Fancy Like” by Walker Hayes, which, with a dance associated with it, became a sensation on TikTok. The song, which is all about a date at Applebee’s, got the attention of the restaurant, became the song that you heard virtually everywhere, and got even more additional exposure on Applebee’s endless television ads, including on commercials at major NFL and college events (the most watched television shows of 2021). The song was destined for #1 on Billboard, but instead, because Top 40 radio was hesitant on giving this song full-time exposure or even playing it, peaked at #3 on Billboard and only made it to #13 on the Mediabase Top 40 spins chart. This is a prime example of a mass appeal Country song that should have been given the spins and wasn’t, and so Top 40 missed out on seizing the moment of a nationally-beloved song. So what if it was Country and a big hit there?! It was even more than that. It was a mass appeal hit that got lost for Top 40!

Another smash that may get lost as well, because it doesn’t sound like every Pop genre hit, was the central topic of a brilliant article by Integr8’s Matt Bailey. That’s the smash hit “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from “Encanto,” the #1 animated movie on Disney+ with a soundtrack written by Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda. It has been seen by millions of mothers with children, and so, is instantly familiar to them.

Unfortunately, some Top 40 Programmers are extremely slow to embrace a song that is #1 streaming, #1 digital singles sales, #1 Top 200 Albums, and #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Yes, you may see a song become #1 streaming and it still does not fit Top 40, but this is really different because when you see a song go #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it has never not been a mass appeal hit! When you don’t play this one, you are missing a #1, or at least a Top 5 hit for your Top 40 station. It hurts your station, because you are playing weaker Pop songs in the place of this hit song, and probably overly hesitant about playing hits from other genres despite all the evidence.

When you continue to avoid enough of these kinds of hits because they aren’t from the “Pop” genre, you will lose the variety factor for your Top 40. Missing enough of these kind of hits will cause you to eventually lose ratings. (Even a great morning show can only protect you for so long, if you avoid playing too many real hits.)

THE RECIPE FOR TOP 40 MUSIC PROGRAMMING SUCCESS

As we see more and more 12-24s leave for streaming, the one audience that’s more loyal to radio and will stick with it longer is 25+ /30+ women. With radio’s audience getting older, it may well be time to adjust the format. Top 40 radio targets 18-34 or even 21-34 (but that depends on your market and competitive situation). Playing hit songs that also appeal to a 25-34 audience is keeping those women who grew up with your station from going to the Hot AC or AC in town and keeping them loyal to radio as well.

Don’t forget, left field hits like “Fancy Like” and “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” appeal to this older audience as well and young adults, too. So the remedy for getting out of the Doldrums is what the always forward-thinking President & CEO of RCS /Media Monitors /Mediabase /Florical Philippe Generali told me a decade ago: You will be able to “follow the breadcrumbs” to find the hits. What he was saying was that when you follow the behavior of music consumers, and you review every bit of the “Big Data” of music consumer behavior from all its sources, it’s easy to tell what the hits are very early.

As we look into the future at these sources for Big Data, we know that on TikTok, for example, 75% of users go there for music discovery, and it’s where the newer hits (and hits for radio) are beginning to come from now. This is music that is fan-to-fan delivered, as fans are making thousands of videos with music for other fans.

Young adult event programs like HBO’s “Euphoria” are launching TikTok, streaming and even #1 Shazam songs like Lana Del Rey’s “Watercolor Eyes” with each episode. In a few years, when Rebirth is upon us, many of those hits will more than likely be coming first from streaming sites and TikTok, not to mention new music discovery apps that haven’t even been born yet.

So, in conclusion, remember to keep your Pop balance, but be open to other genres as they become popular, and play more of them as they become big hits in streaming, TikTok and Shazam. Also look at Hitpredictor, which is still an incredible tool for finding the hits. And remember to ride the wave of each phase of the Music Cycle. Don’t stay in a rut with the same formula no matter what!

During the Extremes, you will play a little more Hip Hop if it’s melodic, or even more Rock. If Top 40 is in the Doldrums, as we are in now, you should be playing more AC, Rock, Country and melodic Hip Hop when those songs show “all the signs” that they are hits, and a little less Pop! When it is Rebirth time after Doldrums in a few years, you’ll see more songs, Pop genres and new artists emerging with hits, but you’ll still want to play the Variety Mix combination of AC/Rock/Country/other genres.

There is a new way to some, but an obvious way to others who have stayed ahead of the game. It’s not about looking at the charts, which are really the worst way to find out about new music these days. The charts are one way to know what the hits are, but it’s very hard to identify what’s driving a song’s growth in popularity by looking at a national chart itself. A song rising on the chart could be due to multiple factors, streaming, or airplay or both.

When you are look at a spins chart, the rise on the chart could be due to great label promotion team. Many, many times a potential hit gets lost. Look at what happened to Dua Lipa’s “Levitating,” which was rocketed up the charts, but peaked at #4, and then was shuffled off to Recurrent Land. That is until people noticed that great Program Directors like iHeartMedia’s Dylan Sprague (WXKS) and Mark Medina (Z100) were continuing to power the song. The label noticed and began promoting it as a current song again. That miraculous turnaround gave “Levitating” a second chance, and became 2021’s #1 song of the year. As tough as it is to find hit songs, Top 40 would have lost a huge hit, and that’s bad for the format!

When you are looking at Music Discovery and finding new hits, it’s like a massive jigsaw puzzle. However, in solving any problem, the best way to do that is to break it down to the individual parts, the sources that contribute to a song’s popularity, and study them.

These days, that means you should be studying on a weekly basis and trending streaming, TikTok, Shazam, and sales. (HitPredictor is also still a great tool.) I personally love the TikTok Trending 10 that’s on SiriusXM, and while the turnover from week- to-week is generally around 70% from the previous week, songs that continue to be at the top of that chart for several weeks are definitely potential Top 40 hits.

So I say to Top 40 programmers, don’t get caught up in a stagnant, one-size-fits-all Top 40 formula. That will only hurt you. Ride the wave of the Music Cycle.

If you stay in your Pop rut, you are avoiding the formula which made Top 40 the #1 format for music and music discovery for well over 60 years That formula, as my buddy in heaven, Steve Rivers, as well as my friend John Ivey says, “Play the Hits” and that’s playing ALL THE HITS, while playing the natural variety of all Pop, Rock, Hip Hop and R&B, AC and yes even Country.

Remember, playing “All The Hits” is the very definition of playing what are the most popular hits. That is to say, what’s A) streaming the most, plus B) TikTok’ing the most, plus C) Shazaming the most, plus D) selling the most. When you find those hits, and if Top 40 programmers give those songs the necessary spins (now 400-500 5a-7p since 2020), and five to six weeks of callout, you’ll see that those will come through in your callout ranker as the hits!

Here’s another look at the artists that made the Music Cycles through the years.