by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com
Achieving quotas can be a serious challenge for radio stations. Luckily, there are many ways we use our music quota rules for maximum advantage.
‘Make the best of existing music quota’
Know your format regulations
Maintaining cultural heritage; ensuring format variety; supporting record companies; protecting public radio / restricting commercial radio… whatever the motive may be, you must face the music as a radio broadcaster. Canadian content requirements for Canadian music on radio stations dictate that 35% of the music aired each week must be Canadian content. For commercial stations, that rule applies to the hours between 6am and 6pm, Monday through Friday. Even CBC / Radio Canada has to play 50% locally Cancon. In addition, 65% of the popular music on all Canadian French-language stations has to be in that language. Commercial stations are ‘getting away’ with 55% of that between 6am and 6pm on weekdays.
Influence market developments collectively
France has a less complex rule: 40% of all music has to be in French language, half of which has to be made by new artists. A collective radio industry push for more workable guidelines finally seems to be gaining traction. Politicians are willing to reduce legal quota for French songs to 35% (or to 15% for stations that specialize in foreign music), but all stations have to air more new music.
Implement music quota creatively
While music quota are beneficial for artists and labels that specialize in that particular genre, they can be a challenge for current-intensive formats like CHR when there is not enough suitable new music available. While the music industry and governments accuse radio of playing the same few (best-testing) songs over and over, the radio industry maintains that listeners want to hear those power songs again and again, and don’t want (too many) unfamiliar songs. There are 10 creative things you can do as a PD / MD to make the best of existing music quota.
‘Wait with alternate versions until the original work has become very familiar’
- Connect your quota titles
When an artist or a band has a new album or (comes to your radio market for a concert as part of) a new tour, it’s your opportunity for a studio interview, live showcase or music feature. You can air an interview (or short highlights from the complete conversation that you can put on your website), and spice it up by playing related songs before and after. The interview (clip) is kind of the mortar in between the music bricks; it’s a legitimate reason to play several tracks by the same artist back to back. If your music quota is measured in minutes per hour instead of songs per hour, then you can further benefit from this concept. How?
- Enhance your quota songs
You can get instrumental versions from record companies, or edit song intros into music beds, and run these underneath the interview. In addition, you can create talk-over beds for jocks, made from instrumental parts of popular quota-matching songs edited together, or use hooks from these songs in your music promos and format explainers. That’s a lot more quota minutes!
- Widen your music library
Assuming you want to reach your music quota by playing best-testing songs a lot, find additional versions to (sometimes) use instead of the official single edit. Playing an acoustic version of dance remix helps you create (a perception of) music variety despite high rotations. For stations with new music quota, remixes are great. I know of a Rhythmic CHR with an obligation to play lots of new music that plays (also self-produced) remixes of current hit songs, which officially makes them ‘new releases’, even if they’re originating from an existing song. In general, you want to wait with alternate versions until the original work has become very familiar by having received a lot of airplay in your market.
‘Let songs support your music quota’
- Shorten your non-quota songs
When music quota is defined as number of songs per hour instead of number of minutes an hour, you can edit (secondary) non-quota songs into a shorter version by shortening long intros or instrumental breaks, or (worst-case scenario) take out 1 phrase plus 1 chorus, unless it’s a song of which many people know the lyrics by heart, or a pop classic that’s considered to be a holy grail. It allows you to play one or two extra (primary) quota songs an hour, while maintaining your music format (like also playing lots of international hits) and meeting your listener expectations. But what if your legislators are smart, and have defined music quota percentages based on number of minutes rather than number of songs? Then this editing tactic will help you anyway :-).
- Stretch your quota songs
You can edit (primary) quota songs into a longer version by looping instrumental parts and repeating hook & chorus parts. A simple 1-minute extended version per (primary) quota song could add up to several extra quota minutes an hour. When you do it artistically, the artists and labels should be okay with it, as they’ll receive more song exposure.
- Localize your power categories
Building and maintaining a good relationship with the local music scene can be good for you. Collaborate with local artists and labels to produce covers of international hits to let songs support your music quota. If local artists usually sing in English and like (more) airplay on your station, request that they produce a special radio version (exclusively for your station) with the right amount of local language parts so it will match the music quota criteria. I recently heard a French version of Keep My Cool by Madcon. The Norwegian group reproduced their English language song with French vocal inserts (covering over 50% of its duration in order to be recognized as a ‘French’ song) for exactly that reason.
‘A diffused music promise can weaken listener expectations’
- Support your local talent
You can scout new talent at your own station events (like outdoor music shows) to support local music. Work together with recording studios to local artists’ homemade demos into ready-to-air music productions, giving them media exposure and giving you new material. Another benefit: many people are still going to radio to discover new music (and expect radio to curate new music), so your (Top 40) station may benefit from getting the image for discovering and building new talent. Do you want to take things to a top level? Launch your radio company’s own record label as an additional income stream, like UK-based Global is doing.
- Merge your non-quota songs
You can sell multiple international songs as one item. Some CHR stations in Canada are running a ‘Six Pack’ where they play 6 English songs back to back, but mixed together — which, according to the letter of the law, counts as just 1 English track. This way, they have to play fewer French songs to make the station’s music quota that day.
- Maintain your format consistency
You probably want to make your morning show and drive time show as attractive as possible, and that usually means playing less (domestic) quota hit songs than (international) non-quota hit songs during those hours. However, I’ve heard of a Top 40 station in France that on Saturday & Sunday mornings, when most people are sleeping, goes 100% French so they can play much less of it during more audience-intensive hours. But you risk is diluting your music promise. For programming strategy as well as brand management reasons, you want to have a relatively consistent music mix, so your listeners will know what to expect because they’re getting what they expect — any day, any time. Also on Sunday morning at 7:01. Successful programming is consistent programming.
‘Find a win-win compromise’
- Get your quota elsewhere
In some countries, broadcasters can (collectively) negotiate with media regulators to lower your quota percentage. You could even propose launching a sub brand, where you will play (the majority of) local music. For example, if your license includes an obligation to spin 40% music in the local language, you can first propose to play 20% on the main channel and as much as 60% on the secondary channel; an average of 40%. Or suggest dividing music quota over different distribution channels of your main brand, like 20% on FM & DAB, and the requested 40% on your web stream by (only there) replacing (4 x 3-minute / 3 x 4-minute / 2 x 6-minute) stop sets of ads & promos with quota music. Find a win-win that will make politicians still look good, while serving your strategy much better.
Thomas Giger is a European radio broadcasting specialist and publisher of Radio))) ILOVEIT, based in the Netherlands, and serving the radio industry worldwide.
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