The Ebb & Flow of Music Scheduling: Structure Tempo To Increase TSL
by Thomas Giger of www.radioiloveit.com
A great flow in music scheduling captures the feeling of every daypart. How to oﬀer a better listener experience by creating a mood-based tempo cycle?
While you can apply these concept to other aspects, like genre, energy, mood and texture, the following ideas are solely based on music tempo for ‘flow dynamics’. Three examples of ‘tempo tides’ to give your brand a competitive edge — even if you and your rival would play the exact same 500 songs. ‘Cause a better flow could result in a higher TSL and a winning share!
1. Relaxed feeling in easy dayparts
Depending on your format strategy and brand imaging, you may wish to sound lighter during certain slots compared to your average music ‘excitement level’. Think of late nights in traditional AC with ‘easy listening’ through softer music, such as love songs with listener dedications. Such hours usually contain mostly slow-tempo songs (let’s call these level 1), some medium-tempo records (level 2), and hardly any up-tempo tracks (level 3).
You could certainly work with five tempo levels — level 1 (slow), 2 (medium slow), 3 (medium), 4 (medium fast), 5 (fast) — for more refined flow formats, but for the sake of this article, I’ll stick to slow, medium & fast. You may want to keep in mind that a 105 BPM track isn’t automatically a ‘medium’ one, as it may have an up-tempo feel (which is what listeners will perceive; no one is counting beats). So, which format is suitable for relaxing hours with lower excitement?
Use unbreakable rules carefully
After you have coded your library this way, you can create a tempo sequence where, in this case, a short ‘peak’ is followed by a longer ‘valley’. The speed pattern could therefore decrease lineally (level 3 — level 2 — level 1) or decrease gradually, and then stay on a low average tempo for some time, such as: level 3 — level 2 — level 1, followed by level 2 — level 1 — level 2 (before returning to level 3). Now, how to implement all of this in your music scheduling software?
Use smart tempo grids to achieve perfect flow, while avoiding scheduling conflicts and rotation inconsistencies. You may wish to combine an unbreakable rule (for example: every ‘level 3’ song has to be followed by a certain amount of songs that are either ‘level 2’ or ‘level 1’ before returning to another ‘level 3’) with a breakable rule (for example: every ‘level 2’ should ideally be followed by a ‘level 1’ (or ‘level 3’) to achieve tempo variety, while supporting song rotations.
2. Consistent mood in average dayparts
In most dayparts, like oﬃce hours, you may wish to balance every up-tempo track (and every slow-tempo work) with a medium-tempo record, using ‘level 2’ songs as a connecting bridge (3 — 2 — 1 — 2, repeat) for natural transitions. Doing so during mornings would start people’s day not too slow and not too fast. However, if you’re a contemporary format with high excitement, like a (dynamic morning show on a) hit music station, you could switch to a higher gear (see further).
Zooming out to a larger scale, you can apply this principle from show to show. To control your flow from daypart to daypart, use medium-excitement hours to build a bridge (between high- energy shows and easy-listening segments). Without necessarily adjusting your format clocks, you can now segue from a powerful afternoon to a relaxed evening to a romantic night show, simply by stepping down your overall tempo.
Check your library content
There’s another major factor to schedule every position and ensure perfect rotations, which is your music library. Include enough songs of each tempo level in every music category that appears in your clocks, so your music scheduling software can always find a match. That’s easier with larger (‘library’) categories than with smaller (‘current’) categories, as your ‘current song’ playlist follows today’s music cycle.
You can tailor format clocks to fit your daypart flow. For example: program a smaller amount of current songs in easy-listening evening hours, where you’ll need many ‘level 1’ songs. Because otherwise, in weeks where you don’t have enough ‘level 1’ content in your ‘current’ categories, scheduling those hours would become rather challenging. Just make sure to pre-check if (and how) adjusting these clocks may aﬀect your day-to-day ‘current song’ rotations.
3. High momentum in active dayparts
Your station will sound exciting when you increase your music tempo throughout several diﬀerent songs; then drop the tempo suddenly to start building it again. Basically: 1 — 2 — 3 (and repeat), ideally kicking oﬀ music sweeps (coming out of your Top of Hour, a commercial break, or a long talk) with a ‘level 3’ or ‘level 2’. You can create variants, depending on how many ‘level 3’ peaks you want. For example, 1 — 2 — 2 — 3 (and repeat) could work for slightly less energetic hours.
Instead of playing ‘level 1’ and ‘level 3’ songs (and vice versa) back to back in cold segues, you may wish to smoothen transitions with connective elements like station imaging or jock talks. Listeners, as we all know, dislike sudden changes (like jumping from a really slow to a super fast song), unless a perfect segue is integrating everything. It could be your reason to reinstall good- old transition jingles, and to use tempo-matching BPM sweepers.
Simplify your scheduling system
Instead of using tempo rules to create flow, there’s also another possibility — which means a diﬀerent view on format clocks and music categories. You could, theoretically, attach tempo levels to song categories. Say your Gold category is called G, then you could split this category into G1, G2 and G3, for slow-, medium- and fast-paced classics. It allows you to create diﬀerent clocks for diﬀerent dayparts (like including, in terms of oldies, only G1s and G2s from 10pm to midnight).
However, it would also split this category’s rotations, as ‘G songs’ would no longer rotate through all G slots in your clocks, resulting in three diﬀerent rotation patterns. And how would you make
sure that your ‘best testers’ come around often enough? You could add PG1, PG2, and PG3 (for ‘Power Gold’), but that would mean 6 sub-categories for Gold alone — and create a need for several clock variants to avoid that the same songs appear at the same position too often.
A beautiful dance of art and science
Music scheduling is a balancing act; a beautiful dance of art and science; a perfect combination of flow and rotation. I believe in format clocks with easy structures, so songs rotate naturally with the right exposure. At the same time, I love wonderful patterns of music flow; perfect segues for a great experience for your audience. How to use the best of both worlds; combine ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’; logic and creativity? The answer might be surprisingly simple.
First, assign tempo ratios to certain hours. For example: you may want your afternoon drive show to include about 20% slow-tempo songs, 40% medium-tempo records, and 40% up-tempo tracks, which is a 1 : 2 : 2 ratio. Tempo grids (as explained earlier) allow you to define tempo-sequences like 1 — 2 — 3 — 2 — 3 (and repeat), if all categories (currents, recurrents, golds, etc.) contain enough songs of each level. But it all comes down to using the right (combination of) scheduling rules.
Make your scheduler’s day
Minimise (or zero) your number of unbreakable rules, because even a rule that there should be four ‘level 2’ or ‘level 3’ songs in between two ‘level 1’ songs could conflict with ‘forced’ scheduling of your power currents; your fastest-repeating category that (depending on your format and market) may include very few titles. Or, instruct your software to schedule along these (still breakable) rules only after your highest-spinning songs have been placed on their math-based positions.
Also, you can allow your software to schedule slow-spinning categories(like secondary golds, secondary recurrents, and maybe even secondary currents) more loosely, so the program doesn’t necessarily have to pick the first song that’s up next based on its rotation, but that it can ‘dig a few song cards deeper’ instead if necessary. This, along with the post-scheduling art of manual log editing, may help you to get (close to) your desired tempo flow pattern for every daypart!
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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