We’re Going To Slow It Down Just A Little Here
By Sean Ross
How would you handle a transition between “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” by Elton John?
What about “Renegade” by Styx into “It Might Be You” by Stephen Bishop?
Would you follow “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston with “Tears In Heaven” by Eric Clapton?
The dramatic fast-to-slow segue is always one of the challenges of music scheduling. Do you let a tempo crash happen and try to finesse it with the presentational elements between the songs? Would you rather stairstep your way down over the course of several songs, perhaps making your Classic Hits station too slow, or your Adult Contemporary station too hot, in the process?
Yes, it’s possible to go uptempo too abruptly as well. Radio veteran Ron Parker cites the station he heard recently going from “Piano Man” into “Mickey.” Any ballad needs a big finish to stand up to the first few notes of Lee Ann Rimes’ “Can’t Fight The Moonlight.”
Yes, some up-to-down segues sound great, especially if you’re going into a song with a dramatic opening. “Careless Whisper” always holds its own. The segues that make me happiest on the air are the up-to-down transitions that work, but one doesn’t remember them like the train wrecks.
The first two segues are ones I’ve heard on the air recently. Styx-into-Stephen Bishop was on a small-market Classic Hits station. Guns N’ Roses to Elton was on a successful major-market Classic Rocker.
The third segue was one that I once encountered editing an AC station log. Sonically, I probably could have made it work—especially with a slightly longer sweeper or hook promo that would have washed the first song away. But there was also the mood-shift to consider as well. I found another ‘90s song to replace Clapton.
Recently, I put the “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” to “Tears In Heaven” question to my Facebook friends, both radio and non-industry readers. Would programmers have allowed the segue? Would listeners, assuming they liked both songs, still have found it jarring? There were more than a hundred responses.
The majority of the programmers who chimed in would have allowed that segue in some form. The largest number (40% of the total) say they could have made it work with a jingle or sweeper. But nearly as many (35%) would have had no reservations about that segue. Only 25% wouldn’t have allowed the segue at all, although that included many of the non-industry listeners.
A few of programmers who were comfortable with Houston-to-Clapton were those in favor of using dramatic segues for effect. Veteran PD Pat Holiday recalled being told by Ronnie Stanton, now Corus national MD, that he used noticeable segues to make a tight library sound larger. “An amusement park roller-coaster without steep ups-and-downs and twists-and-turns is a pretty boring ride,” says WINK Fort Myers, Fla., PD Chuck Knight.
There were also a significant number of programmers who agreed with reader Rob Walker that “it sounds worse in your head than it does as an actual segue. Listeners don’t care. Only radio people care about stuff like that.” “Do you think anyone stood up and turned off the radio screaming, ‘that was a terrible segue. You can’t make a transition like that?” asks WRBQ (Q105) Tampa p.m. driver Mason Dixon. “I think you know the answer.”
Accusations of “overthink” are inevitable whenever you discuss scheduling issues, although if you’re reading this story on a music scheduling software website, you have perhaps decided already that “overthinking” is part of the job. “As an on-air jock, I’d have been pissed that the PD or MD didn’t do their job,” says radio and label veteran Scott Gordon.
“Listeners may not verbalize it, but it destroys the mojo,” writes Latin radio programmer Ben Reed. When several PDs noted that listeners are already used to sharp curves from their own music collections on shuffle, Reed replied, “That’s a reason why I can’t stand shuffle.”
“The goal of any AC station is to keep as many women listening for the longest possible time,” wrote former KSWD (The Sound) Seattle APD/MD Jeanne Ashley. “I always tried to curate for the one woman who was having the worst possible day. That particular segue is yet another emotional roller-coaster to her and shouldn’t happen.” Former KSWD PD Smokey Rivers adds, “I prefer single lane changes in tempo when decelerating.”
Most readers felt they could pull off the segue with jingles or other presentational elements. WBVX (Classic Rock 92-1) Lexington, Ky., PD Ange Canessa has a sweeper that declares, “As crazy as this world is, sometimes you have to rock acoustically.”
Then there was the use of transition jingles, although not every programmer believes in jingles now. “Didn’t Bill Drake solve this problem 55 years ago?” asked WNAV Annapolis, Md., sales manager Dan O’Neil. iHeart Radio Cleveland AE Don Blesse also cites the Drake jingles, although he notes that “a good percussion downbeat, like ‘Ooo Baby Baby’ or ‘La-La Means I Love You’ would get you there on your own.”
(After this article was initially published, KNCI Sacramento, Calif., PD Joey Tack wrote in praise of “strategic use of key-matching songs and/or cold intros.” He sent a few sample cold segues: Lee Brice, “Rumor” into Luke Combs, “Lovin’ On You,” and then into Kenny Chesney, “American Kids,” as well as Jon Pardi, “Dirt On My Boots” into Dan + Shay, “I Should Probably Go To Bed.”)
Rico Garcia, brand manager of Sacramento’s Results Radio cluster says, “I have all my jingles and imaging coded for tempo and energy control. Once we’re done editing a log and timing it out with spots, we then have our music scheduler schedule the jingles and imaging categories and that coding places everything where it belongs, amazingly. It takes time to set this up at first, but it’s a huge time-saver [later on] because things are scheduling in the way you designed them to.
“We also have a few longer imaging pieces (8-12 seconds) that rarely get used but are available in case we need to let the palate cleanse for a few seconds to help with a transition. They are personality-focused and produced in a way to help with these very rare occasions,” Garcia adds. “Overall, we try to avoid this type of whiplash, but it will happen on occasion. I agree . . . that listeners just want the songs they love, but I also think there is something about a presentation that is easy to listen to.”
Proper song coding is the critical first step in controlling segues when you create a schedule. In Powergold these codes are called ‘Properties,’ and are entirely user-created and defined.
To prevent ‘train wreck’ segues between songs I would have in mind a tempo identifying how a song starts and ends. In this case I would create two Properties – ‘Tempo IN’ and ‘Tempo OUT’ – each having values of ‘Slow, Medium, and Fast’ and assigned to the songs appropriately. In the rules I would tell Powergold that a song coded as ‘Tempo OUT: Fast’ is not allowed to segue into a song with ‘Tempo IN: Slow.’ This happens because I can control the direction in which the rule gets tested – back only, both directions, or ahead. In this instance, the ‘OUT: Fast’ rule is testing ahead only, against the ‘IN: Slow’ rule which is testing back only. That segue is a ‘no no.’
Controlling the Property rule test direction also makes it possible to segue to the correct jingle in between two songs, or any combination.
There are other kinds of segues than just between songs that many PDs try to prevent when possible. These can include restricting slow songs at the top of the hour, or immediately out of a commercial break. Any position on a clock can be tagged to schedule a song that includes and/or excludes songs that have been assigned specific Properties.
I would caution against the over restricting of song segues or clock positions with Properties or other rules until a complete analysis is performed to determine if the content of your library can support it. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help in meeting your scheduling goals.
Powergold Music Scheduling Software
Director – Client Services
WRNR Annapolis, Md., owner Steve Kingston was famous for his attention to detail as PD of WHTZ (Z100) New York. “This segue isn’t ideal, but it can certainly be done. In the rare instance you have on-air talent, be it live or voicetracked, it’s up to them to make the transition work. Proper levels and mixing of the voice over the music always works. Swim in the music—the ‘Tears’ intro should be hitting zero dB. The air talent should be the lead singer over the intro. No jock? Imaging works. No imaging? It’s all in the mix and the timing of the segue.”
The scarcity of on-air personalities to control the segue is an issue. Australian TV anchorman and veteran host Peter T. Hughes recalls the late colleague who knew when to hit Juice Newton’s “Angel Of the Morning” so it sounded OK out of AC/DC. “Sweet Child” ends with Axl Rose’s sustained acapella note; “Someone Saved” begins with piano chords. It might have worked as a straight segue, but the on-air personality still came in slightly ahead of the transition. (So, for that matter, did the jock segueing Styx-to-Stephen Bishop.) As often now, even the smoothest musical transition can be drowned out by carelessly inserted voice-tracks or derailed by automation tones that are too tight or too loose.
On-air execution becomes an extension of the scheduling process It often happens that even the smoothest musical transition can be drowned out by carelessly inserted voice-tracks or derailed by automation tones that are too tight or too loose. And soon, programmers, particularly those mixing holiday music into their regular format will have another challenge: “sleighwrecks”!
Sean Ross is a veteran programmer, researcher, and the author of the Ross On Radio newsletter. Find him or subscribe free @RossOnRadio on Twitter. Contact him at email@example.com
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