Music Scheduling Software Fails

What’s Wrong With Music Scheduling Software?
Consider this:

At the end of the 70’s, radio’s top program directors had developed rotation systems that ensured songs in each category got equal play; that Currents didn’t schedule in the same quarter-hour day after day; that all Oldies got play in all the dayparts, that ‘this’ type of song didn’t play next to ‘that’ type of song. It worked well and required about an hour a week to update. (You can read how the RKO stations did it on the Music 1 website under the Documents link.)

As we entered the 80’s, the first software designed to automate the task was introduced. Pitched as a tool that would deliver perfect song rotations with only about ten minutes daily editing time, it did neither. In practice, music scheduling software took a relatively simple craft and made it exceptionally complex. To do the job with software required much more labor, about ten hours a week. Multiple surveys published in Radio and Records during the next two decades reported radio’s music directors continued to spend an average ninety minutes a day with the software; a quarter of the work-week to do what had previously taken an hour. Music directors had become slaves to an algorithm.

It’s a bit better today. Average daily playlist editing time is down to about an hour. This isn’t necessarily because the software has improved so much as because staff cuts and triple-duty employees don’t have the time to do proper editing. Unless the music director is very careful there are two common fails that often go unnoticed.

The most common music scheduling mistakes are erratic spin counts and inconsistent daypart rotation. The Power Golds were supposed to get 45 plays a month, yet some of them got over 50 spins while others are in the 30’s. Recurrents are supposed to be scheduled in all dayparts, yet some of them bunch up in midday and others get played primarily in afternoons and evenings.

Consistent Spins and Daypart Placement – Why They Matter
What would happen if an advertiser ordered 45 spots a week and you discovered only 37 ads got on the air? And what if you found that the spot had been scheduled only nine times in morning drive instead of the fifteen ordered? The manager, sales manager, account exec and traffic director would all be looking into the traffic/billing software to figure out it out and fix it.

We can all agree that the music we play and how we play it are supremely important factors in our success, yet erratic music schedules don’t get that kind of attention. Why not?

First, money is not directly involved. Second, heritage music schedulers are inherently complex. Any scheduling problem that can be solved with an algorithm (format rule) has a 50/50 chance of creating another problem that requires yet another fix. It is near impossible to get music schedules that are as consistent and as elegant as were those engineered by men like Rick Sklar and Paul Drew four decades ago.

Present Day Thinking
I recently spoke with a music director who spends about 90 minutes editing each day’s log. Why so much time? “Because some of my Medium Currents get scheduled in the same hour too many times and some Power Golds get bunched-up in one or two dayparts. I gotta move a lot of stuff around.”

A call came from a veteran PD. He had read that Music 1 delivers consistent spins for every song in each category. That’s a fact, I told him. “I just don’t see how that is possible”, he said. He’s used his scheduler for twenty years and “some songs are just going to get fewer spins because formatting rules get in the way. To get 35 spins a week on every song in my B-Category, I would have to turn off some important rules.”

That’s life as most music directors know it. They either accept irregular spins and erratic song placement as an unfortunate fact of life, or they must labor long to edit each day’s schedule, fixing flow and rotation problems.

Why Is This Important?
Because radio is a reach-and-frequency medium. We preach that truth every day. We interview our advertiser to discover his objectives, then we sell him the number of spots required to reach the most ears the optimum number of times to meet the goals.

It is reasonable that our music, the content that delivers those listeners to the advertiser, should be scheduled just as carefully as the commercials are. If the Heavy’s are planned for 45 spins a week, then each song in Heavy should get 45 plays. If Power Golds are supposed to get played equally in all dayparts, that should happen.

How Bad Is It? Here’s A Quick Way To See
Print two report types for each of your categories. First, print a weekly spins for Currents and Recurrents. Print a monthly report for everything else.

Next, print a rotation history chart for five songs from within each category. See where the songs have scheduled, observe hour and daypart placement.

If you don’t like what you see, clear out all of the secondary rules then schedule two weeks and check again. Keep at it until it is better. If that can’t be done, consider changing schedulers.