November 16, 2012

New Music for Listeners of All Ages
By Liz Janik

Liz Janik

There is a dramatic difference between the needs of a twenty year old listener and a forty year old listener.  Programming success depends on understanding how the listeners’ need for new music changes as they age.                                                 
          It’s also important to recognize that there are two very distinct groups of listeners, based on their involvement with music: the active music listener and the passive music listener.  The new music needs of these two groups differ dramatically.    
          Younger listeners in their teens and early twenties are active music fans, but as they age, they eventually separate into the two groups.  The passive music listener rapidly loses interest in the newest music past the age of twenty five.  This group represents the majority of available listeners, more than eighty percent.  The active listener remains passionate about music throughout their lives and stays curious about new music, even as they age.  But, unfortunately, they are the minority of listeners, and as a result there few formats that cater to them, with the exception of Adult Alternative.        
          Radio people are typically active music listeners and, most importantly, are under constant pressure from labels to add the latest ‘priority’.  Not surprisingly, programmers tend to manage new music rotations according to their active music ‘insider’ needs.  What about the listeners, the majority of whom have lives that are not centered on their interest in music?  Winning programmers recognize that ‘favorite and familiar’ songs are a key component in attracting passive listeners.                                                                                                                                                                   
          To determine which songs are the most appealing to listeners, it’s essential to understand how they consume music at different stages of their lives.  Here is a generalized look at how the new music needs of most listeners change as they age, culled from various research studies.  Listeners were asked “How many out of ten songs would they prefer to be new songs?”

Teenagers                                                                                                                                                                                 When 16 year-old listeners were asked “how many do you want to be newest songs” the majority responded “ten”.  As teenagers, their lives are ‘in the now’ and they live without personal history.  They tend to socialize based on similar tastes in music.  Since they are actively involved with music, they move through music quickly.  A song’s newness lasts only a few weeks.  Re-currents feel like their ‘gold.’ Songs from last year are considered ‘old. Not surprisingly, it is difficult to blend the new music needs of this group with older listeners.    
The Twenties                                                                                                                                                                
Twenty year old listeners responded that they preferred 8 of the ten songs to be new and two would be gold.  Their personal life is gaining history and their interest in older songs reflects that.                                                                   
          Age 18 – 24 is typically the most musically active time of our lives when we begin to develop our independent musical tastes and often broaden our preferences, exploring musical styles.  The music that passive listeners embrace during this period generally becomes their ‘gold library’, which they carry forward with them throughout the rest of their life.             
          As listeners leave school, get into the work force and begin their family years, their interest in the newest music starts to taper off.  It takes longer to establish new songs as favorites for them.  This time line continues to increase as they age.  Age 25 is the first significant marker where research indicates general interest in ‘the newest music’ begins to decline.                          
          Interestingly, I’ve also noticed a ‘halo effect’ in the music era preferences of listeners in their twenties.  They often have an interest in the songs they would have heard in early childhood, while in the company of their parents.  As a result, their gold library could include older songs going back to their pre-school years, depending on competitive factors in a market.

30-Somethings                                                                                                                                                                         By the time they are thirty, listeners prefer only half of their songs to be ‘new’. It also takes longer for them to catch on to the new songs, and songs stay ‘new’ for a longer period.  And ‘new’ is a much older song than our industry defines as new.  What’s still new to 30-Somethings includes songs that younger targeted stations may have had in rotation for months and be considered as ‘power re-currents’.                                                                                              
          So managing new songs on a longer timeline is critical for this group.  Power re-currents and standard re-currents also have longer rotation life spans.  This keeps the music sounding newer while keeping it familiar.  Strategic management of recurrent rotations is essential in winning this age group.  Management of recent gold selections is also critical.  The older gold for this group would be from ten to fifteen years ago.                                                             
          In my opinion, most stations targeting 30-Somethings play a music mix that is either too new (unfamiliar) or too old (tired) for this audience.  Perhaps this explains why there is a noticeable shift of listeners’ tuning preferences at the age thirty-five.  Typically, there is significant migration of listeners from music based formats to news and talk radio.

Over Forty                                                                                                                                                                               
A forty year old wants only 2 out of the 10 songs to be new.  What they consider ‘new’ is, again, not what the industry describes as new.  So the rotation timelines of new and re-current categories need to be extended again to meet listeners timelines.                                                                                                                                                                     
          Gold music is very important to this age group.  Determining which gold songs are the right fit is more complicated.  The strongest available gold would be songs they loved when they were 18-24, which means looking back approximately fifteen to twenty-five years.                                                                                                                               
          The most common mistake programmers make when targeting this group is by using songs from the wrong gold base. These listeners have not been involved with new music for at least 15 years.  Therefore, younger gold songs are often very unfamiliar to older listeners.  Songs that were hits only on certain formats usually don’t have wide enough appeal as gold songs for an older audience.  As an example, gold songs from an earlier era mixed with gold songs from the Hot AC format or the 90’s frequently don’t fit sonically or have enough ‘feel-good’ familiarity to win ratings. 

50 Plus                                                                                                                                                                        
By the half –century mark, most older listeners are completely out of the new music loop.  They are looking for ‘favorite familiar’ songs in a comfortable blend.  So gold libraries become the obvious answer.  Again, there is an issue as to which gold era is relevant?  Since this group has not been actively involved with new music for 25 years, careful selection of newer gold is critical.  It’s likely that most recent gold songs are very unfamiliar or disliked.  The older gold needs to have a cohesive sound.  As an example, musical styles and production techniques made a significant shift between the seventies and the eighties.  Therefore, the gold from these two decades do not automatically fit together, even though there may only be a few years difference in their release.

Active or Passive?                                                                                                                                                       
Programmers need to become conscious of the gap between how they perceive new music and how the average ‘passive’ listener experiences new music.  The rotation of songs through a format’s current categories has to serve the listeners’ needs, not those of radio staff and the labels. Age and overall level of interest in music are the two key factors that determine which songs to add, when to add them and how they are managed through rotation categories.

Liz Janik, President of Janik Media, specializes in researching and strategic positioning of radio formats. She can be reached at 905.454.3865


Nikki Nite,
VP of Prog. & Ops,

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