Thursday, 29 July 2010

Researching Music: Is this REALLY popular in your neck of the woods? Ever asked why?

One of my must-visit radio blog pages is the Infinite Dial, from the US-based Edison Research – who, unsurprisingly, do research for radio. They have a refreshingly open-minded approach to what radio may be now, and what it may become.  A recent post covers regional tastes, and it’s fascinating. Well worth a read, here.

I absolutely love this aspect of the business – ferreting out local tastes, finding out what matters locally. It’s a source of endless interest.  Of course, I also like this post because it reinforces my thoughts on localism. But I’d like to take things a little bit further.  

Our man at Edison remarks, quite rightly, that it’s always interesting to find those places where ‘Mony Mony’ and ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ (hey, not talking Gold much) barely register with listeners, and indeed it is. The processes by which songs become popular and spread out to audiences are interesting and increasingly varied. Who would have thought that computer games like Guitar Hero and trash teen tv (Glee) would have had become major players, bigger than tightly playlisted radio format radio, in shifting product?

What interests me is this. If those horribly familiar songs (to US ears at least) Edison Research is talking about don’t light up audiences everywhere, should we question the continued faith placed in them in their core markets? And, more interesting still, exactly what songs are now lighting up those different audiences?  Classic oldie songs on Gold formats have been around a long time; they’ve had time to develop deep roots. So what made those roots either not take in the first place, or, more likely, lose their grip? And if this is genuine evidence – I’m not quite sure it is - that pop music radio's cosy 
assumptions of the past fifty years are turning out to be either wrong, skewed, or outdated, why is such faith still placed in the old ways of operating?

Each market is individual. While we have increasing media homogeneity, this report is pretty convincing evidence that that homogeneity breaks down when you dig deep into each market. I’m not for one minute going to wear any jingoistic assumptions that because this research is driven from the US, that it is blinkered and limited in its vision; I think we’re largely doing a lot worse over here. But if my supposition that local individuality persists against an overwhelming tide of homogeneity, that is horribly inconvenient for our larger scale broadcasters, who increasingly resist any obligations to relate to their local market places.

And here’s the point: by skipping past the local, the network boys are in danger of handing over listenership to new local operators who are rooted in their markets, and willing to both dig into local tastes and reflect their markets. The only question now is: can local small-scale operators in the market and still to come to market, find ways to sustain themselves so they can survive and prosper? The next few years could be very interesting.

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