For pretty much most of my radio career, “music passion” has been often mentioned. Sometimes it is “we need more music passion”, sometimes it is “the music passion is great”. I was reminded recently about the number of times I’ve spent having conversations explaining what music passion is, and what it isn’t.
Firstly, a thank you to my friend Tim Littlechild for suggesting this blog post subject. Tim and I worked together launching Smooth Lake District and Tim hosts breakfast there to this day. Tim and John Pye were very forgiving when on one visit it wasn’t until I got to the office in Kendal after a 3 hour drive, that I realised I had left my laptop on charge at home! Anyway… back to the point…
Music Passion and Music Knowledge are two different things. They deliver different results and have different benefits. Its possible to have both, but having one doesn’t mean you have the other. Having a great knowledge of music doesn’t always equate to having a music passion. It can absolutely help without doubt, but it is important to not confuse the two. I’ve often seen programmers asking for more music passion in links from presenters, only for presenters to add in more music knowledge and info, rather than passion by mistake. That said, the discussion I had with Tim was instigated by his listening to Gilles Peterson on BBC 6 Music and specifically the All Day 90’s Rave show one Saturday in early August. Gilles has immense music knowledge about the genre and the time period and so the show very much demonstrated his expertise and understanding. His personal memories of driving the motorways to a number of events every Saturday and his feelings about the songs, artists and events added in the passion. It certainly was the case that this show had both music passion and a ton of music knowledge and they both intertwined.
Music, by its very nature, is passionate. It evokes emotion, memory, feelings and moods. There are probably songs I could play that will make you cry, or feel happy. It’s nothing to do with who the producer was, where it was recorded, how far up the chart it once got or who wrote it. It’s about how it makes you FEEL not Wikipedia. Music passion.
I’ve worked with a few great orators of music passion, and one who stands out for me is John McCauley at Smooth Scotland. John has been in radio for a long time and has a huge and illustrious legacy in Scotland. It is important to know that to give context to my example of music passion from John- one of many examples I have from our time working together. I can only imagine the number of times that John would have back announced or introduced some of the songs he plays on Smooth. Probably hundreds or thousands of times for some of them, but he always sounds like it is the first time he has heard it. I don’t think during our time together I ever heard John use the word “great” when referencing a song, as in “that’s a great song”. He always chose something more passionate, emotive and descriptive to say. Somewhere I have a link from John back announcing a song from The Carpenters, (which again was probably a song he had played thousands of times over the years). His use of timing, leaving a short “thinking second” once the song had ended to give some emotion, then saying “It’s just breathtaking isn’t it”. Then describing just why in an articulate and passionate way. Why say “great” when you can say “breathtaking”! Use of words is important and painting pictures with them creates a rich image for the listener. Another example from John that springs to mind is explaining after one song that he was listening to it with his eyes closed and then how the music made him FEEL. Now not to sell him short, John has great music knowledge too and can inject that into links with ease too but seldom without giving some passion.
Music passion comes from emotion created by the song, and how music makes ordinary people feel when they hear it. They don’t need to be a muso to understand it, they don’t need to know the band or the song or their back catalogue or tour dates or production legacy. It creates a bond with the listener, whether they know the song or not, and can make them listen to it differently as a result from that moment onwards and every time they hear the song in the future. For a music radio station, there is no greater asset than the station’s music, and so something which can elevate it to a greater level is a fantastic thing to demonstrate from its presenters. Knowledge is also important of course and I’m not decrying having music knowledge- its just that confusing that for real passion is a mistake. Having gravitas, knowing your onions, and knowing the music is important, but being able to articulate how music makes you feel can’t be beaten.
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9 thoughts on “Music is passion.”
Love this. Articulating feelings isn’t the limit of what makes listeners connect with music, though.
When GCap was formed from merging GWR and Capital Radio, there was a lot of weird nonsense (terrible arguments, culture clashes and Capital’s disastrous beige period, for example) but there was a brief opportunity for amazing experiments.
Through differences in the ways we promoted music, we sometimes saw incredibly different results in the way it tested with listeners.
Athlete – Wires stood out at the best example to me. We agreed it as a group playlist add without really knowing why it was growing on us so much. Capital stations ran it around with standard music “sells” which listeners didn’t buy, on the whole. But GWR stations had a network show (overlapping with a digital station I ran) where the presenter really got what the song was about. We told all the digital presenters to make sure the words “premature baby” came up, in the presenter’s own relatable way, every time we played the song. That seemed to work well enough to tell all the FM presenters to do the same.
The song became a massive, high testing hit, but only on the GWR stations.
I felt we really learned something about how we do music radio well from that. Sadly some managers just put it down to “different markets” and didn’t learn a thing. But we all get to choose…
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Quite right… its not ONLY down to feelings you are right, but they are a large part of it. Lyrical content, and your example is a great one, can have a huge impact. I remember some research about how lyrical content impacts different people in different ways. Some see the vocal as merely an ‘instrument’ and some actually actively listen to the lyrics. Highlighting the meaning behind the songs can greatly enhance a songs otherwise unknown meaning and popularity. Thanks for reading and for commenting mate.
Great point – there’s a lot of research which continues into how people hear and process music, and it turns out that we deal with familiar and unfamiliar music very differently. How’s your neuroscience, Dick?
Mine’s a little rusty, but I think the main points are that when we hear familiar music, we get into it very quickly and it fires up huge portions of our brains, including memory, emotions, motor systems and anticipation of enjoyable moments like words and sounds we’ve remembered and linked to our lives. It’s a hugely involving experience which activates our passions and helps explain the success of stations that stick to familiar hits!
When we hear unfamiliar music, we’re less likely to get so passionate about it at first, and our brains activate a set of “what’s this?” processes instead. That can make listening to new music feel like hard work, even if we enjoy it, and life is harder for radio stations that play unfamiliar music as a result.
This reminds me that there are different ways to present new music effectively compared with familiar music.
Can we assume that listeners will feel good if we meet them where they are, and join in with what’s going on in their heads? I hope so – that can guide us!
It suggests that the best ways to present familiar music are to engage the bits of listeners’ brains which are activated by familiar music – sharing memories, emotions and pointing to the bits we might agree are the best bits, for example. There’s a rich field to explore and have fun with here, so many ways to connect with listeners’ passions that it would be a waste to bore them with info they don’t need.
With unfamiliar music, though, it’s vital to scratch the listener’s “what’s this?” itch. Saying something is “great” never does that. We need to know where to put this new thing into our heads – what does it connect with? That’s a more interesting question than “what is it called and who is it by?”, but we need that too for the filing system. Listeners never want to be told to like something, but love to receive a hook that will help it stick in their brains. I think that’s the essence of presenting new music in a satisfying way.
There’s a ton of science ongoing – worth a whole article if you’re up for it! I’ve been refreshing my memory with this review article, just so I’m crediting my sources: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328108632_Neural_Correlates_of_Familiarity_in_Music_Listening_A_Systematic_Review_and_a_Neuroimaging_Meta-Analysis …
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That was a wonderful blog Dick, it really made me think about how I relate to and feel about music , I’m a radio 6 anorak. My favourites on there ( Laura, Craig, Lamack, mark and Stewart ) all talk about music with depth of knowledge and passion! Good one.
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VIV!! Lovely to hear from you and thank you.
Big up to you Dick you were always one of my favourite PC’s to work with and excellent thinker and practitioner!
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This has taken me back to a study completed years and years ago in regards to how different groups of people relate, like and in turn have passion for different songs. I.e. one group may have passion for a song because of how the lyrics relate to them or their experiences (Athlete being Berns great example), a contrasting group may have passion for a song because of the melody/music(maybe Back in Black AC/DC might be an example). Then a third group have passion for both and the song becomes one of their favourites, the study suggested that in the rawest form females where quicker to embrace lyrics, men quicker to embrace music, with crossover songs loved by both. I suppose the truly best songwriters/performers nail both for all.
Great blog BTW and interesting comments from Bern – btw Viv, leave a peg for me to hang my 6 music anorak next to yours!
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Oh my we appear to be getting the band back together here. Lovely to hear from you Mark and thanks for taking the time to read and respond- very much appreciated.
Good points and glad you mentioned that study. I was kind of loosely referencing it, but wasn’t confident enough of my recollection of the facts to state it so clearly- I seemed to remember it being that by and large females responded to lyrics quicker and men the melody and music. Glad I remembered it correctly.
Hope you are well sir.