Butcher of the beats

Whilst scrolling through social media, a post caught my eye which resonated with a recent thought I had. I had been pondering drafting a post for a while about music use and music respect- nothing too dramatic, just a few random thoughts which went through my mind whilst listening around, and the social post seemed to fall into the same line of thinking.

The basic nub of the post I saw was along the lines of questioning why radio stations edit and change the songs they play, and in some cases by quite a degree. Think, edits of songs to make them shorter, or pitching up songs (essentially increasing the speed by a few percent), or chopping intros of songs to start at the vocal or closer to it.

Tweet from Simon which prompted me to put thoughts in order.

I want to thank Simon Humphreys for the mental nudge by the posting of his tweet (above) and for the permission to credit him and link to his Twitter profile in this blog post. Much obliged for the extra inspiration to type this post.

Now, I have to admit that I’ve done , or been involved in doing, ALL of the above before in various degrees and forms and so it chimed with me and made me think about the rationale and process.

For music radio stations, the MUSIC is the centre of the offering. Much of the time taken working on the output, whether it be coaching presenters, scheduling and building clocks etc, revolves around music. It might be ensuring the QUANTITY of music remains high, the flow of the music across the hour or day remains consistent or has decent highs and lows and variety. The music is paramount. Coaching a presenter to be more word efficient improves the awareness and reception of their content, but also reduces the time taken to say it potentially, thereby increasing the time available for music. All makes perfect sense for a music station who’s reason to exist is about playing music (a genre, mood, era etc).

So if music is the central premise and so vitally important, why is the butchering of it (emotive term for effect, but perhaps more calmly put as “editing” of the music) something which is considered acceptable? It comes down to a few things, like the level of acceptability, brand value (I’ll explain what I mean, stay with me), or other reasoning which, on balance, wins the argument.

Acceptability– so for a fast paced, hit-centred, (CHR) style station with a younger target demographic, there is probably a higher level of acceptance of edits in general. There comes a point, but by and large its more acceptable to a larger portion of the target audience and nature of the product. There is also a reality that a lot of similar genre stations and outlets do it, so the norm becomes more established and therefore impacts the acceptance level too. I don’t like the argument that “they all do it and so its ok”, and I don’t think I’m saying that as such, just that if you come across it more often, then there is a familiarity which impacts your level of acceptance. As I say, there are exceptions and points at which it tips the balance. Really aggressive edits of songs stand out more and poke listeners in the ear a bit more. Think about the rationale of that a bit. You play the song because its known by the audience and (hopefully) they love it, know it and like the song. That is why you play it in the first place. You then butcher it and aggressively edit it so those people who love it (and perhaps sing along, out loud or in their head) notice it, because verses and sections are missed. Any surprise they tend to react negatively to that?

Brand fit. Sort of allied to the above point to some degree, but some brands might find the edits more acceptable than others. Again, a faster paced hit playing CHR is a different beast to a classic hit playing, seasoned favourite type station with songs that have existed for years or decades and have a legendary status. If you are going to play Bohemian Rhapsody then you can’t edit out verses etc. as it will be pretty obvious to those people who would enjoy hearing the song and whom you are wishing to attract by playing the song in the first place! I once had a producer (who shall remain nameless) who brought me a “branded intro” for Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water (already a dubious concept but that is another blog post!), with a heavily edited and truncated intro with most of the piano intro edited off. It didn’t make it to air as those who will want to hear the song, and the whole reason for playing it, would not take lightly to such a brutal edit! It didn’t match the brand value, expectation or acceptance of the listener. If music is central to your premise, then respect the music!

Why is it even a thing then, and why have I done it in the past myself? This comes to the nub of the “other reasons” and balance of the risks. Taking in mind the reasons above about acceptability and brand position and assuming those are positive, then the other set of criteria might be something like pace perception, energy around the hour and quantity of music per hour- literally the number of songs played. At times in my career I e been looking at the number of songs played per hour in comparison with competitors – not that it’s something listeners would do of course. The argument for the edits? Shorten the songs and you can play more of them per hour and increase the perception that you play lots of music versus your competitor (maybe). At busy commercial times (like breakfast when there might be more commercial load and also more presenter talk), having edits allows the song count to remain fairly high whilst maintaining a music variety and breadth perhaps (fewer songs means the breadth of variety reduces- its just maths). At least that is the train of thought and the logic kind of adds up- again all depending on the level of acceptance of the target listener and the brand values and expectation from the listener.

There is a level of balance which needs to be applied to it all, and the out of balance examples stand out for those reasons. For a music station, where its the fundamental reason people come to you- reducing the music you play to a ‘commodity’ effectively, starts the rot and leads to an imbalance. Music is passionate- it evokes feelings and responses and when its central to your existence, its pretty important to give it the respect it deserves.

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Published by Dick Stone

Radio...its always been radio.

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