Richard Sands is the publisher of The Sands Report, a weekly email newsletter for alternative rock radio programmers. Last week, Richard published a fantastic interview with Matt Bailey, the President of Intregr8 Research, a wholly-owned division of Coleman Insights, about how radio programmers should use Shazam data. The interview contained insights that are applicable to more than just alternative stations, so with Richard's permission, I am publishing a modified version of it here. -Seth
Matt, tell us about yourself. Do you have a background in radio?
One night when I was three, my dad brought me home a black transistor radio. I tuned to 79/WQXI-Atlanta during AM Top 40’s last glory days. I was hooked. I’d later get the thrill of working with those same ‘QXI legends at Cox Radio Atlanta. So yeah, I’m a life-long radio geek!
What is Integr8 Research…and how long have you been there?
Integr8 Research helps stations pick the right new music. It’s all we do. I joined in 2009, when Coleman Insights acquired the old Core Call Out with the mission of transforming it for the 21st century. Three years later, we launched Integr8 New Music Research.
What’s your take on Shazam's value for radio?
Shazam has tremendous value in helping radio detect which new songs spark listener intrigue. In a study we conducted in 2016, we found that 73 percent of songs that became Top 10 most Shazamed songs also went on to become Top 10 Hits on the Billboard Hot 100. For 33 percent of those songs, Shazam spotted the hits at least three weeks in advance.
Is there a certain way that Program Directors should look at Shazam that would be most helpful?
Remember why someone Shazams a song: They’re hearing a song that 1) someone else played, and 2) they want to know the artist or title. If a song or its singer is easily recognizable, listeners don’t need to Shazam it.
So that’s why Shazam doesn’t predict many mainstream Pop songs?
Yes. You already recognize Taylor Swift. If listeners stream a song, they won’t Shazam it, because either they already knew the artist title, or that info is already on their screen. That’s why Hip Hop streaming hits don’t get Shazamed. Finally, when you see a song’s Shazams dropping, it doesn’t mean listeners don’t like the song anymore. It usually means they’re now familiar with it. With those caveats, the #1 place listeners hear songs they Shazam is on the radio.
There’s more than just Shazam. What about streaming metrics—can radio programmers confidently use these numbers to augment their programming decisions?
Absolutely! As with Shazam, it’s imperative to know what streaming tells you—and what it doesn’t: Streaming stats tell you the number of times a song played. It does not tell you how many different people streamed a song or how often each user streamed it. A song that ten users stream one time is the same as a song one user streams ten times. That’s how “Baby Shark” became a hit. (Thanks, toddlers). It’s like having AQH share, but not knowing your Cume or TSL.
What does your research show you on the subject of streaming?
In a Spotify deep-dive we conducted in 2019, we found listeners use Spotify much like they used Tower Records 25 years ago. When your favorite artist drops a new project, you rush to Spotify to sample it. At first, most of the tracks in the new album will dominate Spotify’s Top 10 most streamed songs. Over time, however, listeners settle on one or two songs that they want to hear repeatedly for weeks—and those songs are the ones that become radio hits. So when looking for hits on streaming, don’t simply look at what’s big this week: Look for songs that are big week after week.
What about Alternative Rock in particular?
For Alternative, the biggest hits aren’t likely to dominate the most-streamed songs the way Hip Hop songs does, plus many tend to build over time just as they do in radio. When using streaming, look for songs that listeners consistently stream week after week. Those titles are your hits.
Good advice. Anything else?
Streaming doesn’t tell you how many people hate a song—because if you hate a song, you simply don’t play it. In radio, haters matter—because they tune out.
What about digital sales? When I first started in San Francisco, sales helped determine what songs got added to the playlist!
It depends. In some formats such as Country, enough listeners still want to own music, so knowing which songs people pay to keep forever is valuable data. For other genres such as Hip Hop, streaming has already usurped sales. Alternative lies somewhere in the middle.
Are there any other metrics we should pay attention to?
MScore doesn’t get PR these days, but stations still use it and it has the opposite limitation of streaming: MScore may tell you which songs cause people to tune away from your station, but it tells you nothing about which songs listeners tuned in to hear in the first place. So use it, especially for highly familiar titles, but remember: Avoiding tune out is of no use unless you first generate tune in.
This has been great, Matt. Thanks!
Thank you to Richard and Matt for the valuable insights! You can reach Matt Bailey at MattBailey@Integr8Research.com. You can subscribe to The Sands Report by emailing Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to let him know who you are and where you work.
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