Music Scheduling

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Consultant Tips” series, written by Charese Fruge on September 8, 2020 

 I recently came across a tweet from Sean Ross comparing music scheduling to playing Sudoku. “Swap out one song and suddenly the others around it have to be changed too,” he said. I could totally relate. But to my surprise some of the comments completely blew me away. There were a few skeptics who thought that too often Program and Music Directors were over-thinking music scheduling. Try telling that to schedulers who are actually really good at what they do.

The fact that those comments were even mentioned leads me to believe that either that person has never scheduled music before, or that they were the chronic F10 or Auto-schedulers. My guess is, the comments were made by people who would never even make an attempt to go through music logs song-to-song to make sure the scheduler was not only plotting things out correctly, but that the mood, tempo, style and genre was being plotted out correctly as well. There is no number of non-breakable rules you can schedule in the software system to be able to just trust the “schedule & print” strategy. You will still have to find songs to fit in to Unscheduled slots, and that will include the need to re-schedule what’s around that song.

There is one key factor in the success of ANY music format: “Variety.” You can have a Top 40 station play songs that all sound exactly alike and guess what happens then in a world where the competition has more than tripled? You’ve got a radio station with no distinct personality, no variety, no excitement and a very small honed-in audience in a format where mass appeal and cume should be highest. It’s an even bigger challenge for Adult formats. I could go on and on giving examples in different formats, but if you don’t already know this stuff you shouldn’t be programming or scheduling music.

There is an ABSOLUTE method to the madness of music scheduling. Regardless of the format, you should be doing everything you can to make sure you don’t have “Rock blocks” where they are not expected (i.e. Hot AC), “Pop blocks” where they are not expected (i.e. Alternative), “Rhythm blocks” where they are not expected (i.e. Mainstream CHR) or “Mainstream Pop blocks” where they are not expected (i.e. Rhythmic CHR) etc. You can have the exact same library as your direct competitor, but if you are not adding style, tempo and instinct to your scheduling strategy, you can completely have your rear end handed to you. Again, I could go on and on, but it’s a theory that successful programmers and music directors have to learn. And quite honestly, they have to have a passion for it too.

Sadly, with all of the consolidation and downsizing, especially right now while programmers are also taking on multiple roles, this is why a lot of stations aren’t performing well. There is no one focused on song to song editing to insure that a music sweep is filled with songs that represent (and more importantly) feel like variety. I use to work with KBIG’s Brandon Bell. He was my Music Director and APD at KMXB in Las Vegas. He would always try to explain his philosophy visually to anyone he was teaching to schedule music and it made so much sense. I’ll try to get it right. He would say your music sweep is your bucket of songs. Inside your bucket was a representation of all of the styles which made up the prefect music sweep for your station’s format. You take each song out of the bucket one at a time and insert it in to the proper slot. It was an easy way to help new trainees understand scheduling beyond the science, math, timing and tempo and an easy way to make sure that there weren’t too many of the same styles scheduled in the sweep or back to back. It was much like a puzzle or a game of Sudoku as Sean mentioned in his tweet.

I was fortunate to have inherited Brandon Bell as a Music Director from Justin Chase, now Chief Content Officer of Beasley Media Group. Justin was my MD/APD and took my place when I left KMXB, Mix 94.1 in Las Vegas to move to Denver to program KALC, Alice 105.9, then eventually KYSR, Star 98.7 in Los Angeles. By the time Justin left CBS Radio for Beasley, I was back at CBS in San Diego. When Justin left, I picked up the Vegas market again for CBS. That’s where I met Brandon and discovered his commitment to song-to-song editing that I know he learned from Justin. I guess my point is, Brandon Bell and Justin Chase are two of the most intense, focused music schedulers I know and have had the honor to work with. We were all “over analytical” about scheduling music to the point where I think we were all often referred to as anal about it. But we were all very successful with ratings. And call me biased, but add to that list DJ Riddler, whom I worked with twice in Houston, and J Love at KMXB who also took my place the second or third time I left Vegas, and you’ve got a list of pretty solid and successful music schedulers.

I’m positive there are others out there. We need to pin point those people and start training more and more music schedulers, passionate ones. I’m happy to play my part. The days of hitting auto-schedule are over. There are no brands winning with this philosophy and competition coming from every direction. And to those of you who think we over-analyze the task, call me anal all you want, but I’ll just consider you lazy.