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Ask the Experts: to F10 or not to F10

Radio Today's 'Ask the Experts' is where we pose your questions to a revolving group of industry experts. As always, if there's a question you want to ask (and you can remain anonymous if you like), shoot it through to us here.

The experts this time are a selection of metro Programmers and Music Directors.

And here's the question....

I would love to hear from PDs/MDs on music scheduling, more to the point auto vs hand placed logs.

My PD believes the computer does a better job than what I can do by hand placing, I disagree and would much rather hand place.


Here's what the experts had to say....


Jeff Burzacott : Music Director, Mix 102.3 / Cruise 1323, Adelaide

First, some brutal honesty. There’s only one real reason why your PD might think the computer schedules better than you do: You suck.

Metro Music Directors joke about ‘hitting F10’ on Selector – especially on the Friday before a long weekend. It’s MD code for letting the system autoschedule – which also means dropping the bar a bunch of notches.

A well-designed auto-schedule IS better than a bad Music Director (refer the ‘you suck’ comment above), but the best machine will always lose against a good human. As good as scheduling software is, it is a long way off from being able to replicate all of decisions that go into placing each song.

Music scheduling – just like every single aspect of radio – is a wonderfully messy combination of art and science. Yep, you’ve got a nice tight bunch of songs with killer scores, well-coded to balance all the factors, and a ‘perfect hour’ vision to nail the strategy. Awesome. And the music software does a decent job of covering the BASIC separation, dayparting and balance issues. But can the codes cover you for the thousand nuances that the machine doesn’t see? 

Let’s pick just one example:  Say your clock calls for a 70s and an 80s next to each other (or 90s and noughties etc) …

  • you wouldn’t want a 1979 song next to a 1980
  • you also wouldn’t want the 80s song to be from someone famous for being in a 70s band
  • and the 80s song wouldn’t want to be a cover, as it swings the station too old.

Then there are fuzzy types: is it a poppy rock song or a rocky pop song? A line has to be drawn somewhere, and either song has no business being next to the other. Can the system identify songs that are close to that blurry line between song types? If you start coding for too many tiny variables, the system freaks out. It either settles for something that is a poor compromise or leaves so many unscheduled spots that you might as well have done it by hand in the first place.

And you can’t invent songs. With a tight universe you get to know pretty quickly what options you have in each category and can build each hour so you don’t end up trying to find a song that either doesn’t exist or you know you used yesterday. The computer schedules by numbers. You schedule by ear and foresight.

It’s no different from my triathlon training – you only get back what you put in. The machine is a great tool for guiding your work. It’s also ideal for running highlights and reports afterwards in case you got distracted when someone commented on one of your Facebook status updates.

There IS one exception. Your greatest resource is time. So spend yours where there is the greatest return. An auto schedule for mid-dawns when there are two drunks and a dog listening is fine.

But for prime-time … if you care about your music, choose a human.

 

Adam Williscroft : Assistant Content Director, 2Day FM Sydney

The answer is a music log should be crafted. The Music - bouncing tempo’s, balancing types, showcasing variety through era... then there’s the Formguide - sweeper balance of long/short, integrated vs produced, v/o codes, ad break placement, talk break balance to set up new music etc.

Putting together a perfect hour is an art. A lost art on a lot of stations unfortunately, but you can tell the ones that are practising and perfecting it.

If there is a version of music scheduling software that can marry the art and the science with the press of a button - I’ve not seen it... yet. I know it’s being worked on, but I’ve never seen F10 produce a better log than a great MD.

There are some fantastic features and rules to programs, and you need a bunch of these to be set up correctly so you can still schedule by hand. I would also argue that even a computer scheduled log needs the human touch after it’s been generated.

Ultimately it depends who’s behind the keyboard. Either scheduling by hand, or setting up the rules in the deep, dark, dusty corners of your Selector. Like most things you get out what you put in. Music scheduling is no different.

So your PD believes the computer does a better job? Each CD/PD must have a ‘vision’, and must make decisions.

My first question to your PD would be ‘what is your music vision for the station’? From there you can make the vision tangible, then replicate his/her vision by hand scheduling and prove that you can indeed provide what they are looking for. I would even go one step further, and ask what they don’t like about the ‘computer logs’ and then offer that as well. 

Ultimately you may not change your current PD’s mind, but if you seek clarity on their vision and you are practising the ‘creative art’ you will certainly be ready for that next job opportunity where your thinking will be valued.

 

Amanda Lee : Music Director, 92.9 Perth

I have had experience in scheduling both ways and although auto scheduling may be more time effective and it may give you perfect rotations, it takes away from the creativity and crafting of music scheduling.

As Metro Music Directors, we should be able to do what the computer does in terms of great rotations – our real skills come in when we’re scheduling the perfect day logs in terms of genres, moods, balance and creating those ‘WOW’ moments in each hour.

Sure - it’s all about being on the right songs for our station and having a solid playlist but if we use the good ole’ F10 routine every day, can we really call ourselves true ‘Music Directors?'

 

Ryan Rathbone : Program Director, Mix 106.5, Sydney

Firstly I want to point out that I’m aware of the expectations of regional radio these days, so if I was in a small market with no competition and minimal staff I would see F10 as a great option, provided the rules had been set up properly and you’d taken the time to build / code the database correctly.

However I don’t believe it is the best practice and wouldn’t do it in a competitive market as I don’t believe that the automatically generated logs get even remotely close to the same sound as a hand crafted log, unless you have a really specific genre that you program (like a dance station) where type coding is less critical and you’re just looking to kick around the tempo and rotate the database.

In my opinion the music director themselves is the key. I’ve worked with great music directors who hand place and you can hear when they are on holidays. Same database & same rules, but a different sound.

So if you’re an ordinary music director, your PD might be literally saying the computer does a better job than you, in which case learn another skill or hope your PD is wrong.

 

Jay Walkerden : Program Director, Nova 106.9 Brisbane

I guess every PD/ MD is different when it comes to scheduling. I always believe that finessing every part of the station is something that you do every hour, every break, every day.

It’s really easy to hit F10 and hopefully everything spits out right but you often miss the moment in listeners day where you can reflect a mood, the weather, massive show the night before etc etc.

You may have a song that is researching well but has a very slow feel, do you really wanna hear that at 3pm on a Friday when the weekends around the corner?

Often we will have a song that just doesn’t feel right at a certain time. If we didn’t finesse this by hand we would miss these moments to reflect our listeners, that’s I guess what we are paid to do.

To use a shit pizza analogy you can have a great base but it’s the extra’s that you put on the top that make it special. I Love pineapple on mine …..




Any thoughts? Leave your comments below.

And as usual, if you have a question you want to ask our revolving group of experts (they come from all area's of radio), let us know here and we'll get it sorted for you.

 

Published on Published on Thursday, 27 September 2012 06:00



Anonymous (10:48am 27 Sep 2012)
I'm not saying this to ignite a fire, but is the order we play songs in really that important?? Some of the stuff said above directly contradicts the way a lot of stations intentionally program their music.

"You wouldn't put a 1979 song next to a 1980" - but wouldn't a station that runs Awesome 80's do that? And aren't they making a feature of doing that?

As someone not in music but who listens to radio, I think you guys get waaaaaaaaay too anal about it.

Most people wouldn't be able to tell you what year a song is from, so it doesn't really matter.

Then there's genre - every year, there are songs that sound like they are from different decades, even if they were made in the same year or similar. Janelle Monae sounds like old 60s soul. Wolfmother sounded like 70's rock. Shakin' Stevens (albeit terribly) sounded like he was from the 50's.

I think we focus very inwardly on our music, instead of looking at how our listeners consume it. People have their iPod on shuffle all the time. The unpredictability of what is coming next (within songs that you own) is a healthy rival to radio.

Just sayin.
Anonymous (10:53am 27 Sep 2012)
I really hope I don't suck,
I have worked in other markets where I had to hand place and have been given great feedback from listeners and PDs

Regardless of how much experience and/or how good you are at crafting a log, the PD believes the computer can do a better job. I've seen first hand the computer stuffs it up on a daily basis, same artist, same hour the next day etc.
Jason McLean (12:05pm 27 Sep 2012)
I certainly agree with anonymous (10:48am)on a few points, many programmers and MD's get pretty anal about music. It's true most listeners wouldn't know or care what year a song is from, and I agree there is a lack of focus on how listeners consume music. Then we have formats like male artist/female artist etc....does it really matter? Many stations I hear have that sameness about it, and I've lost count the number of times listeners or mates tell me "we hear the same stuff over and over". I've always believed this is because MD's either don't know much about music or they are just lazy. It's OK if it's a hit music station but Gold stations should hand place logs more often. For instance it's not cool to have Queens We will rock you or Steve Earl's Copperhead Road 4 to 6 times a week, or a band that have had 20 odd hits but we hear the same 2 or 3 songs. There's not enough WOW factor in music programming these days.
Anonymous (12:31pm 27 Sep 2012)
Maybe you don't suck and the PD is inexperienced or living in the past? I've never seen a scheduling system that doesn't make some sort of mistake or error. And as for music directors being too anal, what do you expect? Music is their job. Do you think they should lazily sit back, hit F10 and collect a cheque or should they actually give a shit and try to craft something that could stand out from the next station? Just sayin'...
Anonymous (14:01pm 27 Sep 2012)
Geez... how old is that Jeff Burzacott photo? Unless they still use cart machines in Adelaide...
Anonymous (14:10pm 27 Sep 2012)
I too havd had the experience of handplacing and auto scheduling. Ive met half-way by allowing autoschedule do its thing in terms of rules, and massage out the clashes by hand. Is it perfect? Maybe not. But i find it allows the computer to take care of the housekeeping and I can can pack the punches by hand. As someone filling multiple roles at my station, I simply cant hand place 7 days of logs.
Anonymous (14:14pm 27 Sep 2012)
the only people who give a shit about music placement are those in the industry. The average listener has no idea what they like. Listener based music research does not work and anyone who says otherwise is only justifying their position in research and the money their station spends (wastes) on it.

When putting together a play list on yore iPod does anyone actually worry about placing 2 urban tracks together or 2 female artists next to each other??? NO... you just press shuffle.

Music scheduling is classic case of over thinking.
Anonymous (14:44pm 27 Sep 2012)
How good's Williscroft... get ya pipes on air Williscroft - where's the 90's @ 9 stockpile bro. That's whats missing about 2day fm. Ole Williscroft ah yeah!!!
Music man (16:58pm 27 Sep 2012)
I remember at one station where the same song was coming up around the same time, every single day.

Drove the listeners and myself nuts.

When I quizzed the PD/MD about it, they admitted they were hitting F10.

I offered to do the MD duties (done it elsewhere) since 'they were busy', but was met with a firm NO.

Go figure!
Anonymous (17:28pm 27 Sep 2012)
So do any of the wankers on here going on about hitting 'shuffle on an ipod' actually realise that hitting F10 for an autoschedule isn't really similar? Autoscheduling will not just spew out any old music that's in the database. It's a little more complicated than that. Lol.
Sam (17:43pm 27 Sep 2012)
People keep talking about shuffling on their ipod... Um hello every song is hand picked by the owner for the owner. We are broadcasters.
Anonymous (17:43pm 27 Sep 2012)
I'm curretly having to do music logs for 2 stations in the same small market. One F10 and one hand placed and crafted, due to time. I have spent hours messing round with the rules on the one that gets the F10 treatment, still not happy with the way it falls. The crafted one sounds better, why am i so sure? 28 out of 31 people in two listener feedback groups scored the hand placed station with the music getting better! I know it's a small smaple size but clear result.
EXPERIENCED Music person (19:39pm 27 Sep 2012)
Lets be very clear on this. Those that say listeners don't care that much you are correct but thats because its our job to make it great so they don't realise why the music sounds better on your station compared to your competitor it just does usually because someone has spend time crafting it. Sadly anyone who doesnt understand that clearly has never worked for a successful radio station in a competitive market were it does make a difference. listeners have so much choice for listening to music to ensure radio is a large choice stations do need to do research to know what songs they audience likes, what styles and generes they want. If we dont and just assume or guess we may rate or we may not but why would you not do your research to ensure you are taioloring your station to the listeners needs and wants? Any SMART person in any business not just radio knows to do your homework before you invest money in something. Every product on the market (just like music played on each successful radio station) comes from research into consumers needs and wants.
Andrew (20:06pm 27 Sep 2012)
"and the 80s song wouldn’t want to be a cover, as it swings the station too old."

But for some of us we might only know the '80s cover without actually realising it's originally a lot older. Just like there's probably a lot of kids today listening to newly released songs not actually knowing that they are covers of songs from years ago.
Jo Bailey (21:52pm 27 Sep 2012)
Is Ryan still sporting the 2002 Beckham hair-do or is this just an old photo?
Ryan Rathbone (7:08am 28 Sep 2012)
Sadly Jo it’s a recent photo but it was taken in Perth so I was still years ahead! Oh and Jeff they’d just gotten rid of their cart machines, I’ve heard Adelaide is next :-). For those programming their stations like an iPod good luck... and Williscroft I’d also like to know where's the 90's @ 9?
Anonymous (9:11am 28 Sep 2012)
A nice read… but funny how most are referring to scheduling with a 1980’s DOS product – hope you are still not using one of those 1980’s Motorola Brick Mobile Phones?
In 2012 there are Music Scheduling options that actually do work and funnily enough are not DOS V12. Not saying hand placing or auto scheduling is right or wrong.
Richard (10:28am 28 Sep 2012)
I have respect for the music schedulers who give deserved time, every time. One point: You've got to assume the music library reflects the intended format!

Glance at the top 5 songs across formats in Music Network mag, a lot of formats fail before F10. So many wrong adds in the wrong categories!
Anonymous (10:10am 29 Sep 2012)
'Glance at the top 5 songs across formats in Music Network mag, a lot of formats fail before F10. So many wrong adds in the wrong categories!'

So many misguided comments more like it. This doesn't even make sense.
Anonymous (13:46pm 29 Sep 2012)
It worries me that anyone thinks it's OK to do something in a regional market that you wouldn't do in a competitive market. Why is it even vaguely justifiable to offer me a lower quality product just because I have no choice?

That goes hand-in-hand with the argument that low-bitrate satellite distribution is OK because nobody cares about sound quality. No, it isn't OK.

Do you have numbers to show how many of your listeners turn off because they think a playlist is substandard? Absence of info or captive market isn't the same as "don't care, so go ahead and feed me crap". There's always a choice, and more and more these days it's called a download.
Callum Jones (17:24pm 30 Sep 2012)
Fascinating read from the experts and the comments that followed.

For what its worth. From my experience the computer program is designed to aid the music director and set up correctly rules can help with rotations and artist separations etc. I have been a user of Powergold music scheduling software and am a huge fan.

The thing is that the 'art' of crafting the log will always be better than hitting generate and walking out the door.

The rules and the computer can be helpful but its the user that makes the playlist from adequate 'F10' to sensational. After all the computer doesn't have feelings.

A good music director uses the computer to aid them, but its their skill and professionalism that makes them great at what they do.

Take a look at professional golfers. We could use the same clubs that they have but the skills they have to drive a white ball close to the pin, while I'm still somewhere in the rough searching for my ball.

If you are concerned that your PD/CD thinks the computer is better than you, my suggestion is to talk with them over what they want the station to sound like, but also share your heart/passion with them.

If you feel like your skills could use improving, I suggest doing a weekend AFTRS Music Directors course. I myself did one and going in I thought I had a pretty good idea on putting together a log, but after the weekend I realised that there were some things that I was doing completely wrong. It inspired and also helped me step up to the next levels.

Remember make the most with the tools you have and build relationships with MD you aspire to be like.

Good luck!
Anonymous (20:22pm 30 Sep 2012)
ummm the wireless these days is for commuters wanting road reports and a bit of a larf ... music is supplied by other means music directors etc are actually not needed anymore just give the punters entertainment for the ears the music can be supplied by F10... i agree the industry spends to much navel gazing ... we all get paid by advertisers ... wow maybe people should get a reality check and supply a product that gets real results ... oops thats google and the net

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Southern Cross Media
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Fairfax Media Group
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Macquarie Radio Network
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Pacific Star Network
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APN News & Media
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0.765
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Oceania Capital
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Ten Network
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Seven West Media
SWM
1.57
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Seven Group Holdings
SVW
6.69
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Nine Entertainment
NEC
1.95
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Prime Media Group
PRT
0.890
0.00%