The Custom Channels Blog

Instinctive Points We Consider When Picking Music

Posted by John on February 1st, 2012

Picking the music at SBR Custom Channels is a very instinctive thing.  We program in-store and online music channels for business and advise broadcast radio stations on song selection.  How does it start?  When a new song arrives at our office, we listen and rather quickly know how and where to classify it for our huge music database, and which music channel that song can get added to right away.  Same for skimming through the music library looking for older tracks to add to a custom channel or All Access channel.  It just hits us right away where that song can or can’t go.  We listen for “best fit.”

Whether it’s called instinct, intuition, experience, gut feeling, trained ears, music knowledge or all of that, our Music Director Jason Lucero and I (I’m the CMO – Chief Music Officer) sat down to discuss what criteria really does go into deciding whether or not a song belongs on a full custom channel we create for each client, or on our ready-to-go All Access Channels.  We may not consciously debate these points for each song we hear, but the points do subconsciously factor in to how we pick the music.


FITS THE THEME  We take time to understand the client’s brand identify, attitude, theme, atmosphere, energy, vibe, etc.  All the things that go into marketing that product, service, store or establishment should be reflected in the music mix.  Music is very much part of the marketing.  The points below all relate back to the brand theme in some way.

RADIO AIRPLAY  Some clients want familiar hits on their channel so we need know what’s getting played on the radio in all formats.  Yes, FM radio is still the biggest way music gets exposed to the most people.  It’s not a hit if it’s not on the radio.  Then again, some clients want us to stay away from those over-played radio hits.

ERA  We may go hunting for a certain era, like 80’s new wave, or we may look for songs from long ago that fit well next to contemporary songs.  Or we may stay away from a certain era all together because it doesn’t fit the theme.

LYRICS  An important point for a public business.  Songs can’t be racy, sexually suggestive, overly aggressive, or have swear words.  We frequently play radio edits or make our own edit to eliminate offensive words.  But sometimes the entire song, even though the sound fits the theme, can’t be played because of questionable lyrics throughout.

BALANCE GENRES  Another key sub-heading under theme is variety.  Many times we’re looking for maximum variety instead of all-folk, or all-classic rock or all modern pop.  We need to weave the different styles and music genres together on a channel so we’ll pay attention to genre balance – enough of each style.  It’s like a cooking recipe: just the right amount of each ingredient.

TEMPO  An important music design element from both a fast and a slow aspect. While most channels are upbeat and energetic, some are downbeat, slower and relaxing.

LENGTH  Songs that are lengthy can occupy too much of the customer’s or listener’s time.  It cuts into the variety when we could be playing two or three different songs in that time. If a customer’s exposure to an in-store music channel is, say 20 minutes, we don’t want to be playing two 8 minute songs in that time.

COMPATIBILITY  Will it sound good surrounded by the other songs already on that playlist?  Even if it’s a great song or big hit, it may sound out-of-place when played next to other songs that already fit the theme and other attributes listed above.

AUDIO QUALITY  At Custom Channels we take pride in delivering great sounding Internet radio service.  Our audio quality is superior without taking up too much bandwidth.  Great sound starts with a high quality, professional recording of the song.

AUDIO FORMAT  Actually, this is one point where we don’t care.  CD, mp3, wav file, even vinyl.  Sent by FedEx or email or downloaded on the Internet.  In whatever form we get music, as long as the audio quality is good, we’ll take it.

DEEP TRACKS  Some music services only play the singles and big hits.  We dig deeper and include a lot of album tracks, B-sides, and lesser know songs that can sound great in our music mix.  This is where music professionals as curators play an important role by choosing songs you may not know or have not considered.

GOOD SONG  We saved the best for last.  Is it a good song?  Is it well written and well performed?  We’re not just filling up time here with just any music. We get music from major and independent record labels, and we’re often contacted directly by the artists themselves.   “Is it a good song?”  Yes, that’s very subjective.  But we have a habit of picking good songs, and our Custom Channels clients rave about what they hear on the channels we create.

Because we can play almost any song publicly commercially available, we have a lot to listen to.   We don’t rule out songs because “we can’t get a license to play that” (many music services are restricted in this way). So now, after writing about what goes into our decision making process, it’s time to get back to listening to more music…

If you want to see what music we’re listening to, check our Custom Channels Music Blog.  We also advise Adult Rock radio stations on music selection.

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