Friday, July 24, 2009

Who Listens?

Hey, just a quick note to let you know that sometime within the next several hours, MusicMaster Oldies will become a "PRO" Broadcaster on Live365. This means great quality sound and availability on a whole bunch of WiFi Internet radio receivers and mobile devices.

MusicMaster Oldies is climbing the "charts" at Live365, too. We'd like to thank YOU, our listeners who tune in from some really cool places like:

Czech Republic
Hong Kong
Saint Lucia
Slovak Republic
Trinidad and Tobago
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
United States

Got songs you think we should be playing? Shoot us a note! If we play it, we'll let you know. If we don't, we'll ADD it!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Music Goes Round And Round...

...and it comes out here. MusicMaster Oldies is a constantly changing blend of songs and musical styles. The daily playlists are generated by MusicMaster, the music scheduling system for Windows. In this system, songs can be divided into groups called Categories. Each of these Categories can rotate, or repeat the songs, at a different rate. In MusicMaster Oldies, there are five music Categories named after planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter. Here is a screen shot from MusicMaster that shows the predicted rotation speed and pattern for the Mercury Category.

The songs in the Mercury category repeat faster and are heard more often than the others. This Category contains the biggest hits from 1955 to 1970 and you'll hear about six of them every hour. Mercury contains 740 songs, so each song in Mercury is heard about once every five days and five hours.

The Venus Category contains about 2884 songs. You'll hear a song from this Category about nine times every hour, which means these songs repeat every 13 and a half days or so. This Category contains hits, well-known album cuts and b-sides, and a bunch of really great songs that never made it onto the charts at all (but should have).

The Earth Category holds around 3675 songs and seven of these play every hour. These songs will repeat once every 22 days and 19 hours, give or take a bit. These are songs that didn't quite make it as high on the charts as the others, lesser known album cuts, and b-sides that sound pretty good.

The Mars Category contains 3233 songs but only two of them are used each hour. These songs repeat very slowly, taking about 70 days to repeat. These are songs that are weaker chart hits and b-sides, or songs that do not fit well into the oldies sound.

The Jupiter Category is very rarely heard. There are 388 songs in this Category, but the Category is only used in seven different hours throughout the week. These songs repeat only about once a year! These are really bad recordings (which I'm always looking to upgrade), or terrible songs that somehow managed to make it onto the sales charts.

My use of the words "really great" and "terrible" may lead you to believe that the placement of these songs into Categories is a somewhat subjective decision on my part. That's actually true! However, I do move songs from one Category to another in response to suggestions from you, the listener. If you tell me you really like a particular song or artist, I'll review those songs and I may kick them from a slower repeating Category to a faster one. This happens all the time, so be sure to give me a regular Shout Out and let me know your favorite songs!

In addition to these five Categories, I also use two special categories for really long songs. The music of the 1950's and 1960's were mainly short songs, running about two and a half minutes in length, on average. Songs that are over 5:10 long take up the space of a couple of normal songs, so these are placed in a Long Songs Category that is called for once in each of 16 different hours throughout the week. Songs that are really long, over 10:00, are used just once in the 5:00pm hour (Central Time USA) every day. These come from a Category called Epic Songs. Long songs repeat about once every three months, while Epic songs repeat once every few weeks. Some of these repeat a bit faster than others because they're bigger hits. I use a feature called Rotation Weight in MusicMaster to control the rotation speed of individual songs in these Categories.

In addition to all this, there are special "Rest Categories" that hold songs that are waiting to play from either the Venus or Earth Categories. Every day, a bunch of songs that have been playing in these two Categories for a long time are pulled out and rested. An equal number of songs that have rested the longest are moved into Venus and Earth to take their place. This keeps MusicMaster Oldies sounding fresh all the time. It's all done automatically by MusicMaster using a feature called Auto-Platooning.

Coming up: How MusicMaster mixes up the songs to create the maximum variety possible!

Monday, July 13, 2009

What We Play - Part 2

Before moving on to explain how MusicMaster Oldies works, I thought I'd take a break and brag some more about what we play!

We're at 109,793 songs right now, and climbing.

There are 25,319 different artists, from a group called "A B And C" to a guy named Paul Zuma. The Beatles have the most songs at 421, followed by Elvis Presley at 365 and Ricky Nelson at 220. Others that are way up there include Bobby Vee, The Supremes, Paul Simon, Connie Francis, The Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, Frank Sinatra, Neil Sedaka, The Monkees, Lesley Gore, The Ventures, Ann-Margaret, Annette Funicello, Nat 'King' Cole, The Drifters, Patti Page, The Temptations, Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, Johnny Rivers, Bobby Russell, Jan And Dean, Jimmy Page, The Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, Brenda Lee, Eddy Arnold, Fats Domino, Pat Boone, Patsy Cline, James Brown, Paul Revere (aka Mark Lindsey), Buzz Cason, Cliff Richard, The Challengers, Smokey Robinson And The Miracles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Art Garfunkel, Dean Martin, Bill Haley, Paul Anka, Roy Orbison, B B King, Dion, and so on... All the ones I mentioned have more than 100 songs in MusicMaster Oldies!

Sorted by title, the songs on MusicMaster oldies range from "1 2 3" by Len Barry to Zwischen Den Bergen by Geschwister Fahrnberger, a German record from 1960.

The songs come from 7,522 different record labels, from "002" to "Zyx Records." The label with the most songs is RCA, followed by Capitol, Columbia, Decca, Mercury, MGM, Dot, Liberty, ABC-Paramount, Liberty, Atlantic, Epic, Coral, Warner Brothers, United Artists, King, Roulette, Reprise, and many more.

The music comes from over 60 different countries from Argentina to Yugoslavia. Most of them, well over half in fact, come from the United States, followed by England, Canada, Australia, Germany, and France. The list of countries includes Cuba, China, India, Iceland, Kenya, Guyana, Russia, and many more.

The music actually comes from 94 different years, with an average year of 1962.3. There's a reason it spans so much time. I've also included the biggest hits of the 1940's through 1954, and also as many "original" versions I could find of songs that became hits when they were redone in the 1950's and 1960's. The earliest of these Original Versions so far was "Henry The 8th" by Harry Champion from 1911 which I own on the 78 RPM Columbia 1621 pressing. Harry was a British singer and I believe this Herman's Hermits hit started out as a drinking song heard in pubs all over the UK -- and yes, you WILL hear that song played on MusicMaster Oldies! You'll also hear the two original recordings of Are You Lonesome Tonight, by either Henry Burr or Vaughn DeLeath (The Radio Girl), both from 1927, and both quite similar to the Elvis Presley hit. I'm not actually sure which of these came out first, but I can tell you that Vaughn DeLeath's version came from a very thick Edison disc which turns at 80 RPM and was vertically cut, which was quite different from the 78 RPM lateral cut standard that dominated the record industry before the introduction of the 45 RPM single and 33 1/3 RPM albums in 1949.

There are about four songs featuring male vocalists for every one that features a female singer. In addition, there are well over a thousand instrumentals. The styles and genres of music vary widely and include Pop, Blues, Country (and Western), Classical, Doo Wop, Electronic, Middle Eastern, Folk, Garage Rock, Gospel, Children's Music, Show Tunes, Reggae, Jazz, Lounge, Modern Classic Rock, Motown, Novelty Records, Psychedelic, Swamp Rock, Rock And Roll, Rockabilly, Bluegrass, Surf Music, Teeners, Bubble Gum, Urban, Soul, R&B (Rhythm and Blues), Funk, Polka, Celtic, Dixieland (aka Trad Dad), Cajun, Zydeco, UK Beat, and much more!

Most of the music came from vinyl records. The songs were recorded from a Technics direct drive turntable using a Shure V15 Type V phono cartridge, or an ELP Laser Turntable (that uses five blue laser beams to read the groove and never comes in contact with the actual record). I've also begun using a USB turntable that is 100% digital right from the Stanton phono cartridge into the computer. I clean up the audio using Adobe Audition 3.0. I still do this on Windows XP, even though I've recently become a "Mac" guy. I just haven't found audio recording and editing software for the Mac that can do all the things I can do on Windows -- yet. I am searching, and I'm open to whatever suggestions you may wish to offer.

Many of the records you'll hear on MusicMaster Oldies are highly prized collectables these days. In some cases, only one copy is known to exist in the entire world. Some of the best songs I play came from artists who only had a few hundred records pressed to hand out to their friends and family, or to sell to kids at the high school record hops where they performed.

I've been collecting records since around 1960 when my Uncle George, a part-time disc jockey at a Country and Western radio station in Akron, Ohio, gave me a bunch of rock and roll 45's he couldn't play. Having worked in radio since the 1970's, I was also lucky enough to be able to salvage several record libraries that were thrown out by radio stations after the transition to CD, and later to digital automation systems. I've attended hundreds of vinyl record collector's conventions and visited a ton of used record stores, yard sales, resale shops, antique stores, in at least a dozen different countries. I became an eBay "junkie" a few years ago, back when it was still easy to get a great bargain on really obscure vinyl records. I guess you could say I'm a recovering vinyl addict, and that's an addiction that's harder to kick than opium! At one point I owned a used record store with an inventory of over two million vinyl records. I still own about 300,000 records, including all five of the original Sun recordings by Elvis Presley in like-new condition (worth just under ten grand apiece). I've got a sealed copy of the infamous "Butcher Cover" Beatles album. The collection also includes several records that would probably fetch $50,000 or more in a live collector's auction!

I've also got several book shelves filled with price guides, discographies, and books about music and records from all over the world, including a collection of pre-1970 radio station weekly playlists that fills a very large binder. All of this resource material has helped me catalog this music and learn more about the artists and songs you'll hear on MusicMaster Oldies. These days, however, I'm learning even more from Google searches. I've found hundreds of blogs that discuss music from the 1950's and 1960's in great detail and feature interviews with even the most obscure artists. I've also tracked down and interviewed many artists myself, and plan to post some of my notes about those people here on this blog.

MusicMaster Oldies has been called a music museum. Actually, it's more like an exhibit in a music museum that one might call Pop Music Circa 1955-1973. Thanks to some special music scheduling tricks, it doesn't sound like a playlist of over a hundred thousands songs on Shuffle. You do not have to wait for 100,000 other songs to play before you hear the good songs again. The better songs play a lot more often, with some of them repeating every four or five days.

I'll explain more about that later...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What We Play

MusicMaster Oldies drives 'real' radio programmers crazy. For the past 40 years or so, the buzzword in radio has been 'tight' playlists. The idea is to capture a loyal audience by playing only the most popular songs within a carefully selected and filtered genre. Radio became Top 40 Radio, then Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR). The 'format' went from Music to Hits and Country, and then split again and again into things like Urban, Alternative, Classical, Triple A, Modern Country, Jazz, Classic Rock, R&B, Classic Hits, 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, and many more. Some types of music didn't fit into any of these formats and have gone nearly extinct on the radio. Some music was deemed too 'dated' to keep playing, so those songs disappeared from the airwaves as well. Even more songs were removed because they were determined to be 'Not Politically Correct.' Still more went away because of audience research. In fact, audience research has probably caused the disappearance of more music than all the other factors combined.

Basically, a radio station that wanted to build a large audience would regularly 'test' the music they play with a sample of their target audience. This could be done over the phone (Callout Research), or by inviting a group of listeners into a meeting place (Auditorium Research), and more recently by letting them voice their opinions online, either via a website or email (Internet Research). Research worked very well for radio. The better research the station did, the bigger share of the audience they would get, provided they adjusted their playlist accordingly. If you were planning to put a new station on the air in a certain town, you'd want to do research first. Let's say you determined that no oldies or jazz stations existed in that city. You'd start by doing research to see which format, Oldies or Jazz, had more potential listeners in your town. Let's say Oldies won this battle. Now, you'd determine what age group you'd like to attract to your new radio station. One logical way to do this is through some basic psychology. If you are planning to play Oldies, let's say from the 1970's, the 'center' of your format would be music from around 1975. The theory that drives this logic is that the majority of people form their 'favorite' songs and music styles during their High School years. Those who graduated from High School in 1975 were 18 years old back then. Fast forward to 2009, 34 years later, and you determine that your new 70's Oldies station will most appeal to people who are 34 + 18 = 52 years old. If you think you can make money with a radio station that appeals to 52 year olds, you can go ahead and build your 70's Oldies station. After all, making money is what business is all about, and radio IS a business. There's NOTHING wrong with that!

Now you put together a list of songs that you might want to play. Professional radio programmers have learned to pretty much ignore their own personal favorites. They might go back to the sales records for 1970-1979 and see which records were the biggest hits. From that list, they'll probably remove songs that they feel are dated, no longer politically correct, or too far away from the mainstream style. Novelty records are usually removed, too. Once you're heard a 'joke' it's no longer funny, and the same goes for Joke records.

Now you've got all these records from the 1970's that you might play. So you're ready to invite a bunch of 49 to 55 year old men and women into an auditorium so you can get their opinion. The way these people give their opinions can vary, but the basic method of testing music is pretty standard. First of all, you don't play every song for them. There's no time for that. You also don't have time to play entire songs. You may hold their attention for a couple hours, but you won't be able to keep them prisoner there for days or weeks! So, you have to remove a whole bunch of songs from your 'test' list first. Which songs get removed? Well, maybe it makes sense to take out the lesser hits. The songs that didn't sell well, or get played on the radio as often back in the 1970's, get removed from the list. Now you record 'hooks' for each song, usually several seconds from the middle. Ideally, this hook should be the part of the song that gets stuck in your head after you've heard it! Selecting the right part of the song to play in a hook has become an art form among radio folks. The hook may, or may not, contain the part of the lyrics that contain the title of the song. (Homework: Go listen to some songs you like and see if you can figure out which seven seconds you'd play out of that song if you were testing it.)

The audience reaction may be measured several different ways. For one thing, you could just ask them to rate the songs on a scale, like 1 to 5, where 1 is a song you hate and 5 is a song you love. Some programmers prefer a 'binary' approach that dials in on the listener's preference by asking yes/no questions. After playing the hook, they might first ask, "Do you know this song?" Then they'd ask something like, "Would you like to hear this song more often or less often on the radio?" If they answer that they'd like to hear it more often, the next question might be, "Is that because you just like it, or is this one of your favorite songs?" If they say they want to hear it less often, the follow up question might be, "Is that because you're tired of hearing this song, or because you never liked it." These responses allow you to extract more than just a Like or Dislike response. You also get to know things like Familiarity (how many people know the song?) and Burn (how many people are tired of hearing the song?). Another test method involves using a dial, just like a volume control on the listener's radio. The audience is instructed to turn the dial up if they hear a song they like, and down when they hear one they don't like. Pretty cool, eh? This method has some very interesting aspects and has also become somewhat of an art form. Researchers might pay attention to how far the listener turns the volume up, or how quickly they turn it up, or maybe at which point in the hook they turned it up! Each of these are clues to how much the listener likes the song, which is basically the thing you're trying to find out by doing this research.

When the test is over, you compile all the scores. Now you eliminate the songs that had a high Dislike score overall. Most programmers also remove the songs that didn't score well on Familiarity. The idea is that EVERY song you play should be one that MOST listeners know and like very much. This is based on the idea that, when trying to appeal to a mass audience, you don't want to play any song that a bunch of people dislike. If they hear a song they don't like, or don't know, they may tune to another station. Once they leave your station, it's VERY hard to get them back. Certainly nothing you do on your station will get them back -- because they're no longer there to hear it.

There were at least 50,000 different songs in the 1970's that people liked enough to buy. Out of those, the auditorium audience may have heard hooks for about 500 of these, or about one percent. Out of that 500, only about 250 of them may actually make it on the air on the new 70's Oldies station, with the others being rejected because they didn't do well in the research. If you've ever wondered why your favorite Oldies station doesn't play some of your personal favorites, maybe this research business explains it. Your favorite probably didn't 'test' well.

The research model may be biased. It may be based on some bad assumptions. For example, what if some of those songs that didn't sell well back in the 70's would test VERY well today? After all, times have changed. The audience has aged and matured. They've been exposed to a lot more different music since the 70's. Even though they still have a special place in their hearts for the hits of their High School years, there are probably songs they didn't like back then, but would totally love today. The exposure they've had to 40 more years worth of newer music has influenced their preference when it comes to music. That's logical, right? Many radio stations will go back later and conduct more auditorium tests later using another group of songs from the target era, just so they can find more favorites and add them into the playlist. Unfortunately, this sometimes means removing songs from the playlist to make 'room' for the newly discovered gems. Radio stations also have to think about how often the listeners hear each song. Songs that everyone likes have to be played more frequently than songs that appeal to fewer people, or so the theory goes.

Another bias might come in the automatic rejection of songs that are (subjectively) considered dated, politically incorrect, or outside the mainstream, and are therefore never exposed to the test audience for measurement. What if the audience would have REALLY loved some of those songs? If you remove them from the test before you start, you'll never know.

The ultimate playlist on your new 70's station might also have other problems. What if there are songs that test VERY well when the audience hears them for the first time after not hearing them for decades -- but that same audience gets sick of hearing them after the second or third time? Testing them by playing the hook only ONCE doesn't tell you anything about the 'life' that song may have. Some songs are going to make the audience have an 'Oh Wow!" reaction, for sure. But some of those songs are going to continue to be loved no matter how many times you play them. Others are going to quickly 'burn' and cause your audience to tune to another station. Radio stations learned that they needed to continue doing research on an ongoing basis AFTER putting their new station on the air just so they could identify and eliminate these troublesome songs from their playlist.

There are many other factors that can bias the research results. In fact, there are too many of them to cover in this blog entry. Just to give you an idea, what if you didn't pick the right people for the audience test? What if you played the hooks in the wrong order? Maybe people give a lower score to songs they really like if the previous song they heard was a huge favorite. Maybe people give a higher score to a song they don't particularly like if the last three songs they heard were real clunkers. You get the idea, right? If you give all this some thought, you can probably think of a whole bunch of other factors that might influence the results.

What I'm doing with MusicMaster Oldies is NOT based on research! Basically, I'm playing EVERY song that people liked enough to buy. Every single song that ever showed up on the sales charts (Billboard, Cashbox, and others) is on the air on MusicMaster Oldies. Songs are not removed because they are dated, politically incorrect, or for any other reason.

On top of those nationwide (USA) hits, other 'Regional Hits' have been added. These are songs that showed up on local radio station playlists but did not make it onto the national charts. Some of the charts I use for this include the WLS Silver Dollar Survey (Chicago), the CHUM Charts (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), and MANY others. In addition to these, I've also included EVERY song that ever made it onto the "Bubbling Under" chart. These are songs that sold enough to get 'honorable mention' by Billboard Magazine, but never sold enough to make the Top 100.

I've also been adding songs that have appeared on the sales charts from other countries around the world. You'll hear songs that were 'hits' in England, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Singapore, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and MANY more countries. Some of these songs were never published or played in the USA, but they were certainly influenced their contemporaries. The Beatles didn't just influence a bunch of midwestern garage rock bands in the USA -- they influenced musicians in every corner of the planet -- and they STILL do!

MusicMaster Oldies also contains a whole bunch of songs that NEVER made it onto a record sales chart or radio station playlist. These are songs that could have been hits, and maybe should have been hits, but for whatever reason they were overlooked. How could that happen? Well, don't look now, but it's STILL happening today! Many artists don't get the credit they deserve because they haven't been 'discovered' yet. They may not have been promoted well enough. There are so many factors that go into this that it would be impossible to list them all here. For example, some artists were rejected by the record companies or radio programmers because they 'sounded too much' like some other artist who was already making hit records. In the 50's, if you sounded too much like Elvis, it was a problem. In the 60's, if you sounded too much like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, the record companies may not sign up your band, or the radio stations might not play your records. I'll be the first to admit that many of the songs I've added that were never 'hits' are the result of my personal, subjective opinion. But, I'm also guided and influenced by the collective tastes of others who, like me, have rediscovered the music of the 50's and 60's and are now busy restoring rare old vinyl records, pressing them on CD's and selling them to 'new fans' all over the world.

There are also songs on MusicMaster Oldies that were never hits back then, but have since found huge fans in strange and interesting places. One such group of songs is known as Northern Soul. These are usually uptempo R&B non-hit songs from the USA that are great 'club' records. They're great for dancing! But, many of them were never played on the radio. The owners of clubs in northern England came over to the USA and started digging through piles and piles of discarded records in bargain bins and resale shops searching frantically for buried treasure they could play in their clubs back home. The regulars at these clubs loved the songs. They had the 'sound' of the 60's, but they were 'new' because they'd never heard them before. It was like going back in time to discover more great songs and artists from those years.

MusicMaster Oldies is currently playing 109,766 songs. More are being added every week, sometimes as many as 200 a week. Coming up, I'll explain how these are scheduled by MusicMaster, the music scheduling system, to create the unique and ever-changing playlist you hear on MusicMaster Oldies. In the meantime, please enjoy the music!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New Player Widget

Today I added a Live365 player widget (upper right) that lets you tune in MusicMaster Oldies right from this blog page.

By the way, becoming a VIP member at Live365 lets you tune in a lot more stations, bypass the opening commercials, listen to your presets on your TiVo PVR, and listen on your Apple iPhone with the new Live365 app! It's definitely worth it!

The Live365 iPhone App wasn't working for a short time on the new 3.0 operating system, but that problem has now been fixed. The player is better than ever now! If you have an iPhone, you really should check it out. You can find more info about it in the iTunes Store.

You can listen to MusicMaster Oldies on most smart phones, Windows and Palm powered, using Pocket Tunes.

If you tweet, you might want to follow Live365 on Twitter!

It makes my day to hear from you! So please, if you hear a song you like (or hate) on MusicMaster Oldies, give me a shout out. You can use the Shout Out panel on my Station Page, or just post your comments here.

Finally, if you hear an obscure oldie that you'd like to know more about, please let me know. I'd be happy to tell you everything I know about any song you hear!