Friday, December 27, 2013

Country Music 2013: The Top Songs, Artists, and Stats

If we were talking about wrestling, Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan would have been the Tag Team of the Year.

While that’s one of the few awards Country doesn’t have yet, Blake and Luke do win our award for best A&O&B chart performers of 2013.

The Songs

Driven by our weekly research, here is how A&O&B’s Top 10 for 2013 shaped up.

The Artists

2013 was another great year for Blake Shelton. He not only placed three songs in our top 30, all were in the top 10 including the number one song “Boys 'Round Here.”

This is the second time that Blake has had three songs reach our top 10 (he did it in 2011 as well) and the fifth time overall that this has been done by a single artist in the past 10 years: Blake as we noted in 2013 and 2011, Luke Bryan in 2012, Zac Brown Band in 2010 and Toby Keith in 2003.

Meanwhile Luke Bryan had three songs in the top 30 including two in the top ten plus song 24 for the year - the Jason Aldean-Luke Bryan-Eric Church title, "The Only Way I Know."

Jason Aldean, Lee Brice, Eric Church, Florida-Georgia Line, Tim McGraw and The Band Perry each placed two songs in the top 30.

90% of the Top 1/3 titles in 2013 were by Millennial Artists. Those of you who follow our Roadmap studies know that in February this year we detailed the appeal of various country music clusters with “New Songs from Millennial Artists” being the number one music cluster for multiple demos including 25-54.

While 90% is a big number, new artists didn’t necessarily benefit. In fact, 2013 was a mixed bag for them. Four first-time charters had songs that scored well enough to average a rank of 10.0 or lower (lower is better) during their time as current. However, only one new artist cracked the top 1/3: Tyler Farr. This is just the second time that only one new artist has broken into the top 1/3 on our list since we began tracking this statistic in 2001.

Meanwhile there continues to be minimal chart presence for Historical Superstars. Tim McGraw (2 songs including the “Highway” duet with Taylor Swift) and George Strait (1) were the only Historical Superstars (which we define as core artists with multiple chart hits prior to 1997) to have songs in the top 1/3. For perspective, there were 11 in 2008.

The Stats 

In addition to artists and titles, A&O&B tracks a number metrics. As we usually do let’s look at two: Total Positive and Like A Lot.

Total Positive scores were off for the second year in a row following 2011’s peak. Songs ranking in the bottom 2/3 declined at a slightly greater rate than songs in the top 1/3. We’re looking at higher overall scores than we had for most of the first decade of 2000 but lower scores since 2011. 

The Like A Lot metric was mixed. 2013's average Like A Lot score for our top 1/3 was flat from last year however the average for songs in the bottom 2/3 fell for a second straight time. That drop was big enough to make the gap between the Like A Lot ‘have and have-nots’ the widest it’s been in four years.

Stations whose primary source of music information is tracking spins are vulnerable to a competitor who is tracking their listeners’ tastes.

As we wrote last year, a great programming resolution for the New Year would be to regularly take your listeners pulse on the music you play.  

A&O&B offers client stations online music testing, free, as part of our full service commitment. We’ll be glad to answer your questions about how it works.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Larry Lujack and the Skill of 'Being Real'

Google Larry Lujack and you’ll get roughly 73,000 results.

His passing December 18th generated an outpouring of accolades from listeners and co-workers alike.

I asked Country Aircheck Publisher/CEO Lon Helton about growing up listening to Larry and later working in the same market with him when Lon was at Chicago’s WMAQ.

“He was just so compelling .... you were afraid you'd miss something if you didn't listen.  People today talk about being 'real' on the radio like it's something new that they have invented.  Lujack was as real as it got ... often in full blown curmudgeonry. You had the sense he'd say anything he wanted to on the air ... and you just didn't want to miss it.”

Echoing Lon’s words, many of the tribute pieces cite Larry’s uniqueness, having a point of view (often sarcastic), being himself, and relating to ‘everyman.’ 

In his blog Chicago media expert Robert Feder’s called Larry, “real, relatable and unlike anything (listeners had) ever heard on the radio before.”

There are plenty of references to his kindness off the air as well.

But “real” seems to be one of the most oft-use descriptor of his on air performance.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to hear Larry Lujack on a regular basis. But I did grow up listening to the great talent in New York City (you don’t have to live in a big city to hear great talent) and later got to be part of teams that included radio giants Dan Daniel, Jim Kerr, Cousin Brucie and Scott Carpenter.

They too share the trait of being real and being interesting. They have a point of view, a sense of humor, a deep understanding of who listened and why, an infectious love of what they did, and the ability to simply be themselves in a way that made spending time with them a daily ‘must.’

Their secret sauce: being real without being self-absorbed.

No one really wants to hang out in real life with Cecily Strong’s SNL character the Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party.

But we all want to be in the presence of the Larry Lujacks of the world.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What On Air Talent Can Learn from Actors and "The Sound of Music Live!"

Acting is hard.

If you don’t believe it, look at some of the reviews otherwise-superstar Carrie Underwood has gotten following her performance in “The Sound of Music Live!” on NBC last week. Even members of the actual Von Trapp weighed in

Among other things, great acting involves timing, showing and evoking emotion, always being in character and developing skills for being "in the moment" no matter what.

If you want a textbook lesson from the show, watch Audra McDonald’s riveting performance of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” . In what is arguably the highlight of the broadcast, Audra is not only totally authentic in that you believe she’s sharing from her heart, she's also appears to totally absorbed in communicating her thoughts to Carrie's Maria and is 100% convincing that this is the first time these words have ever come out of her mouth.

How McDonald does do this? The Wall Street Journal asked and got this response.

“Just focus on what Mother Abbess is really trying to do. And what’s she trying to do is give Maria some serious tough love and kicking her out. She’s saying no, you can’t run from your problems. This is opportunity in your life knocking on the door saying here we are. Here is your life. This is your destiny. And I’m not going to let you run away from it because it seems scary. So If I focus on that I think I’ll be okay. If I focus on–”oh this is a hard song, I hope I don’t screw up,” then I’ll screw up.

Be in the moment and focus on your scene mate.

Those are keys according to my actor-daughter who I asked to weigh in on the performance and what a radio talent whether working with a partner or a caller can learn from actors – especially McDonald’s performance in this scene.

“A good actor notices everything their partner does and responds with a point of view backed by how he or she feel about what the other person is saying or even how that person is saying it. Actors look at things and react according to how it makes them feel.”

I asked for an example of how an actor or an air talent could practice something like this.

“Look at a lamp and ask, ‘Do I like this lamp? How do I feel about the color/texture/design? Does it inspire me to want to decorate? Does it remind me of my ex's lamp who I hate and therefore want to pick up this lamp and smash it against a wall?’  That's one way an actor can practice being ‘in the moment.’”

Several years ago talent coach Tommy Kramer and I did a presentation that included several talent sharing tips via videos. “Listen, really listen to what your partner is saying” was one of the tips from J and Julian – then of Chicago’s B96).

Arguably one of Carrie’s best moments was also the “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” scene. Her welled-up eyes looked pretty convincing.

Perhaps she was focusing doing exactly what an actor does: focus intently on what her scene mate – Audra - was communicating. That in turn may have maximized Audra’s own performance.

Maybe none of that was true at all.

But if it was, it really makes the point about the power of listening and responding to the moment.