Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016: Country's Top 10 Songs, Top 5 Artists, and 5 Thoughts for 2017

We’ve made a list and checked it twice (actually, it’s more like a dozen times).

The “list” is our annual A&O&B Top Songs and Artists of the Year list for the year 2016.

Each year we create our research-driven list using a formula heavily weighted by our online and callout data, and data rankings for every song we played and tested for at least six weeks.

Getting right to it, here is A&O&B’s Top 10 for 2016:

Rhett, Thomas
Die A Happy Man
Swindell, Cole
You Should Be Here
Florida-Georgia Line
Bentley, Dierks
Different For Girls
Bryan Luke w/Karen Fairchild
Home Alone Tonight
Rhett, Thomas
Hunt, Sam
Make You Miss Me
Swindell, Cole
Middle of a Memory
Bryan, Luke
Huntin' Fishin' and Lovin' Everyday
Bryan, Luke

The Songs:

This year we could use "contrast" to sum up a lot of what we saw: many songs showing higher Like A Lot  scores yet lower Total Positive scores.

The Like A Lot average for the 88 songs we tested improved compared to last year.  However the Total Positive scores for the Top 1/3 of the best Like A Lot testers tied a six-year low. 

Also troubling this year was the decline in the percent of songs scoring well enough to be retained in one of our recurrent categories. In fact, the percent of 2016’s currents that went on to recurrent is the lowest percent since we began tracking this metric.

This should generate a number of thinking points.

The Artists:

Meanwhile on the artist front, based on our Top Songs of 2016, Luke Bryan was A&O&B’s Top Artist of the year. He placed the three songs (including his duet with Karen Fairchild) in the Top 10.

Rounding out our Top Five Artists for 2016 were Thomas Rhett, Carrie Underwood, Florida-Georgia Line and Keith Urban. With two songs in the Top 10, Cole Swindell had a strong year as well.

We always track the impact of New Artists, particularly those that break through with top testing songs – something that’s never been easily accomplished.

Without getting into speculation about why that may be, the fact remains that historically our Top 1/3 contains scant few first timers. This year is no exception as just three artists - William Michael Morgan, Maren Morris and Chris Stapleton – had songs that finished in the Top 1/3.


“We don’t have enough tempo songs!” was oft echoed in programming’s hallowed halls this year. In fact, one label was quick to point this out as they worked a non-ballad.

And yes, at least as far as the Top 1/3, there were a lot of ballads.

It was the second strong year in a row ballads have had. Four of the top five songs both this year and in 2015 were ballads. Top 10 ballad presence was strong too with ballads accounting for 6 of the Top Ten testing titles (seven last year, five in 2014, four in 2013 and three in 2012)

Whether the higher number of top testing ballads is coming from stronger ballads and/or story-lines, listener tempo saturation, or other issues, for the second year in a row and fourth time in six years, ballads indexed higher than non-ballads when it came to the percent of songs that tested in the Top 1/3.

Five Things to Do in 2017
  1. While an up-tempo presentation – music, talent, quick fun, etc. makes for a highly listenable station, don’t fear ballads; they have tested very well especially over the past few years.
  2. Give fresh consideration to the number of currents you’re playing and to their exposure. Similarly, review how you’re managing Recurrents.  Balance "churn" and "burn."
  3. Absolutely play today’s Core Artists but, as a current-based format, we need to develop the next group of Superstars to augment our current list (many of whom have now been Core Artists for a decade or more). But be selective; embrace those that polish your brand.
  4. Giving appropriate exposure to high passion songs while taking lower Total Positive scores into consideration will be a challenge in 2017.  Weekly, LOCAL music research is your secret weapon.
  5. Music coding will be critical as programmers need to manage higher passion/lower positive songs as well as control for the six different genres of music the format has. Revisit your existing coding and rules to make sure they reflect the current music landscape and work together to give you the sound you seek.

Thanks for the read.  Anytime in the coming months that you feel like having a conversation about the country format, your station, talent, or radio in general, we hope you’ll ring us up.

And, as we roll into another year, the entire A&O&B team wants to pass along our warmest wishes for health, happiness and success!

Read about 2015’s Top Songs and Artists here.

Read about 2014’s Top Songs and Artists here.

The extended Client Only version can be accessed here  (password required).

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