Country Radio Seminar: Radio Pros and Attendees Attempt to Pick Some Hits

Above: Easton Corbin, the only artist that all four of the panelists thought deserved an add

Perhaps more than ever, it’s harder to find a consensus on what a hit song may be in country radio. “That’s because there are just so many good songs out there,” said Becky Brenner, with Albright & O’Malley & Brenner consulting.

During a panel discussion Friday billed as a “real life music meeting” at the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, panelists and audience members listened to, and rated, ten new country singles. The goal was to choose which two you would add to your radio station’s playlist, and audience members got to join the discussion and play along to see how their choices stacked up with the panelists’.

Only one song, Easton Corbin’s “All Over the Road,” would have been added by all four radio panelists -- John Paul, vice president of programming at Dial Global, Bruce Logan with Clear Channel, Marci Braun at WUSN, Chicago, and Becky Brenner.

“Everything I do is balance. Every week, I look at new music and try to add one for the cume, and one for the core,” said Dial Global’s Paul. “Sometimes I need ballads, sometimes I need up-tempo, sometimes I need baby acts; sometimes I need stars.”

The audience took part with hand-held meters, using them to respond to 30-second hooks played in the room for each of the ten songs. The meters rated whether the respondent liked or didn’t like each hook, with real-time results displayed on the screen at the front of the room. Some respondents liked songs less as the end of the hook neared, some liked songs more. And while the panelists all agreed that the Easton Corbin song would have been one of two adds out of the ten songs chosen for the session, the audience results showed the Corbin song was not a shoe-in; it was tied for the second add-slot with Charlie Worsham’s “Could It Be.”

For the four radio panelists, there was no consensus on what would be the second add. Dial Global’s John Paul and consultant Becky Brenner chose “Better” by Maggie Rose. Paul said the song fulfilled his need for a “new” act, while Brenner called herself a “lyric person” and likes the song’s meaning, while also touting the depth of the project having previously heard other Maggie Rose music. WUSN’s Marci Braun chose “He Loves to Make Me Cry” by Kristen Kelly, saying that it’s a “shorter song,” and “we believe in her, and we want to grow her brand.”  Clear Channel’s Bruce Logan chose “Aint’ Easy” by Rachel Farley, noting that she puts on a good live performance, and her sound really works in the Southeast.

The top vote-getter for the audience using the meters was a song the panelists didn’t chose for either of their two slots for new music: “Don’t Ya” by Brett Eldredge.
Braun quickly spoke up, saying “We’re already on it.”

Still, it’s clear that when it comes to how a new single makes the playlist at any one country radio station, there are a number of factors, and always have been.
An artist visit to the station can be really important.  “The good ones separate themselves,” said Logan.

Programmers also reiterated that a good live performer will get points when the single comes out. When asked about sales, including iTunes downloads, Braun called this information “another tool in the tool kit.” Song type (traditional, rock, etc.) and whether an artist’s tour is coming to town also play a part.

“It’s a challenge because anyone can take a song and play it enough and make it a hit, but you just can’t play everything,” said Brenner.