Today I spent some time working on playlists under iTunes. It didn’t actually take too long; only a few albums (records? directories? whatever it is in these newfangled times) in my iTunes library were suitable for the occasion (a wedding reception) so I didn’t have to decide what to keep and what to leave out. Well, until I got to the naughty soul songs. But more on that some other day!
I did start trying out to have the typical “band show” progression for the playlist that I think most radio stations use as their algorithm for song choices in a day part. I know on stage bands like to start out with a high-energy well known song, and then another high-energy song, but then the third cut is kind of off-topic: a way to change to the middle of the show. If you have enough of a repertoire then you pick an old song that is medium tempo, or you play a cover that fits that criterion. The middle of the show needs a bit of a lull, so you try out new material there. Then around the sixth or seventh song you play a big hit again but switch immediately back to new stuff (hey, maybe it will stick). The crucial bit is the 10th, 11th, and 12th songs; those are the ones that people are thinking about leaving on, so you play great songs with lots of energy. And save a big number for the encore. Radio stations do roughly the same thing scaled to a two or three hour span divided up into chunks rotating around commercial breaks.
So the algorithm is big, big, lull, big, lull, big, big ,big. But I was planning out six hours of music (two is the minimum for a dinner, and six to be safe in case the party keeps on keepin’ on). I just couldn’t try to figure out a good pattern for 12-14 songs an hour. Maybe I should add commercial breaks?
So I tried out Apple’s Genius Mixes or Playlists, but it was too hard to get the lists just right because I think the genres for some of the songs in my library were a little off. It’s no good when Marvin Gaye suddenly is followed by a Slayer song. I didn’t know they were country.
I think it is interesting nowadays when I see companies like Zynga or Blizzard using psychological manipulation techniques that the music business have been using for years. The principles of gamification are the same as the ones when a DJ teases your favorite song right before the commercial break. String along the addict so that they will remain exposed to the product the maximum time. The longer you are exposed to the product, the more likelihood you will spend money. This is the only way a free service can make money, and radio has pretty much always been free (until Sirius and XM appeared). Radio had to learn all the lessons of time spent listening decades ago, but game designers are just now implementing those lessons in games for time spent playing. I wonder why the music business isn’t applying the same devilish cleverness they used in the past eight decades to their on-line businesses? They would rather just sue.