In the music radio business we spend a goodly portion of time reporting on music genre. What percentage of the playlist is hip hop, how many pop tracks do we play, is house considered dance and is EDM only the kind of music you hear at Ultra or is it any electronically generated music?
Things like that form part of weekly and monthly reporting in radio. After 5FM’s annual music industry conference that took place on Friday, I find myself questioning why this is still part of our business as music media professionals.
Genre reporting is required by ICASA due to the fact that music radio licenses stipulate and address genre in order to carve out space for different kinds of radio stations in South Africa so as to meet a variety of national needs and tastes. However it has occurred to me increasingly that genre, like demographics, is just another meaningless box that we carry forward from legacy rather than a useful tool to understand audience needs.
As business owners a sizeable part of our jobs is the strategic version of boxing and labelling. We segment audiences and we group people using factors we believe determine their identity and their buying choices. We put presentations and reports together based on how we can make sense of the data we have on our markets and we try to make them manageable to a variety of stakeholders. We put people in boxes, call them ‘reference consumers’ and we market, programme, develop and report on those boxes. What we forget is that those boxes were created by us in business, not by consumers themselves.
Fighting to get out of boxes
In addition to this, qualitative research suggests that most radio listeners are unsure about which genre songs belong to. Their reactions are more related to their perception of genre rather than the mechanics and tempo of the song itself. For example electronic music or EDM is believed by most to be fast-paced electronic music listened to by muscular white jocks in places where a cut-off jean pant is acceptable outdoor attire. It is, however, inclusive of all electronic music including slower paced house music, a ‘genre’ made locally famous by the likes of DJ Kent and Black Coffee.
In today’s self-centric prosumer space people increasingly fight to get out of the boxes we put them in and into the boxes we try to extract them from. I can see this very clearly in my own strategy at 5FM. We don’t believe in demographics when it comes to a great radio product. All black people are not the same, all women do not have the same music tastes and all people between the ages of 16 and 24 do not have the same ambitions for their lives. When we can put The Dirty Skirts and Desmond and the Tutus on the same stage as Jimmy Nevis and Black Coffee, we can see it in front of our eyes the mixed demographics of the attending audience (#CTLiveLoud).
Mood not genre
Further to that, people have the power and the platforms to create a unique identity for themselves through social media. We call this ‘acculturation’ – the adoption of different cultural elements based on experience and exposure. Standing out from the crowd is the most sought after status for anyone online. FOMO has turned into FOBI (fear of being irrelevant).
It seems counter intuitive and vaguely prejudicial to suggest that people can’t cross genre and enjoy a playlist comprising anything from AKA to Katy Perry. If we look at global music streaming services, playlists are developed based on mood rather than genre. We work out to different music than we listen to when we are enjoying sundowner cocktails. I discussed this with my music industry stakeholders over the weekend and we all agreed that our inheritance of a British or American way of classing and reporting on music was just that, an inheritance. We as radio industry professionals need to develop new ways of reporting and communicating music genre. Boxing something as powerful and unifying as music is like trying to lasso a cloud.