In this week’s edition of Billboard’s Country Update, friend and editor Tom Roland talked to many radio execs about the Portable People Meter (PPM) and how it has changed the way they program radio. If you’re not aware, the PPM is a device a listener wears to monitor what radio stations they listen to as opposed to the old diary methodology. Much more accurate, even though there are many kinks still being worked out.

But now that PPM has had a couple of years under its belt, there are several trends that radio programmers are finding. Tell me if this one sounds familiar. This is from the Senior VP of Programming at Clear Channel, Jon Zellner. I doubt you’d get anyone higher up the food chain (or smarter) than this guy:

“Most listeners will decide within the first seven or eight seconds how they feel about a non-musical piece of content,” Zellner says. “They’ll decide in the first three to five seconds about a song.”

Let that sink in for a bit. As discussed in my book, flipping thru stations is not a new phenomenon. So someone giving a song five seconds at radio isn’t new. What’s new is that it’s just now being quantified. Also, if you’re like me, when you hear that a listener gives a “non-musical piece of content” nearly twice the length of time to impress you, you first think, “People give commercials more of a chance?” In actuality, we’re talking about DJ banter. What that circles back to is what I say all along: people have a hard time leaving someone talking mid-stream out of guilt. Singing achieves the same effect.

Radio has to be more careful than ever about flipping. Years ago, you flipped and discovered a song mid-chorus on a limited bandwidth of stations. Now, flipping can mean “switch to iPod” or even “streaming radio on your iPhone”. So radio stations who couldn’t afford flippers in the past REALLY can’t afford them now. The potential to leave radio altogether is even greater. So to keep them engaged, they have to snag them at every point. With every song. And that engagement is actually now showing itself at five seconds.

Remember, this article was also printed up in the Country edition of Billboard, where the length of intros has averaged longer than seven seconds (more on that in a later blog post). This means some of the data (and presumably other formats like AC) is coming from the fact that many songs in their playlists have long intros by nature. My instinct is that radio will find adding songs and shifting libraries to tracks with shorter intros will lengthen that three to five seconds to five to seven seconds, just because they’ll be more successful at getting a touch more engagement from getting to vocals faster.

But, once again, outside data and smart industry executives are confirming what I’ve been predicting. And what early adopters of Futurehit.DNA have known for awhile. It’s not too late to learn this and fourteen other tips. Understanding how listeners respond to music is the key to finding better financial success with your music. Now that the short intro is rapidly spreading to radio, how much longer before the other attributes take hold?

(Special thanks to @bbcountryupdate and @billboardglenn for once again helping my ideas take root)

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