Ask the Experts: to F10 or not to F10

Radio Today's 'Ask the Experts' is where we pose your questions to a revolving group of industry experts. As always, if there's a question you want to ask (and you can remain anonymous if you like), shoot it through to us here.

The experts this time are a selection of metro Programmers and Music Directors.

And here's the question….

I would love to hear from PDs/MDs on music scheduling, more to the point auto vs hand placed logs.

My PD believes the computer does a better job than what I can do by hand placing, I disagree and would much rather hand place.

Here's what the experts had to say….

Jeff Burzacott : Music Director, Mix 102.3 / Cruise 1323, Adelaide

First, some brutal honesty. There’s only one real reason why your PD might think the computer schedules better than you do: You suck.

Metro Music Directors joke about ‘hitting F10’ on Selector – especially on the Friday before a long weekend. It’s MD code for letting the system autoschedule – which also means dropping the bar a bunch of notches.

A well-designed auto-schedule IS better than a bad Music Director (refer the ‘you suck’ comment above), but the best machine will always lose against a good human. As good as scheduling software is, it is a long way off from being able to replicate all of decisions that go into placing each song.

Music scheduling – just like every single aspect of radio – is a wonderfully messy combination of art and science. Yep, you’ve got a nice tight bunch of songs with killer scores, well-coded to balance all the factors, and a ‘perfect hour’ vision to nail the strategy. Awesome. And the music software does a decent job of covering the BASIC separation, dayparting and balance issues. But can the codes cover you for the thousand nuances that the machine doesn’t see? 

Let’s pick just one example:  Say your clock calls for a 70s and an 80s next to each other (or 90s and noughties etc) …

  • you wouldn’t want a 1979 song next to a 1980
  • you also wouldn’t want the 80s song to be from someone famous for being in a 70s band
  • and the 80s song wouldn’t want to be a cover, as it swings the station too old.

Then there are fuzzy types: is it a poppy rock song or a rocky pop song? A line has to be drawn somewhere, and either song has no business being next to the other. Can the system identify songs that are close to that blurry line between song types? If you start coding for too many tiny variables, the system freaks out. It either settles for something that is a poor compromise or leaves so many unscheduled spots that you might as well have done it by hand in the first place.

And you can’t invent songs. With a tight universe you get to know pretty quickly what options you have in each category and can build each hour so you don’t end up trying to find a song that either doesn’t exist or you know you used yesterday. The computer schedules by numbers. You schedule by ear and foresight.

It’s no different from my triathlon training – you only get back what you put in. The machine is a great tool for guiding your work. It’s also ideal for running highlights and reports afterwards in case you got distracted when someone commented on one of your Facebook status updates.

There IS one exception. Your greatest resource is time. So spend yours where there is the greatest return. An auto schedule for mid-dawns when there are two drunks and a dog listening is fine.

But for prime-time … if you care about your music, choose a human.

 

Adam Williscroft : Assistant Content Director, 2Day FM Sydney

The answer is a music log should be crafted. The Music – bouncing tempo’s, balancing types, showcasing variety through era… then there’s the Formguide – sweeper balance of long/short, integrated vs produced, v/o codes, ad break placement, talk break balance to set up new music etc.

Putting together a perfect hour is an art. A lost art on a lot of stations unfortunately, but you can tell the ones that are practising and perfecting it.

If there is a version of music scheduling software that can marry the art and the science with the press of a button – I’ve not seen it… yet. I know it’s being worked on, but I’ve never seen F10 produce a better log than a great MD.

There are some fantastic features and rules to programs, and you need a bunch of these to be set up correctly so you can still schedule by hand. I would also argue that even a computer scheduled log needs the human touch after it’s been generated.

Ultimately it depends who’s behind the keyboard. Either scheduling by hand, or setting up the rules in the deep, dark, dusty corners of your Selector. Like most things you get out what you put in. Music scheduling is no different.

So your PD believes the computer does a better job? Each CD/PD must have a ‘vision’, and must make decisions.

My first question to your PD would be ‘what is your music vision for the station’? From there you can make the vision tangible, then replicate his/her vision by hand scheduling and prove that you can indeed provide what they are looking for. I would even go one step further, and ask what they don’t like about the ‘computer logs’ and then offer that as well. 

Ultimately you may not change your current PD’s mind, but if you seek clarity on their vision and you are practising the ‘creative art’ you will certainly be ready for that next job opportunity where your thinking will be valued.

 

Amanda Lee : Music Director, 92.9 Perth

I have had experience in scheduling both ways and although auto scheduling may be more time effective and it may give you perfect rotations, it takes away from the creativity and crafting of music scheduling.

As Metro Music Directors, we should be able to do what the computer does in terms of great rotations – our real skills come in when we’re scheduling the perfect day logs in terms of genres, moods, balance and creating those ‘WOW’ moments in each hour.

Sure – it’s all about being on the right songs for our station and having a solid playlist but if we use the good ole’ F10 routine every day, can we really call ourselves true ‘Music Directors?'

 

Ryan Rathbone : Program Director, Mix 106.5, Sydney

Firstly I want to point out that I’m aware of the expectations of regional radio these days, so if I was in a small market with no competition and minimal staff I would see F10 as a great option, provided the rules had been set up properly and you’d taken the time to build / code the database correctly.

However I don’t believe it is the best practice and wouldn’t do it in a competitive market as I don’t believe that the automatically generated logs get even remotely close to the same sound as a hand crafted log, unless you have a really specific genre that you program (like a dance station) where type coding is less critical and you’re just looking to kick around the tempo and rotate the database.

In my opinion the music director themselves is the key. I’ve worked with great music directors who hand place and you can hear when they are on holidays. Same database & same rules, but a different sound.

So if you’re an ordinary music director, your PD might be literally saying the computer does a better job than you, in which case learn another skill or hope your PD is wrong.

 

Jay Walkerden : Program Director, Nova 106.9 Brisbane

I guess every PD/ MD is different when it comes to scheduling. I always believe that finessing every part of the station is something that you do every hour, every break, every day.

It’s really easy to hit F10 and hopefully everything spits out right but you often miss the moment in listeners day where you can reflect a mood, the weather, massive show the night before etc etc.

You may have a song that is researching well but has a very slow feel, do you really wanna hear that at 3pm on a Friday when the weekends around the corner?

Often we will have a song that just doesn’t feel right at a certain time. If we didn’t finesse this by hand we would miss these moments to reflect our listeners, that’s I guess what we are paid to do.

To use a shit pizza analogy you can have a great base but it’s the extra’s that you put on the top that make it special. I Love pineapple on mine …..

Any thoughts? Leave your comments below.

And as usual, if you have a question you want to ask our revolving group of experts (they come from all area's of radio), let us know here and we'll get it sorted for you.

 

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