Shailesh Kapoor: There’s a music programmer in all of us!

31 Jan,2013

By Shailesh Kapoor


Entertainment tastes vary significantly across individuals. This is evident when we discuss films with our friends and colleagues, and wonder if “something is seriously wrong with them” because they didn’t like a film we simply loved, or vice versa. This applies to television too, where a disagreement over TV serials is sufficient trigger to start a catfight amongst housewives in a research focus group.


Yet, there are unifier movies and serials. It is hard to find someone who didn’t like Barfi or Kahaani. At their peak, Balika Vadhu and Bade Achhe Lagte Hain had no real detractors.


But an area where tastes can vary significantly more than films and serials is music. There are so many distinct factors that can make people like (or dislike) a song. Some prefer fast tempo songs while others tend to like melodies. Some are lyrics-oriented while others are more tune or beat-oriented. Many have their favourite singers and composers, whose work they like instinctively. Then there’s the video of course, which is the “face” to the song and a direct influence on its appeal.


As if all this was not enough, there is a new variable that complicates matters even further: the buzz the song generates. Today, songs are often liked and watched for their “social value”. It is cool to be in the know of what’s creating the buzz. Not knowing the signature step from Fevicol can be social suicide, for example.


Potentially the most subjective job in the entertainment business, therefore, is that of a music programmer. This is the person who decides the song playlist for a music channel or a radio station. This role involves deciding which songs to play, how often and when. A movie programmer who creates the FPC (Fixed Point Chart) for a film channel at least has the support of past ratings. For a music channel, though, the ratings are largely irrelevant, given the short song duration of 2-3 minutes, which makes the ratings highly “chance-prone”.


Having worked closely with several music channels, I have met some very knowledgeable people in the music programmer positions. Invariably, they have sound technical knowledge of music, and have an “expert” view on a song. But incredibly, none of these individuals have the same choices. Their natural preference towards certain types of music reflects in their on-air selection. Barring the latest songs airplay, it is tough to find much in common with the playlists across channels.


These programmers also have to handle some undue pressures at their work. For example, the boss walking upto them and saying: “I have not seen Phir Le Aaya Dil on the channel at all. It is such a lovely song. Why are you not playing it?” Or the exact opposite: “Why are you playing Phir Le Aaya Dil so many times? Young people don’t like these classical music type of songs.”


This is a typical example of the “everyone knows” syndrome – A job that seems so easy that anyone can try his or her hand at it, only because who’s to tell whether it was done well or not.


Ironically though, the consumers do tell, in their own way. Over a period of time, consistent consumer-centric delivery of music can work wonders to the preference created for a channel or radio stations. Of course, achieving this requires investment, commitment and loads of patience.


But in an industry where we live by the week, patience is not much of a virtue today!


Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media & entertainment research and consulting firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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