Beware the “Personal Music Test”

My company doesn’t test music, so you can consider me unbiased.

But I used to test music, and I did it for years. I know the in’s and out’s, the right’s and wrong’s. And I was reminded today of one of the boldest and most overt rip-off’s in the music research business. It is the "Personal Music Test."

For those of you who don’t know the lingo, a "Personal Music Test" or PMT, as it is sometimes called, is an alternative to auditorium testing whereby the research company ships a bunch of Sony Walkmen to field services in your market. Then, listeners are invited to come to the interviewing center at their convenience to listen to and rate the songs, hundreds of songs at a time.

It’s better than the auditorium approach, supporters say, because you get a better sampling of people – the interviewing is spread out over several days and is more convenient for the respondents than the one-night-only auditorium approach. That means you’ll never have a make-up. Oh, and it’s cheaper for you, too!

That’s the pitch.

But here’s what’s unsaid. And, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a fatal flaw.

The most important part of dealing with any field service is supervision. Control. When you attend a music test, you are supervising that test. Mistakes happen, and improperly recruited folks are booted. And every field service knows that cheating is likely to be discovered and punishment is likely to be swift. No such supervision occurs in PMT’s because the research company is never, ever on site.

Although there are plenty – plenty – of completely honest and hard-working field services, cheating remains rampant in the music test research business. In large part because research companies force a very low compensation rate on recruiters. Essentially, these recruiters are incentivized to cheat because they aren’t paid enough not to and because there is no one standing over their shoulder.

"Oh, but we have them sign a statement promising not to cheat," the research company will tell you, and indeed they do. But who is really going to know? Do you really think this kind of signed statement can prevent cheating? Then you’ve never worked in the research business.

The real crime here is that every research company that sells this kind of product knows exactly what the limitations of it are. They know exactly the propensity of recruiters to bend the rules, and they don’t care. They don’t care about what it does to the results, and they don’t care about you.

Because if they cared they’d never sell this product to you.

And if you knew, you’d never buy it.

All research has its limitations, to be sure. And conventional music tests aren’t perfect either. But at least supervision – on-site – is assured. And you can count on your interests – and your investment – being protected.

PMT’s – caveat emptor.

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