Correcting Music Pre-Testing Misunderstandings

I’ve had a couple of reactions to the “Music-Testing Ourselves to Death” piece that represent misunderstandings, and I want to clear those up.

First, despite the title of the piece (which is aimed at attracting attention), I do NOT believe that pre-testing new songs let alone music research of any kind is bad. On the contrary, the historical notion of labels that you can’t pre-test new music is wrong. And without doubt a good fix on the musical tastes of your audience is worth its weight in gold.

What I’m arguing (clearly, I thought) is that HOW we go about doing this for brand-new music is the real issue. And I lay out the approach I’d recommend.

Second, although I point to the obvious notion that online music fans are more “expert” than offline ones this should NOT imply that I believe every station should necessarily do testing of brand new music with their database. Station databases are gathered according to many rules only ONE of which is an interest in the station’s music. This means they’re LESS apt to appreciate the right new songs than a group of listeners who volunteer for that effort because music is their primary interest. Station databases could be built through contests, morning show passion, etc. They could be too small or too “exclusive,” meaning that testing music on these people is the strategic equivalent of applying blinders.

Ideally, the new music testing is done on a national basis – or a regional one – through online sources like Promosquad.

Third, the idea that context is important in testing new music does NOT imply that we therefore can’t test new music (as labels used to argue). Instead it means context needs to be part of what people are evaluating: Name of the song, the artist, photos of the artist, news about the artist, critical reviews, how your friends feel about the song, other songs by this artist, key influences, etc. etc. If it sounds like an artist web page it’s because it could be.

Fourth, you might argue that we shouldn’t test context because on the radio people don’t hear the context, they only hear the song. This is dead wrong. Once a song becomes a hit the context surrounding that song is in every listener’s mind and radio creates the “mental pictures” without any effort on our part. In fact, that’s the primary function of familiarity: to create a mental picture of context. We need to model this if we expect to test something which approximates it.

Finally, what should be evident is that I believe the world of music doesn’t belong in just two testing worlds: Callout (for Current/Recurrent) and Auditorium (for Gold), but THREE: Online (for NEW), Callout (with database, online or on the phone), and Auditorium.

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