Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Day in the Life of The Spectrum

When was the last time you listened to a single pre-programmed radio station for a full day? If you do, any problems with its format will quickly reveal themselves.

My wife and I just returned from our annual August Detroit-to-Minneapolis road trip. Three solid days of driving (in a seven-day excursion), including one blissful day following the Great River Road scenic byway along the Mississippi from Dubuque IA, to Red Wing MN.

Normally SiriusXM's The Spectrum channel competes with Detroit FM station WDET for bandwidth while we're in the car. But for the first day in the wild, we listened to The Spectrum exclusively (12 hours). After that, and after I decided to write this piece, we listened exclusively for two more days. Its "spectrum of rock" format has several problems, for which I offer SiriusXM possible solutions. You're welcome.

Problem: Repitition. The spectrum of rock is neatly packaged into a cycle of artists that is repeated roughly every four hours. We arbitrarily identified the start of the cycle as the song, If I Loved You by Delta Rae. (Co-written by Lindsey Buckingham, IIYL has displaced Bruce Springsteen's Girls in Their Summer Clothes as the saddest song ever. Scroll down to the comments to learn why.) The Spectrum plays a set combination of "new" artists and "heritage" artists during the cycle, and the treatment of each has unique problems.
Solution: There are six cycles in a day. Rather than repeat the same roster of artists in each cycle, venture out to introduce some percentage of different artists in each of the first three cycles, then venture back in the trailing three to come full circle.

Problem: Music Stagnovery. To their credit, SiriusXM includes a healthy percentage of new or emerging artists in The Spectrum programming, addressing the much-discussed music discovery "problem" (a problem that has never plagued me). But they play the one promoted single from any of these artists, reinforced by so-called Spectrum Tastemaker online voting. The discovery process stagnates, leaving the listener in a state of music stagnovery, wanting to hear more from these artists.
Solution: Create a new channel of the so-called Bakers Dozen weekly Spectrum listener favorite artists to showcase additional material.

Problem: Promotion Lockout. So-called heritage artists like Pearl Jam, The Avett Brothers and Elvis Costello are among the tent poles of The Spectrum programming. However, each of these acts has a new album coming out in the next couple months, and the one promoted single from those albums has locked out all other PJ, AB ad EC material (more stagnovery). I've already made my future purchase decision based on the first couple plays (yes, I prefer to own music) — move on.
Solution: Resume regular programming for these artists, and promote the new material as available for free streaming at SiriusXM website. Maybe even free download.

Problem: Stealth Promotion. No matter the time of day or program host, post-play patter for Coldplay included the factoid that the band had recorded a song for the soundtrack of an upcoming movie. And always that Lenny Kravitz extended his acting career with an appearance in the same movie. While sounding folksy and conversational, all the factoids get the convoluted movie title exactly right and include the release date. I know a commercial when I hear one.
Solution: Transparency. "Coldplay programming is made possible by Lionsgate Films, presenting The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, in theatres November 22nd." Works for NPR.

Automakers are already hedging their bets on the long-term viability of satellite radio by including user-customizable internet streaming services like Pandora, Spotify and I Heart Radio in their multimedia infotainment units, as well as content aggregators like Aha Radio by Harman. (The satellite tuner would follow the CD player as the latest one-trick component to be eliminated.) To stay competitive, SiriusXM must either abandon broadcast for internet streaming or find creative ways to add diversity to mass customization.

            Physical-to-Digital Restoration #59            

Artist: Charles Mingus
Title: Mingus Ah Um
Genre: Jazz
Year: 1959

The Penguin Guide to Jazz calls this album "an extended tribute to ancestors" (and awards it one of their rare crowns), and Mingus's musical forebears figure largely throughout. One of my favorite tracks, the oft-covered "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" is a tribute to saxophonist Lester Young, who had died shortly before the album was released. "Self-Portrait in Three Colors" (speaking of the spectrum) was originally written for the John Cassavetes film Shadows about Beat-Era jazz in New York City, but appeared herein for the first time.

© 2013 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.