One of the first things we do when we start working with a new radio station is take a good hard look at their music scheduling system and how the rules are set up. Most radio station databases have had many different sets of hands in them which often results in a mish mash of rules, which in some cases fight each other. Also, unless you have a firm understanding of how the software should be set up to meet the strategic goals of the radio station, it is sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees. This article cannot hope to give you all the answers, but I will share some of the tricks and tips that may improve the rules you have in operation which will likely result in a better sounding radio station. I find myself using MusicMaster for Windows in more and more radio stations these days, so I will refer to some of the tools available in this software. However, if you use RCS or Powergold many of the same tools are available but they may be under a different name.
The Hard Rules: The process of setting rules should always begin with the hard rules. These may also be known as the unbreakable rules or the most important rules. Rules such as artist separation keep the same artists from playing too close together. Minimum separation rules keep the same song from playing too frequently while play offset window will prevent a song from playing at the same time the following day. You can now enforce stronger day-parting rules to ensure that songs do not ever play in the same quarter hour. In the past, you could only stop the song from playing in the same hour, but with tighter rotations it might be fine for that song to play in the first quarter hour one day and the third quarter hour when it plays next. Song history rules, hour rotation rules, and day offset window rules will also help ensure songs are not playing at the same time every day. The sliding day offset window will allow you to keep songs from playing within a certain window of time to offer even more protection. If you have a category that turns over slower than a day you should use the “play offset window” rule instead. Shift Rotation will also force a song to play in a specific number of shifts before it can play again in the same shift. Next you need to look closely at the attribute rules which can force or prevent similar sounding songs from playing too close to each other. Say for example you wanted to keep the “country” sounding titles well apart from each other on an AC station; You would do this by moving the time separation rule into breakable or unbreakable folder and setting a time. If you wanted to force a specific number of core songs into an hour you can achieve that by using the minimum/maximum quota rule.
Make Use Of The Rule Tree: I find that most radio stations do not have enough rules in place, perhaps because the end users do not fully understand how to set up the rules in the first place. I firmly believe the more rules you have active and the harder the system is working, the more likely the end result will be a better sounding radio station. Anyone who uses a music scheduling system should be familiar with the concept of unbreakable and breakable rules, but did you know in Music Master you can create multiple breakable rule folders? This allows you to have your most important breakable rules in folder one and your less important breakable rules in folder two etc. Another good trick is making use of the “rule group” tool. Say for example you have a number of different energy rules within your breakable rules area. Chances are they will be scattered thought-out the breakable rule tree which can be confusing and makes the rule tree look complicated. By dragging all these similar rules into a single rule group and naming that group appropriately (in this example you might name it “Energy Group Rules”). You then set the property of this rule to determine what happens if one of the energy rules are broken. I prefer to set the system so it tests the rule as if they were not in a rule group, but I know others who feel it is better to set it up so if one of the rules fails it will move onto the next song. You can set the rule to apply only in the automatic scheduling tool, all the time, or only when in the manual edit mode. You can also day-part a rule group so if you wanted a more up tempo sounding station in AM and PM drive you can achieve this by creating day-parted energy rules. Lastly, you can decide what categories you want to apply the rule to or exclude this rule from. If you want to hard wire your short power current categories you would want to exclude them from testing and this is a simple way to achieve this. Another way to turn on or off rules is to click on the “rule tree “properties within Music Master and set the categories this rule will be excluded from. You would want to do this if you wished to created category specific rules. Chances are you will want different rules for your non music elements such as jingles, promos and sweepers.
When the rules are set up properly, this should lead to less time spent editing the log. However, a computer will never get it totally right, so the final grooming of the log should always be done by the MD or PD. But when the rules are not set up properly or they conflict with each other you can end up with lots of unscheduled positions and that frightens many PD’s or MD’s who may be juggling multiple tasks or scheduling music for several stations. This often results in the person who schedules the music spending many hours each day hand editing the log. This is not the best use of manpower or the investment the station has made in the software, so getting your software set up properly and making effective use of the rules will save hundreds of hours over the course of a year. Here is a tip; if you spend more than 60 minutes each day editing a log, then your rules are not properly set up, and you should get some outside help to get things fixed.
The Software Is Getting Smarter: MusicMaster offers a “Rule Tree Wizard” which you can run at any time and the software will make suggestions on ways to fine tune your rules based on the way you have the software configured, your clocks and category sizes. You may find you have the minimum rest rules set too high on some categories, or your artist or title keyword separation is too tight or too loose, or you need to adjust some of your offset rules. If you find you are getting lots of unscheduled positions this is a great tool to help pinpoint what is causing these problems. This can be found in Dataset/Rule Tree and then click on the Wizard wand.
Optimum Goal Scheduling: Instead of picking the first song that happens to pass all your rules, OGS tests all the available songs and then figures out which is the best song using a weighted scoring system. This first appeared in version 3 of Music Master and is based on common sense goals such as ensuring a song plays in as many different hours as possible before it plays in that same hour again. This works category by category, and given the thousands of computations the system needs to make will result in a longer scheduling time, but the log edit process should be much shorter. There are lots of different goals you can drag into a category, but for this example we will use Optimum Song Rest goal. When Music Master is scheduling a song it looks at when the song played last so something that played recently will have a low score but the most rested songs will have a higher score. Optimum Keyword Rest is a great way to allow the computer to find the perfect separation for each artist. The traditional way a scheduling system works is that it digs through the most rested songs until it finds a song that passes all the rules. That’s okay, but with this tool the software looks at all the songs in the search depth, and selects the song with the highest score, which should, in theory, be the best song.
Artist Keyword Separation Wizard: This tool will tell you what the perfect separation is for every artist in your database. Chances are you have set your artist separation values by each category, but with this tool the software looks at every artist in your database and the categories in which each song is located. It then comes up with a value for each artist. If you accept the suggested separation durations you will see a much better spread of artists in the hour. If you are not using Optimum Goals scheduling and prefer to use Artist Separation hard rules this is a great way to ensure your artists are kept well away from each other. This can be found in Dataset/Library/Keywords/Tools.
Finding Out Why A Song Is Not Being Scheduled: One of the common issues we see at radio stations is that a percentage of the active library is not getting played, especially when some of the categories are rather fat. You can find out why a particular song did not play right in Library Maintenance. Simply right-click on a song and select Scheduling Recap, then Current Song. You will see a list of all the times the song came up for consideration in the last schedule run and what, if any, rules the song failed. If you’re reviewing category plays and see a song has less plays than you’d expect, this is a quick way to see why the song failed. Be aware that this only shows the last schedule run, so you may have to review this several times, but it should give you a good idea of what is preventing the song from scheduling. If you don’t see the report, the next time you auto schedule a log, go to the Options tab and make sure “Save Thinking Process To Disk” is checked.
Listening To The Log Before It Goes To Air: These days you can have the software play the music segues, so you can hear how they will sound on the air. Your automation system may also offer the same tools. Media Touch for example allows you to preview the audio sequeways through their log tools module. This is a great way to fine tune the final product and isolate the potential train wrecks before they occur on the air.
Conclusion: Clearly I have only scratched the surface of what today’s music scheduling software is capable of. If you aren’t sure whether your system is running properly, we have the experts to assist you. Feel free to call and inquire how ByrnesMedia can work with your station. Our toll free number is 1-866-332-1331.