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Mar 04, 2005 | Articles

Promo Squad: It's Not A Jingle Package - It's Hit Music Radar!
by Steve Rivers

In a galaxy far, far away and a long time ago ... before there was BDS and MediaBase, programmers like me would do competitive SWAT. It was a competitive playlist analysis using primitive means like cassette radio recorders with timers set to go off every two minutes. Basically it would record snippets of songs. These snippets then be typed into lists, with all the plays calculated for spins and placed into what were thought to be Hots, Mediums, New and Gold categories.

In the year 2003 ... We've come a long way baby. Spins are just a click away. Not only just for your market competitors, but also by format across the country and around the world. If you dig this sort of thing, then you're going to love what I think is a terrific secret programming weapon. The first time I saw it, I liked it so much that I invested in the company (just presenting full disclosure).

This is not an advertisement, but it's an endorsement as an effective stealth weapon for programmers and music directors like you. The company: Promo Squad. Anyone who knows me, knows that the only thing I like better about playing hits, is finding them before anyone else. This is what Promo Squad does for labels and what does for radio.

Rick Bisceglia, Doug Ford (who comes from a record production background having worked in the studio with people such as, Shania Twain, Ron Wood, Keith Richards, Puff Daddy, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck, and Mavis Staples), Bob Smith in the IT department and Guy Zapoleon make up the Promo Squad and the teams. This week we'll be speaking with Rick Bisceglia to find out how the system came together, how it works and how it can work for you.

Steve Rivers: Rick, the one thing I can honestly say about you is that you always believed that a programmer's time is a precious commodity. You never wasted time promoting me on stiffs. You were all about the hits and I've got to believe that you received that training from being in radio. Programming legend Bobby Rich clearly trained you well!

Rick Bisceglia: Yes ... having a background at both radio and the labels has always given me an understanding and passion for both sides of the business. I think it helps me appreciate how important the hits are to all involved and on many different levels. Now, with this new business, I'm able to take this understanding and put it to use in helping out both sides.

SR: Tell me about Promo Squad first and then we'll dig deeper to find out how PDs and MDs can use as a secret weapon.

RB: Basically, is a huge nationwide database of regular people. They get to rate new music and participate in polls online and really make themselves heard. They know they are making a difference by helping out and they love it. They are our listeners, and we constantly strive to keep things fresh and interesting. Most importantly, the end result is that they are answering questions that labels and radio have about songs and artists ahead of time ... pre-market. In some cases they validate programmers' and labels' instincts and decisions and in many others, they offer truly great insight and surprises.

SR: I know you've been able to switch song choices for a label based upon what you were seeing in the Promo Squad research. Can you give me a few examples?

RB: Well, because we never break confidentiality with our clients, I don't want to be too specific, but I will say that many of the records that have reached top 10 in multiple formats over the past year were because labels paid attention to our predictive research. They initially picked or switched to these singles because of our results.

SR: So, while the Promo Squad research is available only to record labels, if you see a song scoring above 70, you think it has the ability to go top 10, top 5?

RB: Yes, in our system basically a score of 70 and above means that it has top 10 potential. We determine that number because we test everything impacting at radio. We know what the benchmark is. That's not to say that a song that scores a little better than top 20 won't work with all the other elements (press, touring, video, etc) working in its favor, which is the kind of insight we also share with the labels. But to your question, yes 70 and above is an almost guaranteed top 10 charter.

SR: What kind of score does a number one hit have to be with Promo Squad?

RB: Of course there are those cases where we'll see songs that score through the roof ... well beyond the cutoff scores for top 10 potential. Avrils' "I'm With You", Christina's "Beautiful," Three Doors Down "When I'm Gone," Evanescence "Bring me to Life" ... these are a few examples of songs that looked amazing in prerelease testing and eventually went on to No. 1.

SR: Your predictive list is available in the Billboard Airplay Monitor?

RB: Yes. In addition to helping labels that hire us in advance to help pick their singles, we also test nearly every song that is released to radio once a label has picked their single and decided upon an impact date (whether we were hired or not). We have a weekly HitPredictor chart in the Airplay Monitor and a website in which we show songs just impacting at radio with Top 10 potential. It is important to realize that in this process we see bad news too that we just don't print a lot of people mistakenly think that we only give the good news, because they see the hits we predict in the Monitor chart and at and not the misses. But remember we test everything.

SR: How does it stand up against the regular Billboard charts, which are based upon sales and spins?

RB: Obviously radio audience and sales are a result of a song's hit potential, which we believe we predict quite well. We have not directly tied sales into our song testing results, but I can tell you that we are in the process of making that happen in a big way.

SR: Now, switching gears. If I'm a PD, how much can help me each week?

RB: With tons of music to choose from on a weekly basis and with these choices being made by artist perception, record company pushes, research made after airplay and mostly based on gut ... here is a tool that Guy Zapoleon and I have put together that will help show you how a song will perform for you in advance. We're happy to hear that more and more programmers are using us everyday in their decisions on what goes on the radio.

SR: Would the same scoring apply?

RB: Yes absolutely. Our scoring applies in all situations, the Monitor chart, is what we give labels.

SR: How many songs do you run through the Promo Squad research each month?

RB: We literally test hundreds and hundreds of songs each month ... impacting singles, album cuts, major labels, indie labels, unsigned stuff, recurrents ... it's unbelievable how much information we have at our fingertips on a daily basis. And it's not just song testing results either, we also use our database to conduct polls and perceptual studies. I can log in at anytime and see all kinds of things happening live that would blow your mind. It never ceases to amaze me.

SR: These people are music freaks with no radio station bias and they are screened very carefully?

RB: Not necessarily "music freaks," but they are very "radio friendly." We screen them very carefully. This is where Guy Zapoleon and Bob Smith are really amazing. They work daily to make sure our database is relevant and properly screened.

SR: How carefully, without giving away trade secrets.

RB: We have all kinds of detailed checks and balances; systems that qualify the people we use for the eventual end results of each test. And they are not just let in after being screened once, but are constantly checked to make sure they are voting within their formats correctly, with no conflicts. I can honestly say that we have the most balanced and accurate database around.

SR: Doug Ford, who comes from a music production background, oversees the production of each song "hook" which is more than the typical 7-second snippet used in callout. Tell me about this.

RB: Yes, it's also a really important part of our system. How can anyone get real results by using a 7 second clip of music? To me that's just bull. We put together professional quality mini-versions of each song with multiple listens before voting.

SR: And I can access by simply clicking and if I want to vote on songs myself, I go to

RB: Right, that's all you have to do and it's fun if you're really into music.

SR: Anything else you want to add?

RB: I think that covers it. Thanks Steve for the opportunity.