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Mar 04, 2005 | Articles

People Aren't Spending Any Time Giving Songs A Chance
by Marc Schiffman

With label promotion resources under pressure, it is more crucial than ever for labels to spend radio promotion dollars wisely. To that end, Rick Bisceglia and Guy Zapoleon launched PromoSquad in 2002 as an online research tool to help labels, managers and artists measure the potential success of a song.

Bisceglia is a veteran record promoter. Zapoleon is a longtime radio professional who now consults stations across the U.S. Together they have built a panel of more than 100,000 radio listeners that can log on to the Internet and rate songs.

Rick Bisceglia
Rick Bisceglia
Guy Zapoleon
Guy Zapoleon

Rick Bisceglia Guy Zapoleon

"We take the systems that radio uses to do call-out research," Zapoleon says. "We have profiled these listeners so that we can break out [responses] by any format. We pick songs and play a significant amount of the core part of the song?usually about a minute-and-a-half?a number of times and familiarize the person with the music and then get them to vote."

To gauge reaction to songs they are contracted to research, the team tests them along with the full array of current releases. Every week, PromoSquad feeds the entire schedule of major releases to its database.

All of that information is distilled into the weekly Hit Predictor reports that run in Airplay Monitor and Billboard (see page 54).

"This is a great way to get a look ahead at what's coming down the pike and will work," says John Reynolds, operations manager for top 40 WNKS/AC WKQC Charlotte, N.C. He praises Hit Predictor's use of "today's technology to enhance our ability to pick hits for the radio."

Q: Have there been any surprises from the information you have seen?

A: Zapoleon: All the time. We picked Fountains of Wayne ["Stacy's Mom"]. Bisceglia: There are so many times that things that people didn't expect to be top 10 potential [have ended up] being top 10 potential. "Headstrong" by Trapt. A lot of these things aren't being properly worked or aren't getting the shot by radio, so sometimes they look like they haven't been delivered. But we feel that if anything got its proper exposure, they would do well in call-out.

Q: Those are rock songs. Does that indicate gaps in how top 40 deals with rock music or how the labels take rock music to top 40?

A: Zapoleon: At the time we picked those songs, that sound wasn't really making it as big on top 40 as it is now. We picked a lot of those songs six months ago, before as many rock records were crossing over as they are now. So, yeah, the labels are changing a little bit, because those are the hits. More and more rock. Bisceglia: And remember, we test everything before it even gets airplay. Zapoleon: We don't sit there and wait for them to get airplay. These songs are songs that we oftentimes test way before a sound is popular. We found, for example, the pop-punk sound, with Simple Plan and acts like Good Charlotte. We were finding that sound was going to be popular six months to nine months before it was.

Q: So should a smart label executive or radio programmer look beyond the song to a larger trend?

A: Bisceglia: When all these records like Good Charlotte, All-American Rejects and Simple Plan were targeted as male-formatted records, we saw that they had more hit potential at a certain point at [traditionally female-leaning] top 40 than they did at [a traditionally male-leaning] alternative, which proved to be true.

Q: What challenges do you see for radio and the labels in the coming year?

A: Bisceglia: Hopefully, the radio stations will be up for some constructive challenges on the music they're playing and not be premature to dump a record before it gets to its full potential. A career can be destroyed by that. It's the same thing that we've been talking about for 20 years. But now it's at a critical stage, with research being all over the place, from call-out on the phone to call-out on the Internet. A radio station should look at all the different things [to make] sure that they're not dropping a record or not giving it fair share. Zapoleon: For the first time in almost 20 years, I am seeing that traditional call-out is really a flawed product. Five years ago I would have shot myself for saying this, because I was a real advocate of call-out. But with the [national do-not-call list] and people not answering their phone for telemarketers, you're really not getting an average sample when you do [traditional] call-out anymore. So, to chime in with what Rick said. Literally, every month I see a song that the label gives up on, because radio has given up on it. Meanwhile, I'm starting to see call-out stories online, which show that the record is a hit. What I've found is that online [research] is always four to five weeks ahead of traditional. So what that means is traditional call-out will be showing in four or five weeks what the online does now. But nobody's going to wait that long. Bisceglia: It also feeds into what we're doing with Hit Predictor. As people look at the Hit Predictor, that should also be part of the equation to start the process. Zapoleon: We've gotten to the point where we think like we did 25 years ago: If we're playing the top 10 songs nationally, then we're playing the biggest hits there are. Hit records aren't just what work in call-out anymore. There are probably 25% to 30% of potential hits being left on the table that are probably better than 50% of what we're playing right now, because people aren't spending any time listening to music or giving songs a chance because of their traditional call-out killing it. Bisceglia: We'll have records that we predict will do well in call-out that have not made it nationally, so it looks like we're wrong. [But] in fact we know records that might not have gone top 10 nationally, but 10 weeks later at the five or six stations playing the song, all of a sudden their call-out or online research finally kicks in. Zapoleon: "Going Under" by Evanescence is a perfect example, where the label started getting programmers telling them that it wasn't a hit. It was "too hard." Meanwhile, they're playing "Headstrong" by Trapt, which is a hard record. But they're saying, "This isn't what we want from Evanescence. It's too hard." As Rick was saying, there were two or three stations that showed on their online research that the song was close to top 10 and had top 10 potential, for sure, if they'd stuck with them. But the label gave up on [the song], and the program directors wanted to move on to "My Immortal." Meanwhile, a hit was left on the table that was probably better than 20 or 30 songs on that station's playlist.

Q: What trends do you see on the horizon from your current research?

A: Bisceglia: We see some of the pure pop stuff that is perceived as not cool right now popping its head up. The Nick Lachey record, for example. There's a record that we called [a hit] that didn't get that much of an airplay shot but could have been as big as a record that was promoted to top 10. Zapoleon: What's funny is that people embraced Jessica Simpson's record and they didn't embrace Nick Lachey's. Online research [indicated the latter] was top 15 at a couple of mainstream top 40s. But I guess the label got discouraged and enough people said, "[There's] no way I'll ever play this." Bisceglia: A lot of it was the radio's perception of the artist. But it looks like some of the pure pop stuff [is coming back]. The people voting on our music, the people that are saying a pure pop record is a hit, are the same people that are saying the same for Trapt. It's a top 40 listener that we're testing.