Blend In Bias
There is just something about hearing your song on the radio. It is the stuff of childhood dreams. It’s a sign that you’re on your way. It is literally what you call home about… and have someone film and then post to social media so everyone else can see it too. (Content!) Come on, we all know the drill and love the super sweet celebrations from artists when it happens to them.
But there is something else about the experience that’s worth noting. Most songs start to sound like they “belong” on radio when they are being heard on radio.
That probably sounds redundant but it’s true.
New albums and singles roll out every week. With each release comes naysayers and doubters who are convinced that certain songs shouldn’t get played on radio because they won’t fit in. Then, radio starts playing some of those singles. Sure enough, in the company of all the other curated songs, those new releases start to sound like they belong. Even if you’re not a fan of the song at first, with a little bit of familiarity, the benefit of the other songs around it, the station bumpers, DJ intros/outros, and all the rest, many songs start to seem like maybe they really do have place in the current country radio landscape.
There is a major benefit, or some might say bias, to having heard a song actually on the radio. Just being there helps make it blend in and provides a subtle sense of belonging. It doesn’t work with all songs but given the right general production elements and an overall mainstream quality of sound, yeah, it sure seems to help.
When the Highwomen released their debut project, they brought a sound that was a blend of Americana, mainstream country, and nostalgia. Almost immediately, people started saying it wouldn’t work on mainstream country radio. So, we wondered whether it would work too. It did have a unique sound. That was obvious playing it in an isolated context: through our phones, cars, speakers. But then we heard it on mainstream radio sandwiched right between two other songs on the current country chart. Guess what? It fit right in. In fact, it was a welcome reprieve from the overbearing similarity of a lot of what else is offered right now. Any number of artists have benefited from the same blending in ranging in approach from Stapleton to Sam Hunt.
Radio can carve out new lanes as long as its decision makers commit to those airplay choices. The only trick is that radio has to actually give them enough of a chance to make an impact.
Note: This is another way new music surveys tend to let us down as reliable evaluation tools. We’ve talked about that before but isolation invites increased scrutiny. Think about decorating a room. If someone shows you a fully decorated room, you take it a face value. The room is what it is. It has been presented to you as one cohesive unit. However, if someone were to isolate from the room one decorative pillow, set it in another room out of context, and ask you to come evaluate whether this particular pillow might look good in a room like the one they’re decorating, you’re more likely to be overly critical of that particular pillow. You’d likely weigh its merit against an immediate first impression or a ingrained (familiarity) bias. Hearing a song, a certainly hearing it repeatedly, on radio places it in the room. It becomes part of the whole of country music (radio offering) that just is.