People Will Do Anything to Alleviate Anxiety

There’s a moment in season 6 of Mad Men, where Draper’s neighbor Dr. Rosen is leaving a dinner with Don and his wife to attend to an emergency at the hospital. Draper is envying Rosen’s life-saving career as a doctor, but Rosen points out the similarity in their jobs as he departs, observing, “People will do anything to alleviate anxiety.”

But, what anxiety could possibly impact media or music choice? In their advertising for the Amazon Fire TV streaming device, Amazon calls it a “Show Hole.” They’re referring to finishing a binge on one show and not knowing what to watch next. We grew up not deciding specifically what to watch on TV, but rather watching the best of whatever was on at the time – the least objectionable alternative.

Now that almost any show or movie could be on anytime we want it – and many are shows and movies we don’t even know about – we’re faced with what psychologist Barry Schwartz has named “The Paradox of Choice” in his 2004 book (and 2005 Ted Talk). With so many choices available, it becomes harder to make any choice at all. Our new radio competitors, Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, etc. are each struggling with ways to help consumers narrow the choices of how to start listening. For these new radio forms, the consumer has to make a choice to start something.

FM music radio has the advantage of having made these choices for listeners. Unlike the new streaming radio choices, listeners can’t skip – they can only switch to another station if they’re unhappy with a selection. But, we make these choices for listeners using years or decades of experience, armed with a variety of different types of research on what songs are appealing to groups of listeners. For many music radio stations, these decisions of what to play and when to play it are the result of hours and hours of discussion and debate.

Yet, radio spends little or no time talking about its painstakingly-crafted playlists and lovingly-massaged music schedules. For listeners, music radio playlists and schedules are a black box, generally misunderstood and often derided for repetition and lack of variety. Maybe that’s the best practice. But, maybe we could build goodwill and engagement by being more transparent.

When we at NuVoodoo have asked listeners how stations should select their music, a few major concepts rise to the top:

  • Listener preference (which is what we gather in music research and never talk about on the air)
  • Requests (which is really another way of getting the preferences of listeners on the air)
  • Popular songs/charts for current-based formats (another way of gauging that listeners prefer)
  • Expert DJ’s/hosts

We’re not advocating sacrificing control of a station’s playlist to the vagaries of requests or solely reflecting charts or rolling back the clock to the days of DJ’s bringing in their own records. We are advocating finding creative ways to position the hard work that goes into station music selection as a positive point of differentiation and a listener benefit. Which of those concepts best fits the expectations of a particular station’s targeted listeners can be determined through research. How to best present those concepts within the presentation of a given station brand is up to the creative minds at the helm.