A musical Christmas Story from Wayne Clouten’s house

Content from BPR

Over the years BPR has published many insightful articles on the subjects of music research, playlist management and music programming strategy all of which has laid the foundation for the world’s most successful music driven radio stations. The science is beyond doubt, the results undeniable. Knowing what your audience likes and playing the songs that create and maintain the optimal level of engagement (passion) is what it is all about. It is a grand, universal truth however I have never seen it played out so clearly and eloquently as I did on my own front lawn during the 4 weeks leading up to last Christmas.

This is my Christmas story…

My family has always put on a Christmas lights display of some sort however this last year we took it to a new covid-lockdown inspired level. To be clear, I was just one of the roadies in this saga, all the technical and programming expertise comes from Cherie, my wife. To set the seen the scale of this year’s show needs to be mentioned. It involved, 2 servers, 2 digital projectors, 6 PC’s, 39 remote power supplies, 3 network switches, 4 bubble making machines, kilometres of cabling and approximately 20,000 programmable RGB lights commonly known as “pixel nodes”.  All this was sequenced to music and broadcast over a low power FM frequency.

The music for the display was carefully selected and represented what I would describe in radio format terms as “The Best Mix of Christmas Classics from Yesterday and Today.”  The display ran for 3 hours each evening from 6:30pm to 9:30pm involving a 1-hour sequence of music which repeated. It was brilliant but there was one problem. We noticed that people only stayed for a song. No one watched the display for any length of time, which after all the hard work involved felt like a bit of let-down.

After consulting our consultant (me) we decided to remove what we felt were the weakest songs. This increased the rotation of the remaining songs however we immediately observed that people were now staying around for two to three songs which was better than before but still below our expectation.

Inspired by the results of trimming the playlist we now reduced the playlist even further resulting in most people now staying around for a full sequence. Social media started to buzz as those that had seen our display started to talk about it and share videos and photographs. At this point I shook my head and smiled, amazed at how basic music programming theory could apply to something as pedestrian as a suburban Christmas lights display.

The final step and what was to become the proverbial icing on the cake was increasing the rotation of the songs that people seemed to like the most.  This resulted in families dancing on our lawn, staying for often two rotations of the display, and leaving hand-written notes of thanks in our letterbox. There were even some people who waited until the end of the evening and applauded.

To be fair the music was a backdrop to the amazing visuals however we had gone from fleeting visitations of our display to families picnicking on the sidewalk all because we tightened the playlist and played the hits.

I have hundreds of statistical charts that demonstrate the effect of strategic music programming, and I can rave about it for hours if you wish but I doubt anything will ever be as powerful an endorsement as the note left in our letterbox below.

By Wayne Clouten, BPR