Regardless of how songs are scheduled, consistent coding goes a long way to a great-sounding radio station. Managing the music library is one of the most agonizing tasks for a programmer. It’s also one of the most important. Music tempo coding is probably the most critical of the hundreds of settings in your music software. This is where you usually should start in setting up your library.
Keys To Getting Tempo Coding Right
Programmers tend to overthink certain things, and music coding is one of those things. We tend to think that each should be used just because the software includes options for tempo, mood, sound code, texture, and more. However, too much coding and too many rules complicate the music architecture and paralyze the software.
Start with tempo, then build other traits one by one. Here are the most important considerations for building a better music flow with tempo coding.
Set The Criteria
Setting the musical tempo of the song is pretty easy. Use Beats Per Minute (BPM). BPM is exact but can be misleading. Some songs may have a relatively fast BPM tempo, but the overall feeling of the song is slower.
It gets subjective if your tempo criteria are to consider the overall feel of the song. That’s fine. Use your expertise to adjust the settings. But use only your expertise. This is not a group effort. One person should do all the coding. Listen to input and opinions, but one person must be in charge of all coding, or the library will be schizophrenic.
Recommendation: Set music tempo coding by the actual BPM of the song to ensure objective consistency from this critical setting. Then, make adjustments as needed. But remember, tempo is tempo! It’s not texture. Don’t confuse tempo with production value.
Keep The System Simple
Of course, setting up BPM to define tempo must be categorized. There can’t be a separate tempo code for every BPM. The fewer the codes, the better. Avoid a broad range to define tempo (1-10). It is difficult to distinguish between a 6 and 7 or a 2 and 3.
Even a 1-5 tempo scale is too broad because decisions are compromised, and many songs end up as a “3”. As human beings, we tend to gravitate to the middle. That can lead to a slow three playing next to a 1 or 2. This produces a station with a tempo problem.
A four-point scale is much more manageable because songs are forced out of the middle. They’re either slow (1-2) or fast (3-4). The major decision is the difference between VERY SLOW (1) and SLOW-MEDIUM (2) and VERY FAST (4) and MEDIUM-FAST (3).
Some stations even go so far as to code tempo with just two codes: Slow or fast. Songs that are upbeat and bouncy are fast. Everything else is slow. That is theoretically more manageable. But it is hard to protect drop-dead slow or very fast songs.
Recommendation: Try the 1-4 tempo code system. It works for just about every station.
Code Based On Your Library
When assigning tempo codes, the only thing that matters is how a song interacts with other songs relative to your library. Analyze the BPM of all songs in the library to judge the percentages that should be classified at each tempo code.
Don’t let other programmers influence you. It’s unique to your station and the vision in your head for how your station should sound.
If the station goal is to be soft and relaxing, borderline songs should be rated as faster than if the goal is to be upbeat.
Recommendation: Start with an estimation for tempo coding. Once the library has been coded, examine and adjust. Does the station sound a little sleepy? Adjust the tempo codes slightly.
Code Extremes First
If you are not using BPM to define tempo, analyze the library, and code the extreme songs first. Set the fastest and slowest songs at opposite ends of the scale. This makes evaluating other fast and slow songs easier against those with extreme tempo codes.
Many songs in the library are nuanced. They could be 1 or 2, 2 or 3, or 3 or 4. Starting with extreme codes will help define the boundaries.
Recommendation: Even if not using BPM as the main criteria, use it as a tie-breaker. Consult BPM data when unsure if a song is a 3 or 4.
Define Code Standards
A problem at many stations is the lack of a standard to identify what a tempo code represents. Each tempo code should represent a specific song value. This isn’t an issue with BPM, but it is very important if not using BPM.
Find 3-4 songs that perfectly fit each tempo code. Use those songs as the standard. Then, measure each song against the standard. In which cluster of songs does this song fit best purely from a tempo perspective? Again, try not to be distracted by other qualities in the song (intensity, genre, etc.).
Recommendation: Scrutinize one track at a time and code just this quality. Shifting your brain from one song quality to another leads to inconsistencies. This takes longer but saves hours of adjustments in the long run. Also, take breaks. Walking away for a cup of coffee will freshen your perspective.
Tempo (BPM) is objective, but all coding is somewhat subjective. It’s relative, not absolute. Try to review all tempo codes at least once a quarter and analyze the library overall to adjust the system as needed.