November 28, 2017

How Burn Scores Can Burn You

“Do you like ice cream?” “Like it,” you say, “I love it!”

“Are you tired of ice cream?”  “How could I ever be tired of ice cream?”

If your employer decided to host a day-long “team-building “ exercise that required eating copious quantities of ice cream all day long, you would likely be very tired of it long before lunchtime.  By next week, however, you’d probably be back on board with Ben & Jerry.

“Do you like anchovies?” “Ew, yuck!”

Are you sick of anchovies?” “Just thinking about them makes me sick!” When you think about it, though, you can’t remember if you’ve ever even had anchovies.

Herein lays the problem with traditional burn questions in new music research.  In our mind as programmers, we want to know when it’s time to move a popular song to recurrent. So, we ask the seemingly logical question, “Are you tired of hearing it?”

A real listener simply doesn’t interpret the question in a way that tells us what we want her to tell us. In her mind, if she just told you she loves a song, she can’t get enough of it. If she doesn’t care for a brand new song, however, hearing it just once is one time too many. That’s why burn scores often reflect the song’s appeal more than your audience’s exposure to that song. Even if we ask her to specifically think about how often she hears the song on the radio, typical listeners simply aren’t mentally keeping track of your rotations.

To quantity this problem, we examined the percentage of listeners who said they were very tired of hearing a song in their new music research for a variety of CHR, Hot AC and Rhythmic CHR stations.  Even for songs that were less than a month old, 19% of listeners were already tired of hearing them. Once those songs became more well-known over the next few weeks, their burn scores actually went down. Meanwhile, only 30% of listeners were very tired of hearing songs that were 25 weeks old—and that burn score typically doesn’t grow as songs get even older.


Some veteran programmers and consultants have long understood this problem and recommend ignoring burn entirely, “Just look at how many listeners love the song and play those songs most often.” For songs that listeners only like during their run as current hits, this recommendation is fine. However, there are those few songs that listeners continue to love for years after they’re no longer new, but that doesn’t mean they want to hear those songs several times a day.

So what do you do about this conundrum?

For our Integr8 New Music Research clients, we developed a new proprietary measure called Hitcycle®. Instead of simply giving you another number that confirms your listeners love or hate a song, Hitcycle tells you how listeners perceive the vintage and the momentum of each song, regardless of whether they personally like it or not so you know when it’s time to move a big hit from current to recurrent. (You can learn more about Integr8 New Music Research here.)


What do you do if you’re simply not in a position to have custom new music research for your market, however?  We’ll give you some tools you can use in our next post.

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