Robbie Williams with Chris Evans on the Breakfast Show
As Head of Music for BBC Radio 2, I’m often asked how we decide what music to play, what makes a song right for us and how we make sure we’re getting a good balance.
Music plays a huge role on the station, which is why the playlist meeting is one of the most important of the week. We know our listeners love to hear a wide range of styles, artists and genres and that they enjoy being introduced to new music as well as hearing classic songs from the 1950s up until today.
We have over 14,000 classic songs to choose from but, on top of that, we receive around 100 new songs from record labels and artists each week which we consider for the playlist meeting.
The songs that make it on to the list are played on a more regular basis – between 5 and 20 times a week - across our shows. Every week we add approximately 5 or 6 new records to replace the same number that we feel our audience will be tired of. We rarely keep songs on for more than 6 weeks in total. Most new records are added to the list around three weeks ahead of their commercial release; this used to mean a song being sold in a record store but nowadays means in online stores both physically and digitally.
The playlist meeting is the opportunity for a wide cross-section of producers to champion their favourite track of the week and see if the rest of us feel it should be played more regularly as one of our Radio 2 new release playlist songs.
We listen to each of the songs before going round the room asking each person for their opinion on whether it should go on the playlist. Occasionally there is no clear majority view, in which case I make the final call, but most weeks we come to a clear agreement between us because the team is very experienced and knows what works for Radio 2.
As a rule, our songs tend to be melodic and upbeat, although there are exceptions. We also play specialist music in genres such as folk and jazz, both within our specialist music shows and the daytime schedule, so this is a great opportunity for the specialist teams to champion their new artists too.
I should add that we play other new releases as well as the 30 on the list as most shows regularly showcase a range of new tracks they think appropriate to our audience. Radio 2’s remit has, for many years, been to play around 80% classics and 20% new music, which could be an unheard song from a new band or the latest single from Elton John.
We limit the meeting to producers from the network so they feel free to speak honestly about the merits of various songs and artists and encourage healthy debate. It’s often a lively meeting as people are passionate about their choices and that’s what we look for in a playlist song – something that will get our audience as excited as we are. The team and myself are under regular scrutiny from both our listeners and the music industry (i.e labels, managers and artists) and are happy to give feedback.
You could ask why radio stations need a playlist when listeners can choose from millions of tracks online at a time of their choosing. That is quite a big challenge but I think what we offer is the chance to simply switch on to get some of the best presenters in the business playing relevant new releases alongside an unprecedentedly large core of classic pop music tracks. I believe we provide a uniquely broad mix of music to accompany our listeners’ lives all day long.
We like to hear what people think and many people do get in touch. I always respond to listeners’ views on what we do and we conduct regular research about broadly what kind of music our listeners want to hear. This knowledge, along with many years of combined experience, allows us to make informed decisions about what music our listeners are likely to enjoy.
Our producers find music in all sorts of other ways too - searching the internet, live music and international charts to name a few. So much interaction in music now exists virtually or digitally that many of the old ways of getting physical CDs to radio are changing but I think it is always good to be able to have a dialogue about music that has the potential to be featured on our station.
Music is, and always has been, at the heart of Radio 2 and the playlist is a way for us to share our passion for the very best, eclectic mix of songs. We hope it speaks to the hearts of our listeners too.
- This week's R2 playlist includes Robbie Williams' Candy and the Pet Shop Boys. See the current list here.
- Read Roger Bolton's Feedback blog post on the Radio 2 playlist and listen to the programme.
- Read Jeff Smith's previous blog post: Electric Proms - Creating New Moments in Music on the About the BBC blog.
- Compare My Radio: Details of the most played tracks on Radio 2 (NB This is a non-BBC service and data may not be completely accurate)
- BBC Radio 2's service licence: "The remit of Radio 2 is to be a distinctive mixed music and speech service, targeted at a broad audience, appealing to all age groups over 35..." Read more.
- Visit the Radio 2 website and follow Radio 2 on Twitter.