DIFFERENCES IN PROGRAMMING MUSIC TO MEN VS. WOMEN

by Dan O'Day on July 6, 2010

radio programming

To celebrate the release of the Complete Audio (and video) Record of our very last PD Grad School, I thought it might be interesting to revisit some of the insights from one of our most popular guest speakers: Larry Rosin.

This is excerpted from Larry’s exceptionally valuable PROGRAMMING & MARKETING TO MEN & TO WOMEN.

Collectively the radio industry performs thousands of music tests, surveys, and focus groups. As with everything else, there are distinct and consistent differences between men and women.

Why would this be? One reason has to do with biology. Women have better hearing than men do.

Women can consistently hear sounds down to decibels eight to ten percent below men. Also, because many more men work in job situations where they encounter loud noises, men have much more degenerative hearing loss.

What’s the first and most important result of this? Men turn up the radio and CD player louder than women do. The biggest reason that couples fight over the volume of the car radio is probably less a matter of taste than one of hearing. It’s not necessarily that men prefer music louder; it’s just that it may be harder for them to hear.

As a result of their better hearing, women hear more subtleties in music. They are much more attuned to harmony. From The Beach Boys to The Beatles to Boys to Men, women have always been much more excited by harmony.

When you think about it, what Classic Rock bands are really known for their harmony? The Beatles and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Which of today’s alternative rock bands work through harmony? Very few.

Women also hear in a slightly different range than men do. As a result there are some sounds that are more attractive to men and repel women and vice versa.

A prominent PD once proved to me that this was true. We were doing a rare AOR music test where women actually were in the room. He said, “Watch the women’s reactions whenever a Rush hook comes on and they hear Geddy Lee’s voice.”

And sure enough, every time they heard that voice you could see these women look like they were sucking lemons. There’s something in that screechy tone of Geddy Lee that sends women over the edge. Rush is a classic example because it tests great for men and horribly for women, even if the station’s target is women.

The next big difference — in my opinion the biggest difference in terms of men and women — in the way they relate to music has to do with lyrics. Overwhelmingly —  and this is important — women are much more likely to listen to, remember, relate to, and sing back the lyrics of a song than men.

I ask about this in my surveys. I’ll just throw that question in:

“Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: I listen closely to the lyrics of a song.”

Typically women are 20 to 30 percent higher than men in saying, “That describes me.”

I’ve encountered this a lot in focus groups. I remember when “Tears in Heaven” was current. I was doing some focus groups on how women listeners see stations in a major market.

We were talking about songs that people like when one woman related the following story. She said, “I really didn’t care much for that Eric Clapton song one way or another until someone at work told me the song was about his son, and ever since then I’ve loved that song.”

Sure enough, about half the women in the group didn’t know it was about his son, and you could pretty much tell that they were very much interested in the song now and wanted to hear it again and see what the lyrics meant.

There’s really no doubt in my mind that “Tears in Heaven” never would have been a hit at the proportions it was if it hadn’t been for women going so crazy over the lyric.

There’s a sneaky part to this anecdote, and I’m not sure you caught it:  Why didn’t half the women in the group know the story of the song?

These were all female listeners to a Hot AC station that had only played the song about three zillion times. Well, could it possibly be that the all-male DJ staff had never talked about the song lyric and explained what Clapton was saying? They had front-sold the song, back-sold the song a hundred times, and they never thought to mention what the song was about.

This is the ultimate example of how men simply don’t understand what’s going on with the female audience members. It’s another example of why male PDs are going to get fired and females are going to replace them if they don’t get smart about this stuff.

The next question is:  Why?

Why do women have this stronger sense of lyrical content?

Why do they pay more attention to the lyrics in the first place?

Well, for one thing they can hear better, so they probably can understand the words a little bit better.

I believe the biggest reason is that women are far more detail-oriented than men. The whole concept of “women’s intuition” stems from the fact that women pick up subtle messages, small movements, tiny gestures, little vocal inflections better than men do.

For men, lyrics are simply words; the vocal is just another instrument in the organized sounds that make up music. For women, lyrics are much more the reason for a song’s existence.

Why was Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know” such a monster hit? Was it the hook? I don’t think so. Was it its incredibly beautiful melody? We know that’s not true.

It was huge because of its lyrics. The song speaks to women in a profound way, expressing the rage that so many of them feel toward men.

A woman once came up to me and said the song “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor got her through a difficult break-up. Being the typical stupid male that I am, I honestly informed her that I never thought about what the lyrics of the song meant. I heard the lyric a million times and it just never occurred to me that she had been broken up with, which was her statement about surviving.

Men hear the lyric; women listen to the lyric. So if I have one recommendation above all others for stations that are trying to target women, it would be to consider the lyrical content of music in a much more profound way.

If you’re a male PD auditioning new songs for a station that’s targeting women, you really have two choices. Either teach yourself to listen to the songs like women do, or get a woman on your music staff who can do it for you.

Emphasize the lyrics of songs. Talk about them, make certain that your jocks have read the lyrics and understand what they’re saying.

Excerpted from Larry Rosin’s PROGRAMMING & MARKETING TO MEN & TO WOMEN.

Comments

comments

Emilio Pastrana July 6, 2010 at 9:57 am

And brainstorming a little bit about listening carefully to the lyrics of a song, it occurs to me that we can also develop on-air contests IF the jock has a real understanding of this purpose. Morning Shows and their audiences will greatly benefit of the idea.

Kim Williams September 8, 2010 at 8:32 am

Hmmm, I love Rush and “Tears in Heaven” was one of my least favorite Clapton songs. Yeah, sad story…but it dosn’t make it a good song.
Am I really so different from other women? This article will definitely keep me thinking about this topic for some time to come. Now maybe I will need input from a more “girly” woman when programming for women.

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