Ever since Classic Rock™ emerged as a radio programming format, the challenge has been to define just what qualifies as “classic”.
Back in the 90s, it was relatively clear-cut, at least to me – classic-rock was defined by both time period and sound. It didn’t include anything from the 50s, and very little before 1964, when The Kinks invented power chords. Generally speaking, “classic rock” focused on the period from the latter half of the 60s – by which time rock was becoming more oriented around albums instead of singles – to roughly the end of the 1970s, when the old school stopped dominating the charts and the New Wave began.
Put another way, Classic Rock™ in the 90s was basically a rebranded version of the AOR format of the 70s, only with no new releases past 1980 or so.
Obviously that’s changed, and now we hear U2 and Nirvana and Guns’n’Roses on Classic Rock™ stations – which makes sense when you remember that those songs are over 20 years old now. But that means “classic rock” is no longer defined strictly by a specific time period.
Or is it?
Five Thirty-Eight’s Walt Hickey wondered just that after hearing Green Day’s “American Idiot” on a Classic Rock™ station. So he did some number-crunching
, and came up with a few interesting results.
1. Classic Rock™ depends to a degree on what city you live in. (z.B. Billy Joel gets lots of airplay in NYC, but the Eagles rule the roost in Tampa)
2. The 10-year period from 1973 to 1982 accounts for 57% of all song plays in the study.
3. The top 25 most frequently played artists (including Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Rolling Stones etc) together account for almost half of the spins on Classic Rock™ stations in the US. Put another way, 5% of all the bands played on those stations made up nearly half of song plays.
But what about the Green Day?
Well, Hickey doesn’t provide much explanation for it. But his study does basically confirm that, for the most part, Classic Rock™ is still generally rooted in the 60s and 70s, and extends mostly to around 1991 (the year punk broke, and also Metallica). Sure, you’ll hear R.E.M. and Simple Minds and Ratt too. But it’s mostly still locked within that “classic” time frame. If there’s a common denominator here, it’s probably longevity – i.e. songs that stand the test of time.
The other common denominator is, of course, market research. Classic rock is what listeners – or at least listeners crunched down in to data sets – say it is. That’s not news. Radio stations have done that for years.
However, in the age of Spotify and digital media and crowdsourcing, there are new ways to gather and crunch those data sets. Spotify owns a company called The Echo Nest, which uses data and genre algorithms to generate song recommendations. Here’s how they go about that, according to Glenn McDonald, the guy in charge of developing the genre algorithm:
In addition to the web-crawlers and listening histories, The Echo Nest uses sophisticated music-analysis software to figure out the qualities of different songs. McDonald looks at 13 dimensions when evaluating genre: tempo, energy, loudness, danceability, whether a song is more acoustic or electric, dense or spare, atmospheric or bouncy, and so on. Some genres are defined by one of these dimensions in particular — electronic music with a very finite range of beats per minute, say — and some are painted in broader strokes, like classic rock.
Classic rock, McDonald said, has a much wider range of tempo and rarely is powered by a drum machine. The Echo Nest can detect whether an actual person is behind a drum set based on minor imperfections in tempo, or beats that a drum machine can’t mimic. “The timing will be very human and unmechanical,” a dead giveaway, he said.
So there you go. No drum machines. (Sorry, Jesus & Mary Chain.)
Anyway, the numbers seem to confirm that Classic Rock™ is still mainly confined mostly to the late 60s/70s, with leeway for more recent releases depending on the demographics. That said, those demos are primarily drawn from the baby-boomers and Gen Xers that grew up with that music. So what happens when the millenials start defining what is Classic Rock™? Will DJs start segueing from Thin Lizzy to One Direction?
I’m not that worried. For one thing, I don’t listen to radio anymore. And anyway I’ll probably be dead by then. PRODUCTION NOTE:
I recommend reading the article
. There are very interesting charts in it.
This is dF
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