Here’s an inside look into the cycles different music genres go through and how radio programmers navigate it. You have probably recognized your music tastes change over time. You may enjoy pop music and can’t get enough, then you find yourself getting bored with it and sampling hip hop, alternative or even country. 

Those in the music industry have recognized that there is a flow or a cycle to music. There is also a give and take between the different genres. Rock and pop go back and forth in popularity, and in recent years urban music has overtaken rock in this back and forth. 

Photo by Anastasiya Gepp:
Photo by Anastasiya Gepp:

So, what is this cycle and what does it look like? 

Step 1: Birth of New Sound. It begins when a new sound enters the music scene. This is usually led by one or two new artists and often comes from a certain region of the country or possibly another country like England.  

You can pick these times out. The grunge scene from Seattle, the boy bands of the late 90’s, the Killers and the Foo Fighters in the 2000’s. Country had Garth Brooks, then came George Strait and now Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen are changing things. You can probably think of many examples when a new sound hit the airwaves during your lifetime. 

Step 2: Growth of the Style. When this new sound gains popularity there is a re-birth of the format. Listeners can’t get enough of it and soon other artists are doing their own version of the new sound. This is a great time for radio programmers who can’t play the songs enough for their hungry audience. 

Step 3: Everything Sounds the Same. After a time, this new sound starts to grow stale. Every artist seems to be doing the same thing and listeners will complain that every song sounds the same. This is the beginning of the decline.  

To keep their audience’s interest, programmers begin to reach back to older songs that were huge hits during the re-birth. They also reach for songs from other formats that may have cross-over value. This is when listeners complain that the artist playing doesn’t belong on the radio station. 

Step 4: Tired and Bored. Finally, the format bottoms out. Listeners are off listening elsewhere, and the programmer holds on, hoping for that new sound to appear that will cause their station to be reborn. 

These cycles occur every 7 to 10 years depending on the format. Thinking about the music you are currently listening to, can you guess where the cycle is? Can you look at different formats and see where the next big thing will come from? If so, you should be a programmer. 

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Gallery Credit: Philip Trapp

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