When it comes to technology, thirty years can seem like several lifetimes. Cellphones have morphed into smartphones. Computers have become tablets. Turntables became carts became a button on a computer. Vinyl begat cassettes begat CDs begat mp3s begat streams. Yet though it all, Joe Knapp’s 1983 idea to create a music scheduling program continues to be a popular tool for radio – and now video – operators. To be sure, MusicMaster has gone through multiple changes to reflect the changes in how radio is programmed and delivered. Here, he explains how MusicMaster continues to be the state of an ever-changing art.
What was the inspiration behind you launching A-ware Software?
I had spent years going back and forth from engineering to programming. I was working at WZUU in Milwaukee when the PD, Steve Schram, told me about a music scheduling service that delivered pre-scheduled music logs by fax. I had been teaching myself computer programming and suggested that I could write a program to do the job in-house. The GM, Paul LeSage, said, “Your computer may not be powerful enough to do the job.” He offered to let me have an old Ohio Scientific Challenger 8P that the station had retired from ratings analysis use. I took it home, learned how to program it, and came up with a working music scheduling program in about three months. I showed it to the PD and he loved what it was doing. We started using the system immediately.
Did you start A-Ware right after that?
Not right away. I was basically doing it for the station I worked at. Steve told a friend of his about the way we were generating music logs. His friend programmed WCXI/Detroit at the time, and he and just happened to have the same computer system collecting dust. Steve told me that his friend wanted a copy of my scheduling program. I offered to give him a copy, but Steve suggested I might sell it instead. My first thought was to charge $50, but Steve thought I could get more. He suggested $3,000, but I asked for $1,000 instead. The deal was immediately accepted and I’d made my first software sale. I used that money to buy a new Radio Shack TRS-80 computer that stations across the country were using to run Tapscan ratings analysis software. I had to rewrite the program for the new computer, but quickly sold it to 13 more stations for $3,000 each.
One of the founders of Tapscan, Dave Carlisle, visited our station to hold a training seminar. I sat in on the session and after it ended, the GM introduced me to Dave. He looked at my program, liked what he saw, and wanted to market it for me. I said okay, and he marketed it under the name MusicScan for nine years. In 1994, Tapscan and I went our separate ways and I changed the name of the program to MusicMaster
Has it been difficult for MusicMaster to keep up with the changes in radio over the past 30 years?
It has definitely been a challenge to keep up with the changes in radio. Programmers now face new and unique challenges. We’ve always worked to accommodate these new challenges by adapting the software to meet their changing needs. A lot of new ideas have come from doing that; it has kept our programs growing and getting better. MusicMaster’s market share has grown exponentially as well. In addition to running the company, I personally use our software every day. This helps me come up with new ideas while keeping the software trouble-free and very efficient. We aren’t slowing down at all. In fact, we’ve been adding more new features and ideas than ever before.
Do the different music formats require different things from MusicMaster’s software?
That’s one of the key strengths of MusicMaster. Our flexibility is unique in that it enables users to create new fields and rules in their database. MusicMaster was designed and built as a custom music scheduling system that can match the specific needs of your own format. You can make it extremely complex, very simple, or anywhere in between. That flexibility has helped us integrate MusicMaster into complex operations such as SiriusXM, MTV Worldwide, MusicChoice, VEVO, and many others around the world. The needs of these extremely complex broadcasters can be quite different than those of a terrestrial radio station
Has the implementation of the PPM impacted MusicMaster?
PPM has driven the desire to become more focused over super-tight rotations, and this makes MusicMaster even more important. As everybody knows, it has reduced the amount of downtime between music on the air. PPM is driving tighter rotations and forces programmers to pay closer attention to the music. When it comes to programming analysis, MusicMaster offers a variety of very powerful tools. We’ve also introduced new scheduling technologies, such as our Optimum Goal Scheduling. It handles all the mathematics for you, always scheduling the ideal song in each playlist position. Because it’s so dynamic, adjustments in your music rotation no longer requires corresponding rule changes. MusicMaster simply adapts to these changes automatically.
Is MusicMaster active in servicing Web-based radio?
We have a lot of Web-based customers and they all benefit from MusicMaster in the same way as terrestrial radio stations. But there are differences. Some Web-based stations have over 200,000 titles in rotation. MusicMaster can manage libraries of enormous size, a feature that is also appreciated by lot of Classical stations. MusicMaster is ideal for Web-based radio because it has an intelligent audio player built-in. With these tools, anyone can create his or her own Web-based streaming experience quickly.
MusicMaster’s open architecture also allows our customers to access our scheduling intelligence and library metadata directly from their own software systems. You can see one example of this in operation at www.Blendella.com. This service uses our MM Live web client to give listeners a choice of upcoming songs through a web browser, mobile device, and Facebook app.
The sounds quite like what LDR and Jelli offer listeners…
We’re very familiar with Jelli and we worked closely with Daniel Anstandig during his development of LDR, helping him integrate his system with MusicMaster. But Blendella is simply another example of a how any third-party developer can create different approaches to this kind of crowd-sourced radio experience using MusicMaster’s open architecture. It might be used to replace individual songs like LDR, or to provide a completely automated but fully listener-driven experience, like Jelli. The main difference is that the choices available to the audience are limited in a way that keeps the station’s PD in complete control of the format at all times. We like to say that this lets the audience drive the car, while MusicMaster’s categories, format clocks and rules keep them from driving the car off the road.
Where do you see MusicMaster’s future evolving?
With the ever-increasing popularity of one-to-one broadcasting such as Spotify, Rdio and iTunesRadio, we’re going to see MusicMaster become even more important. Controlling content is still critical, regardless of the platform. I expect terrestrial radio will continue moving through a transformation of major proportions – perhaps as significant as when AM radio turned strip programming over to TV and adapted to continuous music formats back in the 1950s.
Radio stations will not only continue to need music scheduling systems, but they’ve have the potential to serve their audience better and make more money by becoming hyper-local. The fact that terrestrial radio only covers a local market is actually an asset that Web-based services like Spotify and Pandora do not enjoy. With their global audience and one-to-one user experiences, they can’t super-serve individual markets as efficiently as terrestrial radio can embrace and entertain a local audience.
Remember, MusicMaster not just for music; it can be used for rotating imaging, liners and jingles. MTV is using it to rotate on-screen graphics, such as pop-ups, bugs and crawls. The bottom line is that wherever radio goes, whatever evolutionary changes it makes, I believe that MusicMaster will not only remain in the mix, it will become an even more important part of it.
Are you venturing into YouTube channel programming?
A YouTube channel is more like video version of Spotify or Pandora. People subscribe to a bunch of channels to watch something interesting and that will lead them to a suggested video, which will lead them to another video, and another one after that. In that respect, it’s a one-to-one medium much like Pandora. You’re creating your own experience. Now could one of those channels be married to MusicMaster scheduling? Not yet, but it could certainly make for a better end-user experience.
MusicMaster already schedules music for the largest video services in the world, such as MTV worldwide, CMT, Music Choice, Much Music in Canada, VEVO, FoxTel in Australia, and many more. We’re able to do them because of our flexibility. They simply cannot use a system that was designed for terrestrial pop radio. MusicMaster helps video services shape the music scheduling to meet their exact needs, which is much more complex than simply broadcasting music. MusicMaster also give them access to business intelligence. The music schedule database lets them retrieve and incorporate video clip metadata into their own systems. It’s our openness and flexibility that these folks love about MusicMaster.
After 30 years, how long do you see yourself being active in MusicMaster?
I’m getting older, of course, but every day I feel that I’m getting younger mentally because I personally love what I’m doing. This is not work for me; it’s fun and I want to keep doing it as long as I can. As a company, we’ve been very frugal and cautious; we don’t want to go into another space unless we can serve the new customers as well as we’re serving ones we currently have. We move slowly and carefully but we are looking into more things; we just want to make sure we build it the old-fashioned way. We’re not going to just put something huge out there that nobody really wants or that cannot be used successfully.