Automation - something that's missing

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Adger
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Joined: 10 Apr 2012 20:09

Automation - something that's missing

Post by Adger » 14 Aug 2015 12:49

It has been a very long time since I came up with something. Not because I did not care, but because I had my feet wet up to my thighs in the business, from moderation to editing, pre- and post-producing, etc. pp. From the past years of hands on experience with FM-studios one thing always struck me when tinkering with PFOA. This posting is about what I think would be really valuable extension.

Automation - what's missing

Scheduling is mighty and quite flexible. The tools and options at hand are great. Still: Something is missing that is announced by the category the software is positioning itself in: Automation.

Most procedures are already automatable. This is great and not to be criticised. An Aspect that is largely ignored by the software are so called "Air-Colcks". These are timers that have profound impact on how programs are set up and what is actually aired. Air-Clocks are rules implied by law or by the editors in charge at the station. As of now most of these rules need to be checked by hand.

Rules...

Local laws and regulations are enforced upon a station regarding the content, especially the music that is aired. This is true for traditional radio and internet radio. Any given song must not be played more often than every X minutes. No more than Y songs from the same artist must be played within Z minutes. No more than K songs from any given album must be played within L minutes, etc. pp.

Add to this ideas of those buying your advert-slots. Play jingle A at least X times a day, jingle B at least Y times, except for Sunday where you must not play jingle A, but instead jingle C and play it in an strictly alternating pattern with jingle B.

Your editors in charge will come up with a ton of cute little ideas: Music genre X must not be played for more than X minutes a day, genre Y must be played at least Z minutes a day - but only between xx:xx h and yy:yy h, except for saturdays, where it can be played 3 hours earlier. Oldies form XYZ must be played N times a day, play at least X songs from one of the following artists per week (insert list here), but only between march 38 to july 59, after that switch to this list. And so on, and so on.

In france, for instance, ther is a bonus rule that applies to the language / origin of songs played that has an impact on the fees you pay for your program. Certain stations are having even mor crude ideas regarding the meta-content of the program aired, which has an immediate impact on your show. There are rules for how much you have to moderate, how often trafic informations need to come, when to insert weather, when to carry suggestions for local events etc. pp. Some of these "rules" can be handled by the scheduler, especially those bound to certain fixed timeframes. For example "every top of the hour play news" or something like that.

Others are escaping the scheduler, because they are meta-content-rules defined by timers, so called "Air-Clocks". Some of those can in part be adressed by the "last played" field (which i suggested a long time ago) and others can in part be addressed by the external filter lists (again a suggestion of mine) which hook to the random playlist generation. But all of these tools, as great and helpful as they are, fall short of cutting the deal. The do not automate what is clearly automatable due to fixed rules.

What does he have in mind?

Most stations carry fixed timeslots für shows, elements like news, traffic, adverts, etc. These are to be handled via the scheduler as mentioned above. For all thos meta-content-rules our software needs an enhancement. Something like a screen where one can set up, review, observe rules and check / verify playlists against.

Enforce This! Or else!

There should be a section or page where "rules enforced by law" can be set. These rules should only be editable by the highest admin. Or perhaps a new user-role, the "rule admin". These rules will apply to all users of the system. These rules would contain, for example:


Per Song | Airings | Timeframe
Per Album | Airings | Timeframe
Per Artist | Airings | Timeframe
Custom (1...n) | Airings | Timeframe

Name of song, album and artist are already common MP3-Tags. These can be easily read out and validated against any given rule. But careful: there are songs with identical names from different artists. Same is true for songs. A very delicate issue are releases from the same artist (my favorite here is "Faith No More"). Some regulatory bodys consider the RE-issued songs to be identical, RE-mastered to be different, RE-collected... roll dice. These rules should be tweakable and need to be switched on or off to individual needs. Custom-ruels are for cases like the aforementioned "french"-problem etc.

Editors and their ideas...

Aside from regulations imposed on stations by law or other regulatory bodies there are in-house-rules imposed by editors in charge. Those rules often stem from contracts, or preferences, or "taste", or historical reasons, or the weater, or the pope, or I don't know what. There are stations that have outlawed certain artists or albums. Think "Ärzte - Ab 18" or "Böhse Onkelz". You get the point. With some stations songs aired must be no older than 10 years, counting from today. Others want you not to play any song younger then your boss. Again others force you to play the same amount of songs from female artists as you are playing from male artists.

Real life:

From what i have experienced in the last three years in a major FM station (and this is only an excerpt!): In the morning there are different rules in place than there are at night. But within the "morning show" there are very specific rules in place. Songs must not exceed 3:30. Every hour you have to carry 1 from "HotPick" and 2 from "HeavyRotation" and 1 from "80ies". You may pick from any of: Pop, Pop-Rock (soft), Dance (motivating, easy), Synthie-Pop, New Wave, Romantic Wave, Folk, Folk-Rock, Alternative, Singer, Singer-Songwriter. You may pick from Hardrock, Rap, Rapmetal, CrossOver, Grunge, Punk if checked back with and approved by editor in charge. You must not play Metal (any variant, except RapMetal), Schlager, Volksmusik, Gothic, Industrial, Hardhouse, Jumpstyle, ... (the list goes on and on...) Between 12:00 and 15:00 at least one additional from "Stations' Evergreens" must be played per hour. Beginning with 14:00h Jazz may be introduced to the program, from 15:00h Mainstream Rap. Beginning 18:00h Rock and Hardrock can be played, beginning 21:00h you may play metal. Metal must not be played after 02:00h. From 20:30 h on songs may exceed to 4:00 minutes playtime, from 21:00h 5:00 minutes. Your show may only carry 2 Songs > 4mins (but < 5 mins) OR 1 song > 5 mins (but < 7 mins) per hour. Weekdays BPM must be < 120 starting 02:00h, starting 04:00h < 100. From 05:00 to 06:00 special "wake up" ruleset applies. Starting at 06:00 rules for morningshow are in place. Remember: This is only an excerpt.

...and how?

Editorial rules regard themselves upon aspects that can be read out from the ID3- / MP3-Tags themselves, either by using default IDs or custom fields. The most used IDs are artist, album (name), song (name), and year.

"Genre" is a heavily used ID / tag, but its contents are heavily contested and there is no standard in sight. When it comes to "What genre does this song belong to?": Good Luck! If you are very very lucky the issueing label is sticking to it's own rules but very often "genre" is intentionally left blank.

...what if?

If a set rule tries to read out an ID or tga that is not set, the rule fails. If a criteria of a given song does not match a given rule, it fails. Ther can be degrees of restriction ranging from "throwing errors" to "colorcoding in playlist" to "suggesting replacements" all the way upt to flat out dropping the element from the list and inserting a placeholder. These shold be customisable. Any changes to the playlist must be colorcoded and stick out like a sore thumb. Add alerts.

A rule might look like this:

Name | MP3-Tag (0...n) | day | hour slice start | hour slice end | rule

Name: Name of the rule, can be set by user
MP3-Tag: ID3- / MP3 Tag to which the rule applies, for example Artist, Album, Year, Genre....
day: Day of the week, monday - sunday
hour slice start: which timeframe should this rule cover? starting point
hour slice end: which timeframe should this rule cover? end point
rule: The conditions of the rule, for example "no more than X play within Y minutes", "only play if last played is greater than XX minutes" etc. pp.

Interface

The interface for this is of outmost importance. The user has to wrap her mind around rules in place that she probably doesn't really understand nor care about. But she must know what she is facing. A block diagram like in use with the scheduler might work but cake-diagrams that are incorporating the specialties from the scheduler are the best, since they are representing the hour display of a clock and really help with getting the rules at a glance.

Rules may and should overlap. Due to the comlexity they even might contradict eachothers. To some extend a test on plausibility is possible, but there are many scenarios where they can not be tested, I guess. I think a "warning message" next to the dial / diagram would be cool to help.

In fact I cannot tell how I would fathom every detail of the interface. I have something in mind with circles representing an hour and slices in there, representing fixed scheduler elements and open slots, but I dont know (yet) how to project rules on all of that. Perhaps in a way of onion-skins? I'm realy not sure.

Final thoughts

I am pretty aware that this feature is huge. I am really aware that most hobbyist stations won't get it and flat out deny it's usefulness. I am also aware that if done right we might end up with something that comes close to a "one click runs all" robot station - when setup correctly and with some serious brainwork during setup. This is not to get rid of the human but to help him by keeping her head out of the rulebooks. The more you can throw your stuff into the software and the software gives you feedback like "oh, this song doesn't fit between 8:00h and 9:00h, but it would be great at 10:30h" or "no, this doesn't work at all, because this is genre X which you can only play thursday between 20:00 and 22:00" that would be beyond awesome and a REAL help.

Many major stations are either using self-coded software or complex excel-sheets or even printed heaps of paper or databases for this problem. I know about one software that has been coded exactly for this problem and that is in use with some stations - but it sucks balls if you ask me since it is a lousy solution for braodcasting. None of all the solutions I have seen are a smooth integration under one hood. This is where PFOA could shine...

- Frank.

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radio42
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Joined: 05 Apr 2012 16:26

Re: Automation - something that's missing

Post by radio42 » 14 Aug 2015 12:49

Hi Frank,

a LOT of valuable input! Thanks.
As you already said, ProppFrexx is improving and getting extended version by version...
Many of the features you mention are already available within ProppFrexx.
Script-Rules, Priority-Checks, History-Checks, extensive Script-Line-Filters, dynamic Advert-Assignments etc. etc.

Just with version 4.0 for example I added the per Track 'Scripting Rules', to define time-slots, day-ranges, weeks- and months rules (defining when a track should be played resp. not be played)!
Additional category attributes have been added, like Style and Energy (to address a few of the issues you mention above).

However, as you pointed out correctly: The overall demand of possible features does vary a lot from station to station and is in total very huge!
When it now comes to planning the individual hour (planning the 'Air-Clocks'), with a good guess, I would say, that ProppFrexx can handle 80% of those total requirements - let's do not discuss about +/-5% here ;-)

But will ProppFrexx EVER - NO I would have to say: will ANY software EVER satisfy ALL requirements of ALL stations in the world ?
I guess the answer is a clear: NO.

One option is to build a full new 'Air-Clock-Planner' within ProppFrexx?!
But then ProppFrexx would directly compete with the next option...

Another option is to use an external scheduler application, something like: MusicMaster, Music1, PowerGold...
ProppFrexx is ready to deal with them an import their generated playlists ('Air-Clocks').

Another option is (as you said) a good 'human being' a program editor who knows and is in the music!

However...I take (as always) ANY wish serious and will crefully think about your suggestions ;-)

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