There’s no doubting the importance of music to radio. Beyond just songs playing on the medium, music is critical in shaping the sound, tone and energy of a station. When accidentally tuning into a station, one can sometimes tell by the music playing, what the demographic and age-group that the station is targeting. The statement “setting the mood”, is not only reserved for candle-lit dinner dates, but is also applicable to radio when it comes to music — songs set the mood for the radio stations. Similarly, listeners often fall in love with stations because of the music, beyond the conversations.
Knowing the role that music plays makes the role of a music compiler critical in a radio station. It is often a career path that is overlooked by those who get into the broadcasting industry, which is why I set out to gain insight on the career path through the lens of YFM music compiler, Neville Ngobeni. He spent three years on campus radio as a presenter for a chart show while being the music manager for CUT FM and in 2017 he joined the YFM music team as a compiler.
Please take us through your job as a music compiler, what are some of your responsibilities?
My day to day job is scheduling music for the radio station. I source out music from labels (indies included) and occasionally meet with label reps and music samplers (distributors) to discuss releases and possible partnerships with artists who are releasing.
How does YFM decide on play-listing music?
We base most, if not all, of our music on research and music tests, which we conduct with our listeners on a regular basis.
Which model does the station use for rotating music?
Like most stations, our rotations are simply based on our music committee meetings.
Which software should I familiarise myself with if I’m interested in becoming a music compiler?
The popular music scheduling programmes out there now are Gselector by RCS and Powergold by Empirical — the interfaces are different but have so many similarities. Both scheduling softwares are able to interact with different play out systems, meaning you can pick and choose the best system for your team based on comfort and feel, and what you want to achieve. The choice of a scheduling software is entirely up to what works best for the station.
According to you, how should we as listeners judge the music compilation of a radio station?
The beauty of radio is that each station has its target market. As a listener you get to pick and choose what you are comfortable with based on your likes and extramural activities. The best way to answer this question would be, if you are listening to a top 40 radio station, what do you expect to always hear? The obvious answer would be, mostly the 40 chart-topping songs.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The biggest challenge is understanding your core target market and knowing what they love. This requires going out to events and trying to discover new sounds that match your target market while disregarding what you, as an individual, enjoy the most.
What qualities and qualifications does one need to be a music compiler?
Having a good ear for music is the most crucial quality, while knowing the software will make the job easier. Anyone who’s passionate about music understands the basics of radio, and knowing how to use scheduling software can be the biggest advantage for a compiler. No qualifications are needed for such a job, but a strong radio background will help.
What do you think is the future of music compilation as a profession? Do you think it’s still going to a play a key role in the overall structure of a radio station?
We are currently seeing a host of music compilers curate music for digital service providers like Apple Music, and this is the case with schedulers for TV music channels as well. Believe it or not, radio isn’t a dying medium, over the first 90 days of lockdown we saw a spike in listenership. Therefore, the role of a compiler will always be important because they understand the audience and the clock structure of a station better than most employees in the station. Compilers are the heart of a station — they are part of the many reasons your favourite presenters sound comfortable behind the mic.
Any advice for the aspiring music compiler? How does one get into the industry?
If you’re interested, start at campus/community stations. Learn and research about radio, from radio sales to even marketing. These will help you understand how to compile and speak to your audience.
Most people get into broadcasting thinking that being a presenter or producer are the only careers they can pursue, thus it is important to explore professions such as music compiling as emerging hidden gems in the industry, for people to broaden their scope of possibilities and opportunities when considering a career in broadcasting. I hope the chat with Neville helped you understand the career he chose a bit better.
Nkox Leader is an experienced radio jock with a demonstrated history of working in the media broadcasting space as both a broadcaster and broadcasting training coach. He has trained radio jocks for community radio stations such as Kovsie FM, Motheo FM and CUT FM. He is a strong business development professional — having previously co-founded an online pop-culture publication called “Central Vibe” which was accompanied by a lifestyle entertainment show on YouTube. Nkox is always diversifying his interests and skills within the media space.