VGM airplay, women composers and Classic FM – final results

You may have seen on previous posts (part 1, part 2) that I’ve been tracking video game music (VGM) airplay on Classic FM, to check to see if the station really was putting its money where its mouth is when they said they’re taking the genre seriously. Well, 1 year has passed since I started collecting the data and I finally have some results to share with you, along with a little analysis of the results – if you don’t like numbers, percentages and spreadsheets then look away now.

Kingdom Hearts World Tour concert, Japan – March 2017

First, the method – over the past year I’ve been tracking a single segment of Classic FM’s daytime airplay, the Classic FM Hall of Fame Hour. This specific show was chosen as it had a set playlist (more on that later) based on the top 300 pieces voted for by listeners in their annual Hall of Fame (HoF) survey, 11 entries of which where soundtracks to video games. The 2016 HoF was  the 5th year that VGM had been included in the chart and was the 2nd most successful year for the genre (after 2015), so it seemed like a decent starting point for tracking.

So since 29th March 2016, I have been listening to that show segment (9am to 10am) or following the playlist on their website to track exactly what pieces have been played. This playlist feature isn’t always reliable, occasionally missing pieces played or just generally breaking down,  so where runtimes did not match between piece and playlist shows have had to be re-listened to, ensuring the correct data was collected.

As a quick limitation note, Classic FM rarely plays the same piece twice in its daytime scheduling, and this does not take into account the playlists for the shows surrounding the HoF hour, mainly due to the massive undertaking that would require for one person to track. This is the main reason the tracking lasted an entire year, to try to average things out over that time.

Enough process talk though, on to the headlines:

  • 2,902 pieces of music have been played on the Hall of Fame Hour show between March 29th 2016 and March 31st 2017
  • In total, video game music has been played on 15 occasions
  • The most played VGM composer was Austin Wintory (5 occasions)
  • The most played piece is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (position 26), being aired 49 times
  • Mozart remains the most played composer, featuring 146 times from a selection of 16 pieces
  • 27 pieces have yet to be played, including 8 composers with no works aired in the show
  • 48 pieces which don’t feature in the HoF have been played, 42 of which where Christmas music)
  • Only 2 pieces (out of 7) by female composers have been played

And here are some tables of the top 10 pieces and composers, as well as a list showing music genre (there’s a link to the full results at the end of the article)

The top 10 pieces played on the HoF hour

As you can see, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was the runaway winner over the course of the year, likely due to the concerti encompassing four different times of year which can easily be related to. What did strike me as interesting was that the pieces featuring at 292 and 293 in the Hall of Fame were the 3rd and 4th most played respectively

The top 10 composers played on the HoF hour

No surprise that Mozart and Beethoven took the top two slots for composers though it was again interesting to see composers with relatively fewer pieces in the HoF (Grieg, Mendelssohn) in the top 10, ahead of Brahms (9), Vaughan Williams (8) and Sibelius (7)

A selection of genres played in the HoF hour over the course of the year

Here’s where we’ll start our VGM specific analysis – I tried to categorise as many pieces from the top 300 by a specific genre as I could. I’m not a classical connoisseur by any stretch pf the imagination so I may have missed a couple of Ballets and Operas but I’m certain of my numbers for film, video game and Christmas music

As you can see, there is a mammoth disparity between the play totals for film and video game music; as a total of all pieces played over the year, film music made up 6.1% while just 0.5% where pieces from games (proportionally, film music made up 6.3% of the HoF, VGM made up 3.7%).

Let’s take a deeper dive into the pieces of video game music that were played:

VGM airplay from Classic FM’s HoF hour show

As the highest place piece, it’s not surprising to see that the Final Fantasy score was the joint-most played VGM piece alongside Journey. It’s also heartening to see EGttR represented at least a little bit but outside of that, it’s super slim pickings. The Zelda pick was a nice surprise, but the Shenmue piece was only played to showcase the highest new entry in the chart the following week.

The remaining six VGM pieces were not played at all which is immensely disappointing when compared to the film scores where the least played piece from that genre (Pirates of the Caribbean – Bedelt) had four plays, especially for the Grant Kirkhope (with two pieces in the chart – outside of women and VGM composers, the lowest number of plays a composer received with 2 or more pieces was Hubert Parry with 9) and Yoko Shimomura (the highest placed female composer, and only composer in the top 50 not to be played).

The latter finding is indicative towards the amount of the representation women composers had throughout the year. The HoF has 7 pieces from four different women in the chart (2.3%), but their works were played just 5 times over the course of the year (a mere 0.2%), and even then it was only two of the seven pieces that were played (Jessica Curry – Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Helen Jane Long – The Aviators). Long’s other two pieces, Shimomura’s work for Kingdom Hearts and Fiona Bennett’s Country Suite were nowhere to be seen. Even excluding Christmas music, more pieces that didn’t appear in 2016’s HoF were played than pieces by women who did.

Dear Esther Live (Curry) – October 2016 – picture from PCGamesN

So is there anything we can take away from these results? Well first of all, Classic FM need to fix their online playlist because not once did it manage to correctly record the fact they were playing music from Final Fantasy – this had to be found manually or by listening every time.

Looking at VGM first, it’s clear the station is still in baby steps mode despite the genre’s apparent success since first entering the chart in 2012. Their upcoming 6-part specialist show hosted by Jessica Curry is a step in the right direction but it’d be a massive shame if things don’t improve outside of this. To be taken seriously, I think more pieces need to be played in these daytime slots; I’m in no way expecting a takeover, just fair representation; especially in show’s about a top 300 in which they appear and which Classic FM push heavily. Maybe a step forward would be for every 4-5 film scores they play, perhaps chuck in a video game piece as well some point during the day.

As for women, Classic FM just need to try harder. John Suchet played a nice selection of classical music by women on International Women’s Day but these occasions are few and far between. This whole tracking endeavour started as a means to check VGM but I think that the under-representation of women in classical music is my biggest takeaway from this project; while the most well-known pieces are written by men, there’s no reason why pieces by women composers can’t also be played alongside them. Along with VGM, female composers can be made more well-known if they’re actually played a bit more. Baby steps aren’t enough anymore.

What do you think of the results and/or the methodology? Do you have any further questions? Let me know in the comments below!

Full results spreadsheet can be found here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1opKYSfhiSlqKUZAv3eA-NSQvDdnZFIV9xwfLpa13ndw

 

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