I can probably claim to be one of a handful of people in the world to have been on an actual 3-day course on the subject of ‘Pleasure Programming’. Yes, in 1993, I was sent to exotic Belgium to understand and adopt the ‘skills’ of ‘Pleasure Programming’ as taught by an official 'Reader’s Digest expert'.
I understand the idea of Pleasure Programming was a concept devised by the marketing people in the US branch of RD to give a unique selling point to their products. As the most common accusation of RD sets was that they ‘all sounded the same’, RD wanted a way to make this possible negative aspect into a selling point. This involved asking the music editors not only to present, for example, a 10 album concept, that all hung together as a whole, that were separated into separate album side concepts and, most importantly, ‘flowed’ from one track to another, but they were asked to devise multiple permutations that could be made for each track, so that the marketing bods could come up with a 'selection type gadget' to be placed in all RD sets!
As you can imagine, this caused a great deal of unhappiness among the editors, multiplying their work load overnight, and the concept was soon dropped. Especially when they discovered that most customers thought it made no difference to their purchase intentions. However the concept was a workable one, and so, by the time I had joined Reader’s Digest 30 years later, the concept of ‘Pleasure Programming’ was as much engrained in Digest mythology, as research testing and the ‘Prize Draw’ as a means of selling more products.
And so, it came to pass that myself and my French and German colleagues on the course were all trained (nay, indoctrinated) in the ancient art of Pleasure Programming, and were given various tests and tasks to prove, that when we returned to our respective countries, we would be able to preach the word to all those that weren’t as fortunate as we, to have had this experience.
The problem was that by the 90s, certain changes had taken place that meant that the concept of PP was becoming more difficult to enforce.
Rather than concepts created by the conductors of orchestras, that did indeed have certain, generic style to them, we were now using licensed recordings as well, that included various quality, styles and genres. The marketing strategy was now that we music editors were saving the customers the time of programming the tracks according to their mood, by providing the moods on different programmes within the collection. However, with the coming of Compact Discs, it meant that customers could programme the tracks themselves if they wished to, and the program concepts themselves became over an hour long, considered too much of one mood for anyone!
The term ‘Pleasure Programming’ thus came to mean… making the tracks ‘flow from one to another’ within the concept of each Programme. Something that meant not only matching the music styles, but the quality, pitch, volume, and sometimes actual instruments used at the beginning and end of each track. One only has to listen to the badly programmed compilations (I’ve even seen alphabetical ones) to see how much difference PP can make to a set, and it became a standard by which other compilation releases on other labels were being made, even if they didn’t use the term.
Sometimes the PP aspect of a set would be the most difficult part of the job, and would take a very long time indeed, and I lost count of the number of ‘heated discussions’ I had with the Production Engineer over what tracks should be next to what track in the sequencing. He normally favoured the more technical aspects of age and quality over my more musical concerns of style and tone.
I still use the same process today on my own compilations on MixCloud, it’s a habit I find hard to shake!