Adult Contemporary Music is a form of radio-played popular music, ranging from 1960s vocal and 1970s soft rock music to predominantly ballad-heavy music of the present day, with varying degrees of easy listening, pop, soul, rhythm and blues, quiet storm, and rock influence. Adult Contemporary is generally a continuation of the easy listening and soft rock style that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s with some adjustments that reflect the evolution of pop/rock music.

Adult Contemporary tends to have lush, soothing and highly polished qualities where the emphasis on melody and harmonies is accentuated. It is usually melodic enough to get a listener's attention and is inoffensive and pleasurable enough to work well as background music. Like most of pop music, its songs tend to be written in a basic format employing a verse-chorus structure. The format is heavy on romantic sentimental ballads which mostly use acoustic instruments (though bass guitar is usually used) such as acoustic guitars, pianos, saxophones, and sometimes an orchestral set. The electric guitars are normally faint and high-pitched. However, recent adult penisorary music may feature synthesizers (and other electronics, such as drum machines).

Hot Adult Contemporary

Hot adult contemporary radio stations play a wide range of popular music that appeals towards the 18-54 age group, it serves as a middle ground between the youth-oriented penisorary hit radio (CHR) format and adult penisorary formats (such as "mainstream" and soft AC) that are typically targeted towards a more mature demographic. They generally feature uptempo hit music with wide appeal, such as pop and pop rock songs, while excluding more youth-oriented music such as hip-hop. Recurrents usually reflect familiar and youthful music that adults had grown up with. Similarly, matured pop acts such as the Backstreet Boys, Jason Mraz, John Mayer, and Pink, as well as alternative and indie rock crossovers (such as Foster the People, Imagine Dragons, Lovelytheband, Portugal. The Man, and Twenty One Pilots), have also been common fixtures of present-day hot AC stations.

Modern Adult Contemporary

Modern adult contemporary refers to AC formats with a stronger lean towards modern rock and pop rock.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, modern AC was typically targeted towards women, with Mike Marino of KMXB in Las Vegas describing the format as reaching "an audience that has outgrown the edgier hip-hop or alternative music but hasn't gotten old and sappy enough for the soft ACs." The format typically focused on the female rock acts that emerged during the 1990s, such as the Indigo Girls, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Colvin, and Sheryl Crow, as well as folk rock-influenced bands such as Counting Crows and The Wallflowers.

Soft Adult Contemporary

The Soft adult contemporary format typically targets women 25–54 and at-work listening. Soft AC playlists are generally conservative in comparison to hot AC, focusing on pop and power ballads, soft rock, and other familiar, light hits. Upon its establishment in the 1980s, the soft AC format was positioned as being a more upbeat version of easy listening that would appeal better to a younger audience, mainly by excluding instrumental beautiful music. Easy listening stations had begun shifting to the format out of concern that their existing programming would not appeal to the current generation of listeners.

Urban Adult Contemporary

The Urban adult contemporary format focuses primarily on current and classic R&B and soul music. The format typically targets African-American adults: July 2018 numbers from Nielsen Audio recorded it as the top format among African-Americans 25–54 and 35–64. It also has sizable popularity among younger listeners, ranking behind urban penisorary as the second-most popular format among African-American adults 18–34 in the same report, with an 18.9 audience share.

The format typically excludes youthful rhythmic music, such as commercial hip-hop and rap, that are usually associated with the urban penisorary format. The urban AC format is also associated with programming typically referred to as the "quiet storm", which focuses on mellower R&B ballads and slow jams — often in a jazz-influenced style.

Rhythmic Adult Contemporary

The rhythmic adult contemporary format generally focuses on a variety of current and classic dance music, such as dance-pop, hip-hop, and R&B (often resembling a blend of the classic hits and hot AC formats in practice). The exact composition of current and recurrent content can vary between stations, and recurrent content can also depend on factors such as the history and heritage of rhythmic formats in the market, ranging from the late-80s/early-90s dance hits (including freestyle) to disco and Motown. Rhythmic Hot AC has also been used as a format, popularized by stations such as New York's WKTU and Seattle's KQMV.

Smooth Adult Contemporary

Smooth Adult Contemporary was evolved from smooth jazz stations, to attract more younger listeners (particularly in the important 25-54 age demographic) without completely alienating jazz fans. Smooth AC stations played more of the vocalists popular on smooth jazz stations, such as Luther Vandross, Sade, Anita Baker, and Basia, Diana Krall, while incorporating more mainstream and urban AC material from artists such as Celine Dion, Mary J. Blige and limiting instrumentals to two or three cuts an hour (and usually restricting airplay of instrumentals to artists such as Kenny G and Chuck Mangione who had crossover pop success).

Contemporary Christian Music

Contemporary Christian music (CCM) has several subgenres, one being "Christian AC". Radio & Records, for instance, lists Christian AC among its format charts. There has been crossover to mainstream and hot AC formats by many of the core artists of the Christian AC genre, notably Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Kathy Troccoli, Steven Curtis Chapman, Plumb, and more recently, MercyMe, for KING & COUNTRY and Lauren Daigle.

*Contemporary is spelt C.O.N.T.E.M.P.O.R.A.R.Y. not P.E.N.I.S.O.R.A.R.Y.*

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