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ALEX CLARE: FUTUREHITS CAN TAKE AWHILE

Alex Clare’s “Too Close” is the kind of hit people dream of having. Exploding seemingly overnight, the song is now charting around the world thanks to being used in a commercial for Microsoft Internet Explorer. We can certainly discuss the importance of sync placements in Film & TV in many hits today, which certainly helps. What it really shows, however, is that very few songs truly hit immediately, and the big hits require persistence, dedication and time.

The song’s journey with the public likely began when the video hit YouTube in March, 2011. The response was rather tepid, especially for a video released by a major label (in this case Universal Island in the UK). This was his second single, and performed at the same level as the first one. Despite accolades such as the “Megahit of the week” on Dutch radio station 3FM, the album came out and did not perform well. Subsequently, Alex was dropped from the label and he had to get a job with a realtor friend.

One could stay the story ends there: musician works for years to get his big break, gets signed, record flops, and he’s never heard from again. Instead, some people around him obviously believed in him and they kept working to get his music placed in film & TV shows. He finally got a call and approved the usage, mostly because he had nothing to lose by doing so. That usage proved to be the Microsoft ad. In March of this year and a year after the song was originally released, the ad began playing on TV and in movie theaters. Within a month, it had sold 100,000 downloads and hit the Billboard Hot 100. 2 months after that, and it’s a #1 song in Germany, Top 5 in the UK, and beginning to climb in the US.

Futurehit readers might take note that “Too Close” is atypical of a hit today. The intro is 31 seconds long, for one. However, the blending of a light pop sound with soulful vocals and an aggressive Dubstep chorus is the exact kind of genre blending I describe that eventually attracts a wider audience. Also, the context and usage is important which is why the sync placement plays such an important role.

Just as vital, though, is recognizing that you need to give a song time and not give up. Too often I see artists release a song only to stop “working it” a few weeks later. That may be justified in some circumstances. However, persistence is what is truly required to make something hit. Don’t get fooled by the fast paced nature of the internet to think that you always have to move on. You may have to consistently “make content” for that, but to succeed, you need to never give up and continue to promote the song you believe in.

NO SPOTIFY OR FREE DOWNLOAD? WHAT DO YOU MISS?

Last week I had the honor of chairing the Leadership Music Digital Summit here in Nashville. We focused on Social Media and had great attendance from a cross-section of the music business. We also ran a contest for independent artists to win free passes to the event. Unannounced, as a special surprise, I was going to add a track from each artist who entered the contest into the playlist of songs in-between panels. I love supporting indie artists when I can, and this was a great way to shine a little light on new artists. I was running the playlist from Spotify so all I needed was to find a track from the artist there or get a free download easily from the artist’s site.

What surprised me was how hard this task turned out to be. Out of all the artists submitting, only 1 in 5 artists had their music either on Spotify or as a free download. At this point in digital music, either action is easy to do. An inexpensive site like Tunecore can put up a single on Spotify (and iTunes, for that matter) for $10. There are plenty of free widgets such as BandPage, TopSpin, Reverbnation and more that can distribute free downloads easily. Yet the artists who did so were well in the minority.

In the effort to gross a mere 99 cents, most acts actually cut off their opportunity to receive a little exposure. Is the loss of exposure worth the potential gain for so little money? Many people ask me why I give away all the music on my label for free? To me, the answer is easy. At the early stage in an artist, the most important goal is getting noticed. It’s not how much money gets made. Once you get to a degree of popularity, monetization becomes much easier. The reality is that there is too much music being released weekly to have any barriers if you are new to the game.

So we can argue about what Spotify pays all we want. We can talk about free downloads devaluing music until we’re blue in the face. The truth is, for new artists, the value proposition around exposure means sacrificing dollars in the short term. It’s the reality record labels have known for years, and it’s only been a greater reality in the digital era. It used to be that missed opportunities were because of a failure to convince gatekeepers to support your music. Now, acts miss opportunities because they fail to unlock their own gates. For 4 out of 5 artists last week, they missed an opportunity. Will you miss yours?

FUTUREHIT 2011 YEAR END REPORT INFOGRAPHIC

As I do at the end of each year, we take the Top 100 selling songs of the previous year and look for patterns on what’s making a song a hit.  Some of our findings for this year:

  • The average length of a song intro continues to be 7.1 seconds long
  • 71% of the intros in 2011 were under 10 seconds long
  • Over 1 out of 4 intros were zero seconds long
  • The average tempo for a song was 101 BPM
  • Despite feeling like the charts are beat driven, 54% of the top sellers were 100 BPM or less

Rather than write a lot of words, I figured it’s best to show you the rest in a very snazzy infographic, courtesy of my new friends at Killer Infographics. Enjoy!

OH BABY, HOW MARKETING PLANS HAVE CHANGED

The music business has changed in so many ways over the last few decades, but how much has it changed?  Sometimes it’s good to look back just to see how far things have come in the last few years.

As I was cleaning up around the house, I stumbled across an old promo item from U2 that I had from many years back.  It was a Solicitation Kit to convince retailers to stock their then-new Achtung Baby album on store shelves.  With all the recent hype around the album’s 20th anniversary, I cracked it open to remind myself of the kit’s contents.  Inside, it contained an advanced cassette of several songs, a video tape, and of the greatest interest here, the original marketing plan.  There’s nothing inherently controversial in what was done to market the album 20 years ago, but there is a lot of interesting tidbits that show how much marketing has changed in the last 20 years, including:

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IT’S NOT SPOTIFY’S FAULT YOU MAKE SO LITTLE MONEY

In the last few days, chatter has grown in the indie community about pulling releases from the new (to the U.S.) music subscription service Spotify. The complaints largely stem from miniscule royalty checks at lower rates than majors receive. Spotify has responded to the complaints but that only seems to add fuel to the fire. What is the real issue?

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PANDORA AND SPOTIFY ARE NOT COMPETITORS

Last week, Pandora announced their first post-IPO earnings report. They did post a loss, but they had higher revenue than Wall Street expected. This was not only good news for Wall Street, but also for artists and labels who get royalties from Pandora airplay.

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THE FUTUREHIT 2011 MIDYEAR REPORT

It’s halfway thru 2011 and time to make my 2nd annual midyear report. This report defines a hit as a song that has sold the most downloads. I look at the Top 50 biggest selling downloads in the US as a group. This year, these Top 50 downloads accounted for nearly 89 million downloads (and nearly $115 million in gross revenue). Once again, about 1 out of every 3 paid downloads of a new song came from this list of 50 titles. The exact figure is 32.9%, which is an increase over the 32.3% from last year. In fact, having a hit is becoming increasingly important. While the overall download market has increased 11% so far over 2010, the Top 50 downloads have increased in sales at a faster rate (by 15%). The #1 selling single for the year so far is Katy Perry’s “E.T.” with 4.1 million downloads sold. That’s a 22% increase over last year’s #1 song at this time. Also, for the first time, every single title in the Top 50 downloads has sold platinum in the last 6 months.

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DO YOU HAVE KLOUT? YOU SHOULD!

http://klout.com/

What exactly is Klout? Klout measures your overall online influence on a scale of 1 to 100. It looks at Twitter, Facebook and the like and examines several factors. It looks at your True Reach, or how big is your engaged audience. It looks at Amplification Probability, or how likely a person on your audience will click your link. It also looks at your Network Influence, such as how often you get retweeted. All told, it can measure exactly how influential you are.

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DIGITAL DOWNLOADS STILL KEY FOR FUTUREHITS

Have you ever moved 12.5 million units of anything? Music? Dollars? Grains of rice? Almost certainly not. Do you agree that this is a lot and if you were to move this many units in music, it’s a good success, right?

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HOW NARCISSISTIC ARE YOUR LYRICS?

Last year I did an mid-year analysis of the top 50 selling songs of 2010 thus far. I found that there was an increased use of the word “I” (and its derivatives) in relation to “you”. In fact, the variations of “I” were used nearly twice as much as the variations of “you”. I didn’t really have any historical data to back up whether or not this was an increasing trend or this was somewhat normal. A couple of pop music people I talked to suggested that this was the relative standard for the past few years.

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