Another 6 months down, and time for another Futurehit 2012 Midyear report. There’s lots of stats to chew on. Single download sales are up. Album sales are down. Two songs sold over 5 million downloads in 6 months. What’s really interesting is that I see signs of an industry ready to go thru another major shift musically and financially. Where this will lead is an increased reliance on digital singles and a re-examination of passive fans and how they will contribute to a future music business.
GOTYE, FUN. & CARLY RAE JEPSEN
To start, let’s group out the Top 3 selling singles so far this year. Collectively, they have sold nearly 15 million downloads in the US alone. 2.2% of all downloads sold came from these 3 songs, which is pretty impressive. But can you find the trend in these three songs? The truth is that these songs are all radically different in texture, style, rhythm and theme. The top seller, Gotye, has an 18 second intro which runs counter to my theories of short intros. Fun. has a rhythm change in the song that hasn’t existed in a top hit in years. In other words, they broke the mold. What this suggests to me is that people are indeed may be tiring of the sameness found in many of today’s hits and they are ready for a new sound. I’m not sure the new sound is found in either of these songs, but the same sounding Euro-influenced dance pop may be waning.
Also worth noting that the top 3 sellers are also the first time any of those artists ever hit in the US. The notion of superstars ruling the charts is quickly being disproven with this trio. What’s also worth paying attention to is that while it’s their first US hit, it’s not their first release. All of them have been making music for a few years in one form or another, so it’s not that they got lucky their first go-round. They developed over several years. In fact, despite the notion that always exists of labels signing young artists, these singers are aged 32, 30 and 26 respectively. Signing that 17 year old is not necessarily the ticket to huge stardom.
These artists were largely not developed within the major label system. Two of these acts, Gotye and Carly Rae Jepsen, were created under completely independent labels that then got “upstreamed” to the majors. Fun. was signed to a major, but under the Fueled By Ramen imprint that has maintained some independence from its parent company Warner Music Group. In the top 50 selling singles, there is not one track that is 100% independent. There are only two songs out of the Top 50 that were created as an indie. And they are the #1 and #3 best sellers of the year so far. To some degree, this underscores the continued importance of major labels on big hit songs, but also that big creative hits do come from outside the system.
The sheer success of these songs (they are the only ones selling over 4 million apiece this year) leads me to feel that the public is starting to clamor for something different. They really want a unique spice in their life that is not the same repetitive rhythms. Naturally, it has to be a great song as well, so don’t be different just for the sake of being so. Make no mistake, these are also very well structured songs with universal themes as well. Yet sonically, there’s a strong argument to not emulate what you’re hearing across the board.
THE OTHER HITS ARE STILL A FORMULA
Or is there? Because once you venture outside of the Top 50, you find that there are a lot of similarities in the songs. While the Top 3 are outliers, taken as a whole there is still a general pattern and formula to what elements one needs in a successful song.
The average length of intros in the Top 50 selling songs is still around the 7 second mark. 7.7 seconds to be exact. But that’s also a bit misleading as one song, Coldplay’s “Paradise”, has a 61 second intro. Take that song out and the average intro length of a top selling song is 6.5 seconds. Once again, about 1/4 (24%) of the hits have no intro whatsoever. And only 30% of the hits have an intro of 9 seconds or more. In fact, in the top 10, only the Gotye song has an intro longer than 9 seconds.
There’s no mistake that overall the rhythmic thumping that you’re hearing is working. Over half the Top 50 sellers (56%) have tempos of 116 BPM or greater. Digging deeper, the generally accepted Euro-dance BPM (between 125 and 130 BPM) covers over 1/3 (36%) of the top sellers. Even Gotye doesn’t escape this, as it’s 129 BPM rhythm is certainly a reason why it’s been favored by remixers around the world.
Contrary to my expectations in Futurehit.DNA, mid-tempo songs aren’t making a comeback as 20% of the top selling songs fall between 95 and 112 BPM. My theory as to why this is happening is probably due to a couple of factors. One is that the rapid ADD attitude reinforced by an on-demand world with everything at your fingertips causes people to gravitate to songs that are working at the presumed speeds of their brains. There’s not a lot of downtime. Then, add in a growing club culture reinforcing fast songs appropriate for the environment and radio programmers reluctant to bring the energy down. All this adds up to a reinforced tempo that’s unlikely to recede anytime soon. The energy is in the air.
Two of the top 3 songs of the year (Fun. and Carly Rae Jepsen) are sung in a major key certainly suggesting that people are looking for very happy tunes. In fact, when I first started to formulate what I was going to write, I thought I was going to point to Gotye as a minor key outlier. In actuality, it’s the major key songs that are the outliers. Of the Top 50 selling songs, 2/3 of them are either in a minor key or contain a relative minor. Specific to the relative minor, it appears that there’s been a noticeable spike in its usage this year with 18% of the top songs containing it. Whether the reason comes from a downbeat mood over economy or other reasons, it is clear that minor keys are desired more by audiences today.
Another overall summary I would recommend reading for the first half of the year is this analysis by Billboard.