In Chapter 12 of Futurehit.DNA, I talk about the need to perform cover versions as they serve multiple purposes. One of them is searches in iTunes where your song shows up next to the “official” version. I also note that sometimes it just takes the song title to be the same. Last year, I talked about Rihanna’s “Russian Roulette” single and how it was harder to discover because the band 10 Years had a song of the same name. Well, below is a lesson for all artists on why you have to be careful with your song names and subsequently how you might benefit from the right song name.
I’ll tell this story in the order that it occurred.
I saw via an ad in trade magazine HITS that there was a new Sara Bareilles single. For those with a short attention span, Sara scored big in late 2007/early 2008 when her single “Love Song” went Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and received two Grammy nominations. But follow up singles failed to chart and her last release was a live album released in October 2008. In other words, it’s been over 18 months since she last released anything and well over 2 years since her one hit peaked on the charts.
My main purpose in diving further in was to discuss my philosophy of releasing more songs more often. Eighteen months is an eternity and your fan base can certainly erode in that time as people move on to other artists that fill the void you don’t fill with new music. So my first stop was Google Insights. Click here and see how her search results have fared throughout her career. While she has ‘some’ presence today because she did have that hit, that presence has been largely flat for over a year. Activity is off about 75% from the height of her hit single.
Even take a closer look by clicking here to see the last 90 days. Despite the fact that she released her new single three weeks ago, her search results have barely moved the needle. Why? Her fan base has moved on so they are completely unaware she even has a new single. As far as marketing her music is concerned, she might as well be a new artist. And I believe that over the long haul, it is more cost efficient to consistently market and engage fans on a regular basis than needing to spend like a new artist to drive awareness. Remember, I only knew this song existed because Sony spent money on ads in a trade magazine. And I’ve spent money in that trade magazine. It’s not that cheap (but obviously effective, since it got me to notice).
So what next…OK, I say…let’s just see if the song may fit the Futurehit.DNA filter. Does the song have a chance to bring Sara back to the forefront. I head to Sara’s website where they have her song available to stream right from the front page. The song, indeed, does fit many of the tips I discuss. The intro starts with a chorused “bum-ba-bum” type melody line over a sole piano (her primary instrument) and jumps right into the first verse after 4 bars. No waiting around. The song, to emphasize a dynamic build, mostly relies on hand claps as percussion in the first chorus. Instruments keep adding in thru the second verse and chorus to offer a very dramatic build. After the second chorus, the song alternates between full and sparse instrumentation thru the end of the song to keep the listener engaged past the two-minute mark. The song ends without a chord resolution, helping to keep it memorable. Aside from perhaps a pointed, super memorable lyric, this song does play well in the Futurehit model and has a great chance of success.
Indeed, it very well may be headed in that direction, even if those Google searches aren’t taking off out of the gate. After 3 weeks of release, the song is Top 30 on the Adult Alternative radio chart, Top 40 on the Hot AC chart, and well over 100,000 streams on YouTube. It all sounds good so far.
When I do my Futurehit analysis, I generally like to time the song so I can analyze the exact length of the song, when the chorus come in, etc. And the stream on Sara’s site did not offer a timer to know the length of the song. So I went to Amazon to buy the MP3. Only…I found that the single was unavailable. I also confirmed here that Sara’s last commercial release was that live album in 2008. Now, most consumers at this point would give up. If it’s not available in your preferred shopping destination, you just move on. I gave Sony the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they gave it to iTunes as an exclusive. So I head on over to Apple’s store and search for Sara Bareilles. No single available. Just to be sure, I search the song title “King Of Anything” instead. Maybe someone misspelled “Bareilles” (an easy mistake). I also know many people search song titles because they don’t know artists when they hear songs. So I’m curious…
And here’s where the story shifts dramatically…
As you already guessed, Sara Bareilles’ song is nowhere to be found. (Note to Michael D.: it took me less than six hours to find one and I should’ve made a bet.) The top result for “King Of Anything” is instead a song by a group called boywonderbread. I already know that the songs have to be different as Sara’s song is clearly an original. But I had never heard of boywonderbread in any circle and curiosity got the better of me. I had a spare minute and if they impressed me quickly ala the Futurehit.DNA model, then why not…and boy did they impress me.
“King Of Anything” has a mere two second intro drawing you right into the song. The lyrics are sparse, but specific as they are filled with a melancholy emotion that kept me hanging on. The opening lyric reads “Can we get this thing on shore/to the waves I’ve long forgotten” (at least I think that’s it, I can’t find a lyric sheet, but not being 100% sure drew me in further) and was just interesting enough to draw me in. The song wastes no time to get to the chorus, which is just a beautifully lush harmonized dreamscape of melancholy longing. And then, between the slow tempo and the song design, the chorus is a blissful 45 seconds long that feels like half that length. The chorus, in my opinion, is so engaging that you don’t even realize that 3 minutes have gone by at the end of the second chorus (normally, that would be the two minute mark). After that point, the song adds more instruments, multi-layered vocals, and builds to the song end without adding the chorus for a third time. Which just begs you to play the song again since you don’t get the satisfaction of an additional chorus. It all clocks in at 4:36, which as Futurehit.DNA readers know is important so you own the listening experience. The song could easily have been 3:45, but it neatly stretches for nearly an additional minute without seeming like filler. The song does neatly embrace many of the Futurehit elements crucial to drawing me in.
Remember, at this point, I had nobody ever telling me about the band. I don’t know anything other than the album cover art. I didn’t know the band’s history. Their genre. Their hit singles. Where they’re from. Anything. The song had to overcome a lot of random hurdles for me to draw me in, let alone enjoy it.
So, now I go to the band’s website and find their animated video and another catchy song that fits many Futurehit models in their single “Comes And Goes”. The fact that the video uses Claymation animation is an instant draw on top of the song. Two hits in random order and I’m hooked. I waste no time and go to Amazon to purchase the whole album. I need to hear all 13 songs from their debut. Listening to the whole album as I write this, the band does not disappoint me.
Now, this band may not be for everyone. The band is in the Nada Surf/Death Cab For Cutie vein and write songs every bit as good as those critical indie darlings. Could “King Of Anything” make its way onto the soundtrack to Gray’s Anatomy or a CW show? In a heartbeat, as could several of their other songs. How are they live? Do I know or care? Doesn’t matter…I’m thoroughly enjoying the album. Which, by the way, also follows the rule of having a cover song included. Want a genius complete reworking of No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” to the point that it’s virtually unrecognizable from the original? Listen to boywonderbread’s version right now.
Boywonderbread’s “King Of Anything” takes the position that the singer is a person who will “never be the king of anything”. This wounded heart singer/songwriter approach is far more appealing than Sara Bareilles’ approach (in my opinion) where the “King” is the boy she is berating as she sings, “Who died and made you king of anything?” Now, maybe that’s a male/female thing where women would prefer the empowering theme of redressing a male suitor.
I don’t even think it’s a preference of choosing one song over the other. Remember, I think both songs are strong for their genres and both fit my theories of the elements of a hit song today. But let me state the bottom line, in case it’s not obvious. I intended to spend $1.29 on Sara Bareilles. Instead, I spent $9.99 on boywonderbread. Sony and Sara lost a sliver of my money and an indie band from Canada received 8x that amount. In an instant. And if the pattern of most consumers holds up, the chances that they’ll come back at a later date to buy the Sara song is remote. You have to get the sale while the consumer is thinking of buying. Too many distractions exist to presume they’d come back. You think I would come back to buy boywonderbread later? I bought that on impulse! And impulse buys have always been the difference in making something a huge sale.
Let my discovery of boywonderbread be the lesson everyone needs to take. Don’t be the one who missed out on making money because you didn’t put something up. Do be the one who crafts your songs well to be discoveable at the right place at the right time. And release more songs more often so you don’t erode your fanbase.
P.S. to boywonderbread: now that I’m a fan, I hope you update your website and release new songs in the next six months. Looking at the lack of updates on your site, you might become my forgotten band six months from now. Don’t blow it.