2010 has finally wrapped up, which means it’s time to analyze the common threads of the biggest hits of the year. At the mid-year point, I looked at the Top 50. This time, I extended the analysis to the Top 100. Collectively, these 100 songs accounted for 187 million downloads and well over $200 million in revenue. These 100 titles also account for approximately 36% of all new music track sales. This means over one in three new music downloads come from these songs. Many elements that have been brewing for the last few years that are detailed in Futurehit.DNA really started to show their ability to bring success this year. Here are some of the shared traits:

This is slightly less than the figure we analyzed at the midyear point. But that figure was for the Top 50. This figure is the Top 100. If we compare the Top 50, the intro length actually decreased from 7.76 seconds to 6.46 seconds, a 20% decrease. Furthermore, the Top 25 intro length decreased even more, going from 6.6 seconds to 5 seconds, a 33% decrease. This is just in 6 months! The short intros are really driving the sales. Want even more evidence?

-Of the Top 25 selling songs, only 4 have intros of 10 seconds or longer
-8 of the Top 25 and 14 of the Top 50 songs have NO INTRO WHATSOEVER

What does this mean? Of the top 50 songs, more songs have no intros than songs with intros of 10 seconds or more. Remember, shorter intros have gotten more successful just in the last 6 months.

This is slightly longer than the mid-year point, once again pointing to owning listening experiences with longer songs. I would venture to guess that this figure will continue to slowly creep up in the coming years, but not grow dramatically. It’s tough to both shorten the intro and elongate the song credibly. The fact that both are occurring, however, does suggest that this is a trend that will be continuing over the next few years.

At the halfway point, only one ballad was in the Top 50 selling songs. At the end of the year, that had changed to none. The highest charting ballad was at #59 (“If I Die Young” by The Band Perry). In fact, only 5 songs in the Top 100 had a BPM of less than 70. A few of those songs are ones I wouldn’t call a ballad (Wacak Flocka Flame’s “No Hands”, anyone?) But that being said, a few titles at 70 BPM or above are borderline ballads (Jay-Z’s “Young Foever”), and then others kinda feel like ballads, though they are faster than a ballad tempo (Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me”). Even though the exact number of Top 100 songs that are ballads can be debated, you’d just be arguing between a small number and a real small number. Bottom line, they don’t sell.
So what tempos are selling?

120-135 BPM – 35%
85-99 BPM – 27%
70-84 BPM – 17%
100-119 BPM – 12%
Less than 70 – 5%
More than 135 BPM – 4%

In my book, I discuss the return of the “walking beat” and discuss how “Staying Alive” personifies that, as seen in the opening of Saturday Night Fever. Well, that song’s BPM (103) neatly matches up with the average BPM of the Top 100 selling songs (103.8). However, as you can see above, there are very few songs in that exact range. Instead, energetic club songs appear to be the strong drivers of sales. I still feel that, as streaming takes over as a primary method of consumption, that slower songs will make a comeback. That is not happening now, and it appears that it won’t be at least thru next year.

The #1 subject matter in the Top 100 selling songs were variations of “I want to take you back to my place so we can have sex” songs, accounting for 21% of the top titles. This is possibly indicative of the times, with dating thru social networking on the rise, easier access to sexual material and sexual connections, as well as a need to find escapist pleasure in trying economic times. While this topic is not new to pop music, it certainly felt like it had a spike this year.
The more traditional subject matter along the same line is the “I love you” song, which was the 2nd most popular at 17%. These songs just edged out the “Out Of Love” songs, which accounted for 16% of the titles. However, the “In Love” songs on average sold 20% more than the “Out Of Love” songs, again suggesting people wanting positive, fun messaging.
A common theme people picked up in pop music is “Partying”. While possibly more prevalent than in recent years, this was only the 3rd most popular subject at 16% of the titles. However, of all the main themes in pop, party tunes on average sold the most (over 2 Million per song). They also tended to be a theme more likely to occur in multiple songs by the same artist (specifically Ke$ha, Black Eyed Peas, and Trey Songz). Also, I can confirm that indeed the word “club” is used more often in a party song than the word “party” or “dance”. Though, somehow, two party hits (Far East Movement’s “Like A G6″ and Ke$ha’s “Take It Off) managed to be big hits without mentioning any of those words.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Releasing more singles more often will yield you better success. 15 months ago, Ke$ha was just being released and nobody was sure who she was. In 2010, she has 5 of the Top 50 selling songs and sold more tracks than any other artist. Why? Because she released that many singles in that timeframe. Katy Perry, Rihanna, B.O.B. and Bruno Mars each have 3 of the Top 50 selling songs (Mr. Mars was on one of the B.O.B. sellers), reflective of the consistent single release pattern. The rapidfire succession of songs keeps the singer in the public consciousness and sales seem to grow of older songs the sooner new ones get in the marketplace.

Yes, you read that right. The press story is that the top pop songs, especially in the digital track realm, is dominated by the real young. This is often emphasized by pointing to Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha, and others. The truth is, averaged out across all tracks, the average age is actually 27. The #2 selling song of the year is sung by the 41-year old frontman of Train, Pat Monahan. So how old do you have to be nowadays?

19-24 – 38%
25-34 – 33%
35 and up – 22%
18 and under – 6%

Yes, the prime age as shown here is 19-24 years old, certainly saying the signing of young pop stars is justified. So to be clear, I’m not saying that this is not a key element of success nowadays. I’m just pointing out that, when the image of pop is so young, seeing 55% of the songs recorded by those 25 years old or greater means this is not solely a young persons’ game. Does a person in their early twenties have an advantage? Yes, but when the #1 selling album of the year is by a 38 year old (Eminem) and the #2 selling download is by a 41 year old (Train), experience still counts.
FYI, for those who are astute enough to catch it, the numbers above do indeed add up to 99%. I was unable to verify the age of Neon Trees to include them in the research. However, if the information I found is any indication, this is likely because they are trying to appear younger than they actually are. Their figures would likely just increase the 25-34 year old figure and raise the average age slightly, but it’s unlikely they would lower it.

I may be doing further analysis in the coming weeks, potentially looking at genre specific findings. Do you have anything you’re curious about with the top selling songs of 2010? Leave a comment and I may answer it in the followup report.

13 Responses to “THE FUTUREHIT 2010 REPORT”

  1. Briand Melanson January 11, 2011 at 6:24 pm # Reply

    Thanks for the facts Jay!!

  2. Cisko Rodriguez January 13, 2011 at 7:13 pm # Reply

    Hey Jay,

    Your book has been a great read and I am going around for my second reading with a notebook in hand to write down many of the valuable tidbits. Thanks for this post as it sums up much of what you describe in the book.

  3. Jeff Dolan January 13, 2011 at 9:19 pm # Reply

    This sounds so close to stock market analysis, where you analyze the history of a market or chart without knowing where it will go next.

    Many who tried out for American Idol can fit their music to these facts all day, but we all know how many can actually break out on a national level as a pop hit.

    If you are a songwriter or artist, keep innovating. Don’t get stuck chasing a magic formula. Learn from Jay for sure, but don’t lose hope if your songs don’t match up!

  4. Bill Bogaardt January 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm # Reply

    Thanks Jay! Excellent research that will be very helpful for all the singer/songwriters/producers out there, including myself. I’m constantly amazed how original songs are analyzed, and seem to be liked by only a few or conversely by a lot of listeners. With your research, a songwriter can actually do some self-analysis, use YOUR INFORMATION and possibly create something unique, that gets closer to the mark of being successful. At least your information gives songwriters and producers a chance! I appreciate your information!
    God Bless!!
    Bill Bogaardt

  5. Ian - Make It In Music January 14, 2011 at 5:14 am # Reply


    Brilliant data that EVERY songwriter should consider whern writing.

    I agree with the comment that you shouldn’t seek out a perfect formula and should remain innovative, but it would be plain stupid to ignore the data about intro length, song length and bpm.

    You might choose to not always stick to that framework but when working on something that you know is strong and has radio potential, get the fine tuning down and go for the jugular.

    That’s not compromise or selling out – it’s just intelligent!

    I wonder if you can ever find the time to apply your analysis to the UK and European market?

    If you don’t mind the plug, I think your readers would benefit from the way we cover this and the way songs need to be crafted in a free eBook on our site here –

    I’ll be posting this in or daily tips today as well.


  6. Michael Khan January 14, 2011 at 7:20 am # Reply

    This is valuable information! I’m certainly going to buy your book now.

  7. admin January 14, 2011 at 11:20 am # Reply

    Thanks for all the great feedback. You are right that creativity should come first. Also there are examples of top selling songs that do not conform to this. But my thoughts are that songs not in the formula have to be exponentially of a higher quality. Also, for new artists who have earned no audience trust yet, these tips help make sure they have a higher chance if attracting attention.

    I have not formally studied the European market but I have found that when I spot-check it, these theories almost always hold up.

  8. Ian - Make It In Music January 15, 2011 at 5:46 am # Reply

    Jay – I guess a large part of what makes up the European market is the same as the US anyway so I wouldn’t expect much difference!

  9. Gypsy January 16, 2011 at 9:28 am # Reply

    Thank You Thank You !!! I truly appreciate you posting everything you post. It’s always informative and refelctive to the industry today. Your Amazing !!!

  10. Keith Dunton January 19, 2011 at 4:32 am # Reply

    Awesome stuff!! Do you think the average age is going to go up or down over the next five years?

    • admin January 19, 2011 at 9:43 am # Reply

      Average age might go down slightly, but it shouldn’t move much. You never know who the out of left field successes will be.


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