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.
The other thing worth noting as we dive into the analysis is that the predictions I wrote two years ago are no longer coming true. They are true. When compared against last year, most of the theories outlined in Futurehit.DNA only became more valid. The facts are here. Sales are incrementally increasing as more songs adopt the Futurehit model. Those songs overindex in the revenue growth the music business has so far this year.
THE AVERAGE LENGTH OF INTROS IS 4.88 SECONDS
Intros are getting significantly shorter. Compared to last year, the average intro decreased by 37%. The Top 25 had an average intro length of 2.96 seconds. In fact, there were only two songs with an intro over 7 seconds. Last year, it was 2 of the Top 10. Now it’s 2 of the Top 25. And sales increased as a result. Expand to the Top 50 and it’s only 20% of the titles with intros longer than 7 seconds. That’s down from 48% last year. The chances of a song with a longer intro succeeding continue to decrease every year.
THE AVERAGE SONG LENGTH IS 3 MINUTES 53 SECONDS
In Futurehit.DNA, I remark how longer songs own more of the musical conversation. For a brief moment, I thought this theory might prove incorrect as many hits last year were under 3 1/2 minutes. However, this year, the average song length increased by 6 seconds, a 2.5% increase. That may not seem like a lot, but out of the Top 50 songs there were also two fewer songs exceeding 4 minutes than last year. Therefore, there were less of those to skew the average up. It definitely seems to work in the song’s favor to not cut their songs short.
RELEASE MORE SONGS MORE OFTEN
11 artists have more than one track in the Top 50 sellers. A couple of the artists’ songs are holdovers from 2010, but many of them are, once again, releasing more songs more often. Lady Gaga got mixed reviews for releasing multiple singles in quick succession, but 2 of them are in the Top 50 sellers. Katy Perry released 5 singles from her album in 13 months. Two of those singles are in the Top 10 sellers for the year so far. Her 5 singles collectively have sold 8.6 million singles in 2011 alone. This means 1 out of every 32 new songs sold so far this year was a Katy Perry song. Keep fans engaged with multiple singles at any level and they will reward you with increased success.
THE BEAT HAS SLOWED A LITTLE
The average tempo has slowed down a bit to 103.6 BPM. But the real story is that there are more songs this year in the ballad tempo range. Last year was notable for only having one true ballad in the Top 50. This year technically has two (Christina Perri and the Jason Aldean/Kelly Clarkson duet). But what’s more interesting is that there are far more songs under 80 BPMs this year overall. They are just not “ballads”. They are songs that feel technically at a slower tempo with the drum beats, but don’t feel like a ballad because the vocals are double timed. Songs under 80 BPM accounted for 20% of the Top 50. Now, rhythmic music is still more popular (26% have BPMs of 125 or greater), but compared to last year this is a stylistic shift. In fact, despite signs suggesting music has become homogenized, one could argue that having nearly half of the top selling songs exist in a tempo extreme on either end of the spectrum says otherwise.
ROCK CONTINUES TO BE DEAD
Only 1 song out of the Top 50 sellers is considered a rock song. At least according to Soundscan. Most people I know don’t consider Adele rock. But if you want to cling to hope for rock music, you probably have to. That is the only “rock” track to have sold over 1 million copies so far this year. Yes, one could argue that rock is an album-based format, and indeed rock fares better there with 8 out of the Top 50. Although, that’s odd on its own because the Soundscan rock album chart does not include Adele, which would have made it 9 out of the Top 50. So I guess Adele’s single is a rock song, but the whole album is not a rock album. Is this indicative of rock’s current identity crisis?
ADELE IS BIG BECAUSE IT’S A FUTUREHIT
Forgetting about the above debate on what category Adele is in, the undeniable category it’s in is a smash hit. Already expected to sweep the Grammys early next year, many people are saying Adele’s success is due to her authenticity in a world of more processed songs. While I agree with this assessment and can’t deny Adele’s stellar vocal performance, I can also give examples of great authentic artists who are not selling at that level. The difference is that Adele’s single is structured like a futurehit. The intro is 5 seconds long, is at a walking tempo (105 BPM), contains repetition of many lyrics with a choral counter-chorus, has a very sly shift in the chord progression at the bridge, and contains many dynamic shifts throughout the song. The subtleties of modern futurehit song structures amidst its retro-soul feel is what takes this song over the top and makes it as undeniable as it is. Artistic credibility and commercial sensibilities can coexist when done right. When they do, they create a massive hit and help lift an entire industry.