We’re now halfway thru 2010 and I was curious as to what made up the current hits. For the purpose of this exercise, I defined a hit as having sold the most paid track downloads. I examined the Top 50 biggest selling downloads of the year so far as a group. These 50 titles accounted for nearly 75 million downloads (and nearly $100 million in gross revenue). Also, nearly 1 out of every 3 paid downloads of a new song came from this list of 50 titles (32.3%, to be exact). If you remain skeptical of the Futurehit philosophy, you should read that statement again. Then realize the shared characteristics of the songs that are driving the 2010 music business.

Slightly longer than I discuss in Futurehit.DNA, but not by much. But, that’s not the whole story. The Top 25 titles had an average intro length of 6.6 seconds, while #26-50 had an average intro length of 8.9 seconds. The more successful songs had the shorter intro. Also, the songs with longer intros tended to have much longer intros, thereby skewing the average. Over half of the chart topping hits (52%) had intros of 7 seconds or less. And in the Top 25, that number jumps up to 64% of all titles. I don’t have exact figures from this point in past years, but from my observations, that percentage of songs with short intros is steadily increasing every year.

This is down slightly from recent observations, but again, it’s not the whole story. The Top 25 titles have a slightly longer average length (3:51), with 36% of the titles in the Top 25 exceeding the four-minute mark. I still hold to my contention that longer songs own more of the listener’s musical conversation, thereby keeping other songs from infiltrating the listener. Seeing that only 28% of #26-50 songs exceeded four minutes, an argument can be made that having the longer song may indeed work in your favor.

Here’s something I don’t touch on in Futurehit.DNA yet obviously showed itself in this analysis. Only 10% of the songs in the Top 50 sellers had a traditional fade. The popular choice to end a song is with a cold ending (58%), followed by a final chord with a sustain that trailed off (32%). There was virtually no difference in these percentages between the Top 25 and #26-50.
Cold and final endings play well in the on-demand world. When one listens to a song on a streaming site or on YouTube, the desire to play something else can always kick in. Therefore, a fade out would likely elicit a “skip” from the listener to save those precious few seconds during the fade out. The listener had certainly listened to the whole song, but the action of pressing “skip” leaves a subtle negative impression that can play against the song. I discuss the benefits of the false and incomplete endings in Chapter 6, and I think the second edition will have to add cold endings.

In the Top 50, Lady Gaga has four titles, Ke$ha and Black Eyed Peas have three (or four, counting their guest appearances) and newcomer B.O.B. has two in the Top Ten! Yes, they are the current hitmakers, but they are also releasing more songs more often. Ke$ha’s first single was less than a year ago and she has three songs in the Top 20 biggest sellers. B.O.B.’s songs were both released in the last five months. The more you keep fans engaged at any level, the more you will grow and sell. Ke$ha and B.O.B. are just the biggest success stories to that effect.

Only one song in the Top 50 would qualify as a ballad, and even that one barely squeaked in at #50 (Miley Cyrus’ “When I Look At You”). This is looking at ballads in the traditional sense. Certainly some songs have slow tempos (Jay-Z’s “Young Forever” comes to mind) but basically ballads aren’t selling. Now, this runs counter to my “mellow music” chapter in Futurehit.DNA, but keep in mind that success there was predicated on streaming radio and cloud airplay. We’re not quite there yet, so for the moment the active purchaser clearly favors tempo.

Now, this last part involves a first for me. I decided to add up all the lyrics of the Top 50 songs and see what commonalities exist. Now, I will be the first to say that while I think this information is close, I’m not fully certain it’s 100% accurate. My two word count programs disagreed with each other, so something’s not right. So I reserve the right to fix this. And that’s before the discrepancies that exist between “official” lyrics and what’s actually sung in a song.
But the general direction seems to be correct. And that is that the modern music consumer is a rather selfish bunch. Usage of the words “I”, “I’m”, “Me” and (courtesy mostly of The Black Eyed Peas, though it’s used in other songs as well), “Imma” is way in excess of words like “You”, “Your” and “You’re”. I had presumed in Futurehit.DNA that people would rather hear “you” words in a digital experience because the isolation most often found in this type of listening begs for inclusion. Hearing “you” allows the listener to feel like the singer is singing directly to them. But what’s actually happening is the opposite. People appear to be preferring to sing about themselves in their isolated experience. I’ll save more detailed analysis for a later time, but suffice to say it appears the response is bigger if you sing about me, me, me.
For those that want to see the top words in the lyrics of the top 50 selling song of 2010 (so far), then I strongly encourage you to click on this link for a very cool graphic. It certainly displays the list better than I could’ve done it! Seriously, please check it out!


  1. Mojo July 6, 2010 at 12:44 pm # Reply

    Very interesting to see this info quantified! I knew about the 3-4 minute timeframe but not the rest. Thanks for the article, keep em coming!

  2. Michael Huey July 11, 2010 at 10:38 am # Reply

    This is a very interesting missive . . . and insightful.
    Regarding Ballads, I have always felt that Ballads are more likely to be hits in the Fall/Winter months, and of course uptempos are made for Spring/Summer months. This is simply a gut feeling, and has nothing to do with research :) Also, very interesting find on the endings. Definitive tag instead of fade.
    Keep-up the good work. Always interesting observations . . .
    All the Best,
    Michael Huey

    • admin July 14, 2010 at 9:30 am # Reply

      You are right that ballads have traditionally been a “winter” thing…and half of the period I cover entails that period, so ballads should be reflected in the results. I noticed this trend first in January when the Top 10 selling downloads did not contain a single ballad.


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