Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Is The Chart Playing You?

I received this email last week from one of my reliable old pals at Mercury Nashville:   
"Thank you all for the great support of Scotty McCreery’s current single See You Tonight. 48 weeks old!  We will ship Scotty’s Feelin it on 3/31 and go for adds on 4/14 a month from now.  Great tune for the upcoming summer!! Those who took so long to add See You Tonight PLEASE don’t wait so long this time!  Scotty’s the real deal and has a ton of fans listening to your radio station. He’s on his way!"

Of course, we all wish the very talented Scotty well, but the fact that it took 48 weeks to find out that a tune isn't going to be a hit simply has to contribute to repetition complaints from listeners.  

Pity the poor station which added it early, convinced that it was a hit and now their listeners are left wondering why it's not being played anymore.

Yet, I appreciate a savvy promotion exec who can be honest like that.  

Few are, and it builds a lot of trust, which of course they will need now as they turn toward a project which they have to hope will have more success:

Currington finally made it to the top 30 last week, which means it now stands to gain from weekend countdown spins as it now enters an increasingly competitive part of the charts as Stone Door Media Lab's Jeff Green explained in his CRS 2014 session along with Musicmetric's Mark Tindle (click to read a recap of it in last week's Country Aircheck - pdf)

To give you an idea of what the promotion team behind "We Are Tonight" faces in the coming weeks and provide some stats to see how well they do, I dug into some of the metrics Green explained at CRS (note the interpretations of the benchmarks are mine only based on the statistical norms used at the CRS panel):
The song has been among the top 3 most added once (Nov. 18), but no better than that. Statistically, that indicates no better than a 31% chance of going No. 1.


A. The single did not have any "backmoves" before breaking Top 40, which is good, and only one backmove on its road to Top 30, which is also good. So there's nothing in terms of "wobbles" to cause alarm on its current week-to-week pacing.

B. However, it's taken Billy 12 weeks from chart debut to No. 30. While there have been a few No. 1 singles in recent history that took longer, they were mostly protracted battles: L&T's "Angel Eyes," "Randy Houser's "How Country Feels," Brett Eldredge's "Don't Ya," Parmalee's "Carolina" and Eric Paslay's "Friday Night." Note that these were mostly newer artists, as well, so for an established act like Billy to take this long suggests a struggle, especially since "Hey Girl" (also a No. 1) broke the top 30 in just seven weeks. 
Stone Door Media Lab data indicates the average No. 1 is already between chart positions 9-10 by chart week 12. Since the average Country single only has a chart life of 16 weeks, this one needs to catch fire soon.

C. Historical data indicates that a single typically ranking Top 30 should be averaging between 14-15 spins per week. Billy's averaging around 11, which indicates PD confidence in this single is below average.


Established artists such as Billy recently have been averaging 2.3 weeks on the chart before top 100 sales materialize. Specifically, 86% of established artists break into the top 100 sales within three weeks of reaching the CA/Mediabase top 50. It took "We Are Tonight" more than twice as long -- five weeks -- to reach Top 100 sales. Another lagging indicator, sadly.


Sales-per-spin (click the link to see Nielsen's SXSW presentation on deemphasizing sales with streaming growing so quickly now) on "We Are Tonight" are modest. "Hey Girl" averaged 10+ per spin its first 10 weeks.

The average chart peak of an established act (looking at charting singles for the first half of 2013) is 8, and the average chart peak of all songs that chart is 20. There are always exceptions, of course, and we've seen many singles eventually peak well above what the data would project. It appears that Billy would do very well to crack the top 10-15 with this single, but, frankly, the data benchmarks at this point are not supporting it going further than that.  That may be why Universal is clearing the decks now to focus on it rather than dividing their efforts between it and Scotty.

As financial advisers say, "Past performance is not an indicator of future results," and I hope that digging into this kind of historical research would never hurt any record's chances of success.

Apart from some hits that are so obvious that they require no special insight, there are "taste-changing" artists such as Eric Church, who took a good while to break through. And there are songs that take many months to reach No. 1 and defy all statistical odds along the way, but prove to be critical career-launchers and pay tribute to the promotional perseverance of the labels, managers, publishers and early believers at radio.

What does it do for the format if we lose all songs that don't have momentum in the first eight weeks or so?

I asked Jeff Green this question, and we agree (as would many others): It would be a bad thing. 
Needless to say, breakthrough singles by Brett Eldredge, Parmalee, Lee Brice, David Nail, Eric Paslay, Craig Campbell, Charlie Worsham, etc., would not have become hits and would have adversely affected their futures. Everyone realizes that a new single has many "parents" with a lot of time, patience, commitment and money invested. No one wants to give up on a single (or artist) without a fight, nor should they. And to kill off a single simply because some statistics suggest a headwind could mean missing a big opportunity.

Green acknowledges that both Stone Door and Musicmetric are only beginning to identify correlations with newer and potentially powerful exposure forces such as Shazam tags, VEVO spins, BitTorrent activity, iTunes, Beats and Amazon, which furnish a broader range of information as part of the overall "hit evaluation" process.
However, the costs to develop an artist are astronomical, and, in general, there's no good reason why it should so frequently take eight or nine months to find out if a single has hit potential. Film studios, television executives and book publishers are usually able to get a reasonably accurate grip on the commercial value of their artistic releases very early on, typically within a matter of weeks. I also agree with Green that for smaller, independent labels in particular, the cost savings in being able to assess a single's potential early on could be enormous.

And, of course, that would mean less "needless" repetition (songs that don't go all the way) for radio as well.  Online music testing and MScore tracking are radio's additional very fast leading indicators, which I think we all need to follow more than just getting in line in response to music promotion that standardizes playlists around a national chart.
As we test new ways to do that, we'll reduce complaints of "too much needless repetition" as well which may start to rebuild our slipping time spent listening among "dissatisfied core listeners."


Unknown said...

As someone who has worked on both sides of the equation (record promotion and programming), I became quite concerned as I sat and listened to the very panel you are referencing here. As a former promotions person I knew that was the very instant that the pressure to be the number one most added went through the roof! The take away was that statistically you are screwed if you don't get that number one spot. While I know that numbers don't lie, I would caution programmers about buying too strongly into this one element of determining a hit. As you said in your blog, they are still working on figuring out all the other factors. I worry that this mentality of only the number one added can succeed will lead to a giant game of follow the leader and dramatically narrow our playlists. As you know, there are many factors in a song becoming the number one most added, including relationships, belief in the artist (so a programmers supports the song despite misgivings), and other songs in play (or not in play) at the time. I guess I just want to encourage programmers to play music based on the inherent knowledge that comes from being in their market for an extended time period. You know the sound that works in your market! For example, that Scotty song worked great for us! We played it early, and often, and we are still playing it as a recurrent. THAT is how you shouldn't allow the chart to play you. Just because the rest of the country says it isn't a hit, doesn't mean it's not a hit for you. I believe the point your Mercury rep was trying to make is that it WAS a hit, but an inability to coordinate non believers soon enough was responsible for it not getting any farther than it did.I could go on forever on this topic. In closing, don't panic if a song you believe in isn't the most added! If you start buying into that too much, you then contribute mathematically to that being the only way something becomes a hit. Then our listeners lose and you've become a huge part of the problem of the sheep mentality. Good music begins to lose, and that is by far the saddest part.

PS I have never read your blog before, but it seems that Mercury is having a bad day in it, with both of your examples coming from them...

Jaye Albright said...

Thanks so much for your informed point of view and for reading my POV. I hope Mercury isn't having a bad day because of me. All I have is my perspective, which is from radio's angle. I have never worked on the records side of the promotional equation, but from my seat I think Mercury did the right thing and they surely would have lost two chart spaces rather than being able to hold onto the stronger of their pair of wannabes if they hadn't been so honest. I hope to learn from this, which is why I blog and so appreciate your taking time to write.

Unknown said...

I am back on the radio side, where I belong. This is mostly the perspective I wrote from. Other than my comment about the pressure to be in the number one spot going through the roof. I felt sorry for my reps because of that. I personally look at that number one spot a bit cynically because it's often manufactured to a certain extent!

Albright and O'Malley said...

You are so right. There simply can't be 48 different #1's a year if you look at listener-based research. I also feel sorry for the poo stations that set their playlists up as if there really were 48 different hits all at #1 level. That's what, I think, contributes to song fatigue for listeners. No one gets tired of hearing their favorite songs in country, where fortunately burn doesn't really exist at the same levels of other hit-driven formats.

charlie dean said...

Thank you Kristina for making some great points.
Jaye, I would challenge you to talk to your stations about their research on the Scotty record. It WAS and IS a hit. Kristina was correct in the point Bruce was making; for any number of reasons, it took us a while to get critical mass on SEE YOU TONIGHT, but there are several stations with well over 1,000 spins who are STILL playing it. Our hope is that we will be able to close that gap with Scotty's next single. We are building a career with Scotty, moving him from 'Idol' to 'Artist' and we know the proof will be in the music.
As for the Billy, I would love to see the stats on records that WERE most added that didn't even crack the Top 30.
I was not able to attend the "pick a hit" panel, but the mere thought of terrifies me.
PD's and MD's are spread so thin these days it seems they are taken further and futher away from the music as it is. The second folks start progamming 'on paper' using stats instead of ears is the definition of a bad day.

Jaye Albright said...

I am loving this conversation. Thanks for engaging in it. Charlie, now we know that even though you are one of my most trusted promo pals that you were't the source of my email and "Bruce" was.

You bring up an excellent point that I agree with but hadn't stated: just because a song that was "on" for 48 weeks is no longer a label priority that does not mean it wasn't a HIT where it was being played.

In fact, that is my key issue: we all need to stop letting the charts play us and follow local indicators of success.

I don't think I ever said anything that would make anyone feel like I didn't already know that Scotty was testing in a lot of places. Why else would it have lasted so long?

But, if someone didn't understand that, let me say: I liked the Scotty when it was first out and recommended it, as I did with Billy too.

My hope is that people who "know" that something is working for their audience will stick to those things and not let chart manipulation by competing promo priorities impact what they play.

Easier said than done, of course, but no one said our jobs would be easy when we took them.

Kerry Wolfe said...

I echo what Charlie said. The Scotty record was and is one of the best performing singles in the past 6 months. I was early and couldn't ride it all the way to the end, but what a ride it was! The song was also always in the top 5 MScores of all currents. Don't count him out just yet:)