This post is the second in the series “What Radio Can Learn From Spotify.”
Now that Spotify lets us see which songs listeners are playing for themselves, many who examine Spotify’s usage have expressed concern that radio is too late to the party on too many new hit songs. Anecdotal examples are easy to find of a song that was #1 on Spotify weeks before radio started spinning it.
Does Spotify usage support the idea that radio is too slow to embrace new hit songs?
To find out, we compared our ongoing analysis of the Top 200 songs each week on Spotify in the U.S. from January 1st to August 1st, 2019, and compared them to the 50 biggest songs on the radio in the U.S. according to the Nielsen BDS-powered Billboard Radio charts during the same timeframe.
The majority of the Top 10 songs on radio are between 9 and 20 weeks old. For those huge hits that become the #1 most-played song on U.S. radio, it typically takes 13 weeks to grow to #1.
The vast majority of the Top 10 songs on Spotify are between 1 and 12 weeks old. Not only are the biggest songs on Spotify newer than the biggest songs on radio, songs on Spotify typically garner the most streams the week they’re released. During the timeframe we examined, 11 of the 15 songs that hit #1 on Spotify debuted at #1 on Spotify. Only one song took 10 or more weeks to work its way up to Spotify’s #1 song.
Before you jump to the conclusion that radio is inherently late to the party, recognize that Spotify’s usage pattern looks almost identical to a pattern radio programmers have seen for decades:
When we examined paid digital downloads (think iTunes etc.) in 2014, we saw the same pattern: Songs typically debuted with their strongest sales, then declined as fewer new people decided to buy the song.
It’s the same pattern as when listeners bought 45s.
In fact, it was the same pattern as radio airplay back in the 1960s when radio’s only new music research tool was sales data from local record shops.
With the invention of callout research in the 1970s, radio learned that most listeners take time to get to know a song and once they like it, continue to like their favorite songs long after people have stopped buying new copies. When we examined our own Integr8 New Music Research among CHR outlets in 2014, we noted it takes 8 weeks for the typical song to break into the Top 10.
The fact that Spotify usage resembles sales patterns more than airplay patterns suggests Spotify is replacing the function of a record store and not the function of a radio station:
It’s where artists’ biggest fans go to hear new releases as soon as they drop.
It’s also where curious listeners can sample new music from the artists everyone is talking about.
If Spotify is the new Sam Goody, does that mean radio doesn’t have to consider it competition? Hardly. Only people and mothers of toddlers can listen to more than one thing at a time. For everyone else, an hour spent with Spotify is an hour not spent with your station.
It does suggest, however, that there’s no need for alarm that Spotify streams peak sooner than does radio airplay. Just because a song garners a lot of sampling from fans the week it’s released does not pre-ordain that song to be a mass appeal smash.
Ten years ago, it would not have made sense to put every song that was #1 on iTunes into power rotation. Today, it doesn’t make sense to put every #1 song on Spotify into power rotation, either.
Spotify usage patterns do provide proof, however, that listeners care about new releases from big artists. PPM may have revealed that new and unfamiliar songs are a tune-out risk, but unless contemporary radio stations find new ways to be a part of the excitement of a big project dropping, radio risks giving music fans one less reason to tune in in the first place.
The Takeaway for Radio: Examine Spotify charts similarly to how you once examined sales data. You don’t have to jump on every song that has a big release—but as noted in our last post, you should find a way to share in the moment when big artists release big projects.
In our next post, we’ll examine the three most common patterns of hits on Spotify—and show you how to identify which ones will most likely become hits with your listeners.
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