One of my favorite weekend pastimes is tuning in to classic American Top 40 countdown shows with Casey Kasem, which our local Classic Hits station rebroadcasts each weekend. My favorite part is hearing songs that vanished after they were currents. Even huge artists with hits people still play today had some big hits that only hard-core music geeks remember today.
There’s a lesson here for anyone who programs a contemporary station: Just because a song becomes a big hit rapidly doesn’t mean it’s going to stay a big hit, even if the song is by a huge artist.
Sometimes, especially if the song is by a huge artist.
In our last post, we examined why Adele’s album releases have become major press events that build her brand. Her first album 19 was slow to become big, as new fans organically discovered Adele one listener at a time (19 was never higher than #10 on the Billboard Hot 200 album chart in any given week.) Every subsequent album, however, instantly topped the album chart, as her fans flocked to hear her latest as soon as they could buy or stream it.
Both 21 and 25 ultimately became even bigger sales and streaming successes in the long run than their preceding albums. Is 30 destined to be even bigger than 25?
Maybe—but not necessarily.
Despite the first single “Easy On Me” already setting streaming records and gaining popularity unusually rapidly for our Integr8 New Music Research clients, the success Adele enjoys at this stage is still solely based on the excitement of having new material form Adele. (That’s only possible because she makes you wait so long for it.)
In other words, listeners are currently flocking to “Easy On Me” based on how much they loved “Hello”.
It’s a concept pop-chart analyst Chris Molanphy coined “The AC/DC Rule”
In his outstanding podcast for Slate Magazine Hit Parade, (seriously, if you’re not already a subscriber, go do that now), Molanphy observes that the initial success of a follow-up album is primarily based on how fans felt about the act’s previous album.
Just because an album debuts big, however, doesn’t mean it will stay big.
Molanphy specifically coined it the “AC/DC Rule” because of the strong initial sales of their 1981 album For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) after the sleeper success of Back In Black. For Those About To Rock reached #1 on the album charts in only three weeks and remains the band’s only #1 album.
If you were programming an AOR station in 1981, no one could blame you for thinking AC/DC had released an instant classic. However, For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) fell off the album charts after only seven months. Unless you’re a hard-core hard rock fan, you probably can’t sing a single song on the album.
In contrast, Back In Black, which only peaked at #4, has become one of the best-selling albums of all time, and is still on Billboard’s album chart.
By “is”, I mean today. In 2021.
The week of this post, AC/DC’s 1980 release outsold and outstreamed The Weeknd, Bad Bunny, and Drake.
Molanphy didn’t call his theorem “The Adele Rule” because 25 and 21 were both bigger than their predecessors.
So what does AC/DC have to do with whether or not you power Adele?
If Adele is relevant to your format, you should most certainly play “Easy On Me” in significant rotation right now. Regardless of how long listeners ultimately want to hear it, your audience wants to hear it today simply because it’s buzzworthy.
However, whether or not listeners want to continue to hear “Easy On Me” and subsequent singles from 30 will ultimately depend on how listeners judge the songs themselves.
Remember Taylor Swift’s “ME!”? It was the most-streamed song in the U.S. when it dropped. Radio rushed to add it. However, it quickly tanked in streaming and in callout research as listeners realized they simply didn’t like “ME!”
Unfortunately, many stations kept “ME!” in rotation weeks after listeners had panned it—presumably because it of the song’s initial success and the belief that Taylor Swift doesn’t have stiffs.
Carefully examine your new music research and other metrics you use to gauge current music to determine if “Easy On Me” will ultimately be another enduring smash like “Hello” or will be Adele’s equivalent of “ME!”
Regardless of the long-term fate of “Easy On Me,” there is one other thing that AC/DC and Adele have in common: Consistency. Remember how AC/DC reacted to Grunge?