What a Hit Song Looks Like in 2021 By Andy Meadows

I say this with love and reverence for the industry I’ve spent my entire life in, lately radio seems to be the last to know when an artist breaks or their career begins to decline. That’s because many of us are clinging to outdated models to determine what songs we add, drop or move. Meanwhile the music industry has made drastic changes to their process of releasing and promoting songs. 

When I started in radio we mainly added and dropped songs based on sales and radio airplay charts and, the better we got at it, our own ability to guesstimate how well brand new songs would fair on those charts. If we were really talented, we even identified a few tunes that were likely to do better locally or regionally than they did nationally as well. That skillset, that took a long time to perfect, is still very valuable for programmers provided it’s recalibrated a bit. 

In that day a hit was defined by something that cracked the top ten on the reputable charts, hopefully the top five, and spent some time there. Whether or not, and how long, the song stayed in our databases beyond its current run depended on how well it aged over time. 

Today a hit is best defined and identified by how many streams it gets per week across YouTube, Spotify and for some formats Tik Tok and Instagram. For our programming clients we track weekly streams for all the major formats. Here’s a quick breakdown of what we’re seeing. On the hot/ac, chr, top 40 side the top ten songs are all getting around, or more than, a total of 25 million streams a week across YouTube and Spotify and all of the top 30 receive 7 million or more a week between the two. Hip Hop’s top ten all get 10 million or more per week. Country lags behind that at just under 2 million or more per week but all of the top 30 get a million or more across both YouTube and Spotify. While Rock’s top 10 get around 670,000 per week or more and all of the top 30 get 200,000 or more. 

Ideally that info is combined with local music research done through the station’s website and social pages, music surveys or focus groups to identify those handful of songs that are doing better locally and regionally. But, either way it’s a much better indicator of the popularity of a specific song at that exact moment in time than simply looking at what other station’s are adding. 

It also helps to assess recurrent and gold categories quarterly to see if those songs are maintaining their popularity over time or if they’ve leveled off. One of the takeaways from watching this data over the past year is that a handful of songs stay very popular for longer than we think. Plus, at any given time there are about five or so songs that most new music-based radio stations are currently playing in heavy rotation that aren’t really hits. That may not seem like that big of a deal, but when those songs are in high turnover categories it means they make up a lot of clock positions each week. 

What do you think? How do you determine which songs to add, move or drop? Comment below or email me at andy@radiostationconsultant.com. 

Pic designed by benzoix for www.freepik.com.

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