Open Letter to Gaga’s Management from a Fan

Put “Million Reasons” back on sale ASAP, and leave it there until it appears to be reaching its radio peak.

Seriously. This little “experiment” has been fun. It has been great to find out the extent to which radio programmers pay attention to iTunes chart rankings v. the extent to which those rankings are propped up by a song’s sale status.

Now we know the answer — radio programmers apparently pay A LOT of attention to a song’s iTunes chart rank and don’t always dig deeper — and now Gaga’s management should rectify their mistake ASAP, while they still can.

STRATEGY

  • Radio programmers are lay persons, making informal individual decisions about which songs to play. Frequently, they make their decisions after glancing at iTunes rankings, Spotify streams, and other low-hanging informational fruits, and will not necessarily dig deeper.
  • Even if they do notice that a song is on sale, and want to discount its iTunes ranking accordingly, they may not know how much discounting to do. A high iTunes store ranking indicates that there is demand for a song, period.
  • A top 10 position on the iTunes chart is particularly visible, and thus particularly likely to have a psychological impact on a radio programmer’s decision-making.
  • This is especially important in Gaga’s case because of “Million Reasons”’ generally weak performance on YouTube and Spotify – the high iTunes ranking gives radio programmers “permission” to play the song as much as they want.

“Million Reasons” is getting enough radio airplay now that it should make its callout report debut in the next week or two (Mediabase’s Callout report is a consumer survey that measures listeners’ actual impressions of songs they hear on the radio). We know for a fact that a lot of radio programmers pay attention to a song’s callout score (see the sudden collapse of Ariana Grande’s “Focus,” for example). But in the meantime, a casual, small-time radio programmer has a few easy metrics to check when making everyday decisions about which songs to play — iTunes, airplay figures from similar stations, and streaming figures. There is also the radio programmers’ individual gut reaction to a song, which is colored by what that programmer has absorbed from news media and from, for example, watching Gaga’s Super Bowl Halftime performance and reading the rave reviews that followed.

The problem is that “Million Reasons” isn’t getting that much streaming (on YouTube OR Spotify). And, prior to the Super Bowl, it wasn’t getting a lot of airplay either. Thus, radio programmers’ eventual positive reaction to the song was driven by 1) it’s buoyant iTunes ranking, 2) their gut reaction, colored by the reaction to Gaga’s Super Bowl performance, and 3) the fact that other radio programmers were also giving the song increasing spins.

In other words, the iTunes ranking was a critical component. It makes sense that a drop from #6 to #28 on the iTunes chart would immediately slow radio spin growth, and that that slowing of spin growth would itself beget more slowing of spin growth. Since spin growth itself impacts iTunes sales and streaming figures, the iTunes ranking drop results in a deleterious spiral generating an inordinate long-term negative impact on the song’s success.

Then, “Million Reasons”‘ ultimate level of success directly impacts the success of a follow-up single, should she choose to release one, and in particular, the level of warmth that future single releases will receive at radio.

I understand the desire to cash in on the sales of a single. But long-term, it’s not worth it. Gaga’s pop-star capital has been significantly repaired, but it needs to remain on an upward trajectory until it is a roaring engine.

In particular, “Million Reasons” should remain on sale until it starts slowing at radio naturally. At that point, it has become as big of a hit as it will be in any event, and thus at that point, there is little further incentive to keep it on sale. Cash in.

NUMBERS

All radio, streaming, and sales numbers are derived from kworb.net, a private website that “scrapes” (a computer programming term) and organizes music industry data from iTunes, Mediabase, Spotify, and YouTube. NOTE: radio impressions are measured differently by Mediabase v. Billboard; these are Mediabase figures.

Songs typically have two peaks for both sales and streaming. 1) When the song is first released, and 2) months later when the song nears or reaches its radio peak. While there may be substantial Day 1, and possibly Day 2 promotional radio airplay, songs otherwise tend to start out with little or no radio airplay, settle into a stable radio growth curve with a fairly predictable peak, and then fall off at something like their rate of ascent. New songs from major artists that actually receive substantial amounts of promotional airplay still uniformly see a substantial drop on Day 8 running weekly radio airplay rankings.

“Million Reasons” is a special case because it didn’t settle into its long-term growth curve until long after its release.

It peaked at #1 on iTunes after a successful Carpool Karaoke edition, leading to it being named the second single off of Joanne, and re-entering the Hot 100 in the 50s (around where it had debuted with the debut of Joanne). A music video was released, but the song grew slowly at radio prior to the Super Bowl. It also posted weak sales and streaming figures.

Overall radio growth for “Million Reasons” was spotty from the time of its release through early February, frequently posting little 0r negative growth. It seemed to be accelerating in December, but then posted negative growth before Christmas. After that, growth was fairly consistent, but frustratingly slow. In the hype leading up to the Super Bowl, growth accelerated again, but then on the days leading up to and following the Super Bowl itself, growth was stagnant or negative. It was not until two days after the Super Bowl that “Million Reasons” really started to take off at radio.

The Super Bowl resulted in “Million Reasons” not just returning to #1 on iTunes, but surging high enough and staying there long enough that it was the #1 selling song of the entire week. As a result, “Million Reasons” matched a record by re-entering the Hot 100 at #4.

Gaga’s management cleverly had her entire back-catalogue on sale to capitalize on the surge of demand. Then, they cleverly left “Million Reasons” on sale, allowing it to continue floating in the top 10 on iTunes indefinitely.

Two days after the Super Bowl, “Million Reasons” started posting consistent and substantial radio gains between 700K and 1M/day. Eventually, radio gains started accelerating until they broke 2M. “Million Reasons” was taken off sale on March 11th, the day after it posted its biggest radio growth day to-date – 3.2M.

That day, radio airplay growth decelerated all the way back to 2M/day. It has continued dropping since, until it has essentially broken even over the past two days.  See the chart below.

PROJECTIONS

Given the smooth and predictable nature of an ordinary radio growth curve, it is generally possibly to get a decent idea of where a song will peak if you determine the approximate rate of growth during its sustained primary growth cycle.

There are some complicating factors, including individual format ceilings (if a song is only charting on Pop and Adult Pop, then it doesn’t make sense to project a peak higher than the combined audience totals of the current #1 songs on the two formats).

But, the reason that this method works is because a sustained and consistent rate of growth for a song tends to emerge when radio programmers have formed a tacit consensus opinion about how big a song is. Thus, unless some future event modifies that opinion (like a callout report showing that listeners don’t actually like a song that much), the approximate trend line is predictable.

SOME RULES OF THUMB –

  • Future #1 radio hits tend to settle into an overall primary growth curve of 3M+/day, but may settle into a primary growth curve as low as 2M/day. They tend to draw strong pop airplay in addition to strong airplay from several other genres.
  • Future top 10 hits tend to settle into overall primary growth curves in the 1M/day to 2M/day range.
  • A 1M/day growth curve may have different meanings depending on the driving causal factors. For example, it is not infrequently driven by strong current growth in 1 or a few minor genres with low and hard possibility caps. Certain genre hits may occasionally exhibit even higher growth rates, but for only a short period of time, after which overall radio airplay growth stagnates.
  • Generally, a song that is charting strongly on both Pop and Adult Pop (like “Million Reasons”) has a genre cap of at least 160M/week, and therefore is a candidate for Top 3 status overall, if the primary growth curve is robust enough.

I’ve taken the liberty of drawing two conceivable growth curves for “Million Reasons”, based on the assumptions 1) that it had never been taken off sale; and 2) that it was taken off sale and remains off sale.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 9.46.16 AM

CONCLUSION

It seems clear to me that taking “Million Reasons” off sale has had a real and deleterious impact on the song’s radio airplay growth, and that if it remains depressed Gaga could end up with a substantially weaker long-term performance (barring exceptional callout scores).

Gaga’s team should put “Million Reasons” back on sale, quietly and covertly, and pretend like nothing ever happened. Then, after airplay ramps back up and the song actually starts to peak naturally (or at least after callout scores are released), they should take it off sale.

I get it. Labels don’t make money off of sale-priced singles. But do labels really make that much money off of full-priced singles? The label NEEDS radio to see Lady Gaga as a top tier artist who consistently produces top 5 radio smashes. That perception (and all of the benefits it entails) depends in part on what radio ends up doing with “Million Reasons.”

Don’t shoot it in the foot.

 

Peter Daines is a tax law student at Georgetown and a music industry aficionado.

“Perfect Illusion” Scores #1 Spin-Growth on US Radio Saturday

After reports surfaced earlier today supposedly confirming that Lady Gaga had been selected to perform at the Super Bowl next year turned out to be false, Little Monsters could use a little bit of good news.

ITunes sales f0r “Perfect Illusion” appeared to have largely stabilized while it was at #4 last weekend, but after about 1 week in the top ten, the song started dropping more quickly again. It currently sits at a dismal #51. This is a bad sign. Silver lining? Sia’s “The Greatest,” which for various reasons is clearly going to end up as another major hit and was only released a few days before “Perfect Illusion,” has shown a very similar dropoff curve, which indicates possible conformity with an unknown non-fatal structural trend.

However, the real good news comes from the radio numbers. Today marks the first day in which we can look at real week-over-week radio growth figures after the first day’s promotional airplay has dropped off the running tally. The trick is to watch growth figures stabilize into a predictable and consistent growth curve from which we can predict a song’s eventual peak.

The worst-case scenario would be essentially what happened to Britney Spears’  single “Make Me…” During its first week of release, it received excellent promotional first-day airplay and consistent and substantial radio airplay thereafter. But radio airplay at the end of the week was pretty much the same as at the beginning of the week, and after the promotional airplay dropped off, and the growth figures started to have a base level of airplay for comparison (the airplay total for the same day of the prior tracking week), it became clear that Britney’s single was barely growing in radio airplay at all. It never settled into a strong rate of radio airplay growth. It largely stagnated, and now, a month later, is well into a consistent decline curve.

The best case scenario is rapid day-over-day growth during the first week of release that lends itself to a still-impressive growth curve after the bump.

During the first week of airplay, I was concerned because “Perfect Illusion” did not appear to be exhibiting a clear pattern of day-over-day growth. At least, however, it did not appear to be losing ground.

So what are the numbers?

1.6M growth on overall US radio audience impressions (7th best). #73 (+8). +539 spins (1st best).

1.1M growth on US Pop radio audience impressions (6th best). #23 (+2). +299 spins (2nd best).

0.5M growth on US Adult Pop radio audience impressions (2nd best). #23 by spins (+0). +157 spins (1st best).

Why is the Sky Blue? 

Particles in the atmosphere tend to scatter visible light of the shortest wavelengths first, of which blue is perceived with particular clarity by one of our three color receptors. When the sun beams directly down at us, that means that there is one strong beam of whitish-yellow direct light (if you stare straight at the sun — but don’t…), and ambient blue light coming from all other directions.
During a sunset, sunlight must pass through a lot more atmosphere. The blue light is scattered first, and the longer wavelengths are scattered later, when they are more likely to be contacting the air from which the ambient light is refracting that you are perceiving.
Still confused? No? Ok. Great. My work is done. ;P

“Perfect Illusion” Update

“Perfect Illusion” was the 8th most-heard song overall on all of US radio during its first day of release, with 17 million Kworb-standard impressions. Radio impressions for subsequent days have been around 3.2M.

Primarily on the strength of first-day promotional airplay, “Perfect Illusion” debuted on the Pop Songs (Top 40) and HAC (Adult Pop Songs) weekly radio airplay charts for the tracking week ending Saturday, September 10th at #s 31 and 32 respectively.

NOTE: Sales and streaming are tracked on a Thursday – Thursday basis, and the two days of radio airplay were not alone enough to spark a debut on the Hot 100 for the tracking week that Billboard just reported on yesterday. This means that the initial promotional radio airplay spike will not count towards Gaga’s Hot 100 debut ranking. 

“Perfect Illusion” currently ranks at #4 on iTunes, and its sales decline appears to have slowed if not completely stabilized. Kworb.net currently estimates 95,000 first-week sales. Although not close to record-shattering, this is a robust figure that is consistent with the recent debuts of other big hits by major artists. It is comparable, for example, to the debut of Sia’s “The Greatest,” which is already clearly another huge hit. Of course, it is also comparable to the debut sales of Britney Spears’ “Make Me Ooh,” which subsequently stalled at radio.

“Perfect Illusion” currently ranks at #68 on the running weekly radio airplay chart. Given current trends, it should peak just inside the top 50 before its first-day promotional airplay drops off of the running tally.

On Spotify, “Perfect Illusion” was streamed 465,095 times in the United States on Monday, down from a peak of 594,798 on Friday, but up from a low of 422,776 on Sunday. It received 500,663 streams on Saturday. It is currently ranked at its low point of #30 on US Spotify. It debuted and peaked at #21. “Perfect Illusion” is currently at #32 on the Global Spotify chart with 1,432,210 streams on Monday.

By comparison, Sia’s “The Greatest” ranks at #11 on Global Spotify with 2,420,304 streams, and #15 on US Spotify with 613,759 streams. The #1 song on US and Global Spotify received 2,216,474 streams and 6,337,912 streams, respectively.

Gaga seems to have the strongest performance in Latin America and Mainland Europe. Here are the iTunes and Spotify positions for “Perfect Illusion” in every country in the world right now:

Perfect Illusion

 

“Perfect Illusion” scores solid 17 million first-day radio impressions

As expected, Lady Gaga’s new single has had a warm reception at pop and adult pop (HAC) radio during its first day of release, opening at #s 33 and 38, respectively, on the formats’ running weekly rankings.

Overall, Gaga’s new song was the #8 most-played song on US radio on Friday, largely based on the strength of promotional hourly airplay from iHeartRadio stations.

On iTunes, “Perfect Illusion” dropped to #2 on Saturday morning, in the face of continued strong sales for The Chainsmokers’ “Closer.” Both songs, however, maintain 2-1 sales leads over the #3 song, Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens.” As previously reported, Gaga’s new single is expected to debut at #2 on digital songs after its first full week of sales, with 100,000 to 150,000 copies sold.

On the Billboard Hot 100, “Perfect Illusion” seems likely to debut in the top ten. It may crack the top 5, but is unlikely to contend for the #1 slot in the absence of intervention (i.e. music video drop, new scandal, television appearances, etc.).

Reviews of “Perfect Illusion” have been all over the board, with many commenters praising the song as one of Gaga’s best, but some were “unimpressed.” This review sums up the nuances of the contradictory positions particularly well.

One of the most-liked comments on “Perfect Illusion”‘s official audio on YouYube reads:

Perfect Illusion:
1st listen: What just happened…
2nd: I’ll give it a few more chances
10th: IT WASN’T LOOOVE
30th: Bitch take the grammy

Lady Gaga “Perfect Illusion” Early Sales/Chart Projections

I estimate that “Perfect Illusion” peaked with about 230,000 – 240,000 sales per week, or about 35,000 first-day sales. It has already started declining. I suspect it will decline to around 70,000 sales/week by the end of the first week, or 10,000 sales in its last day. This yields daily sales projections close to the following:

35,000
27,000
20,000
17,000
15,000
13,000
10,000

Total: 137,000 sales

+ 30M radio airplay
+ 8 million streams

Projection: Debut #4 – #12 on Hot 100
Prediction: Debut around #8 on Hot 100

I don’t currently have any actual US streaming or radio airplay numbers. The song may not officially officially impact HAC, AC, and Pop radio formats immediately; but the radio airplay tracking week doesn’t start until Sunday, so Gaga may have done that intentionally in order to stack first-day promotional radio airplay into the first tracking week.

It may be that when the song gets first-day promotional radio airplay, it will spur an immediate resurgence in sales and streams. This, along with possible promotion by Gaga (TV appearances, scandals, release of a music video) would modify our expectations.

As it is, the song looks likely to pull in 7-10 million WW first-day streams for the Youtube clip (not a music video yet) and a few million WW spotify streams. I expect Gaga’s streaming figures to be heavily tilted towards international audiences, and I expect a relatively sharp second and third day decline. WW Youtube views should stabilize around 2 million/day, given a strong reception at radio in the US and abroad, which I think is likely.

An abnormally large number of commenters one Gaga’s youtube video of the official audio for “Perfect Illusion” have noted that the song grew on them rapidly over repeat listens, occasionally causing a complete 180 degree turnaround from opinions of hatred and disappointment to adoration. This trend bodes well for the song’s long-term future at US radio, after a slow period during which the radio audience becomes gradually accustomed to it.

What do you think?

New Dance Single Tritonal feat. Adam Lambert & Jenaux Debuts on the iTunes Charts of 14 Countries, led by Finland @ #2

The new Adam Lambert song is called “Broken” and it is available for streaming on Spotify here, and in lyric video form here.
“Broken” follows fellow 2016 post-The Original High singles “Can’t Go Home,” “Welcome to the Show,” and Orlando-massacre-oriented charity single “Hands.” The Original High spawned two singles, “Ghost Town” and “Another Lonely Night.”
It’s no secret that Adam Lambert is one of the hardest-working artists in the music industry of 2015 and especially 2016. In addition to releasing 6 singles, he has also embarked on both a solo tour and a tour with Queen as the reincarnation of Freddie Mercury, done ads for Oreo and Macys, played a lead role in a reboot of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and judged a season of X Factor Australia.
To show for his efforts, Adam had the biggest paycheck of 2015 out of all American Idol alums. Oh, and he was also invited to perform “Girl Crush” at the 2015 CMT Artists of the Year event, before being nominated for an actual Country Music Television Award FOR that performance.

Keeping in mind that these are subject to substantial fluctuation especially for a song just released earlier today, here are the debut rankings for “Broken”: