October 23, 2019

The Three Types of Hits on Spotify

Our last post examined how the usage patterns of contemporary music on Spotify look at lot more like record store sales than radio spin counts: Songs are most likely to achieve their biggest number of streams the week the song is released.

However, not every song follows this pattern.

Today, we take a deeper look into the three kinds of songs you’ll see on Spotify. Two of these patterns indicate a song has potential to become a big hit for radio. The other pattern could be a warning sign of a stiff.

1) The “Love You Long Time” Hit

These songs are huge when they’re released and, while the number of streams these songs receive each week does decline over time, they tend to decline slowly, remaining among the most streamed songs on Spotify week after week.

Arianna Grande’s “7 Rings” stayed in Spotify’s Top 10 for 10 weeks and in the Top 30 for 21 weeks:

Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” stayed Top 10 for 15 weeks—and when combined with the Justin Bieber remix for 21 weeks.  As of this post, it’s still in the top 30 half a year after its debut.

More recently, Shawn Mendes’ “Señorita” stayed in Spotify’s Top 10 of most streamed songs in the U.S. for 11 weeks.


2) The “Can’t Keep It Up” hit

These songs debut big—often enjoying record-level streams during their debut week—but listeners lose interest in them far more rapidly than they do in the “Love You Long Time” songs.

Compare Shawn Mendes’ “Señorita” above with Taylor Swift’s “ME!”: Both songs debuted as the #1 most streamed song on Spotify, with just under 15 million streams in their first week. Both songs were supported by strong exposure on the radio.

However, while listeners kept streaming “Senorita”, streams for Swift’s “ME!” shrank quickly, falling out of the Top 10 after only three weeks and falling below the Top 30 after only two more weeks.

Logic featuring Eminem’s “Homicide” debuted at similarly strong at #1, but stayed in the top 10 for only two weeks and fell out of the top 30 after only two more weeks.

A similar fate often happens with what we called album cuts back in the day: Ariana Grande’s “NASA” debuted at #3, but with more streams (15 million) than most #1 debuts. Either because of lack of exposure elsewhere or a lack of listener interest, NASA fell from the top 30 after a scant three weeks.

3) The “Slow Grower” Hit

Although the majority of #1 hits on Spotify debut big, not all songs follow this pattern. Some songs grow slowly over time, just as most songs do in radio callout research.

Country songs: Country doesn’t garner the share of streaming on Spotify that mirrors its success on FM radio, for reasons we’ve outlined in previous studies. When Country songs do perform well on Spotify, they tend to follow a pattern highly similar to their growth on radio.

For example, Morgan Wallen’s “Whiskey Glasses” took 13 weeks to reach its peak on Spotify.

Songs radio champions:  Charlotte NC rapper DaBaby’s “Suge” took seven weeks to grow into Spotify’s top 10, a timeframe comparable to radio exposure. This development pattern may well reflect listeners discovering the song first on radio. As more listeners heard it on their local Urban Contemporary station, more listeners streamed it each week on Spotify.

And then there’s Lizzo, who had been fostering a fan base for several years before breaking through to mainstream success in 2019. Streams for “Truth Hurts” steadily grew for six weeks. Then, at the same time radio airplay increased, began growing again, ultimately peaking 15 weeks after debuting on Spotify and remaining strong ever since.

What these patterns mean for radio

Just because a song debuts big doesn’t mean it will be a hit:  The “Can’t Keep It Up” songs often debut with similar streaming levels as the “Love You Long Time” songs. While both types of tracks probably will quickly cede Spotify’s #1 spot to the next hot debut, those songs that remain in Spotify’s Top 10 and Top 30 week after week are the songs with real potential to be big hits among radio listeners.

Just because a song doesn’t debut big does not mean it can’t become a big hit: While we’ve highlighted the tendency of #1 songs on Spotify to debut at #1, a song doesn’t have to be #1 hit on Spotify to be a significant hit for radio. The “slow grower” hits still have potential on your station—and their growth on Spotify may well stem from you championing the song with ample exposure on your station.

The Takeaway for Radio: Don’t look how well a song is doing this week. Look how well a song is streaming on Spotify week after week, whether it’s a song your listeners will love a long time or the song that’s slow to grow. Stay away from the songs that can’t keep it up.

In our next post, we’ll tackle the raging question: Does radio only start playing songs after they’re already old on Spotify?

(All Spotify data © 2019 Spotify AB)

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