Which artists have the longest-charting songs on the Hot 100? The Beatles? Michael Jackson? Mariah Carey? Nope. Not even close. Read on to find out which under-the-radar artists are changing our perceptions of longevity in the music industry, and learn about the power of “digital investing” (introduced in a previous post) for artists and brands alike.
First, a quick refresher on digital investing: we believe that unlike traditional marketing alone, the cultivation of long-lasting digital content allows campaigns to have a much longer shelf life than was previously possible. So let’s dig into how this applies in the music industry.
Traditional media no longer leads
Let’s face it: magazines, billboards and terrestrial radio have become all but irrelevant for supporting new artists. We now have access to iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, SoundCloud and myriad other ways to find, share and indulge in music anytime, anywhere.
These innovations have made charts and reporting more complex. New ways to experience music mean extra data points, thus complicating how we gauge artist popularity – it’s no longer just a measure of how many CDs a band sells at big box stores. And this phenomenon has finally begun to influence the most mainstream of outlets – traditional radio playlists and the Billboard charts.
Counterintuitively, many songs are actually finding greater longevity in this new environment. With always-on access to songs, videos, articles, interviews, remixes and other content, tracks can remain popular for years instead of weeks. And these new ways to listen are changing traditional media – radio and TV no longer set trends, they now often reflect what music fans have already discovered online. Consider the case of the song “Sail” by relative unknown AWOLNATION.
“Sail” takes a long voyage
“Sail” is the first song in the Hot 100′s 55-year history to climb to its peak position after a year on the chart. It ended its run in March 2014 after logging 79 weeks – a streak that began over 3 years ago. In fact, it is now the 2nd-longest charting song ever.
After a modest showing on alternative radio in 2011, the song soundtracked a trailer for the History Channel series “Vikings”, clips of which have since garnered over 1m views on YouTube.
And it just took off from there: continuous touring, additional TV syncs and aggressive promotion by label Red Bull Records, along with a continuous stream of online conversations, videos and playlist sharing, led to “Sail” charting on and off for the next 3.5 years.
The track’s downtempo aggression initially met with little interest from mainstream radio, but programmers were eventually convinced after months and months of fan support. This support is best exemplified in the collection of fan-made videos on YouTube, one of which has garnered over 100 million views – a practice supported by the band.
And it’s not just one song…
“Sail” is not the only example of this recent outsized longevity. As of April 29, 2014, “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons spent its 86th non-consecutive week on the Hot 100 (at #48). In fact, 8 of the 10 longest-charting songs on the Billboard Hot 100 have been released since 2005 (5 of those since 2011).
This phenomenon is thanks in no small part to digital investing – by establishing a base of easily shareable content (YouTube clips, song streams and even remixable tracks), artists allow fans to enjoy music on their terms. They also give new listeners plenty of chances to find emerging artists and take an active part in boosting their visibility.
According to Billboard, the “Hot 100 formula targets a ratio of sales (35-45%), airplay (30-40%) and streaming (20-30%)”. This streaming component, though relatively small, cannot be underestimated as tracks often generate millions of online listens without any commercial radio play. By nature, online sharing can have a longer-term impact than any single radio play as peers are much more likely to pay attention to what their friends are digging versus what happens to be on the radio. And again, they’ll have the instant ability to share those finds with their networks.
So what does this mean for artists?
The rules are changing – major labels and radio conglomerates no longer dictate what we listen to. Now that anyone can write, produce and release music essentially for free, it’s all about which tracks spread the most online. Here are a few tips:
Encourage friends and fans to share, share, share to build an audience. Offering free downloads and easily-shareable streams is essential.
Think long-term – a marketing plan for a new album should last more than the month of its release.
Embrace fan-created content – where once it was viewed as copyright infringement, most artists now see this practice as free publicity. Fan videos, artwork and remixes can all extend the life of a song way beyond an artist’s expectations.
And what does this mean for my brand?
The same ideas can apply to any brand looking to make a long-term impact online. The key is to think of the web as a repository for useful, inspiring and entertaining content that will be searchable for years.
Consider supplementing the digital ads and social posts you’re already doing with content that can continue to have an impact. Here are a few types we’ve seen generating awareness, leads and search visibility for years:
Blog posts with useful tips from an expert
Detailed responses on Quora to pertinent questions about your industry
Video tutorials that simplify complicated tasks
Interviews that express a controversial stance on a commonly held belief
In short, whether you’re an independent artist or a global brand, you can still make a real impact without billboards, glossy magazine spreads and mainstream radio play, and you just might cultivate more impassioned fans in the process. Keep checking back in the coming weeks as we continue to explore strategies for digital investing.