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Home » Officer Columns » Secretary-Treasurer » Getting a Top Hit Isn’t What It Used to Be

Getting a Top Hit Isn’t What It Used to Be

  -  former AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

It has been a long time since I went to a record bin looking for the hottest new single, or since I took one of our own band’s new releases to various radio stations, trying to convince the DJ or station manager that they should play our tune. Many of you know that deal. Also, around the same time frame, I went to Georgia to military school from West Virginia and stopped in the local hangout and had the thrill of hearing our band’s tune on the juke box. Ah, how things have changed!

Watching Billboard for the tune with a bullet, thinking that the number of plays on a station combined with the sales gets you Billboard notice, things have changed.

Derek Thompson senior editor of the Atlantic Monthly gives readers an accurate view of how things are today in the December 2014 issue with his article “The Shazam Effect” (

Well, true enough, in 1958 Billboard’s Top 100 depended on reports of sales and plays—a self-reporting and not exact science, as stores and radio stations reported what they wanted to report.

Now, with streaming and downloads, Billboard really has a handle on what’s happening worldwide. As we all know, it’s the digital world that has consumed the business. Old groups that we all love, in all of their 40 years, have not sold 20 million records, while new artists today will sell 40 million of one track, worldwide.

iHeartMedia, formerly Clear Channel, relies on reports from Nielson Audio and Shazam to spot tunes that have gone viral.

We have all had Shazam on our cell phones for years, and quite frankly, I considered it a toy—to be in a bar and hear a song click on Shazam, and in seconds find the name of the song playing, made us all look smarter than we are. Now, Shazam has gone much further.

Let me digress for a moment. In the early 2000s, I was involved with Musicgiants, a high-fidelity, lossless download company catering to audiophiles. Partnering with Musicgiants were Local 368 (Reno, NV) members Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, founding members of CCR. We talked about being able to track and map their tunes, so as to better understand and maximize a concert tour. If you saw that sales were blossoming in a certain part of the country, it would seem logical that the tour should include those cities.

Well Shazam has perfected this, not only mapping worldwide downloads, streaming, and plays worldwide, but now tours are able to see what songs they should include in their concerts, based on what is being played most often.

Billboard has quantified their system to include data from Shazam, among others. They have found that songs are played more often and stick around for a longer time, thus staying on the Top 100 for weeks longer. Radio stations are also playing songs weeks longer.

Further research, Thompson reports, finds songs sound alike with phrasing and loudness adjusted in any given new song. There is a similarity in what the public is listening to. Dumbing of the music? I think so, but I’m a player and consumer like you.

All I know is, unless you’re tuned in to YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, Facebook, HitPredictor, DigSin, and any number of other sources, you’re falling behind. But don’t worry because SoundExchange, AFM SAG-AFTRA Fund, and several other funds are tracking your music and collecting for you!

Remember that, if your membership lapses, you may be missing money as several foreign collectives only send us money for current members.

Have a top hit year!

“I would like to see us get this place right first before we have the arrogance to put significantly flawed civilizations out onto other planets, even though they may be utterly uninhabited.”

Patrick Stewart

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