Radio & Music

A question on the lifecycle of songs…

I’ve just posted this question to Ask Metafilter, but I thought I’d cross-post it here to see if anyone knows the answer:

When I was a kid, I remember hearing on the news about a study that had determined that there were a few specific life-cycles for the way a hypothetical person’s might react to any new pop-song. One type of song would get more popular the more times it had been heard and then would plummet in popularity when a person had heard it around fifteen times. Others took longer to get popular but would stay at the top longer. These studies were used to help radio networks determine what to play – how to make songs into hits and how often to play them once they had become hits. Does anyone know anything about these studies and where I might be able to find them?

If you know the answer to this question feel free to either post it on the thread (if you’re a Metafilter member) – What studies have been done on the lifecycle of pop songs and how people respond to them over time? – or below if not…

9 replies on “A question on the lifecycle of songs…”

I don’t have any specific studies to back me up, but I do recall reading some where that radio DJs often over-play songs they dislike, in order to make them fall out of popularity quicker (due to being heard far to frequently by the average radio listener).
Of course, I’ve also heard that this trick doesn’t always work, because sometimes the song is actually made more popular, as a result.

i don’t know where you can get those studies you are referring to, but there are various radio management books that have entire chapters devoted to song lifecycles, listener integration and format selections.
the one i always refer to is in german and i do not know if there is an english translation of it, but i’ll name it anyway, because this information might help you: “radiomanagement”, by haas, frigge and zimmer, published by oelschlaeger in 1991, isbn 3882951354.

There was an article about something very similar to this in the Friday Review section of The Guardian sometime between the new year and now. Frustratingly I can’t find it on their website.
It focused on a piece of software that could analyse whether a song would be a hit or not. It worked solely by comparing sound patterns in the song with patterns found in a huge database of previous hits (it found identical patterns in Blink 182 and Norah Jones songs, or something). Apparently record companies use it to determine whether it’s worth spending the money marketing a particular act.
Somebody must remember more…

The pop industry is being revolutionised by a piece of software called HSS (Hit Song Science) which “predicts” the chance of a track being a hit or a miss. The program analyses the underlying mathematical patterns in a song before matching it against a database containing 30 years’ worth of Billboard hit singles. The program then accords the song a score, which registers, in effect, the likelihood of it being a chart success.
Sounds unlikely? It shouldn’t. Because it seems that the whole record industry is already using it, from unsigned acts dreaming in their garage, to multinationals such as Sony and Universal. And just as with athletes and performance-enhancing drugs, there is a remarkable reluctance to talk about it. Truth is though that the record biz has succumbed to the old-fashioned science of statistical analysis. HSS confidently predicted Norah Jones’s meteoric success well in advance of her chart-topping appearances and in the face of an industry unconvinced she would have any commercial impact. HSS also picked out all the Maroon 5 hits, including both This Love and She Will be Loved. Other artists, including Anastacia, J-Lo and Robbie Williams are also rumoured to have asked for the hitmaker’s analysis.

I did a quick Lexis-Nexis search for the article you’re describing. Didn’t find it, but this piece on the respective life cycles of Top 40 and Country tunes might be of at least passing interest…
“Is the Top 40 Chart Moving Too Fast?”, Sean Ross, Billboard Radio Monitor
“In 1995, country consultant Charlie Cook, like a growing number of his colleagues, believed that country radio was burning through music too quickly, even though the available product was weaker than during country’s early-’90s boom period. Cook thought country PDs should take their cues from pop hits like Blues Traveler’s “Run-Around” that took months to become hits, then stuck around forever.
Eight years later, the country charts have slowed down to the point where only superstar product and a few novelty reaction titles reach the top 10 in anything less than five to seven months, much to the chagrin of labels that have called for the trades to reduce the country panel and eliminate conservative stations as a way of goosing the charts (see story, this page).
Top 40, on the other hand, is now capable of running a song in and out of the top 10 in less than 10 weeks. A song like “Run-Around” would probably still take months to break, as evidenced by the recent slow build of such titles as “Unwell” or “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry),” but there are a lot fewer songs from the modern AC side and many more hip-hop reaction records like “Magic Stick” that react and peak quickly.
Do the changing bio-rhythms of each format indicate that country is now better-programmed, while top 40 is moving too quickly on music? Some top 40 PDs do believe their chart is moving too quickly, although others are starting to sense a slowdown. And just as there’s increasing evidence of two programming paradigms at the format (stations that are fast on rhythm/slow on pop/rock and stations that are the inverse), the difference between an active record’s life cycle and that of a more passive title is also growing.
WKRZ Wilkes-Barre, Pa., PD Jerry Padden says, “As a format, I’m seeing certain types of songs running up the charts way too quickly.”
“Top 40 can definitely burn through records in a hurry,” WKSC (Kiss-FM) Chicago PD Rod Phillips says. “Many programmers are still reacting to what they are tired of hearing. Big hits can have 2,000 spins and still have passion score from radio’s consumers.”
For WAEV (97 Kiss FM) Savannah, Ga., PD Chris Alan, there’s definitely a parallel between country’s fortunes and those of top 40. “I dabbled in country in the late ’90s, and its [relative] lack of superstars . . . is kind of where top 40 is right now.”
Alan compares top 40’s current product to the early ’90s. “There were Boyz II Men, Mariah [Carey], Madonna and Janet [Jackson] hanging on the charts for extremely long periods and [so] those highly reactive songs [could barely crack] the top 10.” Today, he says, “top 40 needs a couple of 10-week chart-toppers.”
“PDs are realizing that callout no longer reflects the average person. It reflects the slower part of the audience,” consultant Guy Zapoleon says. “Those PDs without online research are projecting their songs based on national charts. The problem is that . . . quite a few stations are victims of label hype to increase spins. When many PDs see these jumps, they up rotations as well. So it’s a vicious cycle.”
Some PDs are sensing a slowdown. WDRQ Detroit MD Keith Curry says, “Stations are taking fewer chances on newer titles and relying more on established hits.”
“We have a hard time keeping up with the chart because we are holding on to stuff longer,” WWWQ (Q100) Atlanta PD Dylan Sprague says. Doing so “has produced some surprise hits for us. Audioslave is still a top five callout record. ‘Addicted’ by Simple Plan just went to power.”
KIIS Los Angeles MD Julie Pilat has noticed a change in the lifecycle of ballads, and not just the pop/rock variety. “There have been a couple of records–‘If You’re Not the One’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Try’–that will run up the charts with a ton of momentum, then just fall off. We’ve noticed that these records take a little extra time for their lyrics to connect [with listeners], but once they do, we cannot get rid of them.”
“Blu Cantrell’s ‘Breathe’ has over 1,000 spins at WIOQ [Philadelphia],” says that station’s PD, Todd Shannon. “Regardless of a label’s release or dead date, a hit is still a hit.”
WKQI (Channel 95.5) Detroit PD Dom Theodore is also noticing a slowdown, but it’s not necessarily a good thing, he says. “Callout is telling us that listeners still want to hear what many of us would consider post-powers, but that’s not because they really love those records. It’s because sub-powers just aren’t testing as strong as quickly as they used to.”
Theodore continues, “It’s much harder to find the next song worthy of power when you look at the scores. This leaves you with a handful of burnt powers and almost nothing to replace them with.”
At WNKS (Kiss 95.1) Charlotte, N.C., PD John Reynolds says, “I just put ‘Crazy in Love’ in power. I still have ‘Drift Away’ and ‘When I’m Gone’ in power. I’m being conservative because the market is conservative. I would love to have records catch on a lot quicker and move them faster. Sometimes I get the callout in and [wonder], ‘What’s wrong with these people? How come they don’t know these records?’ ”
But some PDs don’t sense a slowdown. “If anything, it seems sped up,” WNTQ (93Q) Syracuse, N.Y., OM/PD Tom Mitchell says. “In some cases, the week after a song loses its bullet, it loses another 1,000 spins. It looks like a follow-the-crowd mentality.”
Jeff Wyatt, who programs top 40 WIHT (Hot 99.5) Washington, D.C., and country sister WMZQ, says top 40 remains “fast as ever. The young end is burning through this stuff. I’m more impressed by the disposable nature of music and even top artists.”
“The audience [has] gotten smarter and been given other avenues” to find music, Alan says. “They have come to expect your top 40 station to give them the hot item of the day, week or month. If that’s a Lil’ Kim record this week, play it. If it changes to Chingy next week, well, you had better bring it.”
Whether PDs feel the chart is moving too quickly or not quickly enough often breaks down depending on which side of the top 40 paradigm they’re on. “It appears to me that songs are rushing up the charts and then off,” Sprague says, “but that’s only because we can’t get the rhythm on fast enough to coincide with labels’ timetables.”
The developing rift between stations on both sides of the paradigm means that there are now two tracks for how songs develop as well. WAYV Atlantic City, N.J., PD Paul Kelly says, “I think the reason a lot of these guitar-based records take so long to develop is that many top 40s lean so rhythmic that they only play a couple of non-rhythmic songs at any given time.”
“Songs that have the most market familiarity have the fastest climb up the charts,” Capitol VP of promotion Ed Green says. “The frequency of rotation at rhythmic top 40 and R&B radio allows those songs to test quicker at mainstream top 40.” In addition, “many top 40 stations seem to share the majority of their cume with those formats, not adult top 40. So Matchbox Twenty, Jason Mraz and Liz Phair will take longer to build familiarity, and radio needs to have more patience to allow these artists to develop over time.”
“The listenership among [rhythmic and R&B] stations far exceeds the listenership of rock and modern rock. However, if a rock record is able to get going on the rock, modern and adult top 40 charts, then the speed of the record doubles because the adult top 40 audience will put it right up with the R&B audience,” Island Def Jam Music Group VP of promotion Erik Olesen says.
And even though it looks like “Magic Stick” came and went quickly at mainstream, Olesen says, “There are times I think top 40 is slow on crossover records. The Lil’ Kim/50 Cent record was huge before top 40 really grabbed hold of it. I felt like every kid in the country was already on board with that record and top 40 needed to play catch up.”
Interestingly, while Alan draws parallels between country’s late-’90s doldrums and top 40’s current travails, other PDs with experience in both formats aren’t as concerned.
“The audiences are very different,” Wyatt says. “The active young-end listeners of top 40 keep things moving very quickly. The adult audience of country radio–people with jobs, kids and lives that are not focused, for the most part, on pop culture–takes much longer to connect with songs and new artists. My sense is the rhythm of each format is in the right place.”
Cook, now VP/GM of formats and country programming for Westwood One, says that what may have changed at country is not the chart but the industry’s perception of it, particularly now that reported airplay is entirely gone. He still has concerns about the format’s current product, especially the decline in female superstars and a rise in interchangeable new males. And he doesn’t worry that top 40 is moving faster. “Top 40 gets a lot more television exposure. It does appeal to people who burn through fads a lot more quickly than we think [country’s] 38-year-old fan is going to.” And even then, he says, “you have Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Matchbox Twenty. They’ve been around for a while now.”

The Grauniad article re: software to is here:,7492,1365050,00.html
“Martin and Ruth, aka Spike, the next big girl/boy duo (so they hope) add some synth and a new background vocal to the mix. He saves the song and she emails it to Polyphonic Human Media Interface who, within 24 hours, will tell them whether their song will be a hit. When the results arrive they hover over the 20in screen and click on the returned mail. There is a graph, showing a cluster of many dots, like a constellation, and somewhere in the cluster a red spot. The spot marks their song, not quite a bullseye, but still in the throng. “It’s scored a seven,” Ruth says, scanning down. “We’re in. The record company will definitely meet us now.” Their future suddenly looks a lot rosier.”

The rock group I play in in Canada had a top charting hit. We decided it was time to take the next single from the record to radio. The programming director at one of the largest rock radio stations in the country then explained to us to wait until they had spun it 500 times. He continued with “at 500 spins record sales begin to catch up”. So we waited. He was right.

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