Until recently, it was impossible to accurately measure the true popularity, e.g. consumption, of music - especially of older music. Billboard charts, album sales and industry playlists only show us a portion of a song’s popularity.
But now we have Spotify, YouTube and other true music choice streaming platforms, a buffet of all of music, new and old. Tracks with fewer plays are fading into obscurity. And those with more plays are remaining in the cultural ether.
Those in our industry who appreciate the value of this data have a secret weapon that their competitors don't have: the intelligence of what listeners are listening to when they are not listening to radio - either broadcast or on the Internet.
Longevity Trumps Chart Position
One things we're learning is that hits last for consumers of music. Radio has given short shrift to songs based on past experience, incorrect interpretation of music research or gut feelings that a song is "burnt out".
This observation applies to current hits - and former hits.
As an example of music streaming data's ability to better serve those who program music on radio platforms, let's look at the decade of the 90s.
Out of the entire catalog of music from the 90s, these are the tracks on the trajectory to survive.
The bubble-filled chart shows song popularity on Spotify by number of times a song was streamed from fewer streams to more - left to right.
Tracks that hardly charted on Billboard, in their day like Smells Like Teen Spirit, a track that never reached the Billboard Top 5 when it was released in 1992, is now the most-played song from the 90s on Spotify among other streaming platforms.
Present Day Popularity of 5 Decades of Music
Past popularity doesn’t always translate into present-day popularity. Here's how that manifests across all genres and decades.
Here's a chart of the most-streamed songs on Spotify by playcount or the number of times the song was streamed.
"Lose Yourself" released in 2002 by Eminem has been streamed over 59 million times and holds the position of the number one most-played song on Spotify.
Perusing the list you'll find many tunes which had little sales impact upon release but over time has become popularized by word-of-mouth, sharing with friends and media exposure in TV or film.
Another example of chart popularity during original year of release and longevity requires we look at the decade of the 70s.
From the 70’s: Bohemian Rhapsody is current the most-streamed songs on Spotify from that decade. It is represented on this chart to the right with over 30 million listens by a small bubble because it only charted at #76 on Billboard's top songs of 1975. Bigger charting songs are represented by larger bubbles.
If we were to time travel to the 70s or 80s, no one would reasonably believe that Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and the aforementioned "Smells Like Teen Spirit" would be cultural touchstones for their respective decades in 2015.
So what, you ask?
While broadcast music radio is a mass appeal platform that may be finding itself in a conundrum about how to prolong relevance in an era of increasing specialization, it maintains interest from the populous for just the purpose it has always provided: a curated approach to the best (read "hit") music available.
Listeners today have too much ground to cover in the land of music discovery and it may be a revelation for you to hear that music discovery includes the hits. Not all music consumers are music enthusiasts who are driven to find new and unfamiliar music.
In fact, the majority are average folks who need to radio to curate the hits and the best way to determine the hits - new or old - is through on-demand music streaming data available now through a variety of resources.
And broadcast radio music programmers may come to find that "music discovery" works both ways.
Dave Van Dyke
Special thanks to Matt Daniels at Polygraph.