Anatomy Of A Hit (Part Two)

Last month we explored the mechanics behind the Top 40 (CHR) airplay charts, with a focus on two key ideas.  First, for a song to hit “Number One” on the chart, there’s a theoretical threshold that needs to be crossed for the number of spins required, which we determined to be approximately 1,719x (based on an average calculated from a year’s worth of airplay data).  And second, while the “Top-5” most-played tracks vary from station to station, a song that is able to consistently rank within that “Top-5” range at a large percentage of the reporting panel will accumulate enough spins to crack the #1 slot on the national chart.

Over the past eighteen months, all of the following tracks managed to satisfy both of these prerequisites and became chart-toppers in Canada:

— Maroon 5 “One More Night”, “Payphone” & “Moves Like Jagger”
— Pink “Blow Me (One More Kiss)”
— Ellie Goulding “Lights”
— Katy Perry “Wide Awake”, “Last Night (TGIF)” & “E.T.”
— Rihanna “Where Have You Been”, “We Found Love” & “S&M”
— Nicki Minaj “Starships”
— Gotye “Somebody That I Used To Know”
— Fun. “We Are Young”
— The Wanted “Glad You Came”
— David Guetta “Turn Me On”
— Flo Rida “Good Feeling”
— LMFAO “Party Rock Anthem”
— Pitbull “Give Me Everything”
— Jennifer Lopez “On The Floor”
— Lady Gaga “Born This Way”

The one thing that’s noticeably absent from this list is any sort of Canadian act, and more specifically, one that fulfills the Can-Con requirements as laid down by the CRTC, y’know, that whole “MAPL” thing.

According to data sourced from Mediabase, 2006 through 2009 was a bit of a “golden era” for Can-con material at Top 40, with Nelly Furtado, Finger Eleven, Kardinal Offishall and Deadmau5 all registering #1 hits.  The last Can-con track to score big was Edward Maya’s “Stereo Love”, that infectious accordion-driven European ditty from two years ago that featured Mia Martina on vocals.

What’s the reason for such a drought?  Surely it can’t be a result of the quality of the material being produced, especially in light of Canadian acts that have been breaking big internationally with songs like:

— Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe”
— Drake “Take Care”
— Alyssa Reid “Alone Again”
— Martin Solveig & Dragonette “Hello”

The answer is rather simple — a large number of stations have modified their playlists, either increasing the spins on their International material, or reducing the spins for their Can-Con categories (or a combination of both), making it impossible for a Can-Con track to go #1 at Top 40.

The Frontside “research laboratories” have been working overtime for more than a month, crunching airplay data and trying to distill hard numbers from reams of information.  We looked at nearly 1,500-weeks worth of playlists from 28 of the 30 stations that make up the Mediabase Top 40 Reporting Panel (excluding Flow Toronto, due to its urban-heavy programming, as well as Virgin London, which was only recently added to the panel.)

After an introductory look at 52 weeks of data for each station, we chose to tighten the data-sets and analyze 26 weeks of info, using a capture period of April 21 through October 13, 2012.

Once a station has determined their specific playlist size and format clocks, the resulting spin counts fall into very identifiable ranges and patterns, though there will be some minor fluctuations on a week-to-week basis due to various reasons, such as increases/decreases in commercial inventory, etc.  We took the 26 week data and averaged out the playlist numbers for each station, arriving at a very representative figure for their “Top-5” spinning tracks, as well as what the highest Can-Con rotation would be.

In the interest of not vexing our radio colleagues, we’ve stripped out station call letters and have given generic labels to the data.  Graph #1 shows the averaged spin counts:

Graph #1 — Averaged Spin Counts

One can easily see how wide the difference is between the spins an International track can garner and that for Can-Con, especially for those outlets that program a “power” rotation with songs approaching, and then into, triple-digits.  Matter of fact, if we were to extend the graph to encompass the entire playlist past the “Top 5”, it would become very obvious that a Can-Con “Heavy” rotation is almost equal to an International “Medium” rotation at many stations.

As mentioned earlier, there is an average threshold for the spins needed to hit the upper-reaches of the charts.  Graph #2 expands upon the threshold data that we’d calculated and examined in detail last month:

Graph #2 — Theoretical Spins Required per Chart Position

Based on the average Can-con data from graph #1, the absolute best-case scenario would see a Can-con track receive 1,266 spins, making it impossible to peak on the chart, much less break the Top-5.

That said, when we were examining the raw 26 week data before averaging, one could see there are a small number of stations that have playlists where the heavy rotations for Can-Con are nearly comparable to that of the International material, plus there’s another five-or-so stations where it appears they’ll hand-schedule the occasional Can-Con track, giving it a few extra spins per day for a week, which will then make it on-par with an International “Heavy” rotation.  Taking into account these variables, it would be possible to gain in the neighbourhood of another 50-or-so spins per week, theoretically giving a Can-Con song enough airplay to crack into the Top-5, but no further.

We all know that the music being made in this country can compete against the best anywhere, so why is Carly Rae Jepsen celebrated with a #1 airplay hit in the USA and in Europe, but not here?

While we would never want to make programming suggestions to our radio colleagues, who know their stations and markets best, we’d like to issue a challenge to the CHR PD’s and MD’s across the country.  Actually, think of it as more of an early suggestion for when you’re trying to come up with a New Year’s resolution.  If your station is not doing so already, please consider creating one Can-Con “Heavy” rotation slot that’s equal to the spins given in your International “Heavy” category.  Just one, that’s all we’re asking for.  Your station’s format clocks don’t need to be dramatically altered, simply tweaked a slight amount.  Making this one small programming change at your station could have a major impact nationally, and if enough stations follow-through on this simple request, it would allow Canadian Top 40 artists the opportunity to once again find the success in Canada that they are finding elsewhere around the world.