Buy My Music. Please?
As we head further and further into the streaming era of music consumption, ever closer to a strange new post-purchase world, the gap between the two markets continues to widen. Not just in pure overall revenue and volume terms but in the long-term tastes of the consumers loyal to each market.
It is not that there isn't some degree of crossover, for all the people who live in the strange (and often very vocal) bubble of "I refuse to stream, I buy music as that is the only true way to consume it" there are those who will cheerfully stream tracks to sample them before committing money to purchasing their favourites. But on the other side of the coin, there are those who have abandoned purchased music almost altogether or those who have grown up knowing nothing but vast unlimited online catalogues of product. And it is increasingly their tastes and loves which inform the tables of the most popular tracks of the moment.
For those of us with the hobby of chart watching this makes life very interesting indeed. At the present moment there are wild differences of opinion between the purchasers and streamers as to what the biggest track of the moment happens to be and even the most robust of guesstimates as to the numbers involved leaves one, in truth, no more informed than anyone else as to what will actually end up at Number One each Friday evening.
This week our voyage of discovery took us to the same place as last week, with rockstar from Post Malone and 21 Savage sitting comfortably at the top of the Official UK Singles chart for the second week running. Just as last week, there's a rather dramatic skew between the two halves of the market. Whereas once upon a time you could count on a fairly even 50/50 split between the sales and streams of the top-selling single of the week, this track, in particular, retains a strong lead over the rest of the streaming market but is still fighting its way gamely to the summit of the sales table. For the second week running, rockstar tops the charts with its chart sales dramatically skewed 80/20 towards the streaming half of the market, the single for all its popularity still only the 4th most-purchased track of the week. That's not to say it isn't climbing there steadily, a factor which can only work in its favour if it wants to become the latest in an extended line of long-lasting Number One hit singles. And we are still awaiting a video, the only YouTube presence for the track is its "official audio".
One of the most fascinating aspects of the success of rockstar has been the effect it has had on the rapper's back catalogue, almost as if the British public are playing catchup on an artist whose work had hitherto dipped under the commercial radar. For the second week running, he can boast three Top 40 singles, with I Fall Apart soaring 40-22 and Congratulations moving 33-27, surpassing the Number 28 it first scaled at the end of August. Both tracks featured on his 2016 album Stoney which is itself enjoying some belated success on the back of the newer track, the album charting this week at Number 12. Prior to the last few weeks, the highest position it had reached was Number 43, a peak it scaled back in May this year.
Still Not Going There
The most-purchased track of the week continues to be Camila Cabello's Havana, landing itself 14,000 paid for sales compared to a mere 10,000 for rockstar. It does at least shift position slightly and reaches a new peak of Number 2. That's enough to match the highest chart position she scaled whilst still a member of Fifth Harmony, Work From Home hitting that height in April 2016. It is one of just two of last week's Top 10 hits to register an improved chart position this week, the other being ZAYN and Sia's Dusk Till Dawn which after a fortnight locked at Number 7 rises a place to 6, one short of its initial chart entry point four weeks ago.
Two singles enter this week's Top 10, one of them a single which just so happens to have been there before. I noted last week that the failure of J Balvin and Willy William's Mi Gente to rise any higher than Number 14 despite the release of a new "remix" of the hit featuring an added Beyonce vocal giving it a big uptick in both sales and streams, was almost certainly due to the 13 week old hit having been demoted to the Accelerated Chart Ratio which saw its streams halved in value to the singles chart. I'm told the label did make representations to have the ratio manually reset for the release of the new mix, only to fall foul of the chart rule which states such requests can only be made on behalf of singles that are outside the Top 100. Fortunately this week their patience is rewarded and the dramatic upswing in sales of the single means it does now get a ratio reset and accelerates six places to Number 8, its highest chart position since it first peaked at Number 5 in early September. This does, however, mean we have the odd sight of this main singles chart rise coincides with the single taking a dip on both sales and streams tables.
This is a fascinating set of circumstances, simply because the automatic reset was designed to not penalise legacy hits which had enjoyed a sudden surge in support, such as seasonal favourites or catalogue tracks used in advertising campaigns. In short, it was intended to be something that happened organically as an older hit suddenly rose back into contention. Mi Gente, however, is unique, an established and steadily declining hit enjoying a second wind thanks to the belated release of a brand new version, just at the moment when it is due to be eased out of the way to make room for newer material. Just like the way New Rules topped the charts despite being neither the most-purchased or most-streamed hit of the week, it is a fun example of the current chart rules colliding with extraordinary sales events. Not that most people will notice or care about such minutiae of course, but that's why I'm here to point this out.
The other new Top 10 arrival is at least a fresh one, Stefflon Don and French Montana's Hurtin' Me which eases up two places to Number 9. The single is now French Montana's third Top 10 hit single. The previous two both peaked at Number 2 - his own Unforgettable earlier this year, a hit which belatedly followed his debut as a featured performer on will.i.am's Feein' Myself from February 2014.
One of those hits which is slowly creeping up the charts under the radar is Finders Keepers from Mabel featuring Kojo Funds. Effectively a third generation star, Mabel McVey is the daughter of celebrated producer Cameron McVey and late 80s hitmaker Neneh Cherry, meaning she is also the granddaughter of celebrated jazz trumpeter Don Cherry. If your family tree counts for anything musically then I guess she has a great deal going for her before she has even started. After winning fans thanks to some Soundcloud uploads and some championing from tastemakers such as Annie Mac, her debut Top 40 hit comes as a breath of fresh air, the breezy soul track refreshingly free of any tropical squeals. Even Kojo Funds' rap merely serves as the track's introduction rather than being shoehorned into the middle to break things up. Yes, I love this to bits why do you ask? First charting in early September, the single made the Top 40 for the first time a fortnight ago and now ascends to Number 19. Hopefully to grow still further.
Incidentally, before anyone wonders, Mabel McVey wasn't the famous "bump" which her mother performed with on Top Of The Pops after her first hit Buffalo Stance hit the charts during her pregnancy. That was older sister Tyson, born in early 1989. Mabel came along later in 1996, around the same time as her mother's final Top 10 hit Woman.
Who Feels Love
The two most notable Top 40 new arrivals of the week actually owe their successes to the popularity of their parent albums - the two big releases of the week doing significant business on streaming services and in the process propelling their most popular tracks into the singles chart. Leading the charge is grim rapper Giggs, a man whose popularity has defined conventional routes given what is, for now, his almost total lack of mainstream exposure and radio airplay. His following online is however sufficient enough for his latest mixtape Wamp 2 Dem to march to Number 2 on the Official UK Albums chart. In its wake, the single track Linguo winds up as the 32nd most streamed track of the week and hits Number 28 on the main singles chart. It is the first Top 40 hit the performer has ever managed under his own steam, although he was an enthusiastic passenger earlier this year as the co-star on two Drake album tracks which invaded the singles countdown - KMT which charted at Number 9 and No Long Talk which made Number 17.
The Number One album of the week, however, belongs to Liam Gallagher, making his solo debut after over two decades fronting ensemble bands -first of all Oasis and then most recently and more briefly his own outfit Beady Eye. His album As You Were was the market leader right from the word go, and indeed so strong were its sales that even the numbers it shifted on vinyl alone would have been sufficient to see it top the charts - over 16,000 copies, in fact, the highest weekly sale by a vinyl album in over 20 years. All formats combined means that As You Were becomes only the third artist album this year to sell over 100,000 copies in a week - and indeed Music Week reports that its sale of 102,000 copies in its first week is greater than the combined sales of the two albums Beady Eye released during the whole of their sales life. You do have to laugh.
Rather pleasingly this finally drags the album's latest single For What It's Worth into the Top 40 almost two months after it was first released. The single crashes back onto the chart at Number 33, 13 places ahead of the peak it first scaled when released back in August and 12 places below the Number 21 scaled by his solo debut Wall Of Glass back in June. It means Liam Gallagher has now had more Top 40 hits as a solo artist than he managed with Beady Eye - their only chart hit of note being The Roller which reached Number 31 in February 2011.
Quiet In Here Isn't It
Three more new hits sneak under the wire at the lower end of the Top 40, the lead one being Cola from Camelphat & Elderbrook, of which doubtless much more over the next few weeks as it has Top 10 hit written all over it. Number 38 is its peak for now. Just below at 39 is Pray from Sam Smith, a track whose understated debut is rather less startling when you learn it is an instant grat track to tease his forthcoming album, along with How Long from Charlie Puth which debuts at Number 40 as the follow-up to summertime smash Attention. Again, this is a single which is only just starting its journey and about which there should be much more to say in seven days time.
Stats Copied From Music Week
Another chart benchmark is hit this week, with streams accounting for 92% of singles sales for the first time ever. Paid for sales still hover around the 1.1m mark, teasing me with what I keep insisting is the watershed of dipping under 1 million a week for the very first time. And to return to the topic of the disconnect between the sales and streams markets, let's note the way for the second week running Paloma Faith's admittedly heavily promoted and much-discounted Crybaby sits just outside the Top 10 on the sales chart, but whose total numbers are only enough to make her Number 46 on the singles chart overall. No streams - no steam. It really is that simple.