Anatomy of a Hit: How Meghan Trainor Made the UK Chart without Selling Downloads

Meghan Trainor made history when her single “All About That Bass” splashed onto the Official Singles Chart in the UK a couple of months ago. This was even before her single went on sale, so she charted solely on the strength of her streaming numbers.

Nobody had ever done that before.

Should we be surprised? Perhaps, but as streaming figures get integrated into singles and album charts around the world, this had to happen sooner or later. In this case, it was sooner. The UK charts began including streams in July 2014 – just when Meghan’s track was beginning to make waves in the States.

How it happened is what’s really interesting, so here’s the real story of “All About That Bass”.

Spotify Drives “All About That Bass” onto the UK Charts

In a sense, Meghan Trainor’s story is the reverse of our Mr Probz “Anatomy of a Hit” story; because Spotify carried her song across the pond from the US to the UK, whereas it carried Mr Probz in the other direction. Also, whereas Mr Probz has now surpassed an incredible 3m downloads, the ascendance of “All About That Bass” was due entirely to streaming as the song was windowed from appearing in UK downloads stores.

Trainor’s transatlantic journey began in the US with a free video and free download for “All About That Bass,” with streams and sales starting on June 30. The track made the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US two weeks later; in the UK, the song appeared on Spotify on August 16 [updated]. It was withheld from UK download stores until September 27, eventually becoming the number one hit as it had in the US, albeit in a completely different way.

Let’s first look how UK fans streamed the song during those build-up months of August and September, by comparing listens in Spotify’s Browse section (curated by Spotify), Top Lists (based on popularity), and Users’ Own Playlists (created by fans). During the early period, the Spotify-curated Browse section accounts for around two-thirds of the action; later, we can see fans actively collecting and playing the song in their own Spotify playlists:

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“All About That Bass” gathered significant momentum on Spotify, propelling it 20 spots up the charts to number 33 by September 28, with 1.17 million eligible streams – making UK chart history. Spotify can proudly claim over 90 percent of the credit for this historical achievement, and our curated Browse playlists were the biggest factor.

Now, let’s look at the anatomy of this hit the same way we did last time, by overlaying sales, streams, Shazams and radio plays. We’ll do this in the US, where the track was released “normally,” i.e. across all channels, and in the UK, where the track was not initially available as a downloadable purchase. This should allow us to see the effect of the song’s UK sales windowing.

In The US, A Normal – and Perfect – Bell Curve

For Shazams, sales, and streams, the US graph shows what you might call a perfect bell curve: all three rise-and-fall together, with radio’s peak lagging noticeably behind the curve:

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Sitting beneath this perfect ‘bell curve’ is a remarkable 4 million downloads and over 50 million audio streams, the vast majority of which were on Spotify.

The UK Risks Leaving Engagement Behind the Curve

In the UK, the track was available on Spotify a month and a half before it went on sale as a download. You won’t find the perfect US ‘bell curve’ here, although we can tease some order out from the chaos:

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Tagging and streaming gathered momentum starting in mid-August when the song was C-Listed on BBC Radio One. An original and captivating video also contributed to the momentum (but not the chart) with a million UK views, still with no download for sale.

Highlighted in the above chart is the week ending September 28, when the song entered the UK’s Official Singles Chart on the strength of its streaming performance alone. When the track finally was released on download stores the following week, its popularity as a stream doesn’t appear to have dented its popularity for ownership, judging from the chart. The song then rocketed to number one in sales and streams.

So, did windowing work? Comparing the Shazam data to the sales data reveals a discrepancy between supply and demand. During the month and a half when the track was windowed from download stores, there was lots of demand, and only limited supply. There were considerably more Shazams prior to the release than there were first week sales.

So, this transatlantic story emphasizes what Mr Probz has already taught us: Playlists are without borders, driving the musical conversation irrespective of language (or accent). Meghan’s story also sheds light on the perennial debate about release strategy, suggesting that when Shazams outstrip sales, there’s a risk of leaving engagement — and money — on the table.

Overlaying these various data sources offers new insight into how hits happen, and how they differ. In an age of instant gratification the US bell curve is something to aspire to. If momentum rises and falls together across all of these areas, demand is met all around. BigChampagne founder Eric Garland famously coined the phrase, “popular is popular wherever it is popular.” Six years on, the practice of windowing on any licensed platform — be it streaming or downloads — looks distinctly behind the curve.

 

Special thanks to Adam Granite and Mark Dennis (Sony Music Entertainment), Cait O’Riordan and Daniel Danker (Shazam), David Bakula (Nielsen Entertainment), Martin Talbot (The Official Charts Company), Steve Redmond (Entertainment Retailers Association), Kenny Ning, Jordan Gremli, Steve Savoca, Bryan Grone, Chris Stoneman, Rob Fitzpatick and Eliot Van Buskirk @ Spotify.