HITS Daily Double


If 2016 was the year nothing new “broke through” in the U.K. market, 2017 has been somewhat of a return to form. Debuts from Columbia’s Rag’n’Bone Man, indie act Stormzy and RCA man Harry Styles all appear in the list of the 20 top-selling albums of the year to date, while Zara Larsson (Black Butter), J Hus (Black Butter) and Dua Lipa (Atlantic) make the Top 40. In addition, average first-week album sales for a #1 are up to 72k YTD from 41k in 2016. The live market is also in rude health, with Dua Lipa and Rag’n’Bone Man both set to play the 10.4k-cap. Alexandra Palace in London next year, while Stormzy played two dates at the 5k-cap. Brixton Academy earlier in May. Styles, meanwhile, will play two dates at the 20k cap.-O2 Arena in April, where a returning Sam Smith plays four shows that same month.

Singles-wise, pop still rules the roost, but influences from LatAm, U.S. hip-hop and EDM can be seen with Luis Fonsi/Daddy Yankee, Post Malone, Camila Cabello, French Montana, DJ Khaled and Quavo among the year’s biggest-selling singles. While the Official Singles Chart would previously generate excitement, the addition of streaming has transformed it into a consumption-based chart that’s been stagnant. Extensive rule changes were introduced earlier this year in a bid to shake it up.

To recap: a maximum of three of the most popular singles (based on sales and streams) within the Top 100 by the same artist are chart-eligible. As per the rules that were introduced in January, new releases have a streaming-to sales ratio of 150:1. However, for tracks that have been in the Top 100 chart for more than nine weeks and have experienced three consecutive weeks of sales decline, an accelerated stream-to-sale ratio of 300:1 is applied from the 10th week onward. The ratio can be reversed back to 150:1 if a track’s combined sales and stream total increases by 50% more than the market change week on week. In exceptional circumstances, where a track is being scheduled for promotion, a label may elect to manually reset a track back to 150:1. That reset is limited to two tracks per artist album, and only where the track in question is outside the Top 100.

The revamp seems to be working: 15 singles have hit #1 so far in 2017—a vast improvement over 2016’s total of 10. In the past four months, there have been 14 new entries in the Top 20, and a further 17 new tracks in the Top 40. In the four months before the new rules came into play at the end of June, there were 11 new Top 20 entries (excluding three extra Drake tracks when his mixtape was released) and 21 more new tracks in the Top 40 (also excluding the eight Drake tracks that charted).

It’s interesting to note that, when asked why he thought Brits were running all three majors by Music Week, Sony chief Rob Stringer responded, “It can’t be coincidence, can it? If you’re brought up on the BBC, you’re listening to everything. The first time I read about how wonderful Stevie Wonder was, or Anita Baker or Bobby Womack, was in the NME. It taught me [that] you might like Joy Division, but you should listen to Bobby too. That didn’t really exist in America.” If it’s indeed eclectic taste that’s schooling U.K. execs to lead global companies, the role of the BBC and wider British media in maintaining that diversity by taking risks is integral to a thriving worldwide music business. While streaming has brought accessibility to a broader catalog of music than ever before, it also means competition for promo spots is fierce, and popular tracks from large countries, which Blighty is not, dominate the charts.

Apart from the BBC’s new Friday night TV show—which has yet to prove a success—there are few big promo spots in the U.K. for new acts to break through to a wider audience. In a bid to capture the youth market, BBC Radio 1 is perhaps more mainstream than ever, and its playlist often mirrors that of Global’s commercial station, Capital. New and niche music can be found at BBC’s 1Xtra and 6Music, but, as they’re specialist stations, listener numbers are low, and a streaming-playlist spot alone does not break an artist. However, as in the case of Rag’n’Bone Man, progressive and diverse radio stations around Europe, most notably in Germany, can help start a story outside of Blighty. It was underground-movement grime, furthered by the BRITs, that propelled Stormzy into the stratosphere.

In this market, acts take longer to break, and the number of new artist deals is said to be dramatically down this year. How will that affect the music scene in Blighty in 2018 and beyond?