analysis

Hitmakers: The songwriting secrets behind Lost Without You

Freya Ridings wrote Lost Without You at her lowest ebb, and when the music industry doubted its potential, she didn’t give up. Now, it’s an indelible hit heading towards one million sales. Here, the singer tells its remarkable story… I ...

The Q3 Collaborations Project: Music Week's Q3 analysis

Labels worked together in Q3 to great effect, with trend-bucking streaming growth and returning superstars ensuring another big uplift. In our essential quarterly analysis, Music Week picks out the key trends and looks ahead to the crunch Q4 period… MARKET TRENDS Where Ed Sheeran leads, the music industry follows. And so, while Music Week’s quarterly market analysis is usually home only to bitter rivalry and dog-eat-dog competition, this time around we find the industry infused with the cooperative spirit of Sheeran’s No.6 Collaborations Project (Asylum/Atlantic), the period’s biggest-selling album. Of course, artists have been working together for years. Publishers too. But have the Top 3 best-selling singles for a quarter ever all had split label credits before? They did in Q3, with Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello’s Senorita (EMI/Syco), Sheeran Feat. Khalid’s Beautiful People (Asylum/Columbia) and Sheeran & Justin Bieber’s I Don’t Care (Asylum/Def Jam) all showing that labels from competing corporate groups can play nice if a monster hit is at stake. One of the quarter’s best-selling albums, Kylie Minogue’s collection Step Back In Time, also operates across ‘enemy’ lines, drawing on catalogue from both BMG and Warner. The trend makes market share analysis trickier (especially as many duets are not split 50/50), and would never have been seen even a few years ago. But don’t expect it to stop any time soon… “It ultimately depends on the stature of the artist in question, and the contribution that artist is making to the record,” says David Hawkes, managing director of Universal Music UK’s Commercial Division. “Where there are artists of stature, and where they’ve made a significant contribution to the record, we will continue to see split credits across labels and artists. But this is absolutely A&R-driven and artist-led as opposed to major label strategy. These are always artistic decisions rather than corporate ones.” Music Week always likes to write these quarterly analysis pieces imagining Hawkes and his major label counterparts – Warner Music UK SVP, commercial Derek Allen and Charles Wood, Sony Music UK VP of market planning and media – as Bond-style villains plotting each other’s demise, possibly by using shark tanks and lasers. But does this new trend mean they actually… Get along? “I’m always nice to my bitter rivals!” quips Allen. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes to make it as smooth as possible, but there is a lot of work involved. I’d be misrepresenting the hard work that goes into it if I said it was straightforward…” Whatever the motivation, it seems to be working. As revealed in last week’s Music Week, total Album Equivalent Sales (AES) surged 11.3% year-on-year according to the BPI, 2019’s biggest quarterly rise. Even more eye-catchingly, Stream Equivalent Albums (SEA) rose 29%, higher than the last quarter’s 24% increase and Q1’s 26.2% uplift. And our three amigos are also aligned when giving most of the credit to the streaming-friendly charms of Sheeran’s No.6 Collaborations Project and Taylor Swift’s Lover (Virgin EMI), two unusually high-profile releases for Q3. Lover was Swift’s first album to debut on streaming at the same time as in shops. “Big event releases can make a massive difference to any quarter,” says Allen. “And it definitely looks like Ed has moved the market for this one.” “We need to get our heads around how the year is getting flatter and flatter,” says Wood. “Q3 is no longer a quarter where you can almost put your feet up because it’s summer.” “Consumption just keeps happening,” concurs Hawkes. “The more we go to streaming, we’re going to see a more buoyant summer period. In a world that was more ownership-led, you were on holiday, there were fewer releases, and you would see a bigger dip in summer performance. But the fact that there are fewer releases doesn’t stop people actually consuming music.” The surge coincided with an acceleration in physical’s decline, with sales down 24.6%, notably higher than Q2’s 20.9% fall. Vinyl sales did bounce back, up 3.3% on Q3 2018, having fallen 1.1% year-on-year in Q2. But our panel are reluctant to attribute streaming’s surge and physical’s plummet to a wave of late streaming converts. “I wouldn’t read too much into it at this stage,” cautions Allen. “I’m not saying that isn’t what’s going on, but I wouldn’t like to say it was, definitively. If we’d have released a more traditional Ed album, that was as physical as his last two previous studio albums, we’d be looking for another reason for market growth. But as it currently stands, I think it’s just the streaming nature of the bigger releases that were put into the market.” The next question is, of course, whether Q4 can do anything to stem the flow away from physical, especially given the quarter’s disappointing performance in the last two, otherwise stellar years. This year’s slate, as laid out beautifully in last week’s Music Week Q4 special, has the BPI’s chief executive Geoff Taylor believing anything is possible. “The work that’s gone into creating beautiful editions of classic albums and new albums is really important,” he enthuses. “The labels understand that they need to offer something special to the consumer. If they do, then fans will engage in physical product. The job that labels are doing curating deluxe editions and really making physical product stand out is helping to preserve the physical market.” “It feels like there’s a few things in there that potentially could be game-changers for the overall UK market,” says Allen. “So I don’t see why it shouldn’t maintain growth. Most of the majors are putting fewer releases into the market. Traditionally at Christmas, there’s a few speculative releases that couldn’t possibly work at any other time of the year, but might just catch a moment in peak season and hit a gifting market. But it feels like there are a lot fewer punts this year.” The likes of Sheeran and Swift, having built a solid streaming base, now have the opportunity to push physical purchases, while traditional Q4 favourites such as Ball & Boe, Robbie Williams and Rod Stewart are out in force. “There are some strong releases orientated towards gifting, which should deliver a strong Q4,” says Hawkes. “But it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Q4 down again, bearing in mind that consumption across the year is flattening as we move into a streaming world. Q4 is still very important from a physical perspective, and very important for certain artists. But for those artists that know they can build up phenomenal performance via streams, it’s become marginally less important.” Come on, come on guys, let’s stick together… TALENT The biz’s new spirit of collaboration may be everywhere this quarter, but the Q3 sales charts were still dominated by one man and one man alone. And his name rhymes with Bed Deeran. His No.6 Collaborations Project album was the quarter’s No.1, with 396,078 sales according to the Official Charts Company, and will likely soon take over as the year’s biggest-seller. His ÷ album was the No.10 seller (60,394) and he contributed three of the quarter’s Top 10 singles, with Beautiful People (No.2, 641,863), I Don’t Care (No.3, 601,353) and the Stormzy-featuring Take Me Back To London (No.6, 522,858). Sheeran led an impressive Warner performance, in which Max Lousada’s major scored at least a share of five of the Top 10 album sellers of the quarter, via Sheeran’s two records, Minogue (No.6, 70,940 sales), The Greatest Showman soundtrack (Atlantic, No.7, 68,908) and Liam Gallagher’s Why Me? Why Not (Warner, No.8, 68,385). Sheeran also delivered all three of Warner’s Top 10 Q3 singles, the trio representing Sheeran’s biggest-ever haul of chart-toppers from an album, reflecting its streaming dominance, even if it has yet to get anywhere near ÷’s total sales. “I don’t think it was ever designed to do that,” says Allen. “It was always an interim project and not what you’d call a traditional Ed album. It’s performed along the lines that we would have hoped and there’s still more in the tank. The real acid test will be how we travel through peak season. “Atlantic always works to a plan and a strategy around releases, particularly in Ed’s case and the plan has run to the original layers so far,” he adds. “So for peak season, the aim is to cross over into the market that perhaps Ed’s traditionally operated in.” Over at Universal, David Hawkes also has plenty of reasons to be cheerful, with at least a share of four of the Top 10 singles: Mendes/Cabello (No.1, 723,915), Sheeran/Bieber, Lewis Capaldi’s Someone You Loved (Virgin EMI, No.5, 548,745) and Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy (Polydor, No.10, 440,805). Albums were even more impressive, with Capaldi’s Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent (No.2, 178,381), Swift (No.3, 97,244), Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (No.4, 81,975), Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding (Island, No.5, 72,132) and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody Soundtrack (Virgin EMI, No.9, 60,398) all contributing to another big quarter. “We’re really happy with the performance of both the new, the old, the domestic and the international,” grins Hawkes. “It has been the story of our year so far, which has kept our performance buoyant throughout.” Hawkes is particularly excited about the emergence of some new UMG stars, with Polydor debuts from Sam Fender (Hypersonic Missiles, No.12, 52,524), Jax Jones (Snacks, No.17, 42,524) and Mabel (High Expectations, Polydor, No.26, 32,839) also making the quarter’s Top 30. “It’s nice to be in the position where we feel we’ve broken or we’re about to break some UK repertoire,” says Hawkes. “The promotional plot really came together for Sam. He’s reaching a much broader audience than one might have expected. And for an artist that’s not really had hit singles, and has an album performance driven by live, promotion and socials, it bodes really well, because this is not reliant on one particular [hit] record.” Sony Music had no trouble delivering hit singles, with at least a share of half the quarter’s Top 10: Mendes/Cabello, Sheeran/Khalid, Lil Nas X (Old Town Road, Lil Nas X, No.4, 578,291), Kygo & Whitney Houston’s Higher Love (Columbia/Kygo, No.8, 456,752) and Dominic Fike’s 3 Nights (Columbia, No.9, 449,749). But on the albums front, it was a very different story, with the group failing to produce a single one of the Top 10, a very rare occurrence for any major in any quarter (Sony’s biggest-seller, George Ezra’s Columbia-released Staying At Tamara’s, finished at No.11 with 58,491 sales). “That is the release schedule for you,” says Wood. “But perhaps this is less of an issue when this part of the market [album sales] is only 20% of everything. It’s always nice to have more out but we have a full release schedule coming up from now to Christmas…” Whether that will be enough to depose Sheeran and friends remains to be seen… MARKET SHARES Right, time to put those thoughts of ‘we’re all in this together’ fluffiness aside. If the labels can’t get up for a battle over their share of the burgeoning music market, then we really are in trouble. Thankfully, Q3 did not just follow 2019’s script so far (Universal on the up, everyone else being squeezed) as an Ed Sheeran-inspired Warner Music fought back. Nonetheless, Universal still topped all seven of Music Week’s key metrics, although its share on each declined slightly on its spectacular Q3 2018 performance. It posted 36.4% on All Albums AES (down 1 percentage point) and 36.2% (down 0.6) on Artist Albums AES, still well above David Hawkes’ 35% benchmark. “We probably had a marginally quieter Q3 from a singles perspective, which has definitely had an impact on overall AES,” says Hawkes. “And, equally, on the albums side, when the competitors release an album of the size of the Ed Sheeran project, that is naturally going to have an impact on market shares of competitors. So no, there’s absolutely no cause for concern. I would just put it down to the natural cycle of release slates.” Universal also dominated at record company level, with Virgin EMI topping the charts for All Albums AES (11.3%), Artist Albums AES (11.2%), Track Streams (11.3%) and Artist Album Sales (10.4%). Their hegemony was broken only on Track Sales (RCA, 11.7%), Compilation Album Sales (Sony Music Commercial Group, 35.1%) and All Album Sales (also Sony CG, 11.8%). Sheeran’s album did not have the seismic market share impact of ÷ but nonetheless dragged Warner up year-on-year in share on both its preferred Artist Albums AES metric (17.7%, up 0.1 points) and All Albums AES (17.1%, up 0.6) for the first time in 2019. It even beat Sony to second place on Artist Album Sales with 19.1% (up 0.9). But Allen insists the performance was anything but a one-man band. “You’ve got Ed obviously, but you’ve also got the Liam Gallagher campaign, which is off to a great start,” he says. “We would hope that we carry that through the next quarter and well into peak season. Slipknot also did very well for us and you’ve got the ever-present Fleetwood Mac, which just sells every time there’s a documentary on TV. It’s unbelievable.” Meanwhile, over at Sony, despite the lack of hit albums, Charles Wood somehow saw an increase on Artist Albums AES (up 0.7 points to 20.5%), although it was down 0.2 points on its preferred All Albums AES measurement to 21.2%. So what’s responsible? Witchcraft? “The depth of catalogue that just keeps on chugging along and selling,” says Wood. “That’s where we’re going in terms of share. Once there’s even more streaming, things will be more and more consistent.” One day, that may rather take the rivalry (not to mention the fun) out of quarterly market shares analysis. But for now, let’s toast the spirit of competition, still alive and well, even in this age of collaboration.

Charts analysis: Tones And I strengthens position at No.1

Increasing consumption for the 12th week in a row, Tones And I’s Dance Monkey lengthens its lead at the top of the singles chart. In its second week at the summit, the track – the introductory hit for 19-year-old Toni Watson, from Melbourne – achieves consumption of 70,713 units, a steep 40.11% increase week-on-week. That’s a 12-week high for a No.1 single, compared to the 48-week low we saw in the previous frame.  Dance Monkey continues atop the chart in many other territories, not least in her native Australia, where it is No.1 for the 10th week in a row, equalling the all-time record for a song by a female solo artist set by Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You in 1993, and equalled in 2010 by Scots singer Sandi Thom’s I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair).  The most obvious and highest-charting song to concern itself with altered states since Afroman’s Because I Got High topped the chart in 2001, rapper Travis Scott’s Highest In The Room dashes to a No.2 debut on consumption of 48,805 units. Highest In The Room achieves two other highs, being both the highest new entry to the chart and the highest-charting of Travis Scott’s 19 hits to date, while furnishing only his third Top 10 hit.  While his debut album Without Fear races to the top of the album chart, Dermot Kennedy’s first hit single, Outnumbered, climbs for the 14th week in a row, and has finally breached the Top 10, advancing 14-8 (32,078 sales). Impacted by the arrival of Travis Scott’s new single, Kosovan DJ Regard’s first hit, Ride It, increases consumption for the 10th week in a row but dips 2-3 (48,422 sales). Circles climbs 6-5 (35,731 sales) to match the peak it scaled four weeks ago for Post Malone.   The rest of the Top 10: Ladbroke Grove (3-4, 35,882 sales) by AJ Tracey, Higher Love (5-6, 34,780 sales) by Kygo & Whitney Houston, Sorry (7-7, 32,205 sales) by Joel Corry, 3 Nights (8-9, 30,075 sales) by Dominic Fike and Strike A Pose (9-10, 28,729 sales) by Young T & Bugsey feat. Aitch.    In the Top 10 for nine weeks, two of them at No.2, Taste (Make It Shake) tumbles 4-26 (17,841 sales) for Aitch as ACR kicks-in. Ran$om departs the Top 10 for the second time for Lil Tecca (10-14, 24,575 sales)     In January, it will be 10 years since Justin Bieber made his singles chart debut. This week, he racks up hit No.57 as guest vocalist on 10,000 Hours (No.19, 20,011 sales), a pleasant country song by Dan + Shay. The Nashville-based duo have had seven Hot 100 entries in America but none previously here, where the highest charting of their three albums – an eponymous 2018 effort – peaked at No.122. Summer blooms: R&B singer/songwriter Summer Walker’s critically-acclaimed first album, Over It, opens at No.7 this week, and spins off her first Top 40 entry and her third and fourth Top 75 hits, namely Playing Games (93-25, 18,392 sales), Usher collaboration Come Thru (No.42, 12,115 sales) and Stretch You Out (feat. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, No.70, 7,295 sales).  Niall Horan had 29 hits as a member of One Direction between 2011 and 2015. He has been a much less frequent visitor to the chart since, and lands only his fourth subsequent hit with Nice To Meet Ya (No.51, 10,651 sales), the lead single from his upcoming second solo album.  Also new to the chart: Bandit (No.47, 11,247 sales), the seventh hit for Juice Wrld, and the first for featured rapper, YoungBoy Never Broke Again; Trust Issues (No.49, 10,974 sales), the fourth hit for London grime sextet, NSG; Saint-Tropez (No.52, 10,646 sales), the 20th hit for Post Malone; Cat Pack (No.56, 9,447 sales), the 14th hit for London rapper AJ Tracey; Hot Girl Bummer (76-58, 9,362 sales), the first hit for Pennsylvanian rapper Blackbear; This Is Real (83-64, 7,813 sales), the 11th hit for Jax Jones, the 10th from his album Snacks (Supersize), and the sixth for featured vocalist Ella Henderson.    Out of the teens after seven weeks, Be Honest (feat. Burna Boy) is getting ever closer to becoming Jorja Smith’s first Top 10 entry, moving 15-11 (25,727 sales). Meanwhile, Sam Feldt is in the teens for the sixth straight week with the track Post Malone (feat. Rani), which advances to a new peak, climbing 17-13 (24,590 sales).  The 51st song by Ed Sheeran to achieve consumption in excess of 200,000 units, South Of The Border (feat. Camila Cabello) jumps 40-24 (19,234 sales). Sheeran has more (15) of the 390 tracks to achieve consumption of one million units in downloads and streams than any other act. Of tracks that have never made the Top 75 in any era, The Chain by Fleetwood Mac will be the first to reach the million mark within the next couple of weeks.   There are also new peaks for: Professor X (20-18, 21,571 sales) by Dave, Buss Down (25-20, 19,829 sales) by Aitch feat. ZieZie, Liar (35-27, 17,381 sales) by Camila Cabello, Turn Me On (37-29, 16,832 sales) by Riton & Oliver Heldens feat. Vula, God Is A Dancer (33-32, 16,455 sales) by Tiesto & Mabel, Graveyard (49-38, 12,649 sales) by Halsey, Memories (61-48, 11,159 sales) by Maroon 5 and 223’s (75-69, 7,408 sales) by YNW Melly & 9lokknine.  Overall singles sales are down 0.17% week-on-week at 18,951,585, 19.64% above same week 2018 sales of 15,840,203. Paid-for sales are down 2.33% week-on-week at 589,331 – 29.48% below same week 2018 sales of 835,710. They are below same week, previous year sales for the 323rd week in a row. 

Charts analysis: Dermot Kennedy debuts at summit

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Q4 line-up 2019: PIAS

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Q4 line-up 2019: BMG

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