Practice makes Perfect: The lessons for the biz from Ed Sheeran's latest No.1

Practice makes Perfect: The lessons for the biz from Ed Sheeran's latest No.1

The year may be nearly over, but there’s still time for Ed Sheeran’s all-conquering ÷ campaign to set one more landmark.

The ascent of Perfect to the singles chart summit this week, and its installation as favourite for the Christmas No.1, seems remarkable, given that it had already reached No.4 during Sheeran’s March chart takeover.

Despite the chart changes prompted by the star’s domination of the Top 20, the rise of streaming has made scheduling post-album release singles an ever-harder task for the biz.

The public’s streaming behaviour around a big release makes for a sometimes useful, sometimes brutal assessment of which tracks work and which tracks don’t, something the old guard never had to deal with. Consumption of album tracks on streaming services has reached pleasingly constant levels, but achieving the sort of spike in interest in an album that used to be caused by simply releasing a track as a single, has become more and more difficult.

But the Perfect campaign shows that, if you can somehow manage to keep at least some of your powder dry, then there is still ample potential to extend the lifespan of a song - and therefore its parent album - way beyond that initial surge.

Of course, being able to call up one of the biggest stars in the world helps, but Perfect was already a renewed sales and airplay hit long before Beyoncé’s duet version dropped. The new Andrea Bocelli duet will spread the song to yet another demographic.

The big question is what others can learn from the strategy. The judicious use of adding featured artists to single versions has worked in the past for everyone from Little Mix to Taylor Swift, but equally crucial is the role of radio and video in getting audiences to reignite their interest in a song they’re already highly familiar with. In this context, radio playlists and heavy rotation videos still make a significant difference in perception, even if it's the renewed streaming playlist push that actually generates the chart rise.

Because, while streaming’s level playing field has been an education for the biz, Perfect shows that it’s still old school gatekeepers that make the difference between a track and a single, and between a hit and a classic.

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