Tag Archives: Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3

Time Stands Still in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3

Coleman Insights is releasing findings from its Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 in a three-part blog series, followed by a free webinar on May 13th, in which the findings will be covered in greater depth. Details to register for that webinar are below.

With Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3, we are excited to once again share learnings about the lay of the land of contemporary music. This is a study of mass music tastes that starts with us compiling a list of the most consumed songs of 2020, using streaming (led by Roddy Ricch’s “The Box”), sales (led by BTS’s “Dynamite”), and radio airplay (led by The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights”) data provided by MRC Data. We supplement this list with top-tier songs from individual genre charts, and we eliminate titles that are more than five years old, such as Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” (sorry, TikTok sensation 420doggface208). Then, using our FACT360SM Strategic Music Test platform, we assess the popularity of each and every one of these titles by testing them with 1,000 people between the ages of 12 and 54 across the United States and Canada.

Of course, looming large over Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 are these strange pandemic times. Going into the study, we wondered quite a bit about how contemporary music tastes might be impacted after a year in which the normal rhythms of life were upended. Sequestered at home, many of us felt more than a little like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day, the cynical weatherman who is stuck in a seemingly endless time loop.

As it turns out, the results of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 have a decidedly Groundhog Day-like feel as well. It all looks very familiar…

What was last year’s most popular song? Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.”

What is this year’s most popular song? Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.”

That’s right. One year later, a thousand surveys later, and the exact same song rises to the top.

And that’s not all.

Six of the top ten songs in this year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 were also in the top ten of last year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.

How about the most prolific artist? Last time it was Post Malone, with eight of the top 100 songs. This time it is Post Malone, with six of the top 100 songs.

OK, let’s mix it up. Instead of looking at the top of the list, let’s go all the way to the bottom. What was the least popular song in last year’s SuperStudy 2? Surely, it won’t be the exact same this time around in SuperStudy 3.

Think again.

Many of you still don’t like “Baby Shark.”

Crazy, right? It almost feels like nothing has changed. It feels like Groundhog Day.

Well, to be clear, some things have changed. I promise.

Saying that time stands still—as we did in the title of this blog—is a bit of an exaggeration. Time hasn’t stopped, but it has slowed. The following chart shows the era distribution of the top 100 titles in each of the three SuperStudies. As these studies are done on a yearly basis, we have aligned them based on their relative era so that we can more easily compare them. The most recent year for SuperStudy 1 was 2018, the most recent year for SuperStudy 2 was 2019, and the most recent year for SuperStudy 3 is 2020. Note how the most recent year of music has gone from 40% to 36% to 26% of the top 100. In other words, the most popular contemporary titles have gotten less contemporary. They still meet our “past five years” rule, but they are leaning more toward the older end of it.

When we compare the era distribution of all songs tested in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 (which, again, is comprised of last year’s most consumed songs) to the era distribution of the 100 most popular songs, we see that 2020 really under-performs; the year accounts for 46% of the test list, but just 26% of the top 100. Meanwhile, 2019 has 42% of the test list and 46% of the top 100, while 2018 and 2017 over-perform with a combined 12% of the test list and 27% of the top 100.

The fact that the most popular songs lean older is not completely surprising to us. The older songs that are still being consumed highly enough to qualify for this study have, inherently, exhibited staying power. Whereas some newer songs may still be developing in familiarity and finding their fan base, these older songs have largely weathered the storm and benefit from having above-average familiarity with consumers. Instead, what is noteworthy is that the most popular songs have shifted quite a bit older, with so many familiar faces remaining at the top.

So, it’s the things that haven’t changed that really grab our attention in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3. This is what we get after a year without in-person concerts, after a year in which many new releases have been held back, after a year of comfort food binging.

I think we’ve found our contemporary music comfort food, and its name is “Shape Of You.”

Register now for our Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 webinar on May 13th from 2p-3p EDT, when we’ll go in-depth on the state of contemporary music. In the meantime, keep an eye out for next week’s Tuesdays With Coleman blog for more sneak peek findings from the study.

Tracking Contemporary Music Trends

A major benefit of the long-term relationships we have with so many audio brands is that we get to look at trends. Lots and lots of trends. By measuring things in a consistent manner year after year and study after study, we get unparalleled insights into how the behaviors, tastes, and perceptions of consumers change over time. I’ll admit to being a geek about a lot of this stuff, especially when it comes to music.

That’s why I am looking forward to our upcoming release of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3, a preview of which we are presenting at this week’s virtual All Access Audio Summit. Sure, I enjoyed the two previous studies in 2019 and 2020, but now that we’ve arrived at the third edition of our now-annual assessment of the state of contemporary music tastes in the United States and Canada, I am geeking out about the opportunity to share some real trends.

This opportunity is perhaps more intriguing than it would otherwise be this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve been through more than a year with almost no live music performances and many artists have held back their releases of new material, so it will be especially interesting to see if this has impacted the state of contemporary music.

If you’re not familiar with our Contemporary Music SuperStudy series, let me give you a quick primer. We compile a list of the most-consumed songs from the previous calendar year and then test those songs with 1,000 consumers in the United States and Canada using the same platform we use for delivering FACT360SM Strategic Music Tests to our radio station clients. The list is built with help from our friends at MRC Data and is based on consumption via radio airplay, streaming, and sales. We drop any songs that are at least five years old and then add songs that are among the most consumed from each major genre that make up the world of contemporary music so that each of those genres receive adequate representation. The 1,000 consumers who participate in the study are representative of the population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, and geography.

By using this consistent methodology every year, the Contemporary Music SuperStudy is worthy of its designation as the benchmark of contemporary music tastes. Many of us in the radio, music, and streaming businesses get glimpses of how music tastes are changing through the many individual audio brand studies, music tests, and new music research reports we see over the course of the year, but the Contemporary Music SuperStudy gives us a truly objective view of those changes on the macro level.

When we began to analyze the data, many questions—informed by what we learned in the two previous editions of the study—immediately popped into my head and the heads of my colleagues. These include:

  • What will supplant last year’s top song—“Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran—as the best-testing song this year?
  • What new songs released in 2020—and therefore appearing in the study for the first time—did consumers rate highest?
  • Will Pop titles continue to outperform their presence in the test list?
  • Will the improvement we saw for Country titles between the first and second study continue with the third study?
  • Has the pandemic impacted the demand for contemporary music?
  • Will Hip Hop/R&B titles continue to lead the tastes of younger listeners?

The good news is that if you have similar questions to ours, the answers to them are on their way. If you are attending the All Access Audio Summit this week, be sure to join us at 2PM Eastern/11AM Pacific this Thursday, April 22nd when John Boyne, Sam Milkman, and I will reveal many of the topline findings from the study. Our presentation will cover the best-testing titles overall, how this year’s most popular songs compare with previous years in terms of genre and era, and how music tastes vary across demographics, geography, political persuasion, and media habits.

In addition, we will devote the next three weeks of Tuesdays With Coleman to more detailed discussions of the study’s most important findings, culminating in a free, publicly available webinar on Thursday, May 13th in which we will take a deeper dive into our findings. (Registration for the webinar will open later this month.) Finally, later this spring, we will provide online access to the song-by-song data from the study to all active Coleman Insights clients as part of our Coleman Complete service.

At Coleman Insights we often say that music tastes change and that’s why we track them. For my fellow data geeks and music fans, the next few weeks should be a lot of fun. My colleagues and I hope you gain a lot of insights out of our Contemporary Music SuperStudy 3 findings and look forward to your feedback.