Another Music Industry Insider Weighs in on the Sam Adams Story
Yesterday I posted the most recent Lefsetz Letter which weighed in on the Sam Adams iTunes controversy. Meet Jay Frank, who was mentioned in that very post and runs a website called FutureHit.DNA. Essentially this guy SPECIALIZES in determining the reasons songs become hits. Here is his take on the Sam Adams situation, copied verbatim from his website.
This week, there is a controversy brewing over new Boston rapper Sam Adams. He released a new EP called Boston’s Boy that quickly shot up to #1 on the iTunes Hip Hop album charts and even debuted in the Top 75 of the overall Billboard album chart. Immediately, people have been questioning if the artist/management bought the tracks themselves which Adams not only denies, but provided a 3500 page document showing all the individual sales the song has gotten. It’s been a hot topic of discussions amongst labels and one conversation I had on it has since been immortalized by Bob Lefsetz.
So the question remains…is it real? Let’s look at the evidence:
It’s not just that he sold several thousand EPs and over 20,000 copies of his single in one week. It’s also that he sold a fair amount of individual tracks from his other songs on the EP. On the one hand, why fake that as buying the album tracks doesn’t help your chart position. On the other hand, the purchasing pattern of those other album tracks are typically at a much lower ratio to the single sales.
Also, while iTunes shows strong numbers and typically has the strongest sales for any artist, Amazon’s sales registered nowhere near as high. In fact it just barely made it into the Hip-Hop Top 100. There’s gonna be a disparity amongst the two charts, but if it was really hot, the Amazon chart would be a much closer reflection.
If you listen to the song (which we’ll dissect in a moment), you’ll quickly hear that the song is more a pop/rap song than an actual traditional rap song. If that’s the case, why is it that people who bought the EP also bought more “street” rappers such as DJ Khaled, Wiz Khalifa and Ace Hood? And then, again on Amazon, why is the similar artists showing up as Vampire Weekend, Michael Buble, Colbie Caillat and Ke$ha? The disparity is rarely that great unless something funny is going on. And to my ear, the Amazon similar artists are more what I’d expect the audience to be.
A quick look at Google searches shows that the term “Sam Adams” did indeed grow by a noticeable amount when the EP came out. But it also cooled off considerably after the first week. If the song was truly becoming a hit, the searches would either be more sustained or they’d be growing. This is doing neither.
Then there is the searches itself. If you actually search “Sam Adams” on Google, you get what you’d probably expect: the beer, the Founding Father, and the Portland mayor. If the song was truly hot, Google should be recognizing that in search. The only thing that does show up is some news articles on the fix. In fact, the Lefsetz post has a higher search result than the iTunes link. A sign it’s a fix if there ever was one.
But the signs don’t stop there. With a typical hit, you see a lot of results for “artist + song title”. When you type Sam Adams in the search box, the song recommendation doesn’t come up. Even on YouTube, the full recommendation doesn’t come up. This means significant people aren’t searching for the track.
I talk about searchability a lot in regards to the Futurehit. The reality is that you need an artist name and song title that’s easily searchable so you can be found. People have very short attention spans. Don’t give them a reason to miss out on who you are. Sam Adams does neither. His artist name is terrible for search results.
Even the song title is terrible for search results. If you search “Driving Me Crazy”, you’ll find that Sam Adams is competing against songs with the same title by new hitmaker Taio Cruz, Knightowl, Phil Collins, and an artist named Northern Cree. Not to mention a 1991 Dom Deluise movie and a 1988 Nick Broomfield documentary. All of whom have higher search traction. If you have a less relevant search result than an obscure 1991 Dom Deluise movie…
One of the things Bob left out of the conversation we had, which included Eric Garland of Big Champagne, was how many people were stealing Sam Adams. The answer is barely any. The reality is that any song that truly is a hit has theft to go along with it. This song didn’t.
THE SONG ITSELF
So, now let’s put “Driving Me Crazy” thru the Futurehit.DNA filter. Being a very commercial pop song, this should easily work within the filter itself. Aside from a short intro (2 seconds before Sam Adams starts shouting out the names of the producer, etc.) that I detail as a key success metric in Chapter 1 of Futurehit.DNA, the song is a surprisingly flat basic track. The song is basically two 64 beat loops repeated over and over, a structure that is on its way to being relegated to the structure of the last generation. The lack of dynamic range, the lack of truly stand-out lyrics (in my opinion), and then an overly long fade-out with no lyrics (at a time when you need short endings). These are all elements that, to me, suggest that this song has a very unlikely chance of being a true commercial breakthrough. Now, as with any formula, it can always be proven wrong in rare circumstances, but I don’t think “Driving Me Crazy” is that circumstance.
If there was some widespread purchasing of Sam Adams’ song, it is having the desired effect of said purchase: people have noticed, they are listening to a track with no radio play, and there are indisputable legit sales occuring (see: Amazon). The music business history is rife with many songs having purchased chart positions thru various methods. Why should the digital age be different? I’d love for purity to still exist, but this is the music business. iTunes has successfully blocked out many attempts at rigging their chart, so it’s interesting that somehow this may have slipped thru. However, in my opinion, if you’re gonna spend money on juicing a hit song, it should be spent on one with a higher likelihood of legit traction.
Now, this story hasn’t gotten huge mainstream press attention, and if it did, it would probably become a hit just because of the story. But it’s funny that the blog attention to date has been limited to:
-Song debuts high on chart, blog world cries foul
-Artist produces proof of legit sales, blog world says OK
I guess people don’t want to take the time to research and report. And it’s not like I did heavy duty digging. This came from just looking thru a few top-level Google searches (and one conversation with Eric Garland). I didn’t really intend to go all CSI on this track, and I have nothing against the guy. And I also can’t definitively prove that this is 100% not-legit. It could be a random fluke of college kids in New England (his obvious base) who truly love and want to support the guy.
But, then again, as I told Lefsetz…if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and looks like a duck…