’09 The Year of More….And Less!

I get a lot of heat for studying only #1 records.  Strangely enough, not from the writers, publishers or artists that have one.  My feeling is that if the “business” feels it is worth promoting, pushing, bullying or outright buying a record to the top, they must be pretty confident in the “foundation” that the artist’s career is built on…..the song.  So, no matter how they got to the dance, here are the songs that went to the #1 ball.  In line with “no one throws a # 2 party” this is a look at what made it to No. 1 in 2009.

The number one songs of 2009 continued a trend that started at the beginning of the decade.  For the last ten years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of #1 records.  For instance, this year, ’09, there were 31 #1s up from 26 last year ‘08, and 21 back in ’04.


The number of writers participating in the cheese and shrimp, speeches and backslapping increased from 49 last year to 71 this year.  What that means is each writer’s work has less total time on the charts.  The longest chart records were Chris Young’s “Getting You Home” and Lady Antebellum’s “I Run To You” at 38 weeks.  Look back at Steve Holy “Good Morning Beautiful” at 41 weeks or Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” at 46 weeks respectively, about 2 months more than ‘09’s crop.  The times they are a changing!!!

Race to #1

The fastest travelers up the chart were Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova” and Brad Paisley’s “Then” with 10 week runs to the top.  Unfortunately Carrie was also the fastest off the charts—on and gone in 14 weeks, while Brad hung around for a total of 17 weeks.

There were 8 records that were on, and peaked in 15 weeks or less—Carrie and Brad as well as Kenny Chesney “Out Last Night, Jason Aldean “Big Green Tractor”, Rascal Flatts “Here comes Goodbye”, Toby Keith “American Ride”, Sugarland “It Happens, and Lady Antebellum “Need You Now” it was interesting to note that records seemed to take a little longer than last year to climb the charts.  Eleven of the thirty-one, slightly over one-third took 20+ weeks to get to #1.

As most of these artists have had hits before, it would be easy to attribute their fast rise to star power and fan familiarity, but there were 4 newcomers to the #1 club in (09) - Mac McAnally (although paired with Kenny Chesney) “Down The Road”, Chris Young “Getting You Home (The Black Dress Song)”, Justin Moore “Small Town USA” and Lady Antebellum “I Run To You” and “Need You Now”.   As a matter of fact, 2 of the 4 newcomers took the longest to get to #1- Chris Young and Justin Moore, so maybe they just had to earn their way there. “Small Town USA” was 33 weeks to #1 and winning the prize for longest ascent goes to “Getting You Home” at 35 weeks.  Those two were also the longest lived on the charts at 35 and 38 weeks respectively along with Lady Antebellum “Run To You” (38 weeks). 

Notable is the haste that records moved off the charts. Two to three weeks after they hit #1 seems to be the average amount of time spent in the sun.  That by the way is the opposite of what happens to Pop songs on The Billboard Hot 100 Songs.  Those records race to the top and then hang around for months!

Artist Writers

In 2008, 50% of the #1s were written in whole or in part by the artist.   This year, that trend continued and accelerated with 19 of the 31 #1s having the artist as the writer or one of the writers.  Almost 2/3 of all #1s were “inside” jobs.  How that will affect publishers business plans in the future will be almost as interesting as watching how non-performing writers respond to this new challenge. 

Tempos

Well, somebody rolled the dice and went with a waltz and danced all the way to #1.  “Already Gone” got the job done for Sugarland and gave them the 1st of their 2 #1s for 2009.  The other 30 chart toppers were all 4/4, tempo almost equally shared between ballads, including “Already Gone” (9 of them), midtempo (12) and up-tempo (10).  

Intros

Intros were pretty consistently within the 13-18 second range, with only “Start A Band” by Brad Paisley & Keith Urban going over that, with a feature at the front of the record, 24 seconds long, of them swapping guitar licks.  However, the intro after that was only 17 seconds long.  “River of Love” came in at 24 seconds to be the longest intro and at the other extreme, was the Chesney/McAnally’s “Down The Road” and “Alright” Darius Rucker who did away with the intro, started the track and vocal at almost the same time although “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” Blake Shelton, started at 3 seconds.  But, just for fun, if you add all the intros together and average them out, you’d arrive at the old industry standard of 13 seconds.

Pronouns

Look at “Cowboy Casanova,” using the third person “him while talking to you” allowed Carrie Underwood to caution her pal “That boy is like a disease” “the devil in disguise” and “you’d better run for your life”.  Using third person pronouns, “She’s Country” allowed Jason Aldean to cover the country virtues of every woman from South Carolina to Kansas, be inclusive, and not exclude any southern woman from his celebration. “ It Won’t Be Like This For Long,”  in the third person, allowed Darius Rucker to walk us through what it’s like to be a father without personally having to be one.  12 were first person (I, Me) talking about third person (Him, Her, she and Them) which allowed the singer to extol third party virtues like in Toby Keith’s “God Love Her,” Dierks Bentley’s “Feel That Fire” or tell a great story in Billy Currington’s “People Are Crazy”.  Over 50% (16 of 31) were first person (You, Me, I, Us, We) which is in line with country songs being a linear, lyrical conversation between two people- you and me. 

Themes

Romantic Love

The largest group of #1 songs had romantic love as its theme, so obviously romance is alive and well at drive time. Twelve or about 1/3 of 2009’s #1s were romantic love songs.  Illustrations of that would be “Then” Brad Paisley “taking 45 minutes to kiss goodnight”, Chris Young “watching your baby blue eyes dancing in the candlelight glow”.

Love of Family

Examples would be Darius Rucker’s “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” where the Papa is dropping “her off at preschool” and thinking “about walking her down the aisle” and Kenny Chesney & Mac McAnally’s “Down the Road” questioning whether the prospective son-in-law is “washed in the blood or just in the water” and if he makes enough money “to take his daughter”.

Love of Country

“American Ride” was the vehicle for Toby Keith to talk wryly about America saying “Gotta love this American ride.” Rodney Atkins celebrated America with “It’s America” where “People came from miles around just to help their neighbors out”.

Love Lost

Great examples of heartache are “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” where Blake Shelton was “screamin’ out her name at the windshield” and he “cried like a baby to her best friend” and “Here Comes Goodbye” Rascal Flatts where they knew that “here comes the start of every sleepless night” and love had traveled “from good to gone”.

Love Found

For the fortunate few finding new love, the examples are Jason Aldean’s “Big Green Tractor” where he had to “dust off the seat” so she could go for a ride on his “big green tractor” and Rascal Flatts “Here” where they took “every stumbled step” down “a million roads” to get to the one they love.

Good Time/Party

The boys had a ball in “Out Last Night” Kenny Chesney where he “drank too much beer last night” and “everybody was some kind of star,” and we got to “lay in the hot sun and roll a big fat one” with Zac Brown’s “Toes”.

Revenge/Satisfaction

Under the “I’ll show him” category came Carrie Underwood with “Cowboy Casanova” bringing his “candy-coated misery”.

Life Lessons

Billy Currington with “People are Crazy” where Billy sat and talked about “old dogs and new tricks and habits we ain’t kicked” and “some guy he barely knew” left him his fortune!  Montgomery Gentry with “Roll With Me” showed why it’s a good thing to be a part of the world and celebrate the simple things.

Morality

Justin Moore and friends made a list of hometown virtues “a little Hank Jr. and a six pack of light” and “a Sunday morning that full of grace” and listeners responded in “Small Town USA”.

So, we’ve covered the spectrum of all issues Country.  It would seem that having a lot of total #1s allowed for much more canvas to paint on, so a lot of themes could be included.

Song Length

Songs over 4 minutes (8) were up slightly from last year (7).  “Start a Band” (Keith & Brad) at 5:22 takes the prize but 24 seconds at the top is a personality piece with Brad and Keith swapping guitar licks.  So, without that and looking at the last minute plus as an instrumental (which you’d expect from two great guitar players) which radio had the option to shorten based on need it comes back down to the norm.  There were, however, three that were under 3 minutes long, so compared to last year, songs were somewhat shorter. The bulk, twenty songs, were between 3 and 4 minutes. 

Song Forms

5th Form
Verse
Verse
Bridge
Verse

This form made only 1 appearance at #1, but Billy Currington rode “People Are Crazy” all the way to the top. 
4th form:
Verse
Verse (optional)
Pre-chorus or lift
Chorus or title
Verse 
Pre-chorus or lift
Chorus/title
Bridge (optional)
Pre-chorus or lift (optional)
Chorus 
and out

Next up with six appearances at #1 4th Form.  Prime examples of 4th Form are “Alright” Darius Rucker and “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” Blake Shelton.

2nd Form
Verse
Verse (optional)
Chorus
Verse
Chorus
Instrumental
Chorus
Out

2nd Form is used a lot in rock and roll and was used very appropriately by Brad & Keith on “Start a Band” and Keith Urban on “Sweet Thing” among others.

3rd form
Verse
Verse (optional)
Chorus
Verse
Chorus
Bridge
Chorus
and out (an instrumental can be put in before or after the bridge if you feel the need!).

As usual, 3rd Form was the most used and seems to be the most accessible structure.  Again this seems to be the form of choice for listeners receiving their drive time song fix.  “Here Comes Goodbye” Rascal Flatts and “Then” Brad Paisley are good illustrations.  Songs with that listener friendly shape took 17 of the #1s, over 50 %!

Repetition
We watched as repetition of title shrank after radio slowed the climb of songs substantially some years ago. Back then this changed records moving from 18 weeks to get to #1 to 28 weeks to get to the top….sometimes more!  However with the speed up of records to #1 and because of that, less burn factor from multiple repetitions, we seem to be moving a little closer to pop in terms of repetition.  You will note I have said “a little closer” because in studying the pop #1s, one of the most prominent features is the use of the title within the first few seconds of the record and multiple uses throughout.  Again the only #1 that had those features was “Alright” Darius Rucker with the title upfront and holding the ‘09 record at most repetitions of title at 22.  The bulk of the rest of the records 2/3 or 22 out of 31 had between 3 (Cowboy Casanova) and 10 repetitions.  The “story” at country appears to still be the main ingredient, not repetition.

Humor/Irony/Detail
All of the above was abundantly evident throughout the songs.  One that caught all of the elements is “People Are Crazy” Billy Currington.  But when lines like “She Wants the toy in the cracker jack” “make every stray a pet” or hear a couple of very successful artists say they wanted to get their “picture in the hometown paper” (Start A Band) or “buy their mommas a Cadillac” (Start a Band) or ‘borrow uncle Jake’s mustang’ (“Sweet Thang”) or her ‘trusty rusty had a flat’ in (“It Happens”).  Just hearing Taylor Swift envying some other girl and saying “she’s cheer captain, I’m on the bleachers” is worth the price of admission.  Detail, humor, irony was easy to find in this years winners. 

Story/Conversational
Story carried a little more weight (17) than conversational songs (14).  However, in some cases, the “stories” had a very conversational quality about them.  The old adage that “if you wouldn’t say it, you wouldn’t sing it” held true. Illustrations of the story song would be “Down the Road” Kenny & Mac, “People Are Crazy” Billy Currington, and “It Won’t Be like This For Long” Darius Rucker.  Examples of the conversation are “Then” Brad Paisley, “I Run To You” Lady Antebellum, and “You Belong With Me” Taylor Swift. 

Advice/Best Bets
Advice, hmmmmmmm! Let’s get back to that ‘More and Less’ thing. It would be good to look at the trends that the analysis of last year point to.  There are 2 traditional income streams for writers and publishers.  Mechanical income received for records sold or downloaded and performance royalties collected by performance organizations wherever songs are performed for profit.  If you take the last decade as a template, sales both digital and physical, dropped by 50% which will affect mechanical income and according to media economist Jack Myers who told Inside Radio that he “forecasts radio revenues will fall 18.7% this year” that will lead to a decrease in performance income and writers and publishers will be “splitting the blanket” (to quote my old friend Harlan Howard) much more than they used to.

You might start to panic somewhat.  DON’T DESPAIR.  The good news is that the demand for music has never been higher.  The bad news is that people just don’t want to pay for the use of it.  Well, I’ve got real news….they never have!

So, if you’re a smart artist, find some great writers to write with or if you’re a great writer, find a great artist to work with.  Knock out a story/conversational song.  Spice it up with the appropriate pronouns to make the singer look good/smart/fun/young.  Make it 3-4 minutes long being sure that you get to the first use of title in 60 seconds. Try to keep the tempo 4/4.  Don’t beat up the title/hook, 3-10 repetitions are just fine.  Lean toward 3rd form, but 4th, 2nd or even 5th will work as long as you have a great story.  Love in all its variations is just fine, but a life lesson or a little revenge is ok. Spice it up with engaging humor, irony, and detail and you’re ready to roll!

And as you roll that song out remember, we have had a wonderful ride for the last century all due to the effort of our great great great grandparents.  They got us a copyright law in place back in 1909 and then fought every theater, bar, club to get compensated for their music.  Also, every new technology came along needed what writers created and wanted it for cheap…..read FREE. 

All the kind people behind technology were doing us a favor, giving us exposure….you can die of exposure.  “New technology” like radio, movies, television all battled us for the right to use music for as little money as possible.  The war going forward today is no different to the war that has always been fought.  We as creators and copyright owners have been lulled into believing that we are part of an industry that deals with all parts as equal partners in success.  Not so.  The more that people use what we create and own to make money for themselves, the greater appears to be their sense of entitlement.  Well, they can’t do it without us.  Breaking new ground and finding new uses for our songs is great if we share in the revenues generated.  Without the music there is almost no point in all this wonderful technology other than spoken word and images without the music. 

If you think about a breakfast of bacon and eggs, there are 2 animals represented on your plate.   The chicken and the pig. Think of the user/customer of the song as the chicken and the songwriter as the pig. 
The chicken is involved. 
The pig is committed!

 

Remember, it all really does begin with a song.

Glossary of Songs & Writers (Alphabetical by Title)

•    “Already Gone” by Kristian Bush, Jennifer Nettles and Bobby Pinson
•    “Alright” by Frank Rogers and Darius Rucker
•    “American Ride” by Dave Pahanish and Joseph West
•    “Big Green Tractor” by Jim Collins and David Lee Murphy
•    “Country Boy” by Alan Jackson
•    “Cowboy Casanova” by Mike Elizondo, Brett James and Carrie Underwood
•    “Down The Road” by Mac McAnally
•    “Feel That Fire” by Brett Beavers, Dierks Bentley, Brad Warren and Brett Warren
•    “Gettin’ You Home (Black Dress Song)” by Cory Batten, Kent Blazy and Chris Young
•    “God Love Her” by Toby Keith and Vicky McGehee
•    “Here” by Steve Robson and Jeffrey Steele
•    “Here Comes Goodbye” by Clint Lagerberg and Chris Sligh
•    “I Run To You” by Tom Douglas, Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott
•    “It Happens” Kristian Bush, Jennifer Nettles and Bobby Pinson
•    “It’s America” by Brett James and Angelo Petraglia
•    “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” by Chris DuBois, Ashley Gorley and Darius Rucker
•    “Need You Now” by Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott
•    “Only You Can Love Me This Way” by Steve McEwan and John Reid
•    “Out Last Night” by Kenny Chesney and Brett James
•    “People Are Crazy” by Bobby Braddock and Troy Jones
•    “River Of Love” by Billy Brunette, Shawn Camp and Dennis Morgan
•    “Roll With Me” by Clint Daniels and Tommy Karlas
•    “She’s Country” by Dan Myrick and Bridgette Tatum
•    “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” by Jennifer Adan and Cory Batten
•    “Sideways” by Brett Beavers and Dierks Bentley
•    “Small Town USA” by Brian Dean Maher, Justin Moore and Jeremy Stover
•    “Start A Band” by Dallas Davidson, Ashley Gorley and Kelley Lovelace
•    “Sweet Thing” by Monty Powell and Keith Urban
•    “Then” by Chris DuBois, Ashley Gorley and Brad Paisley
•    “Toes” by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durette, John Hopkins and Shawn Mullins
•    “You Belong With Me” by Liz Rose and Taylor Swift