“We see too many ‘noble deaths’; we see the degradation – the epic little charges of cavalry. And thus for this our spirit becomes low, tough like a boar, unbreakable – we die to the sound of the trumpet, as surely as the bees pollinate, the ants build; as surely as the storms swaling low over the South China port and into the brothels, where the women stood up in smoke; all of life is lived in moments, and each one dies in return; who is to say that our death is anything but another regular link? The trumpet stops as the musician’s throat is pierced by an arrow.” — Casimir Hieronym, 2006
Archive for April, 2008
Tip o’ the hat to marketing genius Bryan Fordney for getting the message out there! Bud.tv is the place to be! For no one! I don’t even really know what I’m looking at!!!!!
The results, in week one: the original song sold just under 13,000 copies, and each of the four stems sold between about 9,200 and 9,800 copies. (If you’re curious: the vocal stem sold best, then guitars, strings/effects, drums; as in life, bass pulls up the rear.) Total sales for all six pieces combined were just shy of 60,000.
Billboard had to make a policy decision for “Nude.” When the original iTunes sales were tallied by SoundScan, the original song plus each stem were logged and charted separately. But for Hot 100 purposes (in keeping with Billboard‘s tendency to treat it as a “songs” chart, not a “tracks” chart) “Nude” is charting in one cumulative position, which makes it look bigger than it is. If the original song, sans stems, were to chart by itself, it would have made No. 96 on the digital sales chart and likely would have missed the Hot 100 entirely.
As a chart fan, there’s one way to look at this that’s a bit cynical, and one that’s more optimistic. You could look at this as chart pollution — since when is a bass loop a legitimate proxy for a hit single? It’s as if Radiohead is propping up a minor hit by finding a loophole through U.S. chart policy, not unlike the 2004 Prince album that was allowed to include free copies handed out at concerts in its Billboard tally, and charted much higher than it should have.
On the other hand, it’s pretty obvious this chart event wasn’t the intention of Radiohead’s multi-mix release strategy. And it’s undeniable that, as usual, they’re coming up with innovative ways to get fans excited about actually paying something for music.
So maybe this isn’t the investigative scoop of the century, but it remains an interesting case study in chart manipulation, intentional or accidental, in the iTunes era. I’m not so willing to concede that “it’s pretty obvious” TBD Records wasn’t shooting for exactly this result from the beginning — it is mighty clever, and it gives the label the ability to go back to Radiohead and say, “Look, we got you back on the US charts, use us again to distribute your next record.”
And really, beyond giving the label some bragging rights, “Nude” being a Top 40 hit is probably meaningless. I don’t imagine anyone racing to buy In Rainbows or tickets to a Radiohead concert because they saw “Nude” hit #37. It’s possible that the single gets some radio exposure out of the deal, but I predict it will still be roundly ignored.
Maybe it’s earned a spot on the next NOW compilation?
Last update about this: After the Idolator story confirmed my original entry with some hard data, Pitchfork made the decision that this was newsworthy. And of course, once it hits the ‘fork, that’s enough to earn an explanation from the folks at Billboard themselves:
Contrary to online reports, the high Hot 100 debut this week by Radiohead’s “Nude” is not due to a “technicality,” nor a new Billboard charts policy decision.
The track opens this week at No. 37 on the Hot 100 after selling 60,000 digital downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That total represents combined sales for the original song and five different “stems,” which the band invited fans to download and use to create their own remixes. Remixes uploaded to Radioheadremix.com are available for fan voting through May 1.
The No. 37 debut was fueled entirely by these downloads, as the song is only being played on 3 of the 1,289 stations monitored by Nielsen BDS. It received just 6 plays during the April 4-April 10 tracking period.
According to Hot 100 director Silvio Pietroluongo, “Billboard abided by its long-standing remix policy in regards to “Nude.” For the purpose of our airplay, Hot 100 and Hot Digital Songs charts, Billboard merges remixes with the original version as long as the music and/or lyrics of the remix remain true to the original.”
So there you go: the stems are “remixes,” or close enough that the Billboard rules treat them that way. And how nuts is it that a song that got played a total of six times on radio stations around the country broke into the Top 40?
PLEASE SEE THE UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST.
Ah, the Billboard Hot 100. The most dependable list of overplayed, overproduced R&B and pop drivel you could ever ask for. If you ever find yourself thinking, “you know, current pop music isn’t really so bad” (and I don’t know why you would, but stay with me here), you need only click over to billboard.com to have your optimism quickly and mercilessly pummeled.
Today’s headline: “Mariah’s ‘Body’ Remains Atop Hot 100,” gleefully reminding us that she has moved past Elvis and now has the second-most #1 US hits ever (now only behind some old English band with a misspelled name). Reading on, more depressing (but unsurprising) news: “Madonna’s ’4 Minutes’ holds at No. 3 after selling 217,000 digital downloads”; “Flo Rida’s ‘Low’ featuring T-Pain is No. 10 for a second week”; “The Hot 100′s top debut is Radiohead’s ‘Nude’ at No. 37″.
Wait a fucking minute.
No, that’s not a joke. Radiohead has their first Top 40 hit single since “Creep,” and that’s without getting any mainstream radio airplay or face time on MTV. There they are, just a few spots under the Jonas Brothers and a few above Taylor Swift. Congratulations to the Oxford boys and all, but seriously, what the fuck happened?
Clearly the main culprit is iTunes, which is now the biggest music retailer in the US and pretty much the only truly significant distributor of singles these days. But a bunch of web geeks all buying the “Nude” single on iTunes, months after the whole of In Rainbows was made available for free download by the band itself? Seems pretty unlikely, right?
A quick check of iTMS’ current top songs confirms my suspicion: Madonna, Mariah, Jordin Sparks, Chris Brown, et al. Four Taylor Siwft songs in the top 100, in fact, but no “Nude” — no Radiohead at all.
To figure out this puzzle you have to do a search on Radiohead. Bring up the page displaying all their available music on iTunes, and you’ll see In Rainbows, Nude (Single), Nude (Bass Stem) – Single, Nude (Drum Stem) – Single, Nude (String FX Etc. Stem) – Single, Nude (Guitar Stem) – Single, and Nude (Voice Stem) – Single. Under “Top Songs,” iTunes shows the five most popular downloads, and as you might have guessed it looks like a goddamn nudist colony.
Earlier this month, Radiohead’s label announced a contest in which you could remix “Nude” and post your track to radioheadremix.com (the prize: fleeting internet fame). You could purchase each of the “stems,” or individual instument tracks, from iTunes — for the full single price of a buck apiece. Now, there couldn’t possibly be enough people remixing Nude to account for a Top 40 hit, right? But what if each stem counts as a download for the single? That would explain why “Nude” doesn’t show up in iTMS’ chart — it’s not the quantity of people buying the song, it’s that each person who does is buying it five times. Then tack on however many downloads of the full track itself, and you’ve got yourself a hit!
I can’t prove this, of course, but it looks like Radiohead has cheated their way onto the Hot 100.
Does that make it any less sweet to see them on there, though?
Update: I want to put out a small fire before it starts. Wired has quoted me on this (very flattering for my modest blog), but they seem to have misunderstood my point about Nude showing up under “Top Songs” in iTunes. I am referring specifically to the Top Radiohead Songs on the artist page. The fact that all the stems dominate here shows that there is a level of popularity for each, but not enough to push them into the Top 100 songs on iTunes overall. This is why I draw the conclusion that the stems are being individually counted as single sales. I am NOT implying any kind of conspiracy on the part of Apple, Radiohead, or anyone else. I just think it’s kind of a tricky way to get a song charting, and not necessarily even a dishonest one.