The Pound Of Music
‘The Pound of Music’ has looked at international music charts from 22 different countries during the last decade to discover what the most successful songs have in common
Recent global events have affected all industries - and music is no exception. Festivals such as Glastonbury and Coachella have been cancelled, album launch dates have been postponed and more events are now taking place online as the world gets used to ‘the new normal’.
This pause in proceedings has allowed musicians to take stock and focus their time on penning new material to release in the months and years to come.
So, as the first summer of the decade approaches, we crunched the numbers to predict what sort of songs might top the charts once we get to hear these new releases.
What makes a successful chart topper?
The interactive chart from the statisticians at Betway's Online Casino showcases the 20 songs that have spent the most time at No. 1 in each country, as well as the different characteristics of each track. Use the filter function at the top of each column to sort the chart by key, tempo, energy and danceability.
*N/A represents where the figures were not available.
The technical elements of a song
To identify the characteristics of the most successful songs, we decided to look at three specific metrics to create the ultimate formula for each country.
- The key is the major or minor scale around which a piece of music is based, with a major key based on a major scale and vice versa. A song played in the key of C major, for example is based around the seven notes of the C major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A and B). The notes determined by the key make up a song's melody, chords and baseline.
- Measured in beats per minute (BPM), the tempo of a track provides the speed of the underlying beat of a song. It is similar to a heartbeat, since tempo provides the ‘pulse’ of the music. For example, one beat per second would equate to 60BPM, with two beats a second being 120BPM. A basic guide to what each speed typically sounds like can be found here.
- Time Signature
- Also referred to as metre signature, the time signature of a song specifies how many beats are contained in each bar (measure) of a song and which note value is equivalent to a beat. The most common time signature in popular music is 4/4, which is often used in pop, rock, blues, country and funk tracks.
How do these songs make us feel?
But the technical elements of a song only tell half the story. Equally critical to the success of a track in the way it makes the listeners feel. That is what will ultimately dictate how many sales it delivers.
We therefore also used Tunebat to discover how ‘energetic’ and ‘danceable’ each track was to see if there were any noticeable trends across different countries. Were dance tracks more likely to get you to No. 1 in the UK than the USA, for example?
The definitions for the these two measures are as follows:
- Measured on a scale from 1 to 100 (with 100 being the most energetic), ‘energy’ represents a perceptual measure of intensity and activity. These types of track feel fast, loud and noisy. For example, death metal music has high energy, while a Bach prelude would score towards the bottom of the scale. For the music experts among you, the features contributing to this score include dynamic range, perceived loudness, onset rage and general entropy.
- Measured on a scale from 1 to 100 (with 100 being the most ‘danceable’), ‘danceability’’ depicts how suitable a track is for dancing to based on a combination of musical elements including tempo, rhythm stability, beat strength and overall regularity.
The formula for a No. 1 in your country
Based on the results, we have been able to calculate the formulae for each country to determine what elements of the song will give you the best chance of achieving a chart-topper in your country.
For example, in Argentina, the results show that a pop song, written in key C, with a tempo of 111 BPM, time signature 4/4 has the best chance of success. It also needs to be towards the upper scale in terms of energy (75) and danceability (73).
Where was the tempo most upbeat?
The greater the tempo, the faster the pace of the song and, based on the most popular songs of the past decade, it was Mexico where fans enjoyed the most intense music with an average tempo of 128 BPM. It was also home to the song with the joint-fastest BPM across the entire chart, ‘Bésame’ by Mexican pop rock group Camila.
Statistics also suggest that Japan (127 BPM), Brazil (122 BPM) and Belgium (121 BPM) are fans of faster songs.
In contrast, Portugal was found to have the slowest tempo in its No. 1 songs at just 104 BPM. Drake’s worldwide hit ‘God’s Plan’ had the slowest song in their chart at just 77 BPM.
Energy versus relaxation
Despite being towards the slower end of the rankings for tempo, it was Spain where fans preferred more energetic tunes with an average energy score of 81 out of 100 – with Carlos Vives and Shakira’s hit ‘La Bicicleta’ proving to be the most energetic song in its chart (94/100).
Other countries that featured towards the top of the rankings for energy include Japan (80/100), Brazil (76/100) and Argentina (75/100).
Countries that were a little more relaxed with lower average energy scores proving popular were South Africa (58/100), the UK (61/100) and Portugal (61/100).
However, the song with the lowest energy in our chart was Ed Sheeran’s ‘I See Fire’ which topped the charts in Sweden for eight weeks, scoring just five out of 100 on the scale.
Where did ‘danceability’ dictate the top of the charts?
It was a close-run finish when looking at the average danceability scores for each country with Canada, France, New Zealand and Portugal all reporting an average of 74 out of 100, suggesting that the most successful songs in these countries need to get listeners up and moving.
Looking across the charts, the most danceable song to reach No. 1 was in France, where Gradur’s ‘Ne reviens pas’ ft. Heuss L'enfoiré topped the charts for five weeks with a score of 93 out of 100. The most danceable English-speaking track was Lil Nas X ft. Billy Cyrus’ ‘Old Town Road’ at 88/100.
The need for a track to be ‘danceable’ was least important in Japan, Brazil and Sweden.
What makes a popular song varies drastically around the world and is often down to that certain feeling that a tune gives the listener, which is hard to quantify and put a formula to.
However, taking a look at these patterns in certain countries can at least give artists a steer in the right direction when trying working out what kind of sounds help to make a hit.