Fred Bronson answers e-mail from Billboard.com readers.
PAID FOR PLAY
Does an artist receive royalties every time a single is played on the air? If so, how much is each play worth? Are higher royalties paid by radio stations with larger listener impressions? What percentage of the royalty does the singer receive, as opposed to the record company? For a typical No. 1 song, how much money in royalties might be earned?
I guess the bottom line is, what makes increased airplay most valuable: additional album sales, additional singles sales or greater royalties?
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
There are payments for being played on the radio, but they go to the songwriter, not the artist. They aren't called royalties, though. That term is correct when discussing what an artist (and songwriter) earns for selling singles and albums.
Being paid for being played on the radio comes under the heading of performing rights. There are performing rights societies all over the world that collect money for songwriters when they are played on the radio, as well as television, in background music played in restaurants, stores and hotels and any live performances (some bars and restaurants are exempt by U.S. law depending on the amount of music they play vs. the size of the venue).
In the United States, we have three performing rights societies: ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. They have reciprocal agreements with performing rights societies in other countries. In the United Kingdom there is PRS, in Sweden there is STIM, in Germany there is GEMA, in Mexico there is SACM, in France there is SACEM, etc.
Radio stations, and anyone else who plays music in public, pay a blanket fee, usually on an annual basis, to these performing rights societies. The larger their audience, the larger their fee. The societies keep track of what is played on radio and television and distribute payments to the appropriate songwriters and their corresponding publishers.
In the United States, if you are a songwriter, you are usually signed to a publisher as well as one of the three performing rights societies. If you do not sign with ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, you would not receive your performing rights fees and could be missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
My thanks to Brady L. Benton of peermusic in Los Angeles for his assistance in answering your question. After I wrote my reply, I ran it by Brady. He was kind enough to clarify some points.
DON'T LEAVE HER OUTSIDE ALONE
I enjoy reading your column each week on Billboard.com. I have always wondered about the lack of success for the dance/pop singer Anastacia in the United States. I recently watched an Elton John documentary and he commented how much he really liked Anastacia and I agree. I know she had some recent health problems, but seems to be back more than ever in Europe with "Left Outside Alone" on the charts.
Why do you think she has had such large success in Europe, but limited success here in the United States? Did any of her recent singles even chart on the pop charts here in the United States?
I know she has had more success on the dance charts here in the United States, but somehow she has not broken though on other U.S. charts. Can you tell me what her biggest charting singles have been in the States and why you think she has had limited success on pop radio?
It's ironic that your letter about Anastacia arrived this week, as "Left Outside Alone" debuts on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart at No. 38. It's the first Anastacia song to appear on this list, so maybe it's an indication that she will, at long last, enjoy a breakthrough in the United States.
Over the years there have been a number of artists who are successful in Europe but fail to make it in America. Robbie Williams comes to mind, but there is one difference, since Anastacia is from the United States, born in Brooklyn and raised in Chicago.
You asked about Anastacia's biggest-charting singles. The dance charts aside, she has made only one appearance on Billboard's Hot 100 to date, with "I'm Outta Love," which stalled at No. 92 in 2000. Two years later, "One Day in Your Life" appeared on the Mainstream Top 40 survey, and "You'll Never Be Alone" graced the Adult Contemporary tally.
50 AND COUNTING
The month of May will mark the unofficial 50th anniversary of the rock era as "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and His Comets made its chart debut [in May 1955], eventually hitting No. 1 in July.
The anticipation of this anniversary cannot be assessed without giving Billboard its due. Founded over 100 years ago, the publication has taken much criticism, particularly over the past decade, in the way it measures and then ranks the popularity of hit singles -- especially those tabulated for the Hot 100 chart. Some accusations allege political motivation. Most of the criticism is rooted in a belief that manipulation, in some form, has corrupted the process.
I have followed the charts for about 25 of these past 50 years. I have also reviewed old publications dating back to the 1940s. During that time, scores of anonymous employees have assisted in publishing hundreds of charts listing tens of thousands of songs, albums and other data. In that time, methods of calculating data have changed to provide more accuracy. These methods were all developed by flawed humans. And flawed humans create flawed systems.
But, in my opinion, Billboard's charts have consistently served as the barometer of public opinion -- nothing more, nothing less. In an age when journalism is criticized for doing more than just reporting, Billboard's researchers quietly plow ahead with "just the facts."
As you know yourself, Fred, the entire history of the Hot 100 reflects this view. In 50 years of the rock era, hits have included rockabilly, country, rhythm & blues, gospel, polka (yes, polka), folk, foreign-language, spoken word, instrumentals, psychedelic, bubble gum, disco, punk, new wave, heavy metal, easy listening, rap and hip-hop.
If chart manipulation has been a continuing thread throughout the rock era, then the last 50 years of popular music would not be the melting pot of musical tastes that it has been.
No, not every hit is a hit with everyone. Some songs fade quickly, and many have endured. Billboard's job is to show us as a reflection of ourselves in the times in which we live relative to popular music and our access to it. If we choose to fragment radio into a thousand formats; if we choose to create an industry in which technology makes the purchase of hit singles more restrictive; or, if we can no longer understand why a chart would include both country and rap -- that is our problem, not Billboard's.
Blame does not go to the messengers.
My thanks to the folks at Billboard for being the news reporters and weather forecasters of the rock era. And special thanks to all your predecessors, living and dead, who never had the advantage of current technology, but nevertheless dedicated themselves to compiling and reporting data for songs and albums that are now no more than a memory on a piece of paper, nor appreciated very much anymore.
Your thoughtful letter brings to mind something Michael Ellis, former associate publisher and director of charts for Billboard, once told his staff in the chart department. He said that when you're managing the charts, you don't own them, you are just temporary caretakers.
Thanks for your appreciation.
TOP TEN TUCKER
I was so disappointed to click on "Chart Beat Chat" [last week] and not see any e-mail questions. I visit Billboard.com every week and always look forward to your answers. I've e-mailed before, but have never seen my questions included in your list. Since you've asked for suitable questions, I hope mine will meet the criteria.
I'm a long time fan of country music legend Tanya Tucker. I've attempted to keep a detailed record of her chart history, but feel certain I've missed some of the singles and their peak positions. If I'm correct, Tanya has charted 50+ songs on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart with 40+ of those singles charting in the top 10. How close am I to the actual figures?
Also, what elite category does that put Tanya in? I'm certain not many other artists, in country and other genres, can claim such a feat.
Thanks for your help.
You weren't the only one disappointed at the lack of worthy e-mails last week, but more on that further down. I'm sorry if your previous letters haven't made it into "Chart Beat Chat," but welcome to the column and thanks for your latest e-mail.
I count 67 chart entries for Tanya Tucker on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks list. Her chart career began with her version of "Delta Dawn," a No. 6 hit in 1972 (Helen Reddy took the same song to No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1973). Tucker's most recent chart entry was "Old Weakness (Coming on Strong)" in 2003.
Of Tucker's 67 chart entries, 40 have reached the top 10. As impressive as that sounds, it doesn't put her very high on the list of country artists with the most top 10 hits. There are at least 26 artists with 41 or more top 10 tunes, led by Eddy Arnold with an amazing 92.
SO IT'S ROOT, ROOT, ROOT FOR... WHO?
After your many years of chart-watching, do you root for certain artists as they hit the charts? Or are you now more of an objective bystander? I have to admit that if I look at a chart from 1984, I can find 40-50 artists I liked, now, its maybe five or six artists. That being said, I do root for those remaining artists I do like.
When it comes to writing "Chart Beat," I'm not rooting for any particular artist to do well on the charts, but I do root for those who make the most chart news to keep making it so I have a lot to write about.
I do have my personal favorites, though. Nothing would make me happier than to see Kate Bush racing up The Billboard 200 with a new CD or Diana Ross returning to the Hot 100 after an absence of 20 years. It's pure coincidence that having Kate and/or Diana back on the charts would also give me something to write about.
A glance at the latest Billboard Hot 100 chart shows several singles with sales topping one million -- more, in fact, in the last few weeks than in the last several years combined. It this a fluke, or are singles starting to sell again? Is this the start of a new sales trend?
The gold and platinum symbols on our charts reflect Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certifications, which are for net units shipped to U.S. retailers, not units sold to consumers. However, your point about singles selling again is a good one.
Our singles charts now show certifications for digital downloads only. Actual commercial singles are not selling in great numbers, so these certifications are very rare. Paid digital downloads are selling and represent the new "singles" market.
Year-to-date, sales of singles are down 46.8% from last year, while sales of digital downloads are up 201.7%. Last week alone, there were 6,419,000 digital tracks sold, compared to 2,145,000 the same week in 2004. There were 90,000 commercial singles sold, compared to 243,000 during the same week in 2004.
WOMEN ON THE VERGE
Great seeing you on "American Idol." Since we have an open forum here to ask questions and get your opinion, I'm wondering what you think is the state of our female pop artists who first became popular in the 1980s and '90s.
Mariah Carey's new album "The Emancipation of Mimi" will be released next week and while I love the first single, "It's Like That," it didn't peak as high as I had hoped. Janet Jackson's "Damita Jo" was not the commercial success it should have been, but still managed to outsell Madonna's "American Life."
Whitney [Houston]'s troubles have been well-documented, which I'm sure has had some effect on the sales of "Just Whitney." Even Jennifer Lopez, the baby of the bunch, hasn't seen the same success with "Rebirth" as she had with her previous albums.
To what do you attribute the soft sales for these talented women and do you think any or all of them can rebound to the top of the charts again?
I wouldn't count any of these women out. Any artist can have a weak-selling album, and it may be just coincidence that many of our divas had them at the same time.
There was a long period of time when male pop singers couldn't get a break, and now we have hit singles (and albums) by Ryan Cabrera, Gavin DeGraw, Jesse McCartney, John Mayer, Josh Groban and Clay Aiken, so everything is cyclical.
Thanks for the acknowledgment of my appearance on "American Idol." As it happened when I was on two seasons back, I'm still being told everywhere I go, "I saw you on 'American Idol.'" That effect lasts for a few weeks and then I can return to my life of anonymity.
Dear Fred Bronson,
As a fan of "American Idol," I was rather disappointed with the most recent episode, in which my fellow Tampanian Jessica Sierra (the niece of our mayor, and in my opinion the second-best female vocalist on the show this season), was ingloriously voted off the show. I also felt that last week's episode was a week without a superb performance by anyone.
I normally categorize "American Idol" songs in one of three ways. First, there are those performances that are so great I would go out and buy the single (some examples would be Bo Bice's "Time in a Bottle" or Carrie Underwood's "Alone" or Jessica's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" from the Billboard No. 1s episode the week before).
Then there are those performances that are OK, and that I would listen to on the radio, but not go out and buy (most of this week's performances, including Jessica's, were in that category). Finally, there are those performances that I cannot even bear to listen to because they are so off-key.
Why do you think the 1990s episode was so weak? Personally, I have a couple of reasons for it myself. First, a lot of the music that was very popular in the '90s is still somewhat embarrassing to those of us who were young and bought music by the Spice Girls or the Backstreet Boys. Perhaps in another five years or so we may feel nostalgic about the commercially successful music of the 1990s, but it hasn't happened yet.
Second, I think a lot of the artists made the mistake of choosing songs that meant a lot to them personally but may not have been great songs to begin with. Jessica's version of "On the Side of Angels" falls into this category, as does Carrie's performance of "Independence Day," Bo's performance of "The Remedy," Nikko Smith's performance of "Can We Talk" and so forth. The personal connection we feel with songs from the period we grow up in may overwhelm the quality of the material itself.
Anyway, perhaps I am rambling a bit too much, but what were your thoughts on the episode? I hope you don't have to endure another week without a worthwhile e-mail from your many loyal readers.
Yes, yes, it's all very interesting about the contestants, but did you see me on the show?
But seriously (folks), while it may be hard to consider me objective, I think the song choices and performances on the Billboard No. 1 hits show made it the best show of the season and one of the best "American Idol" episodes ever. It was so nice, they even showed it twice.
As a child of the '60s, the '90s is not my favorite decade for music, so I didn't enjoy that show quite as much. I might have chosen different songs, but since this is a competition, the contestants must live or die based on their song choices as well as their performances. I think there were some excellent performances on the "classic musicals" night, and a couple of disappointments.
One interesting thing about this season is that some contestants shine one week and then disappoint the next and then shine again. It's all part of what makes us watch week after week, isn't it?
PARTY LIKE IT'S 1995
What happened to the Hot 100 in 1995? That was the very first year a song entered the chart at No. 1 (Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone"). In that same year there were three songs in a row that did the same thing: Mariah Carey's "Fantasy," Whitney Houston's "Exhale (Shoop, Shoop)" and Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's "One Sweet Day."
Then in 1997, three songs repeated that ("I'll Be Missing You," "Honey" and "Candle in the Wind 1997"), in 1998 three songs again ("My Heart Will Go On," "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" and "Doo Wop (That Thing)").
Then in 2003 Clay Aiken entered at No. 1 with "This Is the Night" and in 2004 Fantasia did it with "I Believe," but those songs [charted on] pure sales.
I'm one of the biggest Mariah Carey fans here in Ecuador, and I'm really proud that three of the 12 songs that hit No. 1 on their first week are hers. But what extraordinary thing did those first 10 songs do to enter at No. 1?
It was a change in chart policy that suddenly made it possible for singles to debut at No. 1 in 1995. First, it's important to remember that before December 1998, the only titles eligible to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 were singles that had a commercial release. Album tracks or singles released only to radio could not chart.
Prior to September 1995, singles were allowed to chart in the same week that they first went on sale, as long as they had enough airplay. That meant that in a single's first week on the chart, it only had airplay points. Sales points would kick in during the second chart week, once the single had a week's sales to its credit.
The policy was changed in September 1995. From that point on, a single couldn't chart until it was in stores for a full week of sales. Sometimes a single would have weeks of airplay prior to being released in stores, building up a massive audience ready to buy the single as soon as it became available. That created huge sales in a single's first sales week, making debuts at No. 1 easy for the first time in the history of the Hot 100.
When chart rules changed again in December 1998 to allow airplay-only tracks onto the chart, it became almost impossible to debut at No. 1. That's because as soon as a song had enough airplay, it would debut on the chart in a lower position. Many songs started taking huge leaps in their second, third or fourth chart weeks, as soon as sales kicked in.
As you point out, the only songs to debut at No. 1 since December 1998 have been the "American Idol"-related hits by Clay Aiken and Fantasia. Neither single had enough spins to chart on airplay alone, so with such massive first-week sales, they exploded onto the Hot 100 in pole position.
BE CAREFUL OF WHAT I WISH FOR
I'm sure you can imagine my surprise upon discovering you had received no suitable emails for "Chart Beat Chat" last week! Had I known, I would write weekly, but like many readers, I don't want to monopolize your mailbox!
If you're not tired of "American Idol" trivia, it's interesting that Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" and Fantasia's "Truth Is" were both sitting at No. 2 on the Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop singles charts, respectively. The song that prevented both from reaching No. 1 was "Candy Shop" by 50 Cent featuring Olivia.
Also, for extreme chart-trivia obscurists (like you and I), I recently discovered that Jimmy Beaumont of the Skyliners had two Hot 100 singles credited to his name. Both spent only one week at No. 100. So you can add him to the list of artists who may be thankful they made the charts, but puzzled by their chart brevity.
I hope "Chart Beat Chat" is never lacking for material again, and I'll be sure to do my part (as I'm sure countless other faithful readers will as well, upon reading your request for appropriate material).
Last week's call for worthy e-mails brought a flood of letters to my inbox. In fact, I received so many e-mails this week I haven't even had time to read them all. This week's "Chat" is already one of the longest in history, so I'll have to consider many of the e-mails received in the last seven days for next week's column.