Top Few Songs Behind Digital Boost
A handful of songs have accounted for a big share of the 31.6-million unit - equal to 7.2% -- gain in track sales in 2012 through April 29. The top 3 songs represent 10.3% of the gain. The top 10 songs account for 14.4% of the gain. The remaining 84.8% of the gain is spread across the 20 million or so tracks available at digital retail.

This top-heavy growth in track sales speaks to the way music is discovered, shared and experienced. Social media is probably a factor, but so is old and powerful prime-time television. Music is constantly getting easier to find and hear, and it's a trend that is helping the biggest hits the most.

It's easier to appreciate the success of the most popular tracks of 2012 when their year-to-date sales are compared to their counterparts of 2011. The top track of 2012, "We Are Young" by fun. featuring Janelle Monae, has sold 62.6% more units than the top track of 2011, Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." The second-best seller, "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye, has sold 48.1% more units than its 2011 counterpart, "E.T." by Katy Perry. The third-best seller, "Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson, has sold 36.1% more units than the #3 song at the same point a year earlier, "Grenade" by Bruno Mars.

Another way to look at the performance of the top 3 tracks is to compare their share of total track sales. fun.'s "We Are Young" accounts for 0.83% of all track sales, a huge increase from the 0.55% achieved by "Born This Way." The second and third-best selling tracks have similar, albeit smaller, improvements in share. "Somebody" took 0.67% of sales, up from 0.48%, and "Stronger" took 0.59%, up from 0.46%.

Not much gain was made by other most-popular tracks. The #100 track of 2012, "You Make Me Feel" by Cobra Starship, has sold only 4.1% more units than its 2011 counterpart, Blake Shelton's "Honey Bee" -- that's less than the year-to-date improvement in total track sales of 7.2%.

Here's another way of saying it: track sales are up, but the most popular tracks have been absolutely killing it this year. Why is this happening? There are a few possible explanations.

As Billboard's Keith Caulfield explained Tuesday, 2012 has seen very strong performances from Gotye's "Somebody," Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" and Maroon 5's "Payphone." Those songs have achieved three of the top 10 sales weeks of all time. Gotye and Maroon 5 have benefitted from television exposure ("Saturday Night Live" and "Glee" for Gotye, "The Voice" for Maroon 5) while Bieber sales are the result of pent-up demand for his June 19 release.

In addition to television exposure, improvements in digital marketing and wider online syndication of music videos are likely benefitting top songs, too. It's now easier than ever for consumers to follow trending songs on social networks and find ad-supported music at their portal of choice. Just as relatively unknown artists benefit from the visibility of social media sharing, the most popular artists can use the same tools to boost awareness that's already high from radio and television.

What we're seeing is 2012 is actually a continuation of a trend that has been going on for years: the most popular tracks are taking up a larger share of track sales. But the trend has clearly accelerated this year.

Virgin Media Blocks Pirate Bay
U.K. Internet service provider Virgin Media is blocking its customers access to the Pirate Bay just days after a judge asked the country's six largest providers to voluntarily block the file-sharing site.

In a note to its customers, Virgin explained it complies with court orders but also believes "that changing consumer behavior to tackle copyright infringement also needs compelling legal alternatives, such as our agreement with Spotify, to give consumers access to great content at the right price."

This is exactly the kind of carrot-and-stick approach that music companies have wanted for years. While a vocal group of opponents criticizes rights owners for retarding progress of new business models, those rights owners have, albeit slowly, embraced new models. These new companies - Spotify, Deezer, Rdio, WiMP - are partnering with broadband and mobile providers for much-needed distribution channels. At the same time, these music services stand to benefit when Internet service providers point customers in their directions. For example, site blocking and infringement notices can be paired with a list of legal music services. ( ZDnet)

Midnight Movie Screenings Becoming Akin To Music Festivals
MTV Insights asks a good question: Is the midnight screening the new rock concert? MTV says its research has shown that Millennials - the demographic now aged roughly 19 to 30 -- craves communal experiences like movies and music festivals. One trend that has gone mainstream with Millennials is the midnight movie screening, often complete with costumes and T-shirts for the occasion, says MTV. Here's why:

"Having grown up in a world where so much of their social interaction is filtered through digital technology, Millennials are exhibiting an intensified craving for communal experiences that take place in the real world. From Coachella to Occupy Wall Street, we see Millennials seeking to reconnect with each other around real-life 'watering holes.' This desire for real-world togetherness also seems to be part of a larger "early-onset nostalgia" among Millennials for a golden earlier time in their 'youth' when their experience of the world was more physical, tangible, and less reliant on technology."

Needless to say, Millennials who are spending time at midnight movie screenings at theaters on Friday nights aren't spending that time in a music venue. So take note, venues, promoters and app developers (who could help make concert-going a more communal experience). Your competition is delivering to Millennials live events that satisfy their craving for communal experiences. You should probably be striving to do the same. ( Viacom blog, via Copyhype)

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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