As Lewis Capaldi Reaches Hot 100 Summit, SiriusXM & Pandora Are Testing Their Hit-Making Power

Alexandra Gavillet
Lewis Capaldi

A cross-platform push behind "Someone You Loved" marks SiriusXM and Pandora's first joint effort to break a song since merging in February.

After a 24-week climb, Lewis Capaldi's sleeper hit "Someone You Loved" reached the Hot 100 summit Monday, marking the latest and greatest in a string of wins for the 23-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter, who was relatively unknown a year ago.

It's also a rewarding day for SiriusXM president and chief content officer Scott Greenstein, who is taking Capaldi's achievement as an indicator that the broadcast giant's recent experiment worked.

When Greenstein first caught wind of Capaldi's music through Universal Music Group (where Capaldi is signed in the U.S. via Capitol Records) last year, SiriusXM was finalizing its acquisition of Pandora, which would become official Feb. 1 and eventually boost their combined audience to 100 million. At the time, Greenstein says, "We were looking for something to test what would happen if we put Pandora and Sirius together on a mission to break a song."

"Someone You Loved," an emotive break-up ballad released by a buzzy new U.K. artist, felt to Greenstein like the perfect song to start with. While there was no official partnership with Capitol involved, SiriusXM and Pandora launched a months-long cross-platform push behind the song in late 2018 -- their first joint effort of the kind. 

"It was a little earlier than we were prepared to test the machinery," he continues. "But we thought, you know what? You don’t know when you’re going to get this again."

On Dec. 18, 2018, a little over a month after the release of "Someone You Loved," Sirius says that The Pulse became the first satellite station in the U.S. to play Capaldi's single. Shortly after the Pandora acquisition, the companies ramped things up: For the week of April 14, the song was placed as a Pandora featured track, and added to some of the platform's largest stations and playlists, like Today's Hits (112 million listeners).

Meanwhile, Pandora's personalization algorithm, powered by its Human Genome Project, introduced "Someone You Loved" to listeners who would likely be most receptive to its swooning, piano-led sound. By April 22, the song was added to the regular rotation on the Hits 1, The Blend and Coffee House channels.

“When SiriusXM/Pandora made the decision to put the weight of the company behind Lewis Capaldi, you could feel it," says Capitol Records executive vp of promotion Greg Marella. "They went all in with Hits1, The Pulse, The Blend and a remix on BPM -- even Howard Stern was talking about Lewis."

Their plan does seem to have helped move the needle. The track debuted at No. 88 on Pandora's weekly Top Spins playlist on April 26 and climbed to No. 4 by May 17. Shortly after, it entered the Hot 100 at No. 85 for the week of May 25.

Between March 21 and May 23 -- with the Sirius/Pandora push in the middle of that timeframe -- total "Someone You Loved" digital song sales rose 563%, while total on-demand streams rose 161.5%, according to Nielsen Music.

By now, "Someone Like You" has also topped Billboard's Pop Songs chart, Adult Pop Songs airplay chart and the Pop Digital Song Sales survey, in addition to ruling multiple charts worldwide.

The numbers aren't surprising to Danny Buch, senior vp of promotion & artist development at The Orchard.

"SiriusXM's reach is everywhere," he says. "You hit the entire country. You see it in streams; you see it in sales. SiriusXM is a true leader in getting behind songs and artists early. And yes, terrestrial radio still has tremendous impact in breaking acts -- in a fragmented world, you need everyone these days."

Buch, who has worked with SiriusXM to promote songs by Walk Off The Earth, MAX and lovelytheband, also values the company's "holistic" approach to hit-making. "It’s more than just playing the record. They get a narrative going between the audience and the artist. Consistently, with an artist like lovelytheband, there’s a relationship." In the same vein, SiriusXM has invited Capaldi to its studios on many occasions, even letting the singer to co-host Hits 1's Morning Mash Up recently.

With the added ammunition of Pandora's Human Genome Project, Buch says, "the combination is deadly" for other music companies. 

Of course, SiriusXM wasn't the only force behind the song. Notably, Zane Lowe premiered "Someone You Loved" on his trendsetting Apple Beats 1 show on the day of the song's November 8, 2018, release and Apple Music named Capaldi one of its Next Up artists in July. Spotify, for its part, featured Capaldi's single "Bruises" at the top of its New Music Friday playlist way back in 2017 and tapped the singer for its Spotify Singles series in June.

(Self-promotion likely also played a role, as Capaldi has become known for posting funny, self-deprecating stories on Instagram, where he has nearly 4 million followers.)

And as streaming services compete for listeners and industry clout, SiriusXM isn't the only company touting its role in a song's success. Last week, Spotify explained in a blog post how collaboration between its global editorial teams helped break "Dance Monkey," a quirky electro-pop single form Australian act Tones and I. And Apple Music has repeatedly trumpeted its support of Billie Eilish, having hosted her during a SXSW artist showcase in 2017, naming her one of its Next Up artists in TKTK and giving the teen star her own Beats 1 show called Groupies Have Feelings Too. YouTube Music introduced its own Artist on the Rise series last year and has since handpicked artists like Jessie Reyez and Ella Mai ahead of their respective big breaks. 

Bragging rights aside, Greenstein sees music companies' ability to rally support behind artists as a positive thing. "It’s confirmation that the [SiriusXM-Pandora] machine can move the needle," he says, "and that part, I am really thrilled about."

Now, Greenstein says the company is ready to apply the same formula for other songs, and that he's already seen a "tremendous" increase in the volume of music pitches SiriusXM and Pandora receive from labels. He adds that the company could use similar methods to promote everything from comedy shows to podcasts.

"The goal is to look at other [artists] as we go and know there’s an elite program when we need it," he says. "I think it’s pretty clear that if we hit the accelerator, we can do something in a big way to move songs up the charts."

Greenstein hasn't decided which song the company will push next, but says he'll know when he hears it. 

"Waiting until everybody declared something to be a hit before putting major radio play behind it -- I always thought that was odd," he says. "If you’re right, you’re right; if you’re wrong, you’re wrong. But if you believe in it, you go."

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