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Want a Kate Bush Moment For Your Song? Here’s the Recipe

"There is no way of predicting this stuff... but it's about moving super-quickly." A playbook is emerging for turning binge TV curiosities into streaming hits.

For exactly one minute and 17 seconds in the first episode of Stranger Things Season 4, Extreme’s “Play With Me” is heard in the background as D&D-loving friends Dustin and Mike spectacularly fail to recruit new members to their Hellfire Club. This was more than enough time to revive the metal classic for a new audience. “Our phones and social media immediately started blowing up,” says Robby Hoffman, the band’s manager at Primary Wave.

Shazams spiked. Fans on social media went crazy, celebrating the song (“that’s goddamn rad, man,” someone tweeted) and criticizing the series, set in 1986, for using a tune released in 1989. Within a week, the track’s on-demand audio streams jumped by 842%, to 222,000 overall, and Primary Wave’s management, digital, branding and sync teams brainstormed on how to convert the momentum for the song, which never hit the Hot 100, into a prolonged streaming powerhouse a la fellow Stranger Things breakouts like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.”

One idea, which will likely debut in the next few weeks, is “Play Along with Nuno,” a TikTok challenge involving the band’s fast-fingered guitarist Nuno Bettencourt. “When things happen like this, it complements what we do, coming up with creative ways to keep these artists on top of social media feeds,” says Rob Dippold, a Primary Wave partner and head of digital strategy. “We try to just keep the song in the public sphere.”

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Syncs from a TV series like Stranger Things have an easier time crossing over to become music-streaming hits than they did in the early days of Netflix and binge-watching for one major reason: TikTok. Since Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” appeared in Stranger Things on May 27 — resulting in a total of 4 million Shazams to date — a surge of TikTok memes incorporating the track have drawn millions of views.

“TikTok will respond to the television shows. TikTok can create its own zeitgeist,” says Scott Cresto, executive vp of sync and marketing for publisher Reservoir Media. “Shazam’s the first protocol. From that, label marketing departments jump to Spotify and Apple Music and see if those numbers are moving up – if they are, they’re going to put some marketing money behind it.”

In the case of Stranger Things, the series’ ubiquity made it easier to predict the impact syncs like “Running Up That Hill” and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” would have on streaming and chart performance. The more difficult challenge for labels and publishers is to recognize when a track unexpectedly bubbles up from a lesser-known series, like the late Selena’s hits “Baila Esta Cumbia” and “La Carcacha,” heard in Netflix’s Selena: The Series in 2020, and subsequently took off as TikTok memes. (The series’ soundtrack would hit No. 8 on the Latin Pop Albums chart.)

“There is no way of predicting this stuff, unless it’s something like Stranger Things,” says Jonathan Strauss, founder and CEO of Create Music Group, a music-distribution company that works with artists and labels, “But it’s about moving super-quickly.”

Joseph Quinn Stranger Things
Joseph Quinn as Eddie Munson in Stranger Things. Courtesy of Netflix

In less-obvious cases, Strauss adds, music companies need to use their own resources to identify under-the-radar hits from TV series and boost their performance. Create’s data analysts, using metrics from Spotify, Shazam, YouTube and others, monitor when songs suddenly spike in streams. They might add such songs to Create’s Trap Nation channel on YouTube, which has 30.4 million followers, to test its popularity with a wider audience. “That’s what Spotify does so well — they’ll put it on a playlist,” Strauss says. “We do something very similar.”

The key metrics for recognizing a hit sync from a TV series are Shazam and TikTok streams, available to most artists, labels and publishers. “Master of Puppets,” for example, spiked on Shazam by 40% in the first week after being featured on Stranger Things, to nearly 2 million total Shazams.

Once those numbers kick in, data teams at labels and publishers generally boost the tracks by contacting Spotify, YouTube and others to encourage placement in more prominent playlists — which is what Primary Wave did after Stranger Things helped lift “Play With Me” to a top-10 placement on Spotify’s official playlist for the Netflix series, which has 1.7 million likes.

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Artists’ own social-media posts can be deployed to keep the momentum going, as Metallica showed when band members posted about how much they loved the Stranger Things “Master of Puppets” scene. Earlier this year, Sinead O’Connor’s “Drink Before the War,” a 1987 non-single, took off after airing on Euphoria. O’Connor herself didn’t participate — she was dealing with a family tragedy and a personal illness — but Euphoria‘s music choices generated numerous media reports and the singer’s Facebook page posted them repeatedly. In a single week after the season’s fourth episode, “Drink Before the War” hit 3.2 million streams and 1,800 downloads. “Artist and label socials draw attention to it,” says Cresto, whose publishing company represents the song. “It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire that’s just starting out.”

Steven Pardo, digital marketing director for indie label Secretly Group, adds that another key marketing step is to start an influencer campaign — paying creators on TikTok, Instagram and elsewhere to create content involving the track. If those efforts pay off, it’s probably time to promote the song to radio programmers, who remain important for crossing a track over from viral streaming phenomenon to pop hit. “Radio will frequently ask how the song is doing on TikTok,” Pardo says. “I hear that a lot: ‘Can you show the social volume is happening?'”

Zendaya in 'Euphoria.'
Zendaya in ‘Euphoria.’ Courtesy of HBO

Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu and others have been turning TV syncs into streaming hits for years, like in 2017, when Selena Gomez recorded Yazoo’s “Only You” for Netflix’s music-focused 13 Reasons Why, which she executive-produced. HBO’s Euphoria took the power of music in the binge-watching era a step further, spawning numerous hits; to name one example, Moses Sumney’s “Me In 20 Years” streamed 12,608 times in the U.S. before it memorably aired in a December 2020 episode, then 270,044 times afterwards, an increase of 2,103%. Songs from Insecure and other series have had similar boosts.

After the latest Euphoria season, in which an older character flashes back to dancing to INXS in a bar, Universal Music Publishing Group, which handles several of the band’s songs, noticed “Never Tear Us Apart” was climbing up the charts in Latin America, with a corresponding boost on music-streaming services. To help keep the buzz going, INXS posted about the show on Instagram and TikTok (“this song is everywhere!”), then released a 1991 live version of “Never Tear Us Apart” on YouTube, which in turn landed in multiple articles. TikTok memes, of course, followed. “Most often, teenage girls are watching these shows, and they Shazam, and you see the numbers go up,” says Marni Condro, UMPG’s senior vp of film and TV. “We are always looking for those TV shows with that younger demographic — that’s the target audience on social media and the music-buying audience. We’re targeting these shows.”

Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” could be a watershed moment in a song’s evolution from binge-watching curiosity to music-streaming smash. Its Shazam numbers exploded after being featured on Stranger Things, from a total of 1 million Shazams before its first Stranger Things airing on May 27 to more than 4 million today. It’s not a stretch to imagine other beloved but not superstar bands — say, The Replacements or Hüsker Dü — getting the same treatment for a future TV series.

“Kate Bush will definitely become a template,” says Jedd Katrancha, executive vp of creative for Downtown Music Services, a publisher and distributor. “The press behind that has gotten so big that there are people who’ve discovered the song not from the sync but the press about the sync. It’s gone beyond. Those are the moments that we work towards.”