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THE TALE OF
THE LONG TAIL

How Streaming Extends an Album’s Chart Stamina

As streaming grows, so does the lifespan of a hit album.

Streaming equivalent albums (SEA) were first introduced to the charts in December 2014. In the five-year period from 2010 to 2014, the average length of time an album spent in the Top 200 was 18-20 weeks. As industry trackers shifted to include consumption, that average has steadily increased each year, to 75 weeks in 2019. This year to date, the average weeks on for an album sits at 92.

Hit songs have almost always driven albums. While the same is true in the streaming era, artists and their labels can no longer depend on just one song to propel an album to millions of equivalent units. In order to reach those heights, many of the tracks must be played many times, thus creating a long tail in which the album collects smaller, yet steady totals week after week. The previous sales-only model often loaded up the first few weeks, resulting in a quicker disappearance from the chart.  

Albums released in 2015 or later that have spent the most time on the chart include Twenty One PilotsBlurryface (Fueled By Ramen), The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind The Madness (XO/Republic), and Hamilton (Uptown/Atlantic)—all with more than 250 weeks. Others at or approaching 200 weeks include Rihanna’s Anti (Westbury Road/Roc Nation), Drake’s Views (YMCMB/Republic), Post Malone’s Stoney (Republic), and J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive (Roc Nation/Columbia). All of these featured multiple, heavily streamed tracks or possibly, in the case of Hamilton, were often streamed as a whole.

Stoney was one of the first hit albums to set this smaller but steady precedent. In 200 weeks since release the album has amassed over 5m equivalent units with a weekly average of only 22.5k, and has only ever fallen below the Top 50 in thirteen weeks. Debuting in the second week of December 2016, it opened with less than 60k and quickly fell into the 20ks where it remained for 39 weeks. As its popularity grew, weekly activity then increased to 30-45k for another six months. This year, Stoney remains a chart fixture and ranks most weeks #40-50.

Dua Lipa’s self-titled 2017 release (Warner) may even more dramatically illustrate the long tail that streaming affords. With no single week above 15.2k in activity, the album spent nearly 100 weeks in the Top 200 and sits at over 2m equivalent units to date.

So far in 2020, streaming makes up 85% of overall album units. The SEA to date for both Stoney and Dua Lipa sits 
at 86%.

Catalog albums (defined as older than 18 months and having fallen out of the Top 100) have also seen their chart fortunes rebound from streaming. Journey’s Greatest Hits (Columbia), Creedence’s Chronicle (Fantasy), Eminem’s Curtain Call (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope), Metallica’s self-titled 1991 release (Blackened) and Tupac’s Greatest Hits (Death Row/Interscope) have all surpassed 250 weeks in the Top 200. In the five years prior, only Journey came close to the same amount of time, with 237 weeks.

In the last five years, streaming has created its own set of superstars. The next five years will do the same. Just don’t expect them all to debut at #1 with huge first-week numbers. When it comes to streaming, it’s often those slow but steady totals that win the race.

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