How 24K magic reached a billion streams in its first 180 days
The Experience Factor
It's now six months since 24K Magic, Bruno Mars' infectious slice of Eighties extravagance was released. In that time it's been streamed a billion times and earned its rights-holders around $4 million in the process. And that's just from Spotify and YouTube. None too shabby for a song that neither pushes the boundaries of creativity nor resonates on any level whatsoever with the restless times we're living in.
So what makes this song so magic that it's achieved such success in so short a time? While a frivolous feel-good video surely hasn't hurt, the real magic can be seen and heard in the way 24K Magic creates a rewarding experience we feel compelled to repeat over and over again. More specifically, 24K Magic embodies a number of principles exhibited by other hugely successful songs that unite to stimulate our minds, capture our hearts and seduce our bodies to keep us listening. These principles – and many more – are described in The Experience Factor: How Hit Songs Hack Your Mind Heart And Body To Keep You Listening Again And Again. Here are three of them at work in 24K Magic.
For anyone who grew up in the Eighties, 24K Magic sounds instantly familiar. The first time it came on the radio I simply couldn't believe what I was hearing. "What was this song; and more importantly, how had it snuck under my adolescent musical radar?!" I thought. It was hard to believe it was not from the Eighties, so familiar did it sound. Yet a quick Shazam later, and no wonder I'd never heard it before – it was a brand new song by Bruno Mars!
It's this same sense of familiarity that I've previously argued helped propel Daft Punk's Get Lucky to similarly stratospheric heights. It works like this: Psychological research has shown that, in general, the more familiar we become with something, the more we like it. It’s known as the ‘mere exposure effect’ in its most basic form because repeated exposure is all it takes to increase our preference, whether for a song or any other product or service. It’s a principle used widely in marketing and advertising, and it's been shown to mediate emotional arousal, a major contributing factor to pleasure derived from music.
Songs like 24K Magic and Get Lucky may seem crass to some, aping as they do musical styles originally popular decades ago. But this sense of familiarity can dictate what music we like, and what music we don't. Not least because it can help contribute to principle #2.
While music-related emotions can take basic forms such as happy and sad, other higher-order emotions such as nostalgia can also be powerful drivers of our music preferences. In fact, evoking nostalgia is one of the most effective ways to get people hooked on whatever it is you're hawking, simply because evoking nostalgia makes us feel good. From enhancing our self-esteem to making life feel altogether more meaningful, nostalgia is one of the most powerful ways to keep us coming back for more.
Of course, standing on the shoulders of giants past, imitating the timeless qualities of genuine classics is not without its detractors. But, as research shows, the fact that Mars was barely even alive during the period he references in 24K Magic simply doesn't matter:
"For those who never actually lived through the past homaged in the present, the overwhelming allure of nostalgia for the unobtainable, whether for music, cars, photo filters or whatever, makes the contemporary take on the timeless classic not only cool, but king. Simply put, incorporating nostalgic elements into a musical experience will ensure its longterm, cross-generational success." –The Experience Factor
We all possess fundamental musical skills such as pitch and rhythm perception, as well as the ability to synchronise with a beat. And songs that encourage us to move in time with their rhythmic and melodic hooks set up a positive feedback loop. This is because rhythmic movement is closely related to feelings of positive affect. What's more, we feel good when we're able to successfully synchronise our body with the music. If you want to test this, just listen to this playlist and tell me you don't feel better afterwards.
Consequently, the more rhythmic movement a songs elicits, the more positive we’ll feel, and the more we'll want to repeat that experience — by listening to the track again and again. And what do you know? 24K Magic is awash with such hooks. Even the basic tempo of the song (107 bpm) is very close to our natural movement frequency, which makes it extremely easy for us to synchronise with. Couple that with a relentless stream of irresistible call and response elements, and Mars has us exactly where he wants us. Raising our pinky rings up to the moon.
How To Earn A Long-Term Living From Streaming
In combination, these features (along with many others described in The Experience Factor) tap into some of our most basic of instincts, creating an experience we find so irresistible that we have to keep listening again and again. And this is the key to success as we transition from ownership to access-based modes of music consumption.
Since streaming platforms pay rights-holders each time a listener presses play, the songs most likely to succeed – and earn the largest long-term income – are those that are designed to keep us coming back again and again. Simply put, if a song does so, it stands a good chance of earning whomever owns the rights to it a solid long-term income.
The great thing about this is that, far from having to suffer this new technology, songwriters and other content creators can in fact exploit it by writing music that offers listeners a rewarding experience. It may require rethinking how and why one write's music in the first place. It may also necessitate an adjustment of expectations about what makes a song 'good'. And it will certainly require one to consider the perceived 'value' of a stream versus a sale.
But the fact is it's no longer enough to sell a song once. As streaming becomes the dominant music distribution format, every new song must be 'sold' continuously, always in competition with millions of other songs that comprise a typical streaming platform's library. As a consequence, the songs that will earn the most money will be those that create a positive experience listeners want to repeat again and again.
To discover more data-driven principles that have helped 100 of the most successful songs of all time generate a billion dollars in revenue, and how you can tap into them to create the next generation of hits (and make streaming work for you), read The Experience Factor: How Hit Songs Hack Your Mind Heart And Body To Keep You Listening Again And Again.