Here is why some of your favourite songs are not hits, they are just 'digital hits' [Pulse Explainer]

Usually, a digital hit is birthed of #Challenge Culture, viral dance moves from popular social media sensations and then usage by regular social media users as soundtrack.

Digital hits in Nigerian music. (YouTube/KondeFibs)

It's 2020 and 'Bop Daddy' by Falz is making the rounds across Nigerian social media platforms.

It was almost a direct competition for 'Don't Rush,' the Young T and Bugsey record that had smashed the internet.

Fused with #Challenge culture, both records swept through the hearts of bored Nigerians, who were stuck at home due to the coronavirus-influenced lockdown and in need of some excitement.

While 'Bop Daddy' transcended the realms of social media and became a bona-fide hit in Nigeria, 'Don't Rush' remained a social media sensation, despite having healthy streaming numbers in Nigeria.

Streaming is still in its formative stage in Nigeria, and mainstream acceptance that transcends airplay and streaming numbers would determine the 'hit' status of a hit in Nigerian music.

'Bop Daddy' might have become a hit, but it endured a slow start and only became a hit after first becoming a viral sensation. Hence, the phenomenon of a digital hit.

A digital hit is a record that uses the real-time advantage of social media or - to a lesser extent - streaming as its primary or secondary promotion. Usually, a digital hit is birthed of #Challenge Culture, viral dance moves from popular social media sensations and then usage by regular social media users as soundtrack.

Sometimes, these digital hits transcend social media to become actual hits, but most of them peak after they garner healthy streams on DSPs.

For example, 'Birthday Girl' by Stormzy or 'Birthday Girl' by Trap Beckham aren't hits anywhere, but they're digital hits across Nigerian social media platforms. The same goes for 'La Cream' by Mix Naija and T-Classic.

If there was ever a measure of the times those songs get used per day, the numbers would be off the charts. The reason is simple; the former two are the go-to soundtrack for birthday wishes across Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat and Triller.

Sometimes, a digital hit never transcends social media to become a real-life hit. In advanced climes like the US, they have seperate charts for digital hits. For example, Master KG's 'Jerusalema' never really became a bonafide American hit by cracking the Billboard Hot 100, but it cracked the World Digital Song Sales Chart and peaked at No. 1.

While it also charted on the Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart, it was mostly a digital hit that stood the test of time. With the way streaming has changed music certification across the world, it's now possible for a song to have a long enough shelf-life in digital spaces to get certified while never truly transcending to become a bonafide hit.

But in Nigeria, some of these digital hits don’t even translate to success on streaming platforms.

In 2020, this writer did a Facts Only episode in Nigeria, where he analyzed the phenomenon of a hit in Nigerian music.

He noted that Nigerian music had become segmented into six silos; streaming, airplay, mainstream gatherings with little to no metrics, social media and music blogs. All these silos have the unique capabilities to make their own hits that might or might not affect other silos.

For example, this writer felt like social media was increasingly holding a stake in Nigerian music capitalism and deserved to have its own silo.

This was because in music marketing, social media had become a formidable tool for music discovery. In his recent newsletter Trapital, Dan Runcie argues that this tendency is why every social platform - most recently, Snapchat - wants to have a deal with the major record companies.

It’s also why Billboard will have a new chart which solely tracks and charts music based on social media activity.

On that aforementioned episode, this writer also noted that a song can only be a ‘genuine’ hit when it is a hit in/across all six silos of Nigerian music.

But these days, we usually find songs that penetrate social media platforms and the larger internet without ever truly breaking out to become hits in the other silos - especially the mainstream, which is the true measure of success.

This is also why trending on social media doesn’t always equate great streams.

The reason for this is simple; in Nigeria, 75 million people download music and under 1% of 200 million people stream music. Internet penetration stands at around 45%, but only 12% is on Instagram and less than 12% is on Twitter.

Facebook has the highest demography with around 27%, but that market is filled with Gen Xers and older millennials.

Consumer behaviour of Facebook users is also not the greatest, as regards paying for music. Some will argue that the cool Nigerians who are likely to pay for/stream music are on Twitter and Instagram, where these ‘digital hits’ trend. And if this is the case, these ‘digital hits’ on social media should always be able to move the needle and succeed on streaming platforms.

The argument is compelling, but Nigeria is a complex market. If a song would be truly successful as a bonafide hit in Nigerian music, the Facebook crowd - which is the mainstream crowd with the greatest numbers - must be able to stream it and love it. The Facebook crowd is closer to the offline crowd and they share similar consumer behaviour.

They are more likely to influence each other than be influenced by the Twitter/Instagram/TikTok/Triller community. Moreover, a lot of the Twitter/Instagram/TikTok market who propel a song to become a digital hit are not premium. Even worse, they are less than 15% of the Nigerian population.

As much as that might influence streaming - which can only judge and chart music based on monthly active users - it might not be able to penetrate the real world and have the requisite success in the offline market, which is the largest, most desirable market.

That’s why Nigeria now has a small subset of songs that can be called ‘digital hits’ and not actual hits.

As noted earlier and with the foregoing argument, yes. Certain digital hits can go from the cool crowd of Twitter/Instagram, who are likely to become premium music lovers and still not have the required mileage to penetrate the mainstream/offline market.

A good example of records like that is ‘Guchi’ by Jennifer. The song has been used over 200,000 times on TikTok and has over 6.5 million streams on Audiomack while its video - released in February 2021 - has 13 million views on YouTube, but it’s still not one of the biggest Nigerian songs of 2021.

In contrast, Wizkid’s ‘Essence’ is a global smash hit. Its video - which was released in April 2021 - has just 15 million streams on YouTube - which is Nigeria’s largest streaming platform.

The only reason Nigerian artists have grown to defer to and celebrate streaming charts is mostly vanity metrics. Another reason is because popular songs on streaming platforms means healthy revenue.

The goal for most Nigerian artists is to have a song penetrate the mainstream/offline market from whence they can get popular, attract brand deals, endorsements and live performance revenue.

This isn't the first time. Over the past 10 years, the digital hit slowly emerged, we just didn't/couldn’t track it.

During the download era, the internet was slow and expensive. As such, most people couldn't even watch YouTube or afford to watch social videos. Technology was also not as advanced as it currently is.

That means videos were slightly heavier for the internet quality of that time. It also meant that hits were genuine. If you have a song, you could download it to your phone and enjoy it.

Slightly after that era, social media and technology advanced and so did internet quality. That means comedians, dancers, parody makers and pastiche acts could afford to easily make and upload videos for an audience that could afford to watch them. There, an ecosystem was formed.

That era also meant social media sensations like Lord Skyy, Emma OhMaGad, Speed Darlington, Vic-O, Alfa Sule and became commonplace.

While Alfa Sule was more mainstream due to their primary focus on DVD sales, the rest heavily relied on social media to disseminate and promote content.

Thus, a lot of works by these social sensations became digital hits that never quite became the toast mainstream music lovers, from a comparative consumption perspective. This was because people could laugh and even download the songs, but those songs had a perception problem; people didn’t really see them as songs.

The mainstream loved EmmaOhMaGad’s music, but they didn't consume his parodies like they did Wizkid's music.

Somewhere around that era, Nigeria's version of a digital hit was born.

Artists should only aim for whatever pays them. The goal shouldn’t be to trend on social media, it should be about how trends can lead to conversion and streams or how trends can inform the offline market and propel a song into becoming a smash hit.

Thus, music marketing should not transcend Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Nigerian artists should start looking at Facebook. While Facebook has not been as attractive to the younger ‘cooler’ Nigerian audiences over the past few years, the ‘cooler’ audience still remains very niche.

There are still tons of young Nigerians who can only operate on Facebook and maybe, Instagram. And right now, Mark Zuckerberg is looking to solve that ‘Facebook problem’ of a large amount of users who spend less time on the platforms and make Facebook less attractive to the ad ecosystem.

Since the turn of 2021, Facebook has become more creator-centric with efforts in newsletters, Facebook BARS, a partnership with Spotify, ramping up efforts for Facebook Watch to be recognized for Billboard charting. Thus, Nigerian artists need to start looking at creative ways to market their music on Facebook.

Equally, when Nigerian artists want to market their music on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Triller and YouTube Shorts, the style should be different. Nigeria is not America where consumer behaviour is more tailored towards premium traits that would allow Doja Cat’s ‘Streets’ to go nuclear in streams after becoming a part of #SilhoutteChallenge.

You have to make sure influencers push the links to your songs when they create their videos or you push an attractive part of the song, which then ends abruptly. That will make people go find your songs.

Yes.

Note: An earlier version of this story misrepresented facts about Davido's 'Fall.' It has since been edited.

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