iTunes Top Selling Songs of 2011


Written by Jack Sharp
12 Monday 12th December 2011

In recent years, a phenomenon known as the “loudness war” has become more and more prominent in music. This refers to the competition among producers and artists to digitally master and release recordings with increasing loudness. I want to see if loudness has anything to do with the success of the most popular iTunes songs of 2011.

The iTunes Top Selling Songs of 2011:

1. LMFAO - Party Rock Anthem (feat Lauren Bennett & GoonRock)
2. Adele - Someone Like You
3. Maroon 5 - Moves Like Jagger
4. Jessie J - Price Tag (feat. B.o.B.)
5. Pitbull - Give Me Everything (feat. Ne-Yo)
6. Bruno Mars – Grenade
7. Adele - Rolling In The Deep
8. Jennifer Lopez - On The Floor
9. Rihanna - What's My Name?
10. Rihanna - We Found Love

So I have a listen to the songs and take an immediate disliking to 'Party Rock Anthem' (Ft. Lauren Bennet & GoonRock) by LMFAO, who presumably call themselves LMFAO because they’re tickled by their own inexplicable success. Surprisingly, for such a popular song, there’s not much of a hook here. Arguably the song’s most memorable feature is the synth pad, which is present throughout much of the track, and repetitive four--the-floor dance drums.

The song’s instrumentation and rhythm section is strikingly similar to other tracks in the top ten, specifically Pitbull’s 'Give Me Everything' and Jennifer Lopez’s 'On The Floor', which attempts to make up for its lack of a melody by sampling portions of 'Lambada'.

Maroon 5’s 'Moves Like Jagger' also features quite similar production to 'Party Rock Anthem'. Despite having one of the most irritating melodies ever conceived (accurately conveying the feeling of having a migraine in a clothes shop), 'Moves Like Jagger' is a much more conventional, catchy pop hit.

Given the similarity between these songs then, is the production a factor here? If we look at the songs' waveforms (all taken from iTunes), we can see that 'Party Rock Anthem' has been mastered much louder than 'Moves Like Jagger', and all the songs in the top ten for that matter. In fact, it’s been mixed so loud that there’s really no volume variation throughout the song.


Maroon 5

If you compare this to the best selling UK single of the 1980s, 'Do They Know It’s Christmas?', you can see a very clear difference in the production of both tracks. While 'Party Rock Anthem' was released in the early part of 2011, giving it the opportunity to rack up more downloads than tracks released later in the year, it’s likely that the comparatively loud production has had a major effect on its commercial viability, as it naturally stands out when played next to other tracks.

Do They Know It's Christmas

Critics of the “loudness war” warn that this form of production, although attention grabbing, results in very poor audio quality with little variation, and that’s certainly the case here.

But while seven songs in the top ten follow very similar electro trends, both in terms of production and songwriting, there are three anomalies in the top ten: Adele’s 'Someone Like You', a ballad featuring piano and vocals; another Adele song, 'Rolling In The Deep'; and Jessie J’s 'Price Tag' a bouncy 'Where Is The Love'-type song with a catchy chorus.

Perhaps, partly due to the inclusion of these, the production of the other songs really is just a coincidence, and there isn’t their success has very little to do with their presentation. But the production trends are clearly there.

As an outside to mainstream pop music, it’s difficult to see the appeal in something like 'Party Rock Anthem', and many of the songs in the top ten. When these “loud” songs are played on the radio they’re compressed further still, reducing the audio quality and volume variation even more. While this certainly makes them stand out on the radio, this also makes them sound terrible. That’s just my preference, of course. Perhaps I’m just not cool enough to appreciate modern pop music.

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