Can You Tell Whether A Song Is A Hit If It's Not On The Charts? : The Record For decades, there was a gold standard for identifying hits, but now the calculus has changed.

Can You Tell Whether A Song Is A Hit If It's Not On The Charts?

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GUY RAZ, host:

So how will Jerry Wonda know if "Never Forget You" is a hit? The answer used to be easy, a calculation of record sales and radio plays. But as NPR's Frannie Kelley reports now, knowing when a hit is a hit now is a lot more complicated these days.

FRANNIE KELLEY: For decades, there was a gold standard for identifying hits: the Billboard Hot 100. But people hear and buy music so many different ways now, it's changed the calculus of hits. For example, Billboard now counts online streaming.

Mr. EVAN BOGART (Songwriter): The actual radio itself is becoming irrelevant in what creates artists because of the Internet and because of grassroots campaigns.

KELLEY: Evan Bogart has written hits for Rihanna and Beyonce. He says he cares more about radio play than sales, but theres something even more important to him: Fans talking about a song online.

Mr. BOGART: I think that there are successful artists out there who are selling tickets, selling merchandise, making money, having incredible careers and dont have anything on the radio.

KELLEY: Exhibit A is Justin Bieber.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JUSTIN BIEBER (Musician): (Singing) Baby, baby, baby, oh.

KELLEY: This song was the most viewed YouTube video of all time, but this week, hes nowhere on the Billboard charts.

Catherine Brewton is a vice president at BMI, the songwriters organization. She says its a mystery to her that Justin Bieber songs dont get played on the radio very much. But, she says:

Ms. CATHERINE BREWTON (Vice President, BMI): Kid records, most of it really is not necessarily radio-driven. Its all viral.

KELLEY: His latest single is called U Smile. Jerry Wonda produced it, and it has over 17 million views on YouTube, no chart position.

(Soundbite of song, "U Smile")

Mr. BIEBER: (Singing) You smile, I smile.

KELLEY: To deal with the Bieber paradox, last week Billboard debuted yet another new chart: the Social 50. It ranks musicians popularity by looking at sites like Facebook, Twitter and Myspace. On that chart, Justin Bieber is number two.

But what about songs that sneak their way into popular culture? Heres another song thats not on the Hot 100 this week.

(Soundbite of song, "Teach Me How To Dougie"

Unidentified People: (Singing) Teach me how to dougie. Teach me, teach me how to dougie.

KELLEY: The dougie is a dance that started in L.A. Now NFL players do the Dougie in the endzone. Its one of the top ringtones this week. The video that teaches you the dance has over two million views on YouTube.

So how do you know if a song is a hit? It could be a combination of sales, radio plays, YouTube views, online conversations, cell-phone rings and dance-floor domination. But maybe you have a different tell. Maybe you just know it when you hear it.

Frannie Kelley, NPR News.

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