Jim Letourneau's Blog

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Album Track Order vs Number of Plays on Rdio

I've long noticed that when musical choices are presented in a vertical list, the top track is always picked first. This was easily observed on MySpace where most bands streamed 4 tracks for their fans to listen to.

With streaming music services poised to replace services like iTunes, I thought it would interesting to check out how album track order influenced the number of times the track was played. I used the 2011 Short List Nominees for the Polaris Music Prize as a sample. Then I used data from the streaming service Rdio to determine the number of times a track was played. The band The Weeknd isn't listed on Rdio so they were omitted.

All albums had the same pattern where the first listed track was played the most on an album and the last listed track was played the least. The ratio between the number of first track and last track plays varied between 2.06-3.90. These distributions look like they would fit a power law.

Hit songs pop out when the pattern of declining successive track plays is interrupted. For example, Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" hit song "We Used to Wait" pops out on the graph with 17,390 plays. Even the obscure bands with no mainstream radio airplay (what a quaint term) managed to have "hits" on their albums. I suspect that great albums by Pink Floyd will have flatter curves than hit machine cogs like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.

Today a hit means that a streaming music listener has added a track to his or her playlist (either mental or digital).

From my experience, I'll start playing an album with the intention of listening to all of the songs and then I get interrupted. A phone call, conversation or the end of a walk all lead to the same place, an abrupt termination of an album listen.

Track sequencing is a critical component of putting together an album of songs. For artists with a song that they want the world to hear, it would be best if they didn't put it in last place.


This is a powerful trend. When the album title track is not the first track listed, the first track of an album received more plays than the title track. Also this data was collected Tuesday AM so any change in listener trends will make these specific results unrepeatable.