As the world’s largest digital music retailer, iTunes holds a lot of clout in breaking new musical acts. In fact, Billboard’s 2013 Maximum Exposure list placed “home-page placement on iTunes” at #5. Perhaps an even bigger opportunity for up-and-coming artists—being chosen as the iTunes Single of the Week.

Having undergone a few name changes over the past few years, the iTunes Single of the Week offers a free download of a single—typically from an artist on the rise. As you can imagine, with only 52 weeks in the year, the iTunes Single of the Week slot is extremely competitive and a major win for those artists chosen.

iTunes’ editors have done an exceptional job featuring artists early on in their career who have gone on rule the airwaves and album charts. In 2013, acts such as Bastille, Haim, and Kacey Musgraves all had tracks as the single of the week before establishing themselves amongst music lovers and scoring radio hits.

While iTunes doesn’t publicly report the number of free downloads redeemed each week, being prominently featured on such a large digital platform should be a huge opportunity for a new act. However, the data indicates there may be a smaller social impact for artists than imagined.

Swedish pop act NoNoNo had their debut single “Pumpin’ Blood” chosen as iTunes Single of the Week during the week of Tuesday September 17th. More often than not, acts are featured coinciding with the release of an EP or album. In this case, NoNoNo released their US debut EP the same week “Pumpin’ Blood” was free.

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The band saw sizable increases in social fan base on networks such as Facebook and Twitter—posting 42% and 44% gains respectively, compared to the week before.  However, coupled with the release of the EP and additional promo it’s not completely clear how much of an impact the single’s placement on the iTunes page made. While the gains are definitely a good sign, NoNoNo didn’t quite break 1,000 new Facebook likes for the week.

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Last week’s Single of the Week was from LoveLife, a Brooklyn-based electronic band. Having their track “Your New Beloved,” available for free on the iTunes homepage gave the band some major increases in terms of Facebook engagement and YouTube views—however, that is only compared to the previous week and the overall numbers aren’t too impressive. The band only gained 270 new Facebook fans during the week their single was available for free.

Every artist tracked during their time as iTunes Single of the Week saw social gains compared to the previous week, however some were larger than others. The editors at iTunes who choose the featured acts clearly have a grasp on what’s soon to break the mainstream, but data shows that the digital retailer does not actually make an artists career. Instead, it’s just one extra step in an artist’s long journey to breakthrough. 

Photo credit: Screen grab official YouTube channel

Adam Pyarali is a data journalism with music analytics company Next Big Sound and A&R intern at Columbia Records. He is a student at New York University, where he is pursuing a BM in Music Business.