Off The Charts – Why The Singles Charts Need To Reflect Tastes & Trends – Not Streams

We can do better than this …..and we must.

I only ever blog about stuff when something really gets under my skin… this BBC article on streaming killing the charts did exactly that….

“Is streaming Killing the charts”

NO. No, it is not.

But you know what is?

Our out-dated industry regulations and formulas around a form of consumption that many have clearly yet to understand fully. Streaming has completely changed consumption habits in music and if you don’t believe or understand that you are in the wrong game. The way we are classifying streaming in the charts right now is an absolute farce, so rather than just moan about it I want to offer some perspective and maybe a potential solution…

As an industry if we are ever going to progress as a viable, sustainable thriving business in the digital age for our artists we need to realise this!

Dear Music industry …especially those in charge of writing those pesky chart rule books… listen up….

Over fifty years ago, the charts were really originally started as a promotional tool for the NME … to reflect pop culture, encourage advertising and generate sales. They then morphed into the single biggest driver of promotion and sales for the whole industry. In the “good ole days” the charts showed a much truer reflection of what was actually going on in popular culture…. A moment in time in our incredibly rich cultural tapestry perfectly encapsulated in charted form for all to see and indeed hear. The singles market took a snapshot of the soundtrack of our lives and tastes that week and offered succulent reward for the new and established artists alike that worked their arses off to release something that week… The fight to the top was fierce, exciting and engaging and landing at the “top of the pops” allowed major media outlets and radio a much clearer picture than we have today of what they should consider to promote … and thus who to support as our future headliners… (which, sadly, as an industry I think we fail to nurture right now across the board — a rant for another day — but if we’re not careful that will deepen and impact everything…)

Well-meaning bodies have tried to incorporate streaming in the charts in a “let’s shoe horn a new rule into an old game” by treating streaming like it’s some new ‘format’, in the way downloads had to count like physical sales (Also, by the way, the rules on streaming and charts vary internationally… just to really confuse the hell out of everyone ever further).

No. No. No.

Streaming absolutely MUST be accounted for in charts, it’s here to stay and is vital to the success and future of our industry but…c’mon… not like this.

Streaming ultimately rewards longevity… in promotion, monetary value, data and in success … the more something catches fire, gets placed in playlists, spreads, gets shared with friends, added to fans libraries and listened to on repeat, like an unstoppable wild fire it ignites and swells… leaving a trail of sonic sweetness, data and (yes…arguably sometimes not enough) money in its wake but the singles chart specifically is surely there to show us what’s gaining momentum right now…not what’s swelled over time…and to give us a glimpse into real time tastes and trends…. NOT to show us what’s on repeat on someone’s stereo…

Humour me for a moment if you will…

Back in cassette / CD days (yes, I remember those!) If we liked a single we’d go buy it the week it was released ..( though…sometimes shock horror we’d recorded it, illegally, from the radio …and have some annoying local DJ speaking over it … but we got it.) There was promotion, hefty label support and fan fare … for that week the industry basked in the glory that the nations new favourite band were topping the charts, exposed to millions of new listeners and new fans in the process.

Here’s the thing… those initial sales, from unique listeners, release week, were what counted for that chart… there wasn’t any one sat in my house documenting and listening to how many times I listened to that record that week or there after, I’d bought my record and that was my tiny yet significant impact on the charts…

Roll on to 2016 and we are really just lifting already established artists up into the charts because they’re getting a shit tonne of plays because, erm… that’s how streaming works..… what kind of lunacy is this to attempt to reflect trend based up and coming listening habits and reflect new bands? C’mon. We can and must do better than this. We owe it to the future of our industry to do so.

I propose that if we, as an industry, are to keep a charts based system that means anything here in the UK (and beyond that ideally globally) the Charts must take fully into account both the nature of the charts and the nature of streaming and display that accordingly…we should be celebrating that moment of ignition when the spark lights for an artist and allow the media infrastructure and the DSPs to propel them further into the light. Let’s quit it with the 100 listens crap for singles… I mean… even at my peak single buying age I don’t think i ever recall listening to any bloody track 100 times in a week (though my mother may have excelled this number in one sitting the summer Bryan Adams decided to soundtrack Robin Hood) .

The current singles market strikes me as in some ways barbaric for new acts. Instead… why don’t we get our shit together and figure out a new pro active system or if we really must a split chart into something totally innovative to truly reflect that lost moment in time to show what people are listening to for the first time and discovering?

Across ALL DSPs .. including YouTube … (yeah… get this…we still haven’t figured that out here either… uh-huh…mental right?)

Based on unique listens…

We can still have a “most streamed” track chart for sure and we absolutely should…and over time this will hopefully start to include new music if it’s given a proper shot at getting there BUT with all the trails of data we’re generating we must also have a cross platform “most unique streams this week” and “most unique streams release week”… NOT 100 plays a sale because ….it’s not a sale… it’s a stream…. sure, some will garner more plays based on DSP playlist inclusion but it will undoubtedly leave room for those that don’t too if something ignites within a fanbase.

Another way to look at a new interesting and relevant streaming chart is how many people “saved to library” that week, that’s a true reflection of a track getting saved to someone’s collection, in the same way we used to rack cassettes on the wall, once that’s in a fans library they might listen to it a million times (weyhey!) but for a chart of the nature we’re discussing I really think that should be reflecting new music , new songs and new trends … and we should, I believe be displaying those initial plays in some way… taking into account ALL streaming services … not just the ones we can be arsed to figure out how to track (and yes, we should also include stand alone track downloads here for now if we are going to tuly reflect the unique liseners and buyers)

It’s 2016, and the NME has had to pivot to be given away, adapting their digital strategy, generating promotions, advertisers and marketing. If they can change, we can too.

Time to get our shit together with this one I think?

Sammy Andrews

(As always all thoughts are mine and mine alone, not that of my company or clients)