Music Industry

A Big Change is Coming to the Billboard Music Charts Next Week

Charts are the way the music industry keeps score, so it’s important that they accurately reflect the success and popularity of albums and singles with the public. In the Olden Days, it was enough to track how many records were sold (and before that, how many copies of sheet music). Other factors were also worked in like radio plays and popularity in jukeboxes.

Today, though, with sales of music–CDs, vinyl, paid digital downloads–are a shadow of what they used to be. With more and more people opting to stream music, it’s time for a whole new set of metrics.

Effective January 31, all Billboard charts–the main ones and all the ones based on specific genre–will use a new methodology based largely on these two concepts:

  • 10 digital track sales from an album is equivalent to the sale of one full album. And yes, those ten purchases can be the same song purchased by ten different people.
  • 1,500 songs streamed from the same album count as one album sale.

The new rankings will include on-demand streams from Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon Music, Soundcloud, Slacker, Napster, Google Play, Groove Music, and Medianet. Sales and radio airplay will continue to be important in creating chart rankings.

As a chart nerd, I find this fascinating. In 1991, when Billboard switched from estimates of record sales by a select panel of music stores (notoriously unreliable and often corrupt) to SoundScan (which only counts an album as sold when its barcode is scanned at the checkout), the industry was shocked to find out that alt-rock, hip hop and country were selling far more than anyone realized. What’s forgotten is that this realization had labels start to invest more in development and marketing in these genres

What’s forgotten is that this realization had labels start to invest more in development and marketing in these genres. And what happened? A huge explosion in attention and success for alt-rock, hip hop and country music throughout the 90s. Will this change in methodology reveal something new about how what music is actually popular? We’ll see when the first of these new charts are published this coming Tuesday.

Here is a list of all the genre charts that will be affected by the change. More information on the chart changes can be found here.

Top Rock Albums, plus:
Alternative Albums
Hard Rock Albums
Americana/Folk Albums

Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, plus:
-R&B Albums
Rap Albums

Top Country Albums

Top Catalog Albums

Top Dance/Electronic Albums

Top Latin Albums, plus:
Latin Pop Albums
Regional Mexican Albums
Tropical Albums
Latin Rhythm Albums

Top Christian Albums, plus:
Christian/Gospel Albums


Holiday Albums

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38341 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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