Billboard is going to start counting YouTube streams to compile album charts. This could change everything.

Charts are the way the music industry keeps score. And historically, the biggest measure of success has been the album charts.

In the Olden Days, Billboard–the ancient compiler of music charts for North America–pulled together its album charts by having underlings phone a statistically valid number of record stores and asked how many copies of they sold of specific albums.

These numbers were prone to huge amounts manipulation. Store managers would simply guess how many copies they sold, maybe adding a few extra copies of records they personally liked. Maybe they were, uh, incentivized to report false/misleading sales.

Then came the introduction of the SoundScan system in 1991. For the first time, record sales were counted one-by-one as they passed over the bar code reader at the checkout. When the numbers can in for the first week of SoundScan tabulation, people were shocked at what was being over- and under-reported. Country music was much, much more popular than anyone had been previously told. And so was alternative rock.

That switch to SoundScan reshaped music and the music industry for the next dozen years. Labels started investing more time and energy in alt-rock and country, resulting in an explosion in genres like genre and the creation of country superstars like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain.

When physical album sales began to slip in the 00s, the industry pushed for modifications that would capture streaming data. That led to the creation fi five years ago of something called TEAs–track equivalent albums–which counted 1,500 streams from one album as the sale of one physical album. This covered platforms like Spotify, Google Play, and even Xbox Music

But this was, of course, incomplete because “streams” did not mean “YouTube views.” Your video could have a billion views but none of that would count towards the chart position of your album. That will change in 2020.

Beginning the week of January 18, the Billboard album charts will use data from YouTube along with video streams from Apple, Spotify, Tidal, and Vevo. it’s the next stage in what Billboard calls “multi-metric consumption.”

It’ll be interesting to see how the addition of these new metics will have on chart rankings. My guess is that we might see a greater representation of non-English music, especially Latin material. But we’ll see, won’t we?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ 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.

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