For as long as I can remember, I’ve followed my favourite artists up and down the charts. It began with an infatuation with the weekly Top 30 published by my local Top 40 station. Later, I graduated to the Billboard Top 200, the only chart that really mattered.
The album chart that matters the most to the Canadian music industry is the Top Canadian Albums Chart, which is published each week by Billboard. Understanding how it works is simple: add up all physical album sales plus digital sales and rank ’em from 1-200.
Come Tuesday, though, that all changes. The new name for our chart will be Billboard Canadian Albums. Not only will it tally up all the physical and digital sales as before, it will also incorporate streaming and equivalent track sales into its bucket of measurements. This will mark the biggest change to our album charts since 1996 when Canada acquired SoundScan, the point-of-sale data collection system that didn’t count an album as sold until it was scanned at the cash register.
So why the change? Streaming. Consumers are buying (i.e. making an effort to possess) less music, opting to stream whatever material they want through services like Spotify, Rdio, Google Play Music and all the rest of ’em. SoundScan says that they needed to alter its methodology if it is going to provide an accurate picture of what music the public is diggin’ any given week.
“Nielsen’s recent Music 360 Canada report shows that streaming is gaining substantially with Canadian consumers, with 71% of music fans now streaming music online,” says Erin Crawford, GM of Music for Nielsen Entertainment. “We’re happy to bring streaming and track downloads into the new Billboard Canadian Albums chart. This newly formatted chart is a better measure of an album’s popularity and a true reflection of how fans are consuming music today.”
While this may be great for the industry–after all, charts are the way it keeps score–it’s going to be more than a little confusing for regular folk who have made a habit of following albums up and down the charts. If it’s not just about sales (a metric anyone can understand), how is chart movement measured?
This is where it gets kinda weird. Canada is following the US with a formula that’s tough to wrap one’s head around.
In addition to sales of CDs and vinyl (easy to understand) and counting all digital album sales (ditto), the new charts will take into account something known as TEAs or Track Equivalent Albums. This means if you buy 10 digital tracks from one album, that counts the same as if you bought the whole album. The thinking is that since iTunes has turned us on to buying songs a la carte (meaning we learned to buy just the songs we want from an album instead of being forced to buy all or nothing), that anytime anyone buys at least 10 tracks from an album that contains, say, 14 tracks, is good enough. Got it?
Even weirder will be SEAs or Stream Equivalent Albums. If songs–any songs–from an album are streamed at least 1,500 times, that counts the same as one sold album under the old regime. This means tallying up all the streams from Apple Music, Spotify, Rdio, Google Play, XboxMusic, Slacker and Tidal (Deezer isn’t part of the mix; I guess subscription rates in Canada are too low.) sorting all the songs by album and finding which album had its songs streamed beyond the threshold number.
Bottom line is that starting Tuesday when we look at the Canadian album charts, the number next to an album title won’t just reflect the number of physical and digital copies sold. It will also include TEAs and SEAs. Capice?
It’ll be interesting to see how the new weighted data changes things. Since the US adopted this formula last year, we’ve seen some interesting divergences in what albums show up in the respective Top 10s. How shuffled will our chart be come Tuesday?
Again, I understand. But it kinda takes the fun out of it, you know?