The Music Charts Are Now Officially Broken. Here’s Why.

So the RIAA gives Rihanna a platinum album for selling 460 copies of her Anti album. Yet if you look at the Billboard charts, the record is nowhere to be seen. WTF? What’s going on? Aren’t the record charts the way the industry keeps score? And what’s this business about 1,500 YouTube views counting the same as the sale of one album?

Wow. Something is really, really broken here. MiDIA Research tries to explain it.

It is normal when switching between old and new worlds to use equivalents, deutschmarks to euros, inches to centimetres, circulation numbers to unique visitors etc. So it was entirely understandable that once digital came along the record labels started creating equivalents. First it was album equivalents to deal with the fact that download sales were skewing towards single tracks, then came equivalent sales to translate audio streams into singles and albums. Now the RIAA has just announced that 1,500 YouTube views counts as an album sale. It might feel like a natural transition but it is in fact that hair that is going to break the camel’s back.

Charts Are The Music Industry’s Currency But That Currency Is Being Devalued

Music consumption is undergoing a dramatic transformation, with access replacing sales. Consequently the role of charts is changing, and yet many music industry people are still trying to use them as sales indicators. Charts are the record labels’ currency, their measure of success. But as fewer people buy music their relevance inherently diminishes. Labels though aren’t willing to let them go.

As one now-former senior major label executive once said, ‘record labels only care about three things: revenue, market share and charts’. For better or for worse, major labels have done a good job of making the first two work in the streaming arena by weighting deals towards up front payments and guarantees determined by their market share data. But they haven’t managed to make charts work properly.

Equivalent albums were just about understandable as a transition measure. Stream equivalents though pushed the charts to breaking point. 1,500 YouTube views being one album though was the last straw. The fact that a bunch of artists have suddenly gone platinum without having sold an extra album highlights the problem. YouTube views are not a sale. They are not even an equivalent. YouTube views are equivalents of TV music channel views. They are equivalents of radio listens. They have made the charts no longer fit for purpose.

It continues to be a weird time for all those involved in the music business. Read on here.

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.

One thought on “The Music Charts Are Now Officially Broken. Here’s Why.

  • February 9, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Fantastic article and good find, Alan. Something’s gotta change here if the music industry is interested in accuracy.


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