The Great Chart Debate

In Beats + Bytes by Nue Agency


It was quite a week. From the passionate, heated debates at RapCon to flying into Chicago to work with some of the country’s brightest cultural brand marketers and up-and-coming artists, the depth of my conversations was vast and all centered around the state of the industry.

One of the biggest stories in music this week is “Old Town Road” breaking a long-standing record with its 17th week atop the Billboard Hot 100. Kudos to Mariah Carey for passing the torch in true 2019 fashion, with a meme.

The times are changing when it comes to charts and what they mean. Are people even listening to albums in full? ‘Cause they sure aren’t buying them. Chart success is becoming more of a branding milestone than an actual music success story, especially in a world where there’s so much music being released. In my opinion, the way the charts are calculated is contributing to their waning relevance.

Take Lil Nas X, for example. His team knows that “Old Town Road” remix streams count as streams for the original song. So, every time the song’s buzz looks like it may fade, they drop a new remix. The BTS remix this week was a surefire way to keep the top spot.

The New York Times podcast posted a really interesting conversation about the state of the charts. It’s a crucial, multifaceted debate. DJ Khaled recently shared his feelings about losing the #1 album ranking to Tyler, the Creator because certain bundles he used weren’t counted. Is that right? Both artists clearly used bundles and other tricks to manipulate the chart.

Then there’s Chance the Rapper, who was giving out free albums with Lyft rides for his release on Friday. These weren’t considered a bundle on Billboard (so they don’t count towards sales) but the newly launched Rolling Stone chart is counting them.

I’m excited that RS has entered the chart game. Steel should sharpen steel. Their chart is novel because it offers visual graphs of song units to see when they were listened to. They offer updates daily so you get a real-time picture. The difference between charts is purely algorithmic since there are very few sources of data. The difference is how that data is interpreted. Rolling Stone provides details on its calculation but Billboard and other charts do not.

Are there better gatekeepers than charts? Absolutely. I trust playlists more than I trust chart position for my music discovery and if the chart makers don’t add a layer of transparency soon, the culture shapers are going to revolt.

Remember the shot fired by Jay-Z on last year’s Meek Mill album?

“I ain’t got a billion streams,
Got a billion dollars
Inflating numbers like we ‘posed to be happy about this
We was praised in Billboard, but we were young
Now I look at Billboard like,
“Is you dumb?”


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