Times really are a’changing.
As was potently spotlighted recently, no album prior to (or other than) Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ has hit Platinum status in the US this year. Indeed, whichever way it’s diced or sliced, music sales have been wallowing in the mire for several years now and it appears the American industry has had enough.
Today, it has been announced that from next week, the iconic Billboard 200 album chart will be revising its counting formula to include streams and downloads.
The shocking details below…
The New York Times reports:
Billboard and Nielsen SoundScan, the agency that supplies its data, will start adding streams and downloads of tracks to the formula behind the Billboard 200, which, since 1956 has functioned as the music world’s weekly scorecard. It is the biggest change since 1991, when the magazine began using hard sales data from SoundScan, a revolutionary change in a music industry that had long based its charts on highly fudgeable surveys of record stores.
The new chart, covering sales and listening from Monday to Nov. 30, will be revealed on Billboard’s website on Dec. 4 and published in print in its Dec. 13 issue. Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s director of charts, said that by looking at streams as well as sales, the new chart will more accurately reflect how people listen to music these days.
One expected result is that albums by big pop stars — which tend to open high on the chart and then plunge after just a few weeks — should linger longer in the upper rungs. Ariana Grande’s “My Everything,” for example, which opened at No. 1 in September, was No. 36 on last week’s chart, with 10,000 sales. Under the new formula, it would have been No. 9.
SoundScan and Billboard will count 1,500 song streams from services like Spotify, Beats Music, Rdio, Rhapsody and Google Play as equivalent to an album sale. For the first time, they will also count “track equivalent albums” — a common industry yardstick of 10 downloads of individual tracks — as part of the formula for album rankings on the Billboard 200.
As rational as the reasons for this are, it really does herald the dawn of a new age, one we’re not convinced is entirely fair or representative.
For, we’re in an era where curious listeners can stream tracks of artists they don’t even like for free. Why, then, should that stream be counted towards the “1500” that contributes to one album sale? Like whichever way it’s spun, it’s not an album sale nor anything remotely close.
In measuring the concept fairly though, it can be argued that in previous years consumers could afford to buy LPs of artists they didn’t particularly “like” in a “because I can” capacity – something today’s economy doesn’t allow for en masse.
As such, just like streaming a song one doesn’t care for in the modern era, buying an album just to hear it or critique it back in the day would see the sale still counted regardless. Viewed this way, it’s arguable that the current changes aren’t that drastic.
Yet, from where we’re standing, it’s not so much about how “drastic” the changes are, it’s more how unrepresentative. Put simply, it boils down to intent. When one buys an album, especially in today’s economical climate, it’s by and large because they intend to support the artist. When one streams, it may very well be to listen and slam it online. Why, then, should the latter count towards album sales? It’s preposterous and really runs risk of diluting the importance of Gold and Platinum plaques.
Alas, as the age old adage goes, if there’s one thing that’s a guarantee…it’s change.
Let us know what you think about the new Billboard 200 below!