Jake Robinson: Charting Success

Posted on February 26, 2013

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Last week the Billboard Hot 100—the chart that tracks the performance of music across the United States—announced that they would begin incorporating YouTube views into their chart calculations. While the Billboard Countdown differs from many other major international charts by not relying fastidiously on sales, the move marks an interesting shift in the popular music spectrum. It has also led to the dramatic rise of Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” to the very pinnacle of US chart success.

Will YouTube change the music industry for better or worse?

The Billboard charts have historically drawn upon both retail sales and radio play in their calculations. While it may be easy to assume that significant radio play equals chart success, this interesting analysis from The Age suggests that the relationship may be more complex than it first appears.

The retail sales charts have been similarly beset with challenges. Only a few years ago the Australian ARIA charts were called into question when some of the major Australian music retailers refused to supply the sales records that contribute to the chart. Allegations of chart tampering have persistently filtered down through the music industry over many decades. Digital music sales have also played havoc with traditional methodologies and there was much debate over the inclusion of iTunes sales, but now digital single sales have outstripped physical sales. Of further note, the denoting of “gold” or “platinum” success in Australia was not actually linked to actual record sales, but to the amount shipped to stores. This led to many bizarre accounts where a record may be given a ‘platinum’ record for supposedly selling 70,000 albums, while only actually selling many, many less.

Chart success used to be an identifiable high water mark of an artist’s career, and excitement is still generated when an artist such as Gotye has such dominating worldwide chart success. I believe music charts, while perhaps no longer encapsulating the ebbs and flows of the musical world, still  have a role in identifying people’s listening habits.

However, with the continual splintering of musical distribution and consumption, and with sites such as YouTube, iTunes and LastFM all having their own methods of charting the musical zeitgeist, this is becoming increasingly difficult to quantify. Perhaps Billboard’s move may help restore some long lost prestige and relevancy to the musical charts.

 

Jake Robinson is You’re Dripping Egg’s resident music watchdog. His column, Stereo In A Forest, is out on Tuesdays. 

What do you think YouTube’s impact on the music industry will be in light of Billboard’s big move? 

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