What will this change mean for the way the charts are compiled?
After a veritable explosion in the usage of online music streaming services over the past few years it has recently been announced that the UK singles chart will incorporate streaming sites into its accumulation of data. Previously, the chart was completed by both physical and online sales but the new-fangled incorporation of streaming services looks set to alter the makeup of the singles chart forever. What’s more, the fact that streaming services are being incorporated highlights a distinct shift in the way consumers are choosing to listen to music- eschewing physical and even digital purchases in favour of instant access to vast archives of music from a myriad of eras and styles.
Now, plays drawn from such platforms as Spotify, Napster, Deezer, Xbox Music and Sony’s Music Unlimited, amongst others, are being counted alongside sales figures in a giant leap towards a digital future which the music industry has thus far been so slow and cumbersome in approaching. The move has the full support of the big players in the UK’s music industry following the immense growth in the music streaming sector. It is reported by the UK Official Charts Company that weekly streams in the UK are now topping 260 million per week, a huge increase on figures from last year, which were 100 million as of January 2013. In comparison, physical sales of singles now amount to a paltry half a million and digital sales actually fell in 2013 for an all-time high of 187 million in 2012. Future charts will also see an inclusion of video streams from YouTube and Vevo, although experts are still working on ways to filter the data accurately, especially on DIY music videos.
For several years now, streaming statistics have been consulted for other elements of the music industry such as the weekly meeting where the Radio One playlist is decided. But with streams now forming a central facet of the way the charts are composed, what differences, if any, can we expect in the chart’s formation? Moreover, can these long overdue updates return the UK singles chart to the levels of prestige it was once bestowed by artists, fans and industry figures?
Well, for one, viral hits will make a much more regular appearance on the chart’s higher echelons so we can look forward to plenty more internet phenomenon along the lines of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” appearing on the charts. The folks behind the transformation have also gone to lengths to avoid hackers and over-zealous fans from beating the system by capping the amount of streams counted per person as ten per day, or 70 per week. This leaves a single download carrying more weight per weekly round-up. Furthermore, a song will need to be streamed for over 30 seconds to count. Changes look set to be widespread and significant in their effect. Channel 4 has pointed out that the current number one, Ella Henderson’s “Ghost”, would only reach number 22 if streaming data were to be included at present. On top of this, the doors to the top of the charts have been flung open and now artists from disparate genres have the chance to infiltrate higher than they have ever done before, transcending the hegemony imparted on the chart by the likes of Radio One.
But concerns have been raised among indie labels, who have long voiced concerns about the nature of streaming services and the fact that it is the major labels who disproportionally benefit in terms of revenue gained. Worries also include the fact that British artists, especially those on independent labels, will find themselves nudged out of the charts by US artists, leaving British music underrepresented in their own charts. Nevertheless, industry execs are keen to drive home the fact that streaming will level the playing field. As Kay Bayley, head of the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA), told Channel 4 news: “What we can definitely say is that streaming, to a degree, helps to neutralise the marketing of certain tracks.” In many respects, the filtering of digital data and the way in which it is applied is still in its infancy and the music industry is still grabbling with its copious complexities like a podgy toddler trying to comprehend A-level algebra.
These latest changes are supposed to “future-proof the charts”, as Official Charts Company boss Martin Talbot told BBC News. As the changes are rolled out, inevitable tweaks will need to be made and we should all hope that the UK Chart Company have made a thoroughly researched and informed advancement rather than adhering to the whims of the very streaming services that Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke derided as a “last desperate fart of a dying corpse”.