If you work anywhere in the music industry, you watch the Billboard charts like your life depends on them. That’s because it does.
Since the 1950s, the Billboard charts are how the industry has kept score. The two most important charts are the Hot 100 (the top 100 singles) and the Billboard 200 (the top 200 albums). They gauge week-to-week popularity of songs and CDs. Songs/albums are ranked using data from retail sales (via SoundScan, their point-of-purchase data collection mechanism) and radio airplay (via precise monitoring through a service called BDS Radio). The more a song/album sells or gets played on the radio, the higher its ranking. The higher a song/album’s position, the more momentum it picks up, leading to more sales and more airplay — and more profits for the label/artist.
It’s also a horse race for the public. If you’ve ever listened to Casey Kasem (or virtually any other radio countdown show) or just watched how your favourite album moved around the wall at your record store, you’ve seen how the charts work.
Make the charts and you’re in the game. If your song/album goes up, you’re winning. If it goes down, you’re losing. Not make them at all and you’re not a Big-Time Player.
But change may be coming. The Ultimate Chart is the product of Big Champagne, a company that tracks file-trading activity on P2P sites. They noticed that what was being illegally traded online — i.e. what was popular — differed greatly from which songs and artists appeared on Billboard. “Why aren’t we using that data in figuring out which songs are big and which aren’t?”
Big Champagne then started monitoring plays on MySpace, YouTube and Facebook. They looked at songs played on TV and those sold as ringtones. And when everything was compiled, big discrepancies emerged between what Billboard reported and what Big Champagne contended was reality with music consumers.
Record labels and retailers love this kind of data. A migration from traditional Billboard charts to the Ultimate Chart would have enormous repercussions for music — even if 99 per cent if consumers would be oblivious.
It’s another example of how the Internet is drastically changing everything about music.