Oct
22

Billboard’s Bill Werde Answers Critics of New Chart Rules

October 22, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  20 Comments

On Friday Jessica Northey of CM Chat and Rita Ballou of Rawhide & Velvet interviewed Billboard Magazine’s editorial director Bill Werde about various topics, including the controversial new rules (at least in some circles) on how Billboard is tabulating the rankings on country’s “Hot 100″ songs chart (see full interview below). Werde himself has been in the cross hairs of some country music fans who are worried the new system favors crossover pop artists, and hinders more traditional and up-and-coming independent artists.

Instead of hiding behind Billboard’s walls, Bill Werde has been engaging concerned fans since the rule re-organization was announced, through his Twitter account, and in Friday’s live video discussion format. Though Werde may have disappointed some folks with the answers he gave about the new chart rules, he proved himself open for feedback, opinions, and criticism from the other side, eager to engage a discussion and explain how Billboard came to its conclusions.

Bill Werde also offered some insight on his opinions of how country radio has been trending toward pop for a while, and how not everybody in the industry is happy about that.

It’s clear to me that over the last 10-15 years, there’s been a change in the style of what country radio plays. And there’s certainly plenty of people that I talk to that privately because they work in the business and they don’t want everyone to know this, but that don’t like that change, that say country music is going pop. But that’s what’s happening right now at this moment, this doesn’t mean it’s going to be this way forever. But right now country radio, country music IS going pop a little bit.

Bill was continuously cracking jokes throughout the interview relating to conspiracy theories that the new chart rules came about to purposely undermine Carrie Underwood, and were put in place to benefit Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records, and specifically Taylor Swift.  “I’m here to tell you right now that I don’t care that much about Taylor Swift,” Bill joshed wile holding up the cover of the latest Billboard edition proclaiming Taylor Swift’s “big tent.” But Bill was serious when addressing accusations that the new rules were meant to undermine certain artists.

We announced these rule changes weeks ago. And we’ve been talking to the industry for months. There was certainly no timing element. This notion that I’m somehow best friends with Scott Borchetta or whatever? I think Scott’s a great guy, I wish I had his head of hair. He’s making a lot of the right moves in the music business right now. But the last time I talked to Scott was I don’t know when, and it certainly wasn’t around these chart changes.

It doesn’t behoove my brand to do anything that lacks integrity. We are as good as our charts, and I wouldn’t in a million years do anything that would call into question if we’re being fair and honest.

Bill also pointed out how the old model of the Billboard country song chart was based almost solely on airplay, and how that put the power of the charts in the hands of a few select radio programmers.

It’s not fans choosing the genres of songs, radio programmers are choosing the genres of songs. And these days, “radio programmers” means frankly a small group of people in a centralized giant corporation for the most part, making the choice about if a song is playable on radio or not. Whereas using Spotify and other streaming services, I think that much better captures what fans are choosing to engage with.

As far as any opportunity of a revision to Billboard’s new song chart rules, Werde did not seem to leave open that possibility. “I am completely at peace with that decision, the business is at peace with that decision.” However Bill also explained that the way Billboard’s charts are formulated is always in a state of flux, and that feedback and engagement with country’s fan base is something valued by Billboard.

We’ve continuously evolved the charts. Billboard’s 118-years-old, we’ve been charting music for about 60 of those years, and there hasn’t been probably more than a 6 month period where we haven’t made some changes to the charts, ever.

There were definitely fans that asked certain questions on Twitter that made me change the way I thought about things, or made me go back to Silvio (Billboard’s chart director) and say, “Did we think about this, this way?” And Silvio would have a great answer.

Werde had a few misses. He never addressed the issue of Taylor Swift’s song “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” being labeled as pop by her own label, and why the pop mix of the song is appearing on the country chart. He also attributed 98% of the country opposition to the new Billboard chart rules to Carrie Underwood fans, or people who, “track back very quickly to being Carrie Underwood fans,” when Saving Country Music, its readership, and others would not fit in that demographic whatsoever.

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As someone favoring some elements of the new Billboard song chart rules, and opposing others like the cross genre airplay rule, I believe it is time for pragmatism to attempt to persuade Billboard in a direction to make the charts more equitable to all country artists in the future. Billboard is giving no signs of reversing ship, and as Bill Werde said on Friday, “I like the engagement and I learn things from fans all the time. But that said, respect and regard should be a two-way street.”

So instead of shaking fists, we should follow Bill’s advice and, “Give this chart change a few weeks.” If the anomalies show up with Taylor Swift’s album release that some anticipate–that she could completely dominate the chart with every single song off of her new album based on digital downloads alone–this and other events could force Billboard to tweak or re-evaluate rules in the future, like Billboard did when Lady Gaga sold an album for 99 cents, unfairly inflating her sales.

Traditional country fans, and fans of up-and-coming artists still have a right to be disappointed with the new rules, but the best way at this point to resolve the issues with Billboard’s country charts may not be to float conspiracy theories and gnash teeth, but to become more engaged with an entity that appears to be willing to engage with them, as long as the respect is a two way street. The other important thing is to make sure the issues with the “Hot 100″ country chart are not forgotten, or that country doesn’t accept Billboard’s “Country Airplay” chart as a consolation prize.

20 Comments to “Billboard’s Bill Werde Answers Critics of New Chart Rules”

  • My only major issue with the new system is the inclusion of pop AirPlay. Including sales and streaming makes sense but since those already favor crossover artists including pop AirPlay swings the pendulum too far to the crossover acts. If I believed the system were fair then it really wouldn’t matter if one artist were to dominate the chart. It would be boring but not inaccurate or unjust.

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  • Thank you for this great post with the exception that “Bill didn’t answer certain questions” this TWANGOUT wasn’t arranged for him to get grilled on the chart changes, Carrie or Taylor. He was invited over a month before the announcement. Rita and I think he is an interesting person…only 38 and editorial director of Billboard, we thought it would be fun to ask him about that and some fun/silly questions, cause well, it’s our show and that is the tone we want to set.
    I am really grateful to you for this post!!!! sending hugs!

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    • No I completely understand. I think Bill was very open to talking about the country charts situation even though that wasn’t necessarily what he signed up for, or what the focus of the interview was supposed to be, and his openness and willing to engage issues was a sign of character and respect for the issues at hand. Some of the questions he “didn’t answer” were just because it probably wasn’t a proper forum. Bill and others may have felt he’d already addressed many of the concerns about the charts, but I and other folks had not been involved in any of the Twitter activity or seen his Tumblr post going into the interview, and so this was the first time for us to address the topic. In the end I felt most of the concerns were addressed, even if they weren’t addressed to my exact liking, and it went a long way toward dispelling some myths and understanding the issue more clearly.

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  • “If the anomalies show up with Taylor Swift’s album release that some anticipate–that she could completely dominate the chart with every single song off of her new album based on digital downloads alone–this and other events could force Billboard to tweak or re-evaluate rules in the future…”

    Boy, I sure hope so — otherwise, I imagine a whole album like hers could be up there for months!

    I was just thinking about the chart changes again this morning… It seems kinda weird to me that, when it comes to counting digital sales, it won’t just be songs that have been officially released as singles, but any and all individual album tracks that can be bought and downloaded — I agree with Susan, it could make for some pretty monotonous charts.

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    • This is an important rule because it could take away the ability for some artists, especially artists like Taylor Swift, to control the way her music is disseminated to the public. Instead of releasing “singles” over time that slowly make their way onto the chart and stay there for a while, they will all show up at once, splaying the attention for her songs across every one on the album as opposed to the song her and her label want people to pay attention to right now. Artists need the “single” tool to keep attention flowing to their album over the album’s life. It’s been two years since Taylor last album, and it will probably be two more for her next one. So it is imperative that she can release the music on the album to the public slowly, instead of having her album be a flash in the pan right around its release. You can also release singles around time the songs may appear in movies, etc. as marketing tools I do think this rule could have some negative effects on the single, which is already hurting to some extent with the slow deterioration of radio’s relevancy and the emergence of online streaming services.

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  • Just so you know billboard did change the rules after Lady Gaga so that full albums sold for 4.99$ or less don’t count. They say that in the issue that Taylor’s in btw.

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    • Bill talked about that in the interview as well and that is why I referenced it. This proves to me that if there’s either wild anomalies or attempts to manipulate the charts, Billboard will attempt to rectify them.

      As a side note, Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now” was released for $3.99 when it first came out. Today is her “Red” release day, and it is at full price. It is also not available in certain places. For example you can’t buy the MP3′s on Amazon.

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  • if i buy an album from itunes does every song on that album then get counted on the singles chart?
    i used to be a huge sprinsteen fan and would buy the album as soon as it was released and then every single as well just so i could get the b-side which was always a song you couldnt get except as part of the single. between exclusive b-sides and controlling radio play wouldnt that help artists have some say in how long their album has a presence on the charts? assuming itunes doesnt demand full price for the b-side

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    • Yes it does, but we no longer can look at Billboard’s “Hot 100″ as a singles chart, because it includes every song whether it’s been released as a single or not. This is one of those instances where they will refer you to the radio airplay chart to check the performance of singles.

      I’m not totally sure how Springsteen did it, but bonus tracks have now gone on to replace “B sides” and you can usually only get them if you either buy a physical copy, or “deluxe” sets, etc. This is a way to entice consumers to not just download the basic album in MP3 form, but to get them to buy it at a higher price.

      I know a while back, there was a controversy involving Taylor Swift because she released a special edition of “Fearless” I believe well after it had originally been released, and it included extra songs that the only way you could get was by buying this deluxe set. Problem was, people already had the original songs because they bought the original album. So in essence, they had to buy many songs twice to get the bonus tracks. ALSO, under the new Billboard system, this would mean if they bought them as downloads, that those songs would count twice in the Billboard chart. This is anther wrinkle I hadn’t thought of.

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      • Actually, it only includes songs that are being actively promoted, either as a single or part of a record. This loophole prevented Jeff Buckley’s 1994 cover of “Hallelujah” from appearing on the Hot 100 in 2008 even though it topped the digital songs chart – his label never promoted it so it never charted. It isn’t common that it happens, but it does happen.

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        • I don’t know, maybe under the old rules, but from what I understand Billboard is aggregating numbers from everywhere and is showing no deference of whether a label is pushing it or not. That is why every single song on Mumford & Son’s latest album charted on the rock chart under the same rules. It may have been that way in 2008, but their new rules are such a wholesale change, I don’t think it matter anymore.

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          • They count those as part because the songs are promoted as part of a record; once the album stops being promoted, they would be ineligible to chart. Buckley was long dead when his song got big and his record label didn’t promote it to radio or digital, so it makes sense it wouldn’t count. Basically, the only thing the rule affects is old songs that gain popularity but aren’t promoted. Perhaps you are right that they changed it, but the rule did exist until at least recently.

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      • Actually…no, if you buy an entire album as a unit, the individual songs do not count towards the “singles” chart. Only if you bought each of them individually. Also the “complete the album” promo iTunes does negates previous singles sales – that’s why you see radio singles drop the week an album comes out.

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  • Spin also is taking issue with the new chart as it pertains to rap.

    http://www.spin.com/#blogs/how-did-psys-gangnam-style-become-the-no-1-rap-song-in-the-country

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    • If I was a rap fan right now, I’d be flaming mad some bit act is crashing my charts. R&B fans are mad because a pop artist Rhianna is at the top of their charts. Country is mad because of Swift. Rock because of Mumford & Sons. This isn’t just a gaggle of pissed off Carrie Underwood fans, and this issue is not going away. It will only get worse when the new song charts come out and Swift is all over them. The New York Times interviewed me about this issue yesterday and is going to be running a story about it as well. Kudos to Billboard for updating their charts, but the new system needs some serious tweaks, or we might be looking at the biggest systemic reduction in the music world we’ve ever seen.

      I can’t stress enough the seriousness of this issue.

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      • I tweeted to Bill Werde asking one question – How can Adele be in the top-10 of the triple-A chart (one of the rock radio formats) and be completely absent from the Rock Songs chart? And train disappeared from an inflated #4 position to nothing. No response. I think he’s using the Carrie/Taylor thing as an excuse. As a subscriber to the magazine for over 10 years (and at quite a cost to me), I feel swindled. Especially since the “Country Airplay” isn’t printed in their paper issue of the mag.

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        • I sent an email and got no answer on that same topic – if they are being supported by rock radio, why not include them? Adele had all four of her singles chart on Triple A, three of them topping it, and she also had three songs chart on Alternative as well (reaching a high of 21, incidentally). And Train, while certainly leaning away from rock these days, has always been supported by Triple A and had five songs chart on Mainstream Rock and two chart on Alternative over their career. To their credit, “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” is certainly more guitar and rock-oriented than most pop singles these days. But the point stands – if Triple A is a rock format, why are the songs charting there not on the rock chart?

          Even odder is they are charting non-rock artists – Lana Del Ray (certainly NOT a rock artist by any stretch of the imagination), Florence + The Machine, and Ed Sheeran are all charting. How are any of these more ‘rock’ than Train or Adele? Their criteria for these charts is simply maddening.

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  • Has anyone seen the recent Bilboard.biz? Talk about trying to justify their new Hot Country Songs Chart with misinformation! They obvious have a love fest for T. Swift/SB/BM, look no further than the ads and their articles. Whatever…. But what about the true effect of this chart for Country music? Nothing is mentioned about them factoring in other genre (ie. pop) airplay/sales. Why don’t they just address the reporting of Country data separately from other genres? Or… at least list the weight of the factors used in compiling this new non-country chart for the public’s review?

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