On Tuesday, January 16th, The Americana Music Association launched its brand new charting system with the help of technology company CDX. The new system will more easily and more accurately report the activity on Americana’s radio stations and shows across the Americana reporting network. Previously all reporting was done by hand, which left open the possibility of human error and oversight, and was a labor-intensive process. The Americana charts were also solely based around albums, and didn’t report on songs at all. So if Jason Isbell’s “If We Were Vampires” was played on an Americana station, the spin would not count towards that particular song, it would count towards Jason Isbell’s album, The Nashville Sound.
Now that has all changed. The CDX-Traction system listens to a minute of each song played using the online streams from the websites of Americana radio stations, and through song identification technology, logs the play into the system. Through this system, CDX is able to track plays of Americana songs in real time, and then aggregate that data into weekly charts. The company is currently operating a similar system in the Texas Music space, and offers a similar service for mainstream country.
Along with composing the new Americana radio chart, the CDX-Traction system will also allow industry professionals such as artists managers, record labels, booking agents, and journalists to access to spin data in real time. This will allow these industry professionals to see where and when songs are being played—invaluable information for an artist who may want to see what markets are playing their music to know where to route a tour, or to gauge the appeal of a certain track. The new approach could also allow Americana artists to have a more singles-based approach to releasing music if they so choose.
One of the concerns from some about the new chart system was if it would be a fair representation of what Americana is, which is sometimes a difficult debate point. Looking at the new songs and albums chart, it appears the way many would likely expect an Americana chart to look like, with Chris Stapleton, Margo Price, and Jason Isbell coming in with the top songs for the week, and Chris Stapleton, Margo Price, and JD McPherson coming in with the top albums. You can see the full charts below.
The CDX Traction system seems to have jumped the biggest hurdle, which is navigating the sometimes murky waters of which artists should be considered Americana. Some were worried big names in the AAA radio format, or major rock stars like Ryan Adams, could dirty up the results. Unfortunately, this is still a dilemma Billboard seems to be grappling with after rebranding the folk chart to Americana in 2016. In the Top 20 of Billboard‘s Americana chart at the moment you can find Ed Sheeran, Hozier, back catalog albums from Simon & Garfunkel and Jim Croce, and a gaggle of other albums that confuse exactly what Americana is supposed to be as opposed to helping define it like the new radio charts do.
Pinning the talent pool to what is represented by the new and improved Americana radio charts would be a great way for Billboard to bring their Americana chart back into relevancy where it can be a useful tool for industry and fans as opposed to a confusing mess of names assembled together simply because performers play primarily acoustic guitars.
What may make the situation for Billboard even more difficult in the coming weeks is pop superstar Justin Timberlake calling his new record Man of the Woods, “Modern Americana with 808s” in a recent teaser video. The “808” is in reference to a popular drum machine console. So will Billboard put Man of the Woods on the Americana charts?
Americana continues to grow as a healthy and commercially relevant alternative to mainstream country, and not just where newer artists get their start, and older artists get put out to pasture. The new, improved charts will help the genre better measure who is excelling, give fans a much better reference point of what they should be checking out, and maybe most importantly, help put parameters around a genre whose biggest obstacle is often how to define itself.