Billboard’s New Album Chart Rules Will Affect Your Favorite Artists
On December 4th, Billboard will roll out new changes to their Billboard 200 album chart, and the effect will be big on some of your favorite music artists, including legends like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, and up-and-comers like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. The changes will be the first major overhaul to the album chart since 1991, and will send pop stars and artists whose fans favor streaming to much higher positions and allow them to stay there for longer, while artists whose fans prefer to buy physical, cohesive albums or downloads will be diminished.
As first explained by Saving Country Music in September, the new chart rules (dubbed initially as a ‘Consumption Chart’) take into consideration the streaming of songs when rating the overall impact of an album. 1,500 songs streams on services such as Spotify, Google Play, Beats, Rhapsody, the new YouTube Music Key, or any other streamers will count as the equivalent of one album sale, even if those streams are all for only one song. The chart change is meant to take into account the new reality of how music is consumed, and give a boost to artists whose albums get buried on Billboard album charts because of poor sales of cohesive albums.
A big differences between what was initially reported about the upcoming changes and what were highlighted in a New York Times feature on the charts posted late Wednesday (11-19) is that there won’t be an autonomous ‘Consumption Chart,’ but changes directly to the Billboard 200.
It is also left ambiguous at the moment if there will still be dedicated album charts that do not take into account streaming. Original reports had album charts remaining, but likely losing relevancy with the implementation of the new chart system. There’s also no news at the moment if the changes will also be implemented for Billboard’s genre specific album charts.
Recently we have seen older country artists such as Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Billy Joe Shaver set career chart records with their album releases because these artist’s older fan bases are one of the few demographics left that actually buy albums. But since these artist’s streaming footprint is significantly less, these new chart rules would see them fare significantly worse compared to the current system.
Same could be said for many independent artists like Old Crow Medicine Show, Sturgill Simpson or Jason Isbell, whose fan bases are more likely to buy physical albums to help support the artist. These artists have seen significant boosts from chart performances recently, and this will be diminished under the new system. Artists who rely heavily on vinyl sales like Jack White will also see diminishing returns from the new charting system.
Since these charts are used to gauge the importance and impact an artist has in the marketplace, a diminishing of these artists on the charts could affect their overall sales, or their acknowledgement by the industry. The new system will create even a greater discrepancy between the have’s and have not’s of music, and see more attention paid to the biggest artists, the biggest songs, and the biggest albums.
On the flip side, many artists who’ve arguably been treated poorly because their music depends mostly on streaming will benefit from the new system, and some change was probably warranted to account for consumers’ changing behavior. Also the chart will account for listening behaviors beyond the initial sale. Since streaming behavior happens for much longer after an album is released, it could give a more accurate portrayal of the importance of an album beyond the release date. But of course, there’s no way to gauge how many times a consumer who purchases a physical or downloaded copy listens after the purchase date, putting artists whose fans bases buy physical at a disadvantage, beyond getting a much bigger credit in the charts for the physical sale initially.
Some examples given of who would benefit under mock ups of the new chart system show artists such as EDM duo Disclosure and their album Settle going from #213 on the album chart based purely off of sales, all the way up to #64 based off of album equivalent streams and plays. That is a 149-spot difference just from the new reporting method. Another example is Katy Perry’s album Prism, which moved from #61 to #16 in early projections. But according to David Bakula of Nielson Soundscan—the company partnering with Billboard on the new chart formula—Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 would still be safe at #1 even though she has chosen to exit the streaming business on Spotify.
When Billboard implemented sweeping changes to their song chart configurations in October of 2012, it was predicted at the time by many that these changes would fundamentally modify the industry in historic ways, ushering in an era where popular American music would rapidly succumb to the monogenre, and distinctions of separate genres would slowly become irrelevant. Artists who did not occupy the “crossover” realm would see diminished significance, and popular music would all begin to sound the same.
Subsequently that is exactly what we have seen, and the fingerprints of Billboard 2012’s rules changes can be found all over malevolent trends in country music and beyond, including the rise of “Bro-Country,” the institution of rap and EDM elements in country in a widespread manner, and the continued struggles of the genre to support and develop female artists. The new rules have also affected Billboard’s rap charts and other genres, and have been aided by the addition of YouTube data in 2013.
Once the new charts are published on December 4th we’ll know more. But once again it is the little guy, the legend, and the up-and-comer that gets squeezed as the industry retools to face the new reality of music streaming.
November 19, 2014 @ 7:43 pm
For Billboard’s chart purposes the chart year always starts with the first week in December. I guess it’s so they can put out a year end chart the last week in December.
November 19, 2014 @ 9:16 pm
Thanks for the clarification.
November 19, 2014 @ 7:56 pm
As much as this definitely does annoy me – Billboard’s choices to fiddle with the charts rarely goes well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve done enough aggregate testing to see how various records would fare – there is one thing about this that I’ve been hammering on for months now, and that is that country music, especially in the indie and alternative scenes, NEEDS to increase its web presence. I see absolutely no goddamn reason this couldn’t work in some manner for country music, but so few of them have an active, workable web-presence, mostly thanks the genre’s slow embrace of internet promotion.
And it’s costing the genre, it really is. Compare to hip-hop or EDM or even metal. A rap artist who has buzz will accrue millions of hits on YouTube, will have multiple blogs disseminating news, and will have hundreds of thousands of fans cultivated through web presence alone – I see it every goddamn year with the XXL Freshman List, and we’re not talking stellar rap talents showing up there whatsoever.
In contrast, probably the biggest ‘indie’ country act this year is Sturgill Simpson – and he’d be lucky to pull in twenty percent of a d-list rapper with buzz. Or let me put it like this – when I have more YouTube subscribers than some of the country artists I’m covering, that’s a real problem. Most don’t have channels or any consistent promotion, and throughout the course of this year, I’ve seen that there is an audience for it. Thus, if these Billboard changes are going to force country into the modern era, at least for promotion and marketing, that’s not a bad thing – and if they want to take a lesson from hip-hop and metal, they don’t have to compromise their identity or integrity to build an audience either.
November 19, 2014 @ 9:16 pm
The one sector of “country” (if you want to call it that) that does well in this realm is hick hop. Artists there take the rap model and get millions of views on their garbage videos and have massive cult followings that support them without industry help. The problem with the rest of grassroots around country is it’s too fractured and dogged by infighting. Everyone wants to use a different term, everyone has bad blood against someone else, and there isn’t enough strength to unite behind a common cause.
November 20, 2014 @ 7:09 am
Of course there’s infighting in country music – but once again, look at hip-hop, where you still have established territorial beefs between rappers, active feuds where they actively go back and forth at each other. The punk community has loads of this too, and while punk has receded a lot, the better acts have still used their web presence pretty damn powerfully.
My overall point is that increasing web presence and power can only be a good thing for indie and alternative country. Sure, ‘hick-hop’ stuff will do better in that environment thanks to a stable grassroots following – they’ll probably get there first, they’ve got a head start. But it’s in the other artists’ best interests to go in this direction, and they can do this on their own – they don’t need to rely on their peers to drive traffic to them.
November 19, 2014 @ 8:27 pm
Hey, I read this every day but I never commented. Can Trigger please explain how Cole Swindell’s freakin’ EP with the douchiest pose I’ve ever seen is currently at the top of the “country” album charts? Has anybody else noticed this?
November 19, 2014 @ 9:12 pm
Bullshit, that’s how.
That’s why these charts matter, because they decide whose mug gets shoved in the face of consumers on website and in magazines and such.
November 19, 2014 @ 9:27 pm
This is exactly why people are fooled into thinking dingbats like Cole SWINDLE are true country artists when we all know that’s not the case. Does anyone even pay attention to Billboard anymore? We know they’re a complete joke and absolutely useless.
November 20, 2014 @ 12:16 pm
That’s kind of what I’m thinking. Yes, these new rules will allow crossover acts even more exposure, as the rule changes in 2012 did, but people with more eclectic music tastes, such as, dare I say, people who frequent Saving Country Music, are going to continue purchasing music from artists they like, regardless of their chart position. In that case, I’d say things wouldn’t change that much.
Of course, I’m no expert, so I could be completely wrong.
November 19, 2014 @ 9:25 pm
So having one hit song that gets streamed a lot will now count towards album sales?
What a load of shit.
If anything, this makes me more motivated to actually purchasing albums from artists who are once again getting screwed.
November 19, 2014 @ 9:36 pm
Well this is problematic because how to we determine if the album is streamed or just a song. I think what we have here is a return to the 50 and before where there were not “albums” as they came to be know in the 60s and 70s but singles. I mean who needs to put out a whole album of medicore songs when you can just crank out some solid hits all in a row. Im some artists could on name alone just release and albums worth of singles and have say 10 hits in a row. I think Katy Perry could do this *groan* or TS *groan*. The album as an artistic statement is more or less dead in mainstream music top 40 music. The mono genre swallowed it up and now everyone just wants there piece of the current Gene Vincet, Bobby Vee, Ricky Nelson, Del Shannon pie. Keep the hits coming and don’t worry about content.
November 19, 2014 @ 9:55 pm
According to the Billboard.biz article there will still be a chart called Top Albums or something that uses the existing methodology. But I’m sure you are right that they will de-emphasize it in comparison to this new thing. Not sure about the genre albums charts and how they will be measured.
We’ll see how it goes but if the new chart seems shaky or just doesn’t make sense like has been the case a lot with the Hot Country Songs chart then most chart watchers will discount it.
The one thing that bothers me is as a long time chart watcher who likes the history of these charts it will be very annoying if we start getting a bunch new records and certs followed by articles about breaking long standing records like we saw with the whole ‘Cruise’ situation.
November 20, 2014 @ 3:04 am
Speaking of charts…
MetaModern is back up to #12 on iTunes purchased Country albums, but here’s the shocker:
High Top Mountain is sitting #35!
So not only is Sturgill impressing folks on his first real tour (with every venue sold out), people are buying his “back catalogue” too.
November 20, 2014 @ 3:21 am
What an awful idea, get ready for the headline “Justin Bieber spends his
456th week at the top of Billboard Top 200 album chart”
I understand, they will have a Stand Alone album chart.
Thats the one Im taking notice of.
November 20, 2014 @ 3:25 am
So the charts will be de determined by little kids?
well done Billboard, Simon Cowell must be dancing with delight.
November 20, 2014 @ 5:12 am
Haven’t the charts mostly be determined by kids over the years?
November 20, 2014 @ 10:41 am
no…not the charts… always stand surety for super high awesomeness
November 20, 2014 @ 11:02 am
Conclusion: Billboard is the devil.
November 20, 2014 @ 3:52 pm
Interesting that with most of the songs on the Billboard Hot Country Singles Chart being bro country and predominantly male the #1 one song for the last two weeks is by a female and about baptism.
November 20, 2014 @ 3:57 pm
Senior moment…meant Hot Country Songs Chart not singles.
November 20, 2014 @ 6:28 pm
Correct me if i’m wrong, but does this mean that lesser-known, excellent, REAL country artists like Josh Thompson, Jon Pardi, Easton Corbin, Craig Campbell, etc, are going to be swept under the rug even more than they have been recently?? If so, that’s going to make me sick……
November 20, 2014 @ 11:53 pm
Pretty much everyone who is not a big star looks to be affected by this adversely. The bigger stars will be at the top of the charts for longer, relegating everyone else to lower positions.
November 21, 2014 @ 7:02 pm
I think this may be the death of country music. “Superstar country artists” like Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton are good, but they are really crappy in comparison to true modern country artists like Josh Thompson, Craig Campbell, and Easton Corbin ; THEY are the ones that should be at the top of the charts. They barely receive any airplay as it is, I suppose all our favorite REAL modern country artists as we know it are toast, while talentless hacks like Cole Swindell and Sam Hunt will rule the charts. I’m seriously depressed over this crap. Screw billboard!
November 21, 2014 @ 4:04 pm
Does this mean, a new Billboard albums chart affect Avril Lavigne? If it does, then thank goodness. Avril Lavigne needs to big again. I’m tired of post 2002 outputs like Under My Skin and bratty songs like What The Hell. Long live Let Go and Girlfriend. We need Avril back. 😀
November 22, 2014 @ 12:35 pm
What demographic is first to embrace new technology ? Young
What demographic is first to embrace ANY new form of social mediadia ? Young
What demographic is most concerned with “fitting in “? The young
What demographic has ALWAYS dictated popular music tastes through spending habits ? What demographic do parents shell out for when it comes to concert tickets ?
What demographic is least equipped to discuss music genre differences ? What demographic is the most impressionable ? What demographic is least biased in their musical tastes ? What demographic does the music industry target and cater to the most and is it coincidental ? Youth youth youth youth and youth . Its a BUSINESS…not a cultural foundation.
November 24, 2014 @ 1:23 am
as long as taylor swift keeps all her trashy pop bubble-gum songs out of the country charts. ALL IS WELL.
March 11, 2015 @ 9:59 am
You said it. In fact, all Taylor Swift’s country songs like Tim McGraw and Ours should chart on pop billboard charts. Plus, all country music like Miranda Lambert should chart worldwide. I’m tired of country music only char US and Canada. Country music like Brad Paisley needs to chart other countries like Japan. Come on, public, pay attention to country music like Luke Bryan.