On The Logistics Of Creating Your Own Charts

It is easy to criticize a company like Billboard when they make arbitrary decisions about what sort of streaming they consider to be the most important, but creating music charts is not an easy business.  It is a lot harder because some of the components of the data are proprietary because knowledge predictably can be profitable for some companies and they are not inclined to give up that information easily.  Still, it is not difficult to see that one could create any number of charts that could rival Billboard based on how one wanted to count various matters.  Assuming that one could get statistics for streaming, radio, and sales in a timely fashion, there are at least a few ways that one could create one’s own chart while making the rules explicit.  Indeed, seeing the effect of making different decisions would be a very interesting way to ponder how one is to measure that elusive quality that is known as popularity in a fair and even-handed manner, especially given the changes involved in listening and buying habits throughout the generations.

First of all, in constructing a chart itself, one has to answer the question of how one wants to count streams, sales, and radio.  How does one want to count on-demand streams versus passive streams?  Does one want to count user-generated content generously or not at all?  How does one want to count different eras of music that have different listening habits?  How heavily does one want to weight sales?  Does one want to count physical sales as having any impact on the tracks included in the albums or not?  All of these questions can be answered in very different ways.  How does one want to treat album bombs, where an artist releases an album and numerous songs are streamed heavily enough to chart?  Does one want to limit the amount of songs that can chart, or limit the amount of time a song can remain on the chart through recurrency rules?  Different charts have different answers on these matters, depending on the chart.

Logistical matters weigh heavily here.  Assuming one had a variety of data, one could try to slice up the data of sales, streams, and radio play into as many different charts as possible to get an understanding of the larger patterns that were present in each.  Different generations and different genres deal with music in a different way.  For example, country music radio tends to reduce songs dramatically after they hit #1 for massive turnover at the top.  On the other hand, adult contemporary radio tends to be heavily skewed in favor of songs that remain at the top of the charts for seemingly forever, and streaming patterns often show people streaming songs consistently for a great many weeks.  Older bands tend to have fans who buy more physical copies of albums on the first week that the album is released with a steep drop off afterwards, which dramatically affects how such matters are counted, while a great many contemporary rap albums sell almost no physical copies and have a lot of streaming.  How to balance these different concerns is sometimes a complex manner, assuming one wants to balance them and take a fair measure of popularity.

How one chooses to measure music depends in large part on one’s purposes.  In the United States, radio has always been included, which is nearly if not entirely unique among major nations, because of the way that radio has been an essential aspect of the strategy of promoting songs by record labels.  For most countries, sales (and more recently streaming) is all that matters because customers generally have some choice as far as that goes.  No choices are without some kind of trade-off when it comes to longevity or seasonal patterns or genres behaving differently or different rules benefiting different musicians or genres more than others.  Then one has the matter of year-end charts and how to rank songs on a year-over-year or decade-over-decade way, and the question of whether one uses real points which will vary widely from week-to-week or era-to-era or whether one will use inverse points which may disguise the spread that actually exists between songs.  But if you run the chart, you have to make those decisions and deal with the inevitable complaints.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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