How is streaming damaging the credibility of the Official Charts?

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Image courtesy of 'downloadsource.fr' via Flickr

Streaming figures were first included in the UK chart in summer 2014. Since then, we have experienced a different kind of chart, with periods of monopoly being seen much more frequently than before this change. This is because streaming counts per listen, whereas you can only get a single sale per person. Of course, there are measures in place so that streams carry less weight – 150 streams = 1 sale (as of Jan 2017) – but this seems to have done little to stop the influence of streaming on the charts.

Streaming means it is very difficult to beat a song to Number 1. This can be seen with the record for the number of consecutive weeks at Number 1 being broken by Drake in summer 2016 (One Dance lasted 15 weeks) and then almost equalled by Shape of You (14 weeks, non-consecutive) over the last few months. It is now very rare to see a song stay at the top of the chart for only a week. Before Harry Styles’ Sign of the Times and Clean Bandit’s Symphony did so recently, no song since Zayn’s Pillowtalk (in February 2016) has lasted only one week at Number 1.

The race for Number 1 isn’t the only thing that’s changing… Songs now remain in the chart for much longer: One Dance, for instance, remained in the Top 100 in the UK for over a year (56 weeks). The availability of a full album through streaming exacerbates this, as it means that an artist can have almost total domination over the chart. In March 2017, 37 of the Top 65 were either from More Life (Drake) or Ed Sheeran’s Divide [Deluxe]. This means that if you listen to the chart as it is announced each week, you’re hearing the same songs, in a slightly different order.

That can’t be very entertaining for a listener, or even the presenters: Greg James (host of the Official Chart Show on BBC Radio 1) at times became audibly anguished and arguably bored by announcing the monotony of Ed Sheeran’s tenure at UK Number 1. With people losing interest in the Official Chart, it becomes no more than a statistic rather than an exciting spectacle to watch or listen. This is a far cry from it being the pinnacle of any week in music, as it has been since the Official Chart Company’s beginnings in 1969.

The industry seems to have accepted that the charts are becoming less indicative of what is actually being listened to, with a lot of emphasis now put on monthly listeners or total streams when talking about up-and-coming artists or the popularity of new music. This could mean that the Official Chart as a showcase for music is coming to an end, as you are able to access the figures for streaming for all artists and songs rather than just the Top 20. As well as this, seeing the number of streams themselves, rather than a converted algorithm, is more reflective of an artist’s popularity. Moreover, streaming sites such as Spotify and Apple Music have access to worldwide chart data that they collate into playlists. This means that there is no real need to have the chart presented in the way it is now.

There is still a place for chart data in the modern music industry, but it doesn’t hold the same gravity that it once did. I can see the future of the chart being more grounded in statistics, leaving the promotion of the music itself to the streaming or radio services, rather than having a show to announce it. One area to grow into may be for the charts to become more specific to genres and forms of sale, such as the recently established ‘Vinyl’ and ‘Physical’ charts, as this means more artists may be able to get the acclaim they deserve.