Why the Official Charts are officially broken
Nicki Minaj's Twitter feed isn’t a place I regularly find myself, but this week the self-proclaimed ‘kween’ unleashed a series of rambling tweets about the uselessness of new album chart metrics which were equal parts hilarity and truth that we thought worth discussing.
To briefly sum up what happened; one vacuous manufactured pop artist (Minaj) released an album that was beaten to Number One by another vacuous manufactured pop artist (Travis Scott) and she claimed that this was because he’d incentivised album sales among fans by bundling season ticked ‘tour passes’ IE tickets to shows that hadn’t even been announced yet and extra merchandise like sweatshirts with copies of the album.
My favourite quote of the spat was: , “What we’re not gonna do is have that Auto-Tune man selling fucking sweaters telling you he sold half a million albums, because he fucking didn’t. You stupid fuck. You got your fucking homeboy talking for you and you got your girlfriend selling tour passes.” Moronic stuff.
It’s rare that I’d agree with Nikki Minaj on anything but am often frustrated that in the music business that we’re more focused on selling clothing than our core product. If you wanna sell t-shirts, become a fucking fashion designer, if you wanna make music, head to the studio. The rules vary around the world on what you can bundle with albums as incentives but it seems that this incident has highlighted a few key problems that technology has thrown into the mix when it comes to the chart metrics.
Streaming’s had a huge impact on the charts, not only because it’s made music become more single-focused and less album-focused but also because the charts are now littered with ‘high-streaming’ material that isn’t new. Right now if I look at the album charts Ed Sheehan’s Divide is at number 26. That’s been out for over a year and a half and hasn’t really left the Top 40 since. This is because streams count towards sales figures despite no one having actually purchased anything. The charts being littered with legacy material has, as one friend put it, meant that ‘You’re no longer going up against all the music that was released that week, you’re going up against all the music that was ever released’.
So simply saying ‘sales’ doesn’t cut it when the majority of music consumption is now happening on streaming services. How, for instance, could you say that someone going and buying a deluxe vinyl edition of an album should register in the charts in the same way as someone streaming that same album? So we now have new metrics that greater incentivise physical sales and download sales over streaming. 1500 streams equals ten download tracks sales which is the same as one album sale.
Then there’s the gatekeepers. We’ve now handed an insane amount of promotional power over to a number of streaming services who dangle that power like the sword of fucking Damocles over the heads of artists that dare defy them. In this case poor old Minaj claimed in a tweet “Spotify put drake’s face on every playlist but told me they’d have to teach me a lesson for playing my music 10 mins early on #QueenRadio [her show on Beats]. Even tho they’ve been giving away my music for free for years & I am one of the top Spotify artists of all time.”
In effect, we’ve created an environment that rewards consumption of music over any connected joy of that music. If millions of people listened to a song being played on a radio station back in the day and didn’t go out and purchase the single or the album then it didn’t make it into the charts. Now, we have that same mentality with playlisting but all those people listening to a song or album once and muttering ‘what a load of shit’ have then contributed to it charting in the Top ten. So increasingly the charts are a place that we’re rewarding good marketing over good music.