Dissecting the new chart rules

Tanyel Gumushan /
Jun 29, 2017 / Music

There’s that saying, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Unfortunately, a lot of people have been saying that the Official Single Charts have been broken for years, and now they’re trying to fix it. And have potentially made it worse. This July, the rules are getting tweaked to ensure that artists can only have three songs on the official top 100 chart at any one time.

Sounds fair, that. The rules have come into play after what journalists like to call ‘the Ed Sheeran effect’ after all sixteen of the tracks on his best-selling album,  ÷, propelled into the charts. So, here’s the problem. First and foremost the singles charts is not totally limited to released ‘singles’, you know, those tracks where artists appear on Graham Norton and The One Show to plug. For songs to enter the ‘singles chart’ they quite simply have to exist and be listened to. Therefore, when an album is released and streamed in its entirety each song has roughly equal listens and steadily they all climb their way up the charts individually creating an Ed Sheeran sized traffic jam after hitting The Weeknd up front. The official ‘singles’ from the album that are released a few weeks, or even months beforehand as a teaser, already have a head start, and sometimes make double appearances as the single version and album version climb.

Some may say that the charts have been broken by including streaming. But quite simply, the closing down of Woolworths – the only place I remember buying single CDs – and the quick decline of HMV stores confirm that the physical CD has no place in our very handheld world. Streaming fits in with the rush of today. We like to pop in earphones and hold our phones and control what we hear on our commute and in the gym. Streaming, as staple as it is already in most of our lives, is still rapidly growing. Since January 2016, the number of songs being streamed worldwide per week has doubled to 1.2 billion.

The charts adapted to this. At the moment, the chart is calculated through a combination of physical sales, digital sales and streams – with 150 streams counting as one sale. Bare in mind that this number was increased from 100 streams to try and boot Drake out of the charts last year. Now, the new rules will see that once a song starts to lose popularity after a number of weeks, its streams will double to 300:1, giving it a much tougher fight for survival. The charts hope that this will allow space for new artists to creep through the woodwork and find their tracks positioned within the charts, squeezing in against the big guns. Tests have suggested that the changes should increase the number of chart artists by 20% and chart hits by 11%.

This could even shake up the entire point of the charts. The official singles charts have never been about discovery. They’re dominated by the Simon Cowell dream factory artists, regurgitated Disney stars, and one shot wonders who did that one song on the advert. This is because the charts are for quick digestion, they’re listened to passively on the car radio by people without an aux chord. They’re quick fired bullets of feel good pop with niggling hooks and big choruses that make them infectious and clinging to their chart spot. Once there, their fans also ensure that they never leave. At the same time, streaming services are throwing together algorithm playlists for every moment throughout their user’s day. With so many songs to choose from, the chances of 150 people getting the same song on their daily playlist are slim to equal that one sale.

The shake-up of course, has its positives. I mean, at least it’s trying, and at least it’s acknowledging the changing habits of listeners. But it does have its flaws. Take The Killers for example, ‘Mr Brightside’ has never once left the charts and at the time of writing, it’s sitting smug at 83. So if The Killers were to release a new album, and preview it with the average three singles before release, one wouldn’t count and ‘Mr Brightside’ could even prevent a track from entering the charts. The new system doesn’t put an end to the double listings either, which are even more agitating now they take up two of the three spots for an artist.

It seems as though there has been one solution staring us in the face the entire time. Let the single charts be purely for the singles. Make artists have to officially release a single for it to qualify. I’m not even talking having to have a promo campaign for it, though some artwork is always nice. Just acknowledgement that X is the track that is a single, and going to be used to push the artist. Give it its own square on the Spotify profile. Let album tracks be exactly that and contribute to the album charts until they’re decided to be released. After all, it is the singles chart.

Words by Tanyel Gumushan

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