One of the most interesting things about the UK music charts in the 2010s – well, certainly for a chart geek like me – is the way the rules are continually tweaked in response to the evolving way that people consume music.
When I was a kid, it was a lot simpler – you went to a physical shop like Virgin or HMV and bought a single on physical media, either on vinyl (which was fading in popularity by the time I was starting to buy singles in the early ’90s), cassette (this was known as a ‘cassingle’ – I have lots of them because they were a quid cheaper than the CD versions and my pocket money didn’t stretch very far!), or CD. One purchase of a physical piece of media equalled one sale.
In the late ’00s – after the music industry’s decade-long fight against illegal downloading that had finally been mitigated by the likes of iTunes and Amazon MP3 – download sales started counting towards the chart (who else remembers Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles’ attempt to test the new rules by getting all his listeners to download Billie Piper’s Honey To The Bee and get it back into the charts?) This spawned the golden era of internet campaigns to get certain songs to number one, the highlight being the infamous Christmas 2009 triumph of the campaign to get Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name to Christmas number one instead of the X Factor single.
That era has been over for a few years now, because of streaming. With downloads, it was still the case that one purchase equalled one sale. Streams are more complicated, and this is where all the tweaking has come in. For a while, it was set out that a hundred streams equalled one sale. Then, after every single track on Ed Sheeran’s Divide album entered the Top 20 in early 2017, it was decided that only tracks that were expressly promoted as singles would be eligible for the charts. This last week, there has been another change.
It’s now the case that paid streams count more than free streams (so if you have a paid Spotify account, your streams count more strongly towards the chart than if you have the free version with the homicide-inducingly irritating adverts). It’s also now the case, more interestingly, that video streaming counts towards the charts as well. Having listened to the latest chart from Friday 6th July, it’s not clear that this has had any immediate impact, but I’m hopeful that this new rule will encourage music artists to make more exciting videos in the hope that they’ll go viral – videos have, on the whole, been very uninspiring for a good few years now, and some artists don’t seem to bother making them at all anymore.
It’ll be interesting to see how this continues to evolve.