As a child of the nineties, I could imagine nothing more exciting than one day seeing my name at the top of the Billboard 200. A great deal of Berklee students must have felt the same excitement hoping that they could maybe one day reach that level of success. That being said, I believe most of us at Berklee are disheartened by the waning appearance of Billboard Magazine. It seems that every month a thinner version of the periodical is released. As a publication experiences the shift in both the music industry and the print industry, does a magazine like Billboard still have an important role in popular culture?
In the days when boy bands reigned and teenage culture was fairly homogenous, the Billboard 200 was the end all be all for judging an artist’s success. Rockers, rappers, crooners and divas were all represented on the charts and the top albums were selling such a large volume of albums that it made them impossible to go unnoticed. The Billboard 200 could easily measure who was successful in the industry because album sales were the biggest source of revenue for labels and top artists alike. But as those revenue streams shift, Billboard charts are becoming less relevant. An artist like Joe Purdy (who has been featured on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack) can make a six-figure income without ever reaching the charts.
What’s happening to Billboard is similar to what has happened to traditional record label models. Both Billboard and major labels once shared the singular focus of album sales and now those albums aren’t selling- or they are going out and making money in a myriad of new ways. Because it seems the success is not as formulaic, it would be very difficult for Billboard to create a new chart that tracks the top grossing artist. Now that it is common for artists and labels to share in the revenue from sync licenses, concert ticket sales, merchandise and online radio royalties how can the top artists of our time even be determined?
While it’s possible that the Billboard charts aren’t as on target as they once were, Billboard is branching out in new directions. Billboard.com offers the instant gratification that modern audiophiles crave; with reports of RIAA certifications and Nielsen SoundScan information available for sale through the Billboard.biz section of the site. As a publication that has seen the music industry through some of its biggest transitions, the writers at Billboard have some important things to say about the direction the music industry is taking. Even though some artist’s success goes unnoticed in the charts, in the past year Billboard has been among the first to report on new and creative distribution methods; from Ingrid Michaelson overnight success (done without a record label) to Radiohead’s name your own price model (before they reached number one on the charts).
Maybe we are no longer able to define success in the music industry because we aren’t looking in the right places for success. In his keynote at this years Grammy Northwest MusicTech Summit, Ian Rogers (CEO of Topspin) explained that worrying about a decrease in revenue from CD sales is like worrying about cassette sales in 1995. With iPod sales up 59%, a 35% increase in vinyl LP sales and concert ticket sales at an all time high, we simply need to look in a new direction. Although Billboard charts may not be able to track this revenue, the articles after the charts provide some of the best analysis out there. It may not be as thick as it once was, but neither are iPods, laptops or cellphones. Billboard Magazine is still a force to be reckoned with.
By Tiffany Peon
Topspin. GRAMMY Northwest MusicTech Summit Keynote. 17 Nov. 2008. 30 Nov. 2008 .