Toppling the Old Music Rankings

Since the early evolution of the music industry, there has been a struggle to find a way to accurately measure success among artists. From this need, music charts emerged to provide the most up to date analysis. Charts direct consumers to the hottest albums to buy, and help record labels prioritize which artists

are best to invest in. For instance, the Billboard 200 analyzes record sales and airplay statistics gathered by Nielsen SoundScan and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and a list of rankings is produced.

Yet it seems the process of measuring an artist’s success by record sales and airplay is becoming irrelevant. The current industry is facing problems like the decline of physical and digital music sales and the rampant growth of piracy. This illegal music consumption cannot be adequately tracked, so the chart rankings have become skewed and inaccurate in terms of overall artist popularity amongst the mass audience.

The Ultimate Chart

BigChampagne, a media tracking company, recognized the need to reassess how to measure an artist’s success. It released the Ultimate Chart, which debuted at the New Music Seminar (NMS) in July 2010. In addition to tracking traditional sales and airplay, The Ultimate Chart considers a vast array of online statistics including streaming plays and social media activity on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Last.fm, and YouTube. The chart also recognizes other ways that fans access music by means of companies like Pandora, AOL, Yahoo, Amazon, and Clear Channel.

Through the Ultimate Chart, BigChampagne has attempted to exploit the importance of an artist’s online presence and fan base. However, even with these additional online statistics factored in, the same mega stars that top the Billboard 200 are also topping the Ultimate Chart. Artists like Pink, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and the Black Eyed Peas sweep the rankings on both charts. If the artists who have the best online presence are the same artists who have plenty of success in physical sales, what is the point of having both charts?

The Verge Chart

Fortunately, the New Year has brought new charts that stray from household names and focus on emerging artists that have yet to hit the mainstream. Earlier this month, the NMS debuted The Artists on the Verge Top 100 Chart which showcased artists that are “on the verge” of breaking into the industry. To determine the rankings, the chart analyzes music sales (physical and digital), ticket sales, frequency of gigs, touring history, merchandise sales, media (both online and print), social media activity, and online buzz. The NMS aggregates this data from its partners, which include BigChampagne, Next Big Sound, ReverbNation, and OurStage. Like the Ultimate Chart, the Verge Chart recognizes more than just traditional sales and airplay and accommodates the new business model.

The Verge Chart makes a sincere effort to truly expose the artists that need the exposure to launch their careers. Artists who have sold over 10,000 albums are not considered for the chart. Any artist that is signed to a major label or a significant indie label is disqualified. The current list of the best 100 emerging artists includes Kurt Rosenwinkel, Lady Lamb Beekeeper, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. The Verge Chart not only offers these artists online exposure, but also grants them other valuable opportunities. Since the chart is in association with the NMS, the top ranked artists are offered prime performance slots at the bi-annual conferences. At the New Music Seminar LA 2011, the Daylights received the title of the Artist on the Verge and received $50,000 in consultation, promotion and gear.

Billboard’s Uncharted

In January, Billboard also released a new chart dedicated to emerging artists, called Uncharted. The chart features artists that have not appeared on major Billboard charts, like the Hot 100 or the Billboard 200. Like the Ultimate Chart and the Verge Chart, Uncharted examines traditional sales and airplay, as well as streamed plays, page views, and fans on social networks.

Billboard Editorial Director Bill Werde suggests that “record labels, publishers, and other music companies are always looking for ways to make smarter bets on emerging talent.” He describes Uncharted as a platform with the intention of “launching careers…[and serving] as a conduit for artists to step onto a broader stage, ultimately topping one of the major Billboard charts.”

DJ GirlTalk was recently ranked on Uncharted due to his direct-to-fan model for distribution, in which he made the album downloadable for free. Girl Talk is a relatively well-known name, but since free downloads are not tracked by Nielsen SoundScan and do not receive airplay, Girl Talk had no means of getting onto the Hot 100 or Billboard 200. Therefore, Uncharted offers a legitimate opportunity to be ranked based on an artist’s reach and access to fans, not only by conventional standards.

Measurement Problems

In another example, rap artist Traphik earned more than one million YouTube page views, 14,000 new channel subscribers, 2,600 Facebook fans, and 1,900 new Twitter followers – all in one week. With these astounding numbers, Traphik easily topped Uncharted at number one. However, Traphik has been ranked number one every week since Uncharted’s debut. His high rankings have increased his online exposure even further, ramping up his already massive play counts and following. With this constant cycle of exposure, it seems that Traphik could hold his spot on Uncharted for a very long time. Might this defeat the original purpose of Uncharted’s mission to grant many emerging artists with exposure? Uncharted may fall into the same problem as its big brother charts- with the same artists cycling through every week.

Another obstacle that these new charts face is the artificial inflation of an artist’s online statistics. Online bot programs can be bought which artificially increase play counts and friend counts. Factors other than music can also play a role in an artist’s ranking based on web data. Famous actors and actresses that have made albums as side projects have begun finding their way onto Uncharted. Their popularity in television and film has indirectly given their albums mass online exposure, inflating their stats. These celebrities with albums include Taylor Momsen (Gossip Girls), Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), and Steven Seagal (martial arts/action star). Their positions on Uncharted are excluding many artists who would benefit from this well needed exposure.

Exposure is Everything

In the modern music business, the general listener has found new ways to discover and consume music. Artists have adapted their strategies in order to be successful in this new model and the music charts need to track this success accordingly. Clearly, these new charts are not perfect, however they are on the right track to granting exposure to emerging artists that would otherwise not be seen on the major charts. The charts recognize the need for innovation and their mission to reevaluate the definition of an artist’s success is certainly taking shape.

By Nick Susi

SOURCES:

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