Monday, June 23, 2014

Charts: Surely they've streaming already?

An announcement from the South Bank...
Just before we get to the announcement from the South Bank, what's with the Official Chart Company and the BPI having some of the most expensive office space in London, right down opposite Parliament? Given everything the BPI does is funded by its members, which means ultimately it is money that otherwise would have gone to musicians or songwriters, shouldn't it look to taking cheaper rooms? I suppose they'd argue that being in the old GLC buildings is great for access to the people who make law, but is that true? Do they communicate by semaphore from across the Thames? Or just nip out and hang around outside the Tesco Express hoping to bump into Michael Fabricant? Because they could do that with an office in Uxbridge and an Oyster Card.
The Official Chart Company has announced that streaming will be added to the toxic brew ("mix") which makes up the charts:

Official Charts Company boss Martin Talbot told BBC News that the changes are "about future-proofing the charts".

"So far this year we've seen nine tracks which have been streamed more than one million times in a week," Talbot explained. "Last year there were only two tracks that had reached that kind of level."

Bastille's 'Pompeii' is the most-streamed track of all time in the UK so far with 26.6 million steams to date but only made number two in the singles chart based on sales alone.
Bastille were given the announcement to make:

On one hand, this makes sense, and it's surprising that it hasn't happened before - like, eighteen months ago, probably.

On the other... this is a bit problematic. The Billboard charts always included radio play alongside sales, on the basis that that was a measure of popularity. The UK charts never did, for the two strong reasons.

One, that just because something is being listened to on the radio doesn't mean it's being enjoyed (look how long DLT broadcasted for).

Two, that radio play is a lot more nebulous than sales. How do you weight a play on Little Rissington FM against someone paying 79p to buy a track? Can you be sure all those plays for that local band on Froome Sound are because the band is popular, and not because the station manager's daughter is the bassist?

So, sesnsibly, the charts focused on a slightly more trustworthy measure of popularity - a financial transaction.

Obviously, this was, and is, still open to gaming - managers filling the trunks of their cars with godawful CDs by their terrible bands, purchased to give them a boost; slipping singles into different sleeves. But it was a least bad situation.

The problems with radio play are multiplied by streaming. How many 'listens' indicate an enthusiasm that equals someone willing to shovel over some money over to own that track?

Maybe the falling price of a single has made this argument less compelling, but even so - does 'I keep hearing about this Kasabian all over the place, I wonder she's like, I'll go to Spotify and play her song OH MY GOD THIS IS AWFUL are they all this bad? I'll try another OH MY GOD THIS IS WORSE' really have the same weight as someone who thinks 'I love Lana Del Ray, I've already bought the CD single but simply can't wait for it to be delivered so I'll get the download too'?

And if you accept that a single Spotify play can't equal a purchase, you suddenly find yourself having to create an exchange rate. And once you do that, your chart becomes opinion-based, not fact-based.

There is such an exchange rate:
To reflect the difference in weight between streaming and purchasing, 100 streams will count as equivalent to 1 single (download or physical single) in the chart compilation process.
Oddly, the amount of cash earned by a musician for their track being streamed on Spotify isn't 1% of the amount they get, so you have to wonder about the 'science' behind this particular ratio.

And that's before you ask the question about how you can be certain there are ears listening to the stream, rather than just a handy-dandy little script or two deployed across a number of computers?