One of my favorite parts of the week is checking out the top hits. I listen to Ryan Seacrest’s American Top 40, watch VH1’s Top 20 music videos and browse Billboard’s Hot 100. Last week Billboard announced that it will incorporate a new channel into the calculations for the Hot 100: YouTube video hits.

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Billboard Music Ranking History

Billboard has published the Hot 100 list since 1958. Originally, the songs were ranked based on biggest selling singles in retail stores, most played songs on US radio stations and most played songs in jukeboxes.

But now more and more people listen to their music on the internet. To account for this ever growing group of listeners, Billboard incorporated live streaming into the calculations a few years ago. They have continued to include new streaming services, and ABC reports that “last October, Billboard began using Nielsen SoundScan’s digital-download sales numbers and streaming data — from Spotify, Muve, Slacker, Rhapsody, Rdio and Xbox Music, among other services — to determine chart rankings.”

Silvio Pietroluongo of Billboard Magazine gives an overview of the history to NPR: That was the first charts, and then it was jukebox, airplay sales, vinyl, cassette, CDs, and then we moved into ringtones and digital downloads. And we’ve had streaming in the Hot 100 for about five or six years, so this is just a continuance of increasing the pool of streamers that we have on the chart.

Of the three streams that we use – of sales, airplay and streaming – sales still weighs heavier than radio; radio weighs heavier than streaming. But if you look at the top-selling downloads each week, if you look at the top streaming songs each week, 90 percent of the top it’s the top radio hits.” 

The Introduction of YouTube

Including YouTube hits for the first time last week bumped the song “Harlem Shake” by Baauer to the #1 spot.

The debut of this song on the charts was met with some resistance, as critics argued that the song itself is not popular, and that the viral video take-offs are what make it largely searched and watched. “Harlem Shake” has induced a similar phenomenon as Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” Both songs inspired hundreds of thousands of home videos, remakes and spoofs, which people enjoy collecting.

Billboard realizes that adding YouTube into the chart calculations includes the preferences of the millions of people that visit the site each day. Silvio comments, “With digital download sales and streaming data measuring popularity on the most inclusive scale possible, it makes perfectly logical sense that the radio portion of the new chart calculations include airplay from the entire spectrum of monitored formats.”

While it was a shock last week to see a song that was not played every hour on the radio make the #1 spot, listeners tend to agree with Billboard’s choice to add YouTube to the rankings. While it makes sense to include YouTube, it must be done properly.

For example, one blogger writes: “You don’t want the Hot 100 to simply reflect how big YouTube is and consequently reward any song that can catch the public’s fancy on it, like the heretofore unknown Baauer. Billboard has been remarkably good at getting the balance right over many years, and I trust they have figured out how to tame the YouTube beast—lest we lurch from dance craze to dance craze at No. 1 all year long.”  

Changes in the Music Industry

As with any big change, some musicians will benefit and others may have to change their tactics to stay on the top of the charts. Along with radio plays and album sales, viral presence will be a large determining factor for #1 hits.

Josh Groban sent a disapproving tweet after he heard the YouTube announcement, which we can justify after checking out the YouTube stats. Josh Groban has 80,359 subscribers to his official channel with 18,721,811 video views. Compare this to Taylor Swift’s 1,003,178 subscribers and 58,506,287 video views and Rihanna’s 6,608,082 subscribers and 3,454,618,717 video views, and we can see that Groban has a lot of catching up to do in the viral sphere.

Artists who cross genre lines also stand to benefit from these changes. For example, Taylor Swift is played on both country and pop stations. People who listen to one or the other of these stations will become familiar with her, which means that she effectively doubles her audience size. When listeners become familiar with her songs, they then seek them out online by going to YouTube or Spotify. Now Swift has captured audiences for two radio stations and the internet, which could quadruple the number of plays her songs receive in any given week. Artists who only reach one type of genre will miss out on an important opportunity to expand their viral audience.

Posted on February 28, 2013
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