Have the UK charts changed forever?

Are the charts still relevant? Opinions vary – but with the news that the Official Charts Company is planning to include streaming numbers in its totting-up of positions, it’s obvious that it’s trying to keep up with how modern music is heard.

Previously, the chart – which takes centre stage on BBC Radio One each Sunday – simply focused on physical purchases of singles and downloads.

However, music streaming doubled in popularity in the UK between 2013 and 2014. To reflect this, the Official Charts Company is planning to make plays on Spotify, Deezer and other interactive streaming services connect with where songs place in the chart.

100 streams (of 30 seconds or more) will be the equivalent to one physical purchase; to stymie attempts at ‘gaming’ the system, only ten plays will be counted per user per day.

Charts boss Martin Talbot told BBC News that the decision is helping to “future-proof” the time-honoured rankings system.

The move highlights the increasing power and reach of digital content platforms, whose ability to curate and showcase artists’ works is now recognised by the official charts as well as anecdotal evidence.

Like the best record store owners, the best platforms can help their users discover new music, as well as making it easy for musicians to put out their records and gain recognition for their work.

And as streaming becomes even more popular, especially among a young audience, it makes sense that streaming plays should be given the same status as (for instance) downloads.

Strangely, YouTube plays will still not be included in the count, although influential US ranking system Billboard has incorporated them into its system.

But what does this new move mean for independent labels and artists? Ultimately, it highlights the difference between radio play and streaming.

‘Interactive’ streaming (whereby the listener chooses their own playlist rather than listens to a predetermined one) pays slightly higher royalties than non-interactive streaming.

To some extent, this directly rewards bands that are popular with listeners (rather than those with the contacts to get on to a playlist).

Bastille could be set to benefit from the changes
Bastille could be set to benefit from the changes

Now this distinction is going to be recognised by the charts, it makes obvious sense for labels to generate a strong digital presence for their acts. With a lower barrier to entry and the chance to climb up the rankings simply by uploading an MP3, we could see a host of smaller acts gatecrashing the top ten.

For example, Bastille’s track Pompeii is the UK’s most streamed track ever but only ever reached number two at the peak of its success – that wouldn’t be the case anymore.

The lesson for artists? Digital offers big opportunities, if you can take them.

Fearghus Roulston

Fearghus was tempted into training as a journalist after an injudicious exposure to the Tintin books at an early age. He worked in several content marketing and writing jobs before starting at Clowdy, where he deals with blogging, social media and other non-Tintin or international espionage-related activities.