The Album Chart is Dead

Gavin Parry
4 min readJan 21, 2020

On the back of the article on YouTube and Billboard charts today, it’s worth noting that the Music Industry has been tying itself in knots on how to calculate an album chart in the age of streaming for some time.

Is it time simply to say goodbye and look for a new way to measure an artist’s relevance on a weekly basis? Simply put …. RIP Album Chart.

There are many issues with the current calculation. Top end actuaries would struggle to get their head around the process that has evolved, and the average music punter wouldn’t know where to start.

Given the music consumer has moved on from buying plastic, it fascinates why the industry is intent on taking all the digital streaming statistics and trying to manipulate and equivalise them back to the number of physical albums sold to work out an album chart. It’s tantamount to the Henry Ford Model T being recalculated to work out how many Horse Buggy equivalents it amounts to, so that the Horse Buggy chart can produced.

Ironically, this method simply reduces the magnitude of sales on the album chart, and it would be shocking for the average music fan to know that probably around 1000 album units in Australia in a week gets you well into the Top 10.

Interestingly, in the chart calculation, physical album sales are treated at a premium. How so, well a stream is valued in the chart at its economic price. In the streaming age, this is very low particularly for free streams. In practice it takes around 1200 to 5600 streams to make up the equivalent of one physical album, depending on what country is calculating from what digital service.

That means the physical album is worth, assuming (15 tracks) the equivalent of streaming the album 100 times plus. Now you may love that favourite artist, but that simply is not going to happen. You can see here how the chart has evolved rather than being re-invented. A physical album should be worth no more than 10 full plays, which in actual practice is still high. So, in essence around 150 streams. Physical albums are clearly represented at an excessive premium in the ARIA and Billboard album charts.

Here is another good reason why. Physical albums have become much like merchandise. They are purchased but not played. While there is no research on this, with similar research on vinyl, up to 50% never come out of their sleeve. Local artist in-store appearances are often held to prop up the album chart, but the signature and photo which the fan actually wants, come at the price of buying a physical album. You could argue that the streaming value of the albums bought at artist in stores is actually very close to zero since it is never played.

This explains why many local artists have strong album chart debuts but somehow fail to have a song in the top 100 on Spotify. In week 2, these albums quickly fall away as they have no real streaming or fandom momentum behind them.

How times have changed. Can you imagine an ABBA album coming in at number 1 and them not having a song in the top 10. That would never happen in past decades.

MarketPlace.org reported last June “The Billboard 200 albums chart underwent a major overhaul back in 2014, announcing it would take into account digital track sales and on-demand streaming. Last year, it made the decision to count 1,250 streams (Australia 1700) from paid subscription audio services as one album unit, and 3,750 streams (Australia 5600) from ad-supported audio services as 1 album unit.”

“With albums accounting for a whole lot of streams, artists like DJ Khaled will often bundle their albums with other merchandise to rake in those high figures.

Billie Eilish, whose album “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” ranked №2 sold. deluxe bundles that come with the CD, a poster and tattoos/sticker sheets. Meanwhile, chart topper Miley Cyrus is sold her album “She Is Coming” with branded condoms and Khalid has bundled his album “Free Spirit” with concert tickets.”

The question arises here do the fans actually want the album or just the tickets, stickers, tattoos and/or condoms? Do these CD’s get played, or just put on a shelf while Spotify plays out of the Bluetooth speakers?

Today Billboard announced major changes to the album chart to incorporate YouTube data. Ailsa Chang reported “Albums are not so much totemic objects anymore, they’re kind of like marketing campaigns. When an artist moves from period to period in their career, they are moving from — say, if you’re Taylor Swift, the Reputation period to the Lover period — you are trying to aggregate as much attention for that project while it’s your current album project.”

With this in mind, is it not time to embrace the range of amazing data that is available to the industry, make sure its relevant to the audience, and calculate an artist’s real relevance in any one week. A focus group with any bunch of 16-year old’s would spin this whole process on its head and show how outdated the album chart has become. They probably have a better and more accurate way to calculate it in their head by flipping through a few apps and web pages.

Recalculating streams to an equivalent album unit, where physical sales have not just a small but excessive advantage does not make sense.

One might argue that the album chart is now largely a navel gazing process for the industry each week. Its time to re-imagine the album chart that is not only relevant to music fans but makes sense when compared to other available data when it is published.

Is it not time to say “RIP album chart”, get out a sheet of white paper and start from scratch. Long live the Album chart.

PS. A Henry Ford Model T was worth 2.765 Horse Buggy Units in the 1914 Horse Buggy Chart

--

--

Gavin Parry

Partner at Palisady Asia Pacific, Music Investment and Digital Advisory, Ex Sony Music Asia Pacific Exec Vice President, Ex Chairman ARIA Digital Committee