Music industry experts say UK chart is no longer fit for purpose, with streaming metrics leading to skewed results
Ed Sheeran’s record-breaking success has prompted calls for a “drastic rethink” of the UK singles chart as his bestselling album hit No 1 across the world.
The singer-songwriter’s third album, ÷ (Divide), is the No 1 album in charts in the UK, US, Australia and around Europe after becoming the fastest-selling album by a UK male artist.
But while in the UK all 16 of Divide’s songs dominated the Top 20 singles chart, fuelled by the burgeoning popularity of streaming services like Spotify, there were concerns that the dominance of the singles chart by one artist was destroying its credibility.
Alison Wenham, chief executive of the independent music body Worldwide Independent Network, said there was no doubt that Sheeran was “wildly, incredibly popular” but that the domination of one album had a “certain chill factor in the charts” that drowned out other artists.
“Having Ed Sheeran dominate virtually the whole of the Top 20 is indicative of the fact it is evolving and the rules will need to be examined fairly regularly in terms of the conversion – how many streams equals a download,” she said.
Recently introduced rules mean that 150 plays of a song on Spotify or other streaming services count as one sale, a system brought in to try and more accurately reflect the public taste as single sales declined. Wenham said the singles chart should be changed so that it “has a degree of value associated with it, people have paid to listen to it”.
Streaming services such as Spotify, Deezer, Napster, O2 Tracks, Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Rara and Xbox Music – most of which charge subscribers a monthly fee to listen to unlimited music – provide compilers with weekly data. But the chart also counts plays from non-paying listeners.
Industry experts have also suggested increasing the number of streams that currently equates to a single unit. But Martin Talbot, chief executive of the Official Charts Company, said it would not “rush to any kneejerk actions” in light of Sheeran’s success, though it is considering changes to its methodology.
Jon Webster, president of the music managers group MMF, said the singles chart needed as “drastic rethink”. “You should be looking at two different things: what’s happening in streaming, and what’s happening in sales. You can’t mix them. It ends up in two different metrics and that’s the problem,” Webster said.
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