Hard News: Friday Music: The Soft Tyranny of Streaming
That looks like it’s going to be more difficult now, with big acts and back-catalogue works likely to fare well courtesy of streaming listeners who don’t react so swiftly to new releases.
This is similar to what has already happened in the singles chart. Music by New Zealand artists just doesn't chart in the top 40 anymore. This year there has been one (1) new New Zealand single chart. It's "Free" by Broods, an amazing track, but heartbreaking that it's the only one.
In previous years local content in the top 40 has been boosted by The X Factor (from both contestants and guest performers), but this year we're on our own. Obviously Lorde needs to hurry up with her new stuff.
There's a top 20 singles chart of New Zealand artists and it's good for discovering new music that has just missed out on the top 40. But each week, literally half the chart is songs by Six60, another sign that people just like listening to the same familiar tunes and are less comfortable with new music.
It also means there probably isn't a lot of point in smaller independent music retailers (like Flying Out) submitting our figures every week to the chart because now nothing we actually sell is likely to appear in them.
Russell Brown, in reply to
But each week, literally half the chart is songs by Six60,
In a victory for diversity, only eight of the Top 20 this week are songs by Six60.
My eldest and his girlfriend are calf deep in the Somerset mud right now. Being a bit of a festival-phobe I'm not that jealous. But then I'm not getting to see Grimes or Mbongwana Star either.
On a more sober matter, I had a look this week at the music of Amjad Sabri, the qawwali singer that was offed by Taliban headbangers in Karachi on Wednesday. He's not as crossover-friendly as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan but man he was a force. While these joy-killing Salafist pricks get headlines by destroying culture wherever they find it we forget that Islam is also a fountainhead of art. And Pakistani sufi mysticism is a big part of that. Sabri sang about God. That's what he did. The same God in whose name he was allegedly killed. For singing about God. R.I.P.
Russell Brown, in reply to
Thanks for that, Ken. How awful.
I saw Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan years ago at Womad in the UK. It was quite an experience.
could see myself standing in a field slightly altered and really getting into ELO.
That reminded me of ...Violinksi, an ELO spin-off, a vehicle for Mik Kaminski, ELO's violinist at the time. I think you'd have to be in a really altered state to enjoy this!
People streaming aren't usually making an individual purchase choice for each track they listen too - because it's usually an all you can eat type of service .
So someone streaming Led Zeppelin on his I-Phone is now influencing the singles and album charts, but the same person listening to an MP3 he ripped from the CD he owns, doesn't. The marginal cost is the same in each case: $0.
How does that make any sense?
Only an hour and a bit left to pick up these marvellous early Flying Nun artefacts
</shameless self promotion>
This is good for watching the Brexit vote finale...
More on the Chart compilation:
At the end of an isolated gravel road in the hills south of Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay lives a man in a cottage who reveals the nation's weekly Top 40 music chart.
Surrounded by sheep and cattle traipsing through tree-lined paddocks and rolling hills sits Phil Matcham, on his deck, cup of tea in hand and cat Heidi nearby.
It's from this unlikely setting that, every Friday at 5pm, the nation is informed of the hottest trends in the nation's pop music scene.
Robyn Gallagher, in reply to
So someone streaming Led Zeppelin on his I-Phone is now influencing the singles and album charts
I believe there's a three-year age limit for streamed tracks, so golden oldies will only show up if they've been purchased in big enough numbers on iTunes, which tends to happen when a popstar dies or when a documentary screens on TV.
Ben Howe, in reply to
If the reason to introduce streaming was to make the album charts accurate to people's actual music consumption, then they should have gone the whole hog and included the oldies back catalog.
However, they weren't included because the charts are much more a promotional tool than anything else, and if they included the oldies it would look stupid to have the same old albums in there week in and week out.
So in fact new configuration can't claim to be accurate (because oldies have been taken out) and it also looks like it is likely to have also removed much in the way of promotional value for either local music or independents.
Yes, streaming now makes a contribution to the Official Top40 Albums Chart. And as you rightly say Russell, it has been an inevitability for a while. The UK, US, Germany, France, Scandanavia (naturally) have all done this. Australia will soon. There’s no getting away from the fact that for a LOT of music fans, streaming is now their primary way of consuming music.
This year so far we (RadioScope) have collated half a million sales for inclusion in the singles chart… and a billion streams for the same period. Now you and I don’t have to like their selections (we can all agree that some *other* people just have awful awful taste in music), but those are still a billion public votes revealing which music New Zealanders have chosen to listen to.
Some of us do still buy albums, of course. That’ll still be reflected in the charts. Some of us stream albums from start to finish. Some skip and surf and cherry-pick. Most of us do some of all of the above. Why wouldn’t we count the lot?
Ben has raised some concerns about the implications of this change. Some of it is bigger-picture stuff that goes deeper than just the chart (or maybe what the chart represents) but I’ll try to add a bit more information that might address a couple of the specifics.
1. Even with these changes, sales are still the primary determinant of the album chart positions. And they are likely to remain so for a while yet, even on the current trends. There were over 3 times more sales in today’s Top40 than equivalent streaming points, for example.
The influence of streaming on the albums chart is significantly more dilute than it is on the singles chart. Which isn’t by accident.
We have adapted the UK model, which does get a bit complicated, but the essence is this… 175 streams equals a single sale… album stream points are earned by the top 10 tracks off your album… so, roughly, you could say that 1750 streams is required to have the same impact as 1 sale would have…. HOWEVER… points earned by the top two tracks off an album are ‘neutralised’ to the average of the remaining eight.
Why? The rationale is that if most (or all) of the listening activity for an album is only really for one or two tracks, it’s not actually the album that is doing well. The streams still show up, un-neutralised, in the Singles Chart – but in the albums calculation, your track average across the whole record is going to be low and you’re going to go nowhere in the chart. The more consistent the listening across all tracks on your album, the higher that track-average is, and the better your album will do.
2. There’s nothing deliberately anti-indie about any of this. I know indie artists can find it difficult to get the attention on a massive platform like Spotify, as do many major label acts, but that wasn’t a problem created at 5pm last Friday when the NZ chart came out. We’ve had a generation of artists ( especially indie ones) being proactive about getting their material onto non-traditional platforms. Mostly that’s a good thing. I struggle to get my head around the argument that because there are challenges out there that the chart ought to ignore streaming and just ride the sales cycle, dominated by the big box retailers, all the way down from here on out.
3. The charts are an institution that some people pay attention to, some don’t. I get that. Some artists / labels choose to use the opportunity they provide, and some don’t. Anika Moa, Mel Parsons, Eb and Sparrow, SWIDT, Jordan Luck, Tami Neilson, Dave Dobbyn, Miller Yule last week, Strahan this week (and / or their managers and labels) are just a few who come to mind from the last couple of weeks who have made the effort to submit their gig sales or their Bandcamp sales or their crowd-funding pledges. Other artists chose not to bother, which is fine too. It’s not that any of the musicians above are what I’d call “chart-driven”… they just like to see the effort they go to, and the fan reception they legitimately receive, be reflected in the chart. Why shouldn’t they?
4. Independent stores still count. Ben, I can guarantee you that 50 sales of Street Chant or Yumi Zouma or Avoid! Avoid at Flying Out (or anywhere else) will absolutely still make a difference to the chart. Just as it has in recent weeks for all those bands. Especially on the NZ Top 20. And the IMNZ chart – which is all based on the same data. It’d be a crying shame if albums like these were no longer in the charts, or appeared lower, just because Flying Out was no longer submitting.
Out of curiosity, has anyone checked out the new charts? NZ Top 40. The change has brought back in a couple of newer / younger acts. It hasn’t got rid of the oldies entirely. It hasn’t changed what would have been #1 in either week so far. But it has bolstered the depth of data behind the whole thing.
You’ll see we added some new Heatseeker charts to the bottom of each chart – including the NZ Top20 albums and singles. We also changed the methodology for the existing singles heatseekers (and added new ‘bullet’ tracks on the chart)… so that these supplementary charts now reflect the fastest-moving titles in their respective spheres.
Robyn, not sure if you have noticed but Six60 have been in the NZ Top20 singles chart for a bit. You may like Six60. You may not. I can’t tell. Either way, some of us looking at that chart each week might find it more interesting if there was a bit more diversity there, a bit more coming and going.
Unfortunately though the chart is based on what the public does. And for whatever reason the public just does not seem to be moving on – the chart is the messenger that gets shot for delivering news over and over, but the issue is part of a much bigger state-of-the-industry discussion to do with diversity, release schedules, funding, promotion, and broadcast support.
But getting back to Robyn and anyone else passionate about Six60. The main reason we wanted to extend the Heatseekers concept was to provide one way to nudge the public move on. At least it’s something.
By its nature, this new form of chart is highly volatile – you need to be fast-rising, but you also need to keep rising in order to stay in. Each week songs will either stop rising and drop out, or keep rising and probably graduate to the main chart. Very little sitting on laurels though.
So each week, even if Six60 are still hogging half the top 20 spots, it’s guaranteed there are going to be a clutch of brand new tracks presented to you as options.
You might like to click on some of them – we include audio, video, buy and stream links on every chart entry – you might even like it enough to listen to it regularly, and if enough other people do the too, the new tracks might replace the old tracks in the top 20.
Russell Brown, in reply to
Thanks for the useful and comprehensive response, Paul.
Yes thanks for the post as well Paul. I'm just copying something I also put on FB here
As you know, charts are fundamentally mostly promotional tools. So for me the issue is that the new methodology will mostly wipe out much in the way of diversity - in particular NZ music/independent music. It is, therefore, now likely to be of little promotional value for any of those groups. It is only (mostly) of promotional value to mainstream music imported from overseas.
That was much the case before as well, thats the way of the world an I’m good with it.
But at least under the old system it was nice to know that occasionally a local act releasing a record on vinyl only, playing 8 minute instrumentals and all being 40+ years old could occasionally sneak into the to 40 album charts based on being no.1 in Real Groovy and Flying Out. Looking at the threshold of the lowest position in the album charts now, I doubt that will happen anymore.
I realise the argument for doing it the way you have is that it is the 'truth' or ‘more accurate' - but actually as I’m sure you know, numbers can be cut in dozens of different ways - especially with something as complex as streaming. In fact even the new methodology makes a number of tweaks in relation to back catalog, being cut in a specific way with intention to make the charts more current, interesting and therefore more likely to be of promotional value.
Nothing wrong with that either, it makes sense. Except that it seems a bit selective to make that one tweak, but not to consider others which might make the charts interesting or relevant to the quite large membership of the organisation who actually produces the charts in the first place.
And so if the charts aren’t interesting or relevant to those people (our fellow indie labels and artists), or our audience either, then it makes sense to ask ourselves the question why contribute at all? It’s not like we don’t have a lot else to do!
Ian Dalziel, in reply to
f the Top 20 this week
How come it is dated 27th of June - do they know the future?
this isn't helping discussion at all, but I can't say I've paid any attention what so ever to the charts since I was a young fulla watching Ready to Roll.
still, it might be interesting to know how many people make musical decisions based on where a track is charting. I'd have thought peers and such would still be far more important. especially at a young age.
There are still charts? Poptastic!
I love streaming... and reckon the chart should treat a stream with the same merit as a sale, for if charts are a measure of behavior then surely behavior (actual popularity) should be the determiner not the $$ value back to the rights holder or more precisely the mechanical rights holder
free the chart!
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