Entertainment & Arts

Pop charts struggle to stay relevant

Greg James
Image caption Greg James's show will feature the new chart rundown

Years ago the chart rundown on Sunday was an unmissable highlight for millions of listeners.

Many fans even recorded it for later playing and replaying.

But as the years have gone by the Charts have gradually decreased in significance.

Achieving a number one single remains a sought-after objective for even the most successful artists and their loyal fans.

But at the same time the Chart show itself has become less of an essential listening experience, a few notable exceptions aside - the fight for a Christmas number one, or a controversial campaign like Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead.

One of the reasons has been that as fans have started to consume music in different ways, the Charts have had to move to keep up.

A decade ago CD sales began to be seriously challenged by legal digital downloads, with millions of single sales happening purely over the internet.

The decision was therefore made to include download sales in the singles chart.

With fans of different styles of music sometimes preferring different methods of buying their music, it had a definite effect on chart placings.


Chart history:

A chart countdown has been part of Radio 1's Sunday schedule for nearly 50 years, starting with Alan Freeman's Pick Of The Pops, in 1967.

Until 1987, the new chart was actually announced on a Tuesday, and the following Sunday's show just played the countdown in full.

From 1987, however, improved technology enabled the station to receive the week's chart data in time to announce the new number one on the three-hour Sunday show.


But perhaps the most significant change came last summer.

Up until that point the singles chart was based purely on sales, either people purchasing music physically - CDs, cassettes, vinyl singles, or downloading digitally.

Streaming included

The Chart took no account of the fact that a significant proportion of music fans were buying less music and simply streaming it instead.

At this point the number of weekly audio streams was somewhere in excess of 200 million, leading the Official Charts Company to decide to include data from several streaming sites.

The system is far from perfect.

YouTube remains one of the main ways in which younger people experience music, but that's basically ignored when it comes to the Charts.

And unlike some countries, radio airplay is not taken into account either.

Image caption Jameela Jamil is a former Chart Show presenter

One issue the Charts can deal with cleanly and easily, is their reaction to the move declaring Friday as the day when globally singles will be released.

Part of the reasoning is that at the moment, when music is released in one territory fans in other parts of the world are choosing to illegally download it rather than wait for the legal release in their country.

Many artists will also be in favour.

One thing that has become more and more important in promoting new releases is social media which is global and instant.

But bands and singers have been faced with the issue of urging their fans in one place to buy, knowing that fans reading the same messages in other places won't be in a position to legally do the same, sometimes for days.

Another reason is the record industry's belief that this might create more excitement and a sense of occasion with fans buying new releases over the weekend.

If Sunday remained as Chart day, the Chart would be based on sales of only a few days.

Moving to Friday is an easy way of dealing with the problem - with a week's sales being taken into account.

The glory days of millions listening to the charts - teenagers huddled around the radio - will almost certainly never return.

The real battles - downloads, streaming - have already been fought.

This latest move simply ensures that the Charts aren't again becoming less relevant as they fight to try and ensure they will still play a significant role in the lives of music fans.

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