From The Editor's Desk: What New "Billboard" Chart Methodology Means For Country Music (and Taylor Swift)

By: Matt Bjorke

Last Updated: October 11, 2012 1:10 AM

Today, Billboard announced that they were changing the way many of their genre 'Hot Songs' charts were going to be worked. Long just a reflection of radio airplay (at least since the early 90s), the charts are now incorporating streaming and - here's the biggie - digital single sales into the charts, just like the Billboard Hot 100 has done for years.


What does this mean for Country Music charts as we know them? This new chart change represents a seismic shift in the way country songs and singles have been tabulated until now. Less important, it seems, is the Country Radio airplay and in a genre that is routinely as slow as its audience can be at jumping into new technologies, this is, quite simply, a Game-Changer. It's also going to incorporate airplay from ANY radio stations so cross-over artists like Taylor Swift will benefit the most, at least for now.

From the Billboard.Biz's article: 

"Until now, only country stations contributed to the Hot Country Songs chart, or R&B/hip-hop stations to Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs; the same held true for Latin and rock. The new methodology, which will utilize the Hot 100's formula of incorporating airplay from more than 1,200 stations of all genres monitored by BDS, will reward crossover titles receiving airplay on a multitude of formats. With digital download sales and streaming data measuring popularity on the most inclusive scale possible, it is only just the radio portion of Billboard chart calculations that includes airplay from the entire spectrum of monitored formats."

So, basically, this means that the long time industry standard, Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart is now a genre-specific "Hot 100" style chart. This now means that Taylor Swift is the new queen of the Hot Country Songs chart, like she has been for digital singles since those charts started around the same time she came on the scene. It means that any other artists who happen to get airplay on pop and/or rock stations and are selling singles will see their song skyrocket. It means that strong Republic Nashville act Florida Georgia Line jumps from old Airplay only chart  #19 to #6 with "Cruise," the #4 Country Digital Single track behind Swift's juggernaut Top 3.  This now means that the top tier of stars are going to score more hits on the Top 50  Hot Country Songs charts than ever before. It means that the term 'hit' is now more than just a song you hear on the radio, but that was something that was changing anyway because folks under 25 mostly discover their music through streaming services and YouTube, which is curiously absent from the new analytics metrics.

There will be some in the Country Music industry who hate this development - and if it's for the crossover part of the paragraph quoted above, they have  right to be - just like there'll be fans who think this is the final nail in the coffin for traditional country music. But  I see it differently. Country digital singles sales weren't always in-step with radio airplay charts. Now, this just means that Country Radio airplay isn't the ONLY barometer for Billboard Hot Country Songs chart success. It's still a factor and outside of gigantic artists like Taylor Swift, it will likely not be too much different from the Country Airplay charts which Billboard will still release and track.

There will be some harder things for artists to achieve now and barometers of what a Top 10 hit is will begin to change and attaining #1 hits will also be harder but given that there's still the Airplay chart AND the Country Aircheck/Mediabase radio airplay charts, I don't think we'll suddenly see songs not being classified as hits. Plus, to MANY fans, if their radio stations play the songs at all, they are 'hits' to them.  

One final note, While this new chart will obviously find Taylor Swift dominating the top positions for the next month or two, it doesn't mean she will be there forever. Other artists, particularly Carrie Underwood, can and will score #1 hits on this new chart. It just so happens that right now, it is Taylor Swift's domain and thanks to that new formula that incorporates all genres of airplay, a star who crosses over like her - or Rihanna in R&B, will get more cracks at #1 but won't ALWAYS get that slot. This is not some crazy scheme that finds Billboard 'in league' with Big Machine Records to give her more accolades, it's just a changing with the times sort of change.

So What Do You Think?


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