Must Read: Martin Mills on Billboard Streaming Charts

In case you haven’t noticed, Billboard and The Official Charts have begun including streaming in measuring chart ranking.  Now think about that for a minute–in a world where artists like Taylor Swift are windowing with great success how can you ever think that it’s a good idea to use streaming as a way of measuring success?  There’s deeper reasons for why streaming is at best a premature but even if you don’t have time to think about the deeper reasons, the mere fact that it is becoming increasingly obvious that streaming can be a null set for an increasing number of artists would make you question that wisdom.

As Beggars Group CEO Martin Mills said in a must-read recent speech (“MARTIN MILLS: NEW BILLBOARD CHART RISKS DUMBING DOWN MUSIC“):

Generally speaking, independent labels work principally with album artists, the majors, since their main marketing tool is airplay, primarily with artists capable of having hit singles. I’ll acknowledge this is a huge generalisation, but I believe, fundamentally, that today it holds true. The biggest artists of course straddle both worlds [both singles and albums].

This can be seen most clearly in comparing an artist’s track sales to their album sales. An artist like The National will sell pretty much 1:1 tracks to albums, a pop artist maybe 15:1. That’s an enormous differential in customer purchase preferences.

I think this two-sided world is healthy, good for music, good for the consumer. It creates a diverse musical climate, because not all artists are running the same race.

But I am really concerned that there are forces at work that wish to destroy this, to create a lowest common denominator musical landscape. 

In the USA it’s already started to happen, with the Billboard consumption chart, that combines album sales, streams, and track sales. In other words, it aggregates and averages out the two types of artist I’ve identified. 

That will mean that the big artists look and get bigger, and the more niche artists of the album world get swamped, and side-lined, starved of exposure.

I have no objection to including streams in the chart, as long as – and it’s a big but – fans that are streaming albums as a whole are separately identified. So the albums chart should include album streams, and the singles chart should include track streams. 

But including tracks with albums mixes apples with pears, and fails to chart anything meaningful other than sheer brute size. 

It may well be in the interests of the small number of super-consolidated major labels to make the big become bigger, and appear to be even bigger; but I believe it’s fundamentally against the interests of the rest of us, since it will reduce the oxygen available for exposure for artists whose natural format is the album. 

That reduction in exposure will, I believe, lead inevitably to the decline of the album, and a curtailing of the ability of the non-pop-single artist to make a living from their art.

As usual, Martin Mills puts his finger right on the problem and has pointed to the systemic flaws in the streaming world that is rapidly hollowing out the music business from the inside.    Like his insightful speech at Canadian Music Week last year, this one is a must read for any thoughtful follower of the music business.

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