The UK Album Chart is to be reconfigured to include audio streams from next month. Happily, this change in the way the British public are advised of the best-selling, most listened to, downloaded and annoyed-on-the-bus-by collections, will coincide with the BRIT Awards, sponsored in its early incarnation by the now-defunct, mailbox-bothering Britannia Music Club; an organisation so influential they had their own special edition versions of albums made up.
The Official Charts website says it ‘will take the 12 most streamed tracks from the standard version of the album, the top two songs will be down-weighted in line with the average of the rest. The total of these streams will be divided by 1000 and added to the physical and digital sales of the album (the 1,000 ratio is used to reflect the broad difference in value between a track stream and the price paid for an album)’. Which sounds like an awful lot of palaver just to create a run down so relevant, its dedicated show on national radio was cancelled eight years ago.
“That’s what the charts were for: to tell you what people were buying.”
As a gentleman from the industry explained to the broadcaster Shaun Keaveny, the album charts will not be skewed by a massive number of streams of one particular song from an album:
“Something like Uptown Funk was streamed around two million times last week.”
“These songs, they’re in the cloud, and then they fall down from the sky and become streams, yes?” Keaveny enquired in a faux-naif fashion.
When the first album chart was published in the fifties, your average North End Music Store clerk would probably have been grateful to open his copy of The Melody Maker and find out which records were selling well. Because it meant he could steal a march on his loyal customers, and have the discs they were likely to order behind the counter, ready for their visit. That’s once the overnight mail train had delivered the thing to his local news vendor, and the paper boy had dropped it off. That’s what the charts were for: to tell you what people were buying, and what to stock.
By the time we were displaying the Top 75 Album Chart (lovingly scissored out of Music Week, checked by hand against the three local rival record shops and adorned with price gun stickers) in the window of Andy’s Records – and shifting the album sleeves around in a never-ending proto Tetris on the racks – there was still capacity for the casual browser to spot something at floor-level and ask to hear a selection before purchase*.
But now we have a hundred different radio stations, streaming services (even Napster has joined the fold of the attributed chart sources), online libraries and web stores, all with their own fiendishly calculated algorithms, telling us what we already know, about what we want to listen to. And that is single, filleted, one-off songs. The Album Chart – the album even – doesn’t matter anymore. No-one cares other than the people with a vested interest in the stats, or an ad campaign looking for a hook.
To coin a phrase: let it go.
*Note to East Anglian customers of a certain stripe – The Mean Red Spiders’ Dark Hours was never in the top hundred LP chart for that long a period. Or at all. Andy out of Andy’s Records did, however own the label which released it.
Shane Kirk – February 2015