The Death of the Chart

Napster changed everything.

The music file sharing service debuted in 1999, flared as bright as a comet on a moonless night and faded almost as quickly due to legal pressures associated with licensing of the music that was shared on the application.

Yet, despite its short life, Napster really helped change the world of music consumption and started a ball rolling that continues to build momentum wiping out decades-old business models and creating angst for record labels and artists alike.

We live in a time when we all can individually listen, watch and read virtually anything we want, when we want it and how. Technologies have given us the gift of inflated self-appeasement. Listening to music, for example, is only a mass experience on the radio and in concert venues. The rest of the time, listening to music is mostly an individual pastime as technologies push or allow us to pull only the music we like from the internet.

Before all this technology music charts published by grand old publications like Billboard or Cashbox or industry-focused trade publications like Radio & Records were the way that we were able to ascertain the popularity of music. In fact, music countdown shows were the mainstay of radio as soon as "Rock & Roll" gained mass audiences. Dick Clark saw the future and made a career out of top 10 countdown shows on TV.

Curiosity about where our favorite songs were positioned on the charts or how fast a song traveled up and down the top 100 list, generated great interest from the public and especially record labels.

But technology is about to take another victim. The music chart concept no longer presents a relatable way of showing popularity. There are so many ways of consuming music today that ranking song popularity on a published chart is becoming a more difficult task than ever. Album and single sales have turned into digital downloads, music sharing and music streaming. Popularity varies depending on the platform one consults.

So, is the chart on its way out?

From the public's perception it is.

Consumers may inadvertently discover music and video charts that pop up during on-line searches or news stories, but the majority don't go looking for them.

During a recent Bridge Ratings study of 12-24 year old music consumers, only 15% referenced a chart in a typical week to determine either the popularity of a song or artist they enjoyed or to learn of any new songs.

Even referring to charts reflecting digital sales or streaming popularity carries little interest for consumers. Popularity has become a more personal, one-on-one discovery and word of mouth is becoming more important than ever as a way to distribute popular taste especially among friends.

For this age group, song popularity and music discovery now comes in a variety of ways: word-of-mouth or sharing music with friends being the most dominant. Broadcast radio came in second. Referring to charts was way down the list.

Charts have been a mainstay of the radio and records industries and they will likely continue to be.

For their customers and clients, though, there are other - more personal - ways to determine popularity.

So, as a fan of charts, it hurts to know that charts may be another anachronism of a time when following, even collecting charts of the Top 100, or your favorite radio station's Top 30, was almost a hobby for some.

Dave Van Dyke
Bridge Ratings LLC

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