Seems like there are an awful lot of people who know all the album cuts from Ariana Grande's album — yet it only sits at No. 36 on the Billboard 200. Shouldn't one of the most popular artists of the moment rank higher on the charts?
The problem for Grande is that many of her young fans listen to her tunes on Spotify, or just buy them individually via iTunes. Until last week, Billboard didn't really care about those types of activities in regards to an album's popularity — but that's all about to change in a major way.
Recognizing that an album's market success can't solely be measured through traditional methods anymore, the company announced a major overhaul to the way it will rank music on its charts, the biggest change since it started using Nielsen Soundscan data in 1991. For the first time, Billboard and Nielsen will incorporate streaming music and digital track sales into its album chart.
This is a very big deal, especially since Billboard is the most influential and definitive way that people look at success in the music industry. The companies called it "a revolutionary change to the Billboard 200 to better reflect and album's overall popularity and changes in the way people consume music."
When 10 digital track sales are bought from an album on iTunes, Billboard will now count that as a full album sale, the company said. For streaming, when a song is listened to 1,500 times on multiple subscription services (including Spotify, Beats Music, Rhapsody, Google Play, Xbox music and more), that will also be equivalent to one album sale.
All of these new metrics will be put toward the total on the reinvented Billboard 200, which will make its debut on Dec. 4. That will include all sales and streaming data during the week of Thanksgiving, Billboard said in a press release, "one of the most active music release periods of the year."
So who will benefit the most from the change? Basically, artists whose audiences listen to them primarily through streaming or buy individual tracks on iTunes. Translated further: Pop artists with a younger fan base will likely get a huge jump.
We asked a Billboard rep for some specifics, using Grande as an example. For the Billboard 200 chart ending on Nov. 9, her latest album "My Everything" sat at No. 36. Under the new methodology, it would have landed at No. 9. Or consider Irish rocker Hozier: His self-titled debut came in at No. 17 — but with the updated rankings, it would have claimed the No. 10 spot.
It's worth pointing out that only those two titles would have changed in the Top Ten; the other eight would have held steady. But among the losers in the revamped system would have been Barbra Streisand, who would have fallen out of the Top 10: Apparently her fans don't listen to as much streaming music. Country artist Brantley Gilbert would have also been dropped from the Top 10. The upshot seems to be that artists with an older fan base could see numbers decline.
Putting so much emphasis on streaming in relation to Billboard charts is also notable amid the trend of top artists taking their music off streaming sites such as Spotify, such as Taylor Swift and Jason Aldean. Billboard notes that the company will continue a "pure album sales chart" known as Top Album Sales, which will use numbers based on the old system. And the individual genre album charts, such as country and hip-hop, will also stay the same for the time being.
The Billboard Hot 100, which measures singles, also underwent a similar makeover recently to incorporate streaming, digital track sales and radio play. But album sales are ultimately worth much more to an artist, and where they land on the chart is crucially important — so it will be fascinating to see how the new numbers play out.