What Ails Billboard

All Shook Up [March 2013]

It’s the gift that keeps on giving.  Music fans are upset over yet another major change introduced by Billboard magazine.  You know you can always come to Dance Radio Post for a reality check.  It’s what we do.

First, a little background:  When Billboard added audio streaming data to its flagship Hot 100 chart in March 2012, conspicuously missing from the list was YouTube’s video streaming service.  So you’d think people would be excited when the magazine finally announced the inclusion of YouTube data recently.

If Billboard had unveiled the new Hot 100 one week later, Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” would’ve debuted in the top 15 first and then jumped to No. 1 with help from YouTube.  Instead, people saw “Harlem” debut at the summit and shook their heads in disbelief.  Talk about bad timing.

Some people quipped that PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and Rebecca Black’s “Friday” would’ve been No. 1 hits under the new methodology.  Well, yes and no.  We went back and reviewed the data.  PSY’s global smash was kept out of the top spot by Maroon 5’s “One More Night.”  During those seven weeks when the two were fighting for the top, PSY was ahead of Maroon 5 in YouTube views most of the time.  So YouTube would’ve helped “Gangnam.”  PSY’s video was garnering an average of 65 million views a week in October 2012.

Baauer’s YouTube numbers are impressive (103 million views in one week).  But a popular YouTube song needs an assist from sales or radio airplay to make a big splash on the Hot 100 chart.  And Baauer got it because “Harlem” was No. 3 in sales (262,000 digital downloads).

One-time YouTube phenom Black’s “Friday” peaked at No. 58 in 2011.  YouTube would not have helped her reach No. 1.  “Friday’s” best weekly sales total was only about 50,000 downloads (good enough to hit No. 38), and its YouTube views never came close to Baauer’s numbers.  Anyone who’s worried about the likes of Black and Antoine Dodson (“Bed Intruder Song”) ruling the Hot 100 should relax.

The addition of YouTube data is the right thing to do.  Now a more interesting debate would be why all those “Harlem” tribute/parody videos are included in Baauer’s total.  Billboard’s defense is that if people bother to create a video using an artist’s song—as they did with “Gangnam” and before that “Call Me Maybe”—well, it should count for something.

If nothing else, all those artists—Prince, for example—who demanded the removal of a home video that even incidentally featured their music for copyright infringement might want to rethink their strategy.  Baauer didn’t object and was rewarded with a No. 1 record.  Billboard’s move should also put more pressure on artists to produce a viral video.

Back when MTV played music videos, Billboard never entertained the idea of adding video airplay to its Hot 100 chart.  It just goes to show the Internet has changed the music industry in more profound ways than MTV and other music networks.

The bottom line is that among the three chart components, airplay is at a slight disadvantage since a hit song can only beat the competition by a limited margin—there are only so many radio stations and so many hours in a day.  But when it comes to sales and YouTube views, the sky’s the limit.  Some people might be thrilled with radio’s diminished impact because airplay is sometimes dictated by record promoters and corporate program directors.  But keep in mind that in the digital world, downloads and views are even more susceptible to manipulation.

Another Month, Another New Chart [January 2013]

Our first reaction is to echo what others are saying:  Billboard will not rest until every artist gets to have a No. 1 song on a chart.  All kidding aside, the new Dance/Electronic Songs chart is actually a pleasant surprise.  We didn’t think the magazine would publish a combined sales/airplay chart for dance because this is one of those top 40 formats—along with mainstream, rhythmic, and adult—and to do so would be akin to recreating a little bit of the old Hot 100 chart before it was expanded to include all radio formats in December 1998.

So the good news is this is the first time there’s a combined sales/airplay/streaming chart for dance.  This is also the first time dance airplay and club play are merged to create one chart.  Despite the addition of club play, the relative rankings of dance titles on the Hot 100 chart are still preserved on the new chart.

1 (6) Scream & Shout – will.i.am & Britney Spears
2 (7) Don’t You Worry Child – Swedish House Mafia
3 (20) Sweet Nothing – Calvin Harris
4 (22) Gangnam Style – PSY
5 (24) Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself) – Ne-Yo
6 (75) Rest of My Life – Ludacris

When Billboard unveiled the new sales/airplay Latin chart three months ago and eliminated all English-language songs, we noted the magazine’s heavy-handed tinkering.  Well, it has seized this opportunity to include only true dance tracks based on “a song’s core sound and tempo.”  But once again inconsistencies abound.  It’s strange that “Scream & Shout” and “Let Me Love You” made the cut but not “Beauty and a Beat” by Justin Bieber.  “Beauty” is no more or less dance than the other two.  Let’s examine each song’s pedigree to make our case.

“Scream” is co-written and produced by Basto (a.k.a. Lazy Jay); “Let” is co-written by Sia and Mike Di Scala, who is also one of the producers.  “Beauty” is co-written and co-produced by Zedd.  These songs are all in the 125-to-130 BPM range.  Basto and Zedd are bona fide dance artists, so Billboard should have included all three or none of them.  Frankly, if it was up to us, we would have excluded all three; we would have rejected PSY and Pitbull as well.  We and Billboard clearly have different EDM standards.  We suppose we should be thankful the magazine did not include Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” or Flo Rida’s “I Cry.”

If the dance airplay and club play charts weren’t tilted in favor of dance remixes, perhaps Billboard wouldn’t feel the need to go “pure” on the new combined chart.  Maybe it’s better to overhaul the underlying airplay and club play charts instead.

We will outline in the coming months exactly how Billboard should improve its methodology.  Stay tuned.

Their Loss, Our Gain [November 2012]

It’s been one year since Billboard expanded its dance radio panel to include mix-show airplay from 80-plus top 40 stations.  Here are all the songs that would likely have made the national Dance/Mix Show chart if the magazine had stuck with only the dance stations on its panel.

  • Above & Beyond Featuring Richard Bedford – Thing Called Love
  • Adam F – When the Rain Is Gone
  • Akcent – My Passion
  • Audio Playground Featuring Snoop Dogg – Emergency
  • Azealia Banks Featuring Lazy Jay – 212
  • Alexandra Burke Featuring Erick Morillo – Elephant
  • Mike Candys Featuring Evelyn & Patrick Miller – 2012 (If the World Would End)
  • Ian Carey & Rosette Featuring Timbaland & Brasco – Amnesia
  • Ferry Corsten Featuring Aruna – Live Forever
  • Dada Life – Kick out the Epic Motherf**ker
  • Deadmau5 Featuring Gerard Way – Professional Griefers
  • Dev & Enrique Iglesias Featuring T-Pain – Naked
  • Dirty South & Alesso Featuring Ruben Haze – City of Dreams
  • Dirty South & Thomas Gold Featuring Kate Elsworth – Eyes Wide Open
  • Dragonette – Let It Go
  • Florence + The Machine – Spectrum (Say My Name)
  • Cedric Gervais – Molly
  • Goodwill & Hook N Sling – Take You Higher
  • Tom Hangs & Shermanology – Blessed
  • Hardwell Featuring Mitch Crown – Call Me a Spaceman
  • Jes – It’s Too Late
  • Kaskade Featuring Skylar Grey – Room for Happiness
  • Kaskade Featuring Haley – Llove
  • Kerli – Zero Gravity
  • Knife Party – Bonfire
  • Krewella – Killin’ It
  • Chris Lake – Sundown
  • Fedde Le Grand – So Much Love
  • Adrian Lux Featuring Dante – Burning
  • Manufactured Superstars Featuring Scarlett Quinn – Take Me Over
  • Kristina Maria – Our Song Comes On
  • Marina and the Diamonds – Primadonna
  • Medina – Forever
  • M83. – Midnight City
  • Milan & Phoenix – Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
  • Kylie Minogue – Timebomb
  • M-3ox Featuring Heidrun – Beating of My Heart
  • Nero – Promises
  • Morgan Page, Andy Caldwell & Jonathan Mendelsohn – Where Did You Go
  • Brook Penning – My Heart!
  • Lucas Prata Featuring Lenny B – First Night of My Life
  • Prince Malik – So Bad
  • David Puentez Featuring Andrea Rosario – Lose Control
  • Porter Robinson Featuring Heather Bright – Language
  • Markus Schulz Featuring Seri – Love Rain Down
  • Scissor Sisters – Let’s Have a Kiki
  • Scissor Sisters – Only the Horses
  • September – Hands Up
  • Skrillex – Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites
  • Martin Solveig & Dragonette Featuring Idoling!!! – Big in Japan
  • Kim Sozzi – Crystallized
  • Alexandra Stan – Get Back (ASAP)
  • Sultan + Ned Shepard Featuring Quilla – Walls
  • Swedish House Mafia – Greyhound
  • Tulisa – Young
  • Eric Turner vs. Avicii – Dancing in My Head
  • U.V.U.K. – Blink
  • Armin van Buuren Featuring Nadia Ali – Feels so Good
  • Armin van Buuren Featuring Ana Criado – Suddenly Summer
  • Armin van Buuren Featuring Adam Young – Youtopia
  • Sander van Doorn & Mayaeni – Nothing Inside
  • Paul van Dyk Featuring Plumb – I Don’t Deserve You
  • Zedd – Stars Come Out

These songs just couldn’t compete with top 40 hits from the likes of Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, and Bruno Mars.  As a result, some of these artists were robbed of a chance to make a Billboard chart for the first time.  Their record labels should petition the megazine to include Web-only dance stations to balance things out.  In the meantime, our Meganauts know the score because you can always visit our Megamix page and get the whole picture.

Another Billboard Epic Fail? [October 2012]

It’s time to get “inside baseball” again.  When the keeper of the U.S. national charts makes major changes, we have no choice but to talk about it.  Billboard magazine recently redefined half of its genre charts.

Until now, the R&B/hip-hop, country, rock, Latin, and rap charts had been airplay-only surveys (some since inception).  Starting with the October 20 issue, these charts are all based on radio airplay, sales figures, and streaming data—just like the all-genre Hot 100 chart.  Billboard will continue to publish airplay-only charts for these genres, but they will undoubtedly play a supporting role from now on.  Note that this leaves adult contemporary, jazz, Christian, and gospel without matching airplay/sales/streaming charts.

Consistency is usually a good thing.  And we always believe that popularity should be based on a combination of airplay and sales—however they are defined as they evolve.  We’re still waiting for the addition of airplay from Web-only stations.  But Billboard decided the airplay component for these revised genre charts should not be limited to each genre’s reporting panel as it is still true for the airplay-only charts.

The rationale is that when someone downloads a Taylor Swift song, we don’t know if that person listens to country radio or not.  So if you include sales in any country survey, the airplay should come from any radio station that plays that Swift song, regardless of format.  We’d like to remind Billboard that when its R&B/hip-hop chart had a sales component in the past, it used only sales data from stores that catered to an R&B customer base.  By the way, how do we know the magazine is only counting sales from U.S. customers?  Only major sites like Amazon.com and Apple iTunes have customized versions for certain countries outside the U.S.  We also suspect Canadian customers can purchase from these companies’ American sites.

The easiest way to think of the tabulation of these new genre charts is to imagine the full Hot 100 chart that includes every song played and sold.  The Billboard staff then goes through each title from No. 1 to bottom and decides if it belongs on one or more of these genre charts, thus preserving the relative rankings across the board.

So how does Billboard determine which songs should go where?  Well, every artist has a home format—or the closest one that the music industry can fit somebody in.  After that, the magazine does have to evaluate each song individually.  Train, whose biggest supporter is adult top 40 (or hot AC) these days, suddenly debuted in the top five of the new rock chart even though its latest single has received minimal airplay at rock radio (mainstream/alternative/triple-A).  (Billboard must have had a change of heart because Train was removed the following week without any explanation.)  Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which had peaked at No. 13 at country radio, immediately became the ruler of the new country chart.

PSY’s “Gangnam Style” moved 20-1 on the new rap chart.  Rihanna, who’s no stranger to R&B radio, likewise jumped 66-1 on the new R&B/hop-hop chart.  Interestingly, Billboard has decided not to place Justin Bieber’s “As Long as You Love Me” on the same chart despite the fact that it has a considerable R&B flavor and R&B radio did play “Boyfriend” and might add “Long” in the future.  Flo Rida’s “I Cry” is also conspicuously missing from the revised R&B/hip-hop chart (R&B radio played “Good Feeling” and “Wild Ones”).  The latest singles from Chris Brown and Ne-Yo are similarly MIA because their record labels never promoted them to R&B radio.

If it sounds like the magazine is using current genre airplay as a guide—the Train case notwithstanding—that’s not entirely true.  All of the preview tracks from Mumford & Sons’ new album were deemed eligible for the new rock chart even though rock radio is playing only the lead single so far.  Can we trust Billboard to make the right judgment calls?  The magazine chose not to categorize Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” as country because it’s “pure pop, even dubstep-leaning.”  Katy Perry’s latest album is pure pop; calling “Trouble” the same is a stretch.  And the dubstep comparison is downright laughable.

In a way, what Billboard has done to these charts is similar to what it did to the dance airplay chart a year ago.  So to all the followers of these genre charts who are complaining about the changes, welcome to our world.  At least Billboard still publishes an airplay chart that stays true to the original format panel, something that sadly no longer exists for dance radio.  It’s ironic that Billboard decided the revised Latin chart should include only predominantly Spanish-language titles (Latin pop stations have increasingly played more English-language top 40 hits the last few years).  So preserving the integrity of the Latin chart is important—but not dance.

The formulation of charts is as much an art as it is a science (maybe there’s politics too).  Since Billboard has a monopoly on U.S. charts, there’s no competition to challenge the industry magazine to get it right.

The one chart that’s long overdue for a major overhaul is club play.  It’s the only one that’s not electronically monitored.  As someone commented on Billboard’s site after a superstar scored another No. 1 club play song recently, this chart has become a consolation prize for artists who no long do well in other formats.  And just who are the DJs selected for the club play panel?  Yoko Ono has had a string of No. 1s, but have you heard any of them on radio mix shows or in the clubs?  We’d like to ask these panel DJs to sing some of them—or name one or two.  Whether we track the clubs directly or follow the DJs, there should be hundreds of them covering at least the top 50 markets.

Billboard’s Learning Curve [March 2012]

There’s hope yet for the U.S. music industry publication.  Billboard has just revamped its flagship Hot 100 chart to include streaming data from services such as Rhapsody, Spotify, and Yahoo.  (Digression:  We’re pleased to report such dance/electronic artists as Skrillex, M83., Avicii, and Calvin Harris are quite popular with these streaming services.)  So perhaps it’s a sign the magazine will eventually update its dance airplay chart to include HD2 channels and Web stations.  See below for a reprint of our beef with Billboard along with an ironic update.

Billboard Faux Pas

The problem:  The frequently shrinking panel of terrestrial dance stations in America.

Our solution:  Our Megamix panel has included and will continue to include select Web-only stations and HD2 channels, making it twice as big as Billboard’s six-station panel.  As people spend more time listening to the radio via the Net, it only makes sense to consider Web stations, especially when we’re dealing with a niche radio format like dance.

Their solution:  In order to expand its dance radio panel to double digits, Billboard has decided to include airplay from top 40 radio mix shows.  Lest this is too “inside baseball” for some of our fans, suffice it to say the revised Dance/Mix Show Airplay chart is now dominated by major top 40/crossover hits.  Adding mix shows is not a bad idea, but the devil’s in the details.  Some notable mix shows deserve to be counted in some way; our <a href="http://simdanceradio.blogspot.com/#Mix">Dance Radio Guide</a> lists such venerable dance/electronic mix shows as “House Nation” and “Subsonic.”  Unfortunately, it looks like 99.9 percent of the mix shows included by Billboard play mostly remixes of top 40 songs; they sound nothing like Richard Vission’s “Powertools” or Swedish Egil’s “Groove Radio International.” 

We’d like to think someone from the music industry must have raised a red flag during the new chart’s trial run.  So Billboard’s director of charts deserves a lump of coal.  The late Timothy White, Billboard’s esteemed editor until his sudden death in 2002, must be rolling over in his grave.

The bottom line:  Billboard’s panel was down to four stations (one of which only plays dance music in the middle of the night) two months ago, the lowest total since it launched the Hot Dance Airplay chart in 2003 (those first eight stations are long gone).  Yes, the size of radio panel matters, but so does preserving the meaning of a format.  Billboard will argue that a dance remix is still dance.  Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Epilog:  Billboard has no problem adding a low-power FM station in a small market to its panel.  The irony is that you’d have to live within five miles of an LPFM station to listen to it on your radio.  So you know its audio stream reaches more listeners than its transmitter.  The reality is LPFM stations rely on the Internet as their main form of broadcast—just like HD2 channels and Web stations.

Leader of the Pack [February 2012]

After we made the decision to include HD2 channels in our dance radio survey last year, other publications are following our lead.  Of course, we’re all waiting for Billboard to consider adding HD2 channels and Web stations to the mix.  See below for a reprint of our beef with the industry magazine.

Billboard Faux Pas

The problem:  The frequently shrinking panel of terrestrial dance stations in America.

Our solution:  Our Megamix panel has included and will continue to include select Web-only stations and HD2 channels, making it twice as big as Billboard’s six-station panel.  As people spend more time listening to the radio via the Net, it only makes sense to consider Web stations, especially when we’re dealing with a niche radio format like dance.

Their solution:  In order to expand its dance radio panel to double digits, Billboard has decided to include airplay from top 40 radio mix shows.  Lest this is too “inside baseball” for some of our fans, suffice it to say the revised Dance/Mix Show Airplay chart is now dominated by major top 40/crossover hits.  Adding mix shows is not a bad idea, but the devil’s in the details.  Some notable mix shows deserve to be counted in some way; our <a href="http://simdanceradio.blogspot.com/#Mix">Dance Radio Guide</a> lists such venerable dance/electronic mix shows as “House Nation” and “Subsonic.”  Unfortunately, it looks like 99.9 percent of the mix shows included by Billboard play mostly remixes of top 40 songs; they sound nothing like Richard Vission’s “Powertools” or Swedish Egil’s “Groove Radio International.” 

We’d like to think someone from the music industry must have raised a red flag during the new chart’s trial run.  So Billboard’s director of charts deserves a lump of coal.  The late Timothy White, Billboard’s esteemed editor until his sudden death in 2002, must be rolling over in his grave.

The bottom line:  Billboard’s panel was down to four stations (one of which only plays dance music in the middle of the night) two months ago, the lowest total since it launched the Hot Dance Airplay chart in 2003 (those first eight stations are long gone).  Yes, the size of radio panel matters, but so does preserving the meaning of a format.  Billboard will argue that a dance remix is still dance.  Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Epilog:  Billboard has no problem adding a low-power FM station in a small market to its panel.  The irony is that you’d have to live within five miles of an LPFM station to listen to it on your radio.  So you know its audio stream reaches more listeners than its transmitter.  The reality is LPFM stations rely on the Internet as their main form of broadcast—just like HD2 channels and Web stations.

Billboard Faux Pas [December 2011]

The problem:  The frequently shrinking panel of terrestrial dance stations in America.

Our solution:  Our Megamix panel has included and will continue to include select Web-only stations and HD2 channels, making it twice as big as Billboard’s six-station panel.  As people spend more time listening to the radio via the Net, it only makes sense to consider Web stations, especially when we’re dealing with a niche radio format like dance.

Their solution:  In order to expand its dance radio panel to double digits, Billboard has decided to include airplay from top 40 radio mix shows.  Lest this is too “inside baseball” for some of our fans, suffice it to say the revised Dance/Mix Show Airplay chart is now dominated by major top 40/crossover hits.  Adding mix shows is not a bad idea, but the devil’s in the details.  Some notable mix shows deserve to be counted in some way; our <a href="http://simdanceradio.blogspot.com/#Mix">Dance Radio Guide</a> lists such venerable dance/electronic mix shows as “House Nation” and “Subsonic.”  Unfortunately, it looks like 99.9 percent of the mix shows included by Billboard play mostly remixes of top 40 songs; they sound nothing like Richard Vission’s “Powertools” or Swedish Egil’s “Groove Radio International.” 

We’d like to think someone from the music industry must have raised a red flag during the new chart’s trial run.  So Billboard’s director of charts deserves a lump of coal.  The late Timothy White, Billboard’s esteemed editor until his sudden death in 2002, must be rolling over in his grave.

The bottom line:  Billboard’s panel was down to four stations (one of which only plays dance music in the middle of the night) two months ago, the lowest total since it launched the Hot Dance Airplay chart in 2003 (those first eight stations are long gone).  Yes, the size of radio panel matters, but so does preserving the meaning of a format.  Billboard will argue that a dance remix is still dance.  Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Don’t Antitrust Me [2009]

When the parent company of <strong>Billboard</strong> magazine acquired <strong>Radio & Records</strong> in 2006, the Justice Department could’ve made an antitrust case.  As expected, Nielsen Business Media ceased publication of Radio & Records and shuttered its Web site in June.  Once there were several magazines about record sales and radio airplay:  Billboard (1894), Cash Box (1942-1996), Record World (1946-1982), Radio & Records (1973-2009), Billboard Radio Monitor (1993-2006), and Gavin Report (1958-2002).  Now we’re down to just one print magazine in this space.  (Note that CMJ New Music Report continues its coverage of college radio.)

Why does it matter?  Well, some people have criticized Billboard for being a little stodgy.  Case in point:  The magazine didn’t publish a modern rock chart until 1988, a good six years after the debut of the first new wave/modern rock stations in California.  And that’s what it was like when Billboard faced competition.  With no competing magazines since 2006, who will keep Billboard honest?

To be fair, Billboard has always been a strong supporter of dance music.  The magazine introduced its dance radio airplay chart in 2003, just one year after the revival of the dance format.  Indeed, it was a surprise move considering the chart was based on a very small panel (only eight stations at the time).  Billboard would later add noncommercial, satellite, and TV stations in order to maintain the size of the panel.  If Billboard wants to be a little bit more on the cutting edge, it should include at least one Web-only station.

And let’s not forget the first Billboard club chart was published back in 1974 (though Record World unveiled a national survey before Billboard).  By the way, this club play chart is long overdue for a major overhaul.  Something doesn’t seem right when Eric Prydz’s “Call on Me” peaked at No. 29.  Billboard named as the No. 1 club track of 2004 a song by the former lead singer of the 1970s group High Inergy.  She does have a great gospel voice.  But can you name the title and the artist?  Didn’t think so.  This chart is also the only one that’s not electronically monitored.  And who are the anonymous club DJs who submit their playlists?  Talk about a lack of transparency.

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