Industry Opinion: Is The New Billboard Chart Wrong To Count YouTube Streams?

artist: Misc date: 02/27/2013 category: music news
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Industry Opinion: Is The New Billboard Chart Wrong To Count YouTube Streams?
Billboard has started adding YouTube streaming data to its Hot 100 chart - but is that fair? Let's start by explaining how the new system works. Nielsen tracks official video streams and any user-generated clips that use authorised audio, then reports it to Billboard who compile the weekly chart of top artists in the US. The changes are supposed to help represent the way music is consumed in this day and age. That's why Baauer just went to number 1 in the US with his song "Harlem Shake". As you all know, it's the theme tune to a new meme where a lone dancer triggers a GIF-inspired dance fest. The timing was perfect, because Baauer was lucky enough to register for the first edition of the new Billboard chart.
On the surface it makes sense. When an artist is in the public consciousness more than others, they deserve a higher chart placement. But should we question whether this truly represents modern tastes in music? Does the new Billboard chart leave itself open to abuse from savvy marketers with a bigger budget than real musicians? To answer whether Baauer deserves his place at the top of the chart, we need to consider why he featured on this video meme in the first place. It's not clear how the original meme makers picked his song (there are several which claim to be the "original" Harlem Shake video), but you could say it's largely incidental.
Many dance songs would have fit the format of this meme, though I should highlight one interesting twist to Baauer's track that worked in his favour. The short Spanish intro means the first half of the song is longer than the second half. That means the default frame which viewers see before hitting play (which is usually taken from the halfway point in the video) is a shot from before the second half kicks in. That means people don't see any of the surprise second half, which would otherwise be ruined. Now, if the song were composed with this in mind, I'd proclaim it a work of genius that fully deserves its place at the top of the chart. But that sounds unlikely - it was originally released last year to little fanfare. But to its credit, like a true evolutionary meme, "Harlem Shake" had musical genes which worked in its favour, but not by design. And so we're left with a song that has effectively tagged along on the creativity of others to achieve its fame, rather than carve a path of its own. Baauer's role in this meme was largely incidental. Now Billboard has placed it higher than any other song based on its perceived success.
On this occasion it isn't a big deal (and to be honest, I like that obscure songs like this can make their name on the back of sheer people power), but it also means the Billboard chart is open to genuine abuse. And when Billboard is running one of the most coveted shorts in the world, which doubles as the ultimate music marketing tool to the biggest music market in the world, you can bet marketers are scheming ways to take advantage of it this very second. What if YouTube continues to have a fake view problem? In December, it had to slash more than two billion "fake views" from major artists including Rihanna and Justin Bieber. No one knows for sure where the fake views came from, but it costs very little to buy big views from certain shady websites. And that's if the smart people at these marketing companies don't find more legitimate methods to inflate views - which is never going to be a fair representation of wider music tastes. Of course, some could argue that the charts have always been abused by music marketing, which forces artists with a lower budget to have less of a voice in the music charts. The charts might always be plagued by old problems, but we should question Billboard when it introduces new policies before it introduces a whole new set of problems. What do you think about the new Billboard Hot 100? Is it the way charts ought to be, or is it open to abuse? Let us know what you think in the comments. Tom Davenport
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