HomeUncategorizedNew Way to Manipulate Billboard Charts Is Super Annoying

New Way to Manipulate Billboard Charts Is Super Annoying

Editor’s note: Wren Graves writes about trends in the entertainment industry and publishes a pop-culture crossword puzzle every Tuesday in the Consequence Newsletter. This week, his analysis of the Billboard charts is also being spotlighted on our site. Subscribe here to never miss an issue of the newsletter, and check out this week’s crossword, “Waynes’ World,” here

For almost as long as Billboard has published charts, artists and their reps have tried to game them. You may have noticed this latest Annoying Tactic, or perhaps you caught Annoying Tactic (Acoustic), Annoying Tactic (Sped Up), Annoying Tactic (Slowed Down), and dozens of Annoying Tactic (Alternate Mixes). Artists are releasing the same song in alternate versions, in what is a rational (but still tiresome) reaction to Billboard’s rules.

How did we get here? Figuring out what’s popular sounds simple enough, but the people doing the counting have to make all sorts of judgment calls. Is watching a music video the same as paying money to download a song? Do ad-tier streams matter as much as paying customers? And should different versions of the same track be tallied as different songs?

In the case of the Billboard charts, the answer to all of these questions is “no,”  and each “no” ensures that more expensive consumption is given a bigger share of the vote.

According to the New York Times, the Billboard album charts count a YouTube stream the same as a stream on Spotify or any other platform — depending on whether the listener paid for their account. 3,750 streams from free users are counted the same as 1,250 plays from paid accounts, which is equal to one physical album purchase.

Of course, packaging multiple versions as a single goes back to the 1980s, but the digital structure — and pressure to buy each version separately — are new.As my colleague Jonah Krueger recently looked at with the iTunes chart, charts encourage both diehard stans and anyone with an axe to grind to buy the same song multiple times. The more important it is to fans, the more they can pay, both to the artists and middlemen.

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