music sales represent a significant portion of most musicians’ incomes, but until recently, digital downloads weren’t part of Billboard’s highly influential country, rock, rap, R&B and Latin charts. Recent updates to these charts add in Nielsen SoundScan digital download data, and many artists have seen a noticeable jump in chart rankings as a result of the changes. However, some music listeners and critics see immediate problems with the new additions.
Adding the digital data was a “perfectly logical” move according to Billboard, the top music sales tracker in the United States. However, crossover artists whose songs appeal to fans of more than one genre seemed to get an especially notable boost from the changes. Some analysts argue that this dilutes Billboard’s genre designations by raising the profile of these crossover artists.
Taylor Swift, for instance, writes songs that qualify for both the country and pop charts. Because Swift’s digital singles are extremely popular with pop music listeners, her numbers on the Billboard country charts increased substantially as a result of the inclusion of digital listening data.
However, many Taylor Swift fans wouldn’t consider themselves country music fans, and digital listeners are arguably more likely to listen to single tracks from crossover artists like Swift without spending much time listening to other artists on the Billboard country charts. Critics argue that crossover artists working in popular genres can quickly rise to the top of charts with smaller listener bases.
Billboard now counts listens on services like Rhapsody, Spotify, Xbox Music and others. Many of these services work on a subscription-based format that favors singles over albums, which might also impact the Billboard charts. Some bloggers and industry analysts see these changes as artificial and problematic.
This is not the first time that Billboard has included digital downloads and listens in its charts. The popular Hot 100 chart already counts digital downloads, and two other charts, Social 50 and Digital Songs, track digital listeners specifically.