How A Song Hits The Charts


‘Starboy’ by The Weeknd is the number one album. Aside from the chorus constantly getting stuck in your head, what makes it number one?

It’s time to decode the charts.

First, there are two charts you should know about: Billboard 200 (albums) and Hot 100 (individual songs).

Second, Nielsen is an important company that measures data and relays it to other important companies (like Billboard).

Third, SoundScan is a system used by Nielsen to obtain album sale data. “On a weekly basis, Nielsen collects point-of-sale (POS) data in 19 countries,” according to their website. Basically, UPC codes are vital.

Now that we’ve established some ground rules, let’s get into the details.

The Billboard 200 formula is album sales plus track sales plus streaming.

“Album sales” is self-explanatory – how many albums (physical/digital) have been sold.

You might be wondering what “track sales” has to do with an album chart. Meet the track equivalent album (TEA) unit, which accounts for buying only the songs you like. One TEA unit (a.k.a. one album sale) equals ten digital track sales.

Streaming data was incorporated in 2014 when the chart went “from a pure sales-based ranking to one measuring multi-metric consumption,” according to Billboard.

Remember the TEA unit? There’s a streaming version aptly named a streaming equivalent album (SEA) unit.

1500 streams equal one album sale. Why 1500? Grab your calculator.

When multi-metric consumption was introduced, the average per stream payout (how much money the copyright owner gets per stream) was $0.005. The average wholesale price of an album was $7.50. So, what number do you have to multiply $0.005 by to get $7.50? Let’s set up an equation.

0.005 * x = 7.50

x = 7.50 / 0.005

x = 1500

Good news: no more math.

The Hot 100 formula is airplay plus sales plus streaming.

You already know what the second two factors mean, and the first refers to radio/TV airplay tracked by Nielsen’s Broadcast Data Systems.

Congratulations! Your knowledge of charts is now off the chart.

This post was written by Lexi Kelson – @lexkelson. Featured image courtesy of Brett Levin via Flickr.



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