In an industry first, the UK is set to introduce a new chart that will judge the popularity of artists based on how often they are streamed on services like Spotify, Napster and Deezer.

Introduced by the Official Charts Company (OCC), UK’s answer to Billboard or Australia’s own ARIA, the new chart will not include iTunes downloads or digital purchases, but instead rank listening figures from popular online streaming services.

The OCC’s press release details how the chart will be the first of its kind, “supported by the Entertainment Retailers Association and record labels association The BPIThe Official Streaming Chart will be the first chart which ranks audio streams from both ad-funded and subscription streaming services in the UK, to reflect the growing interest in this new generation of music services.”

Although scheduled to go live from May 14, the OCC has already released a preview of the chart, with England’s own auburn-haired troubadour Ed Sheeran topping the chart as the most streamed artist of 2012. He’s leading a pack that includes Lana Del Rey, Coldplay and, of course, our own Gotye.

In fact, Gotye’s inescapable duet with Kimbra is far and away the most-streamed track of 2012, a figure that doesn’t even include YouTube views of the track (which has just broken 200 million).

While the UK is embracing a future that recognises legal streaming, funded by advertising and not consumer sales, as an integral new part of the music industry, Australia still lags behind.

Our country’s own record charts body, ARIA, still calculates its rankings based on physical sales, but worse than that, it is actually governed by the amount of units shipped, not sold to consumers.

That means that the music rankings are based not on what is actually bought and sold in record shops around Australia, but in what is expected to sell by the companies that produce and supply them. Which is to say that there might be 50,000 copies of the latest Angus & Julia Stone record sent to stores, but it doesn’t account for how many of those are actually bought, paid for and taken home by listeners.

Even ARIA describes this subtle inaccuracy in an FAQ on its website stating, “the ARIA accreditations are based on sales from the record companies to retailers… sometimes a title purchased in great quantity by stores in anticipation of massive retail sales may sell more slowly than expected and a less highly anticipated release may exceed expected sales.”

This occasionally leads to bizarre situations where a Gold certified record (35,000 units) charts higher than a Platinum certified record (70,000 units), as it did last week when dubstep linchpin Skrillex’s Bangarang EP outstripped both Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die and Florence + The Machine’s sophomore record, Ceremonials.

Obviously sales figures are easier to track with something like digital downloads, thus the singles chart often reflecting the iTunes store’s own sales, which meant the death knell for the traditional method of tracking physical singles sold; while the ARIA charts remain with an outdated, inaccurate system.

Should the ARIA introduce a streaming chart? Or, at the very least, be updating their current calculating system to more accurately reflect music sales?

We think clearly the answer is yes.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine