Tag Archives: billboard


On Wednesday February 20th, Billboard added YouTube views to their Hot 100 methodology which radically changed the makeup of the esteemed chart. The most immediate change came at the top, where “Harlem Shake” by Baauer, the viral sensation, debuts at #1. It marks the first time that a relatively unknown artist debuts at #1 with very little radio airplay to aid it. Given the ubiquity of the song last week, with everyone from the Today Show to college swim teams to the Norwegian Army joining in, it feels culturally right to see the song at the top spot. As many writers have noted, this is probably the biggest change to the Hot 100 chart in a very long time.

But why did it take this long to add YouTube (and VEVO) views to the chart? With numerous videos being seen north of 100 million times, YouTube’s influence on pop culture has been clear for a few years. At a minimum, it’s been two years since the game changing Rebecca Black video. Shouldn’t Billboard have been counting YouTube all along?

The likely reason why they haven’t is because YouTube numbers have to be trustworthy if they are going to influence the bellweather singles chart. Simply scraping numbers from YouTube is not valid as it doesn’t account for country discrepancies within a US based chart. But it also doesn’t account for activity from bots, a practice many labels and artists have used to varied success over the last few years.

In advance of the Hot 100 announcement, YouTube stepped up its enforcement of its Terms Of Service forbidding bot views. The most noticeable result was a 2 BILLION view decrease in major label videos 2 months ago, but similar audits of videos at all levels have been ramping up for months now. With a chart influence now on the line, both parties are more incentivized to stay honest. The timing of these events feel like more than coincidence, and certainly suggests a concerted effort to increase YouTube’s credibility for chart eligibility. As such, I would anticipate enforcement to get more strict, with account deletions a likely punishment for bot activity.

Last week’s #1 was “Thrift Shop”, another song that broke out of YouTube. Getting the credit as the “breaking spot” for back to back chart-toppers is crucial to reinforcing and growing YouTube’s brand. Having more credible numbers is certainly good for everyone in the long run. For those who think they can do an end-run around the system, it feels very likely that this one is closing rapidly.


Can you define a musician? Then, presuming you can, can you define a successful one? Many technologists bemoan the “old” music business because they didn’t “get” new technologies. Yet those same people largely don’t “get” that those we define as a successful musician has also changed.

What fired me up about this was last week’s blog post on The Trichordist entitled, “If the Internet is working for Musicians, Why aren’t more Musicians Working Professionally?” They trotted out well-used established facts such as:

* Only 228 out of 105,000 albums sold over 10,000 units in 2008 (or 2%)
* The number of albums released went down 22% from 2009 to 2010
* 99.9% of Tunecore artists make under minimum wage

I agree with these facts. However, they presume a successful musician is predicated on albums and selling said albums. If I follow on that logic, then I’d also like to declare the internet is dying because dial up access has decreased significantly in recent years. Naturally, the internet is not dying. The reality just scares many because not only is music thriving, but it’s largely thriving in the world of the uncool, unhip, and whose talent is not found in a traditional “critical” sense.

First, let’s set a benchmark for success of recorded music. If we’re to say that 10,000 albums is the bar of success, then one can say that someone needs to gross around $100,000 in sales (10,000 units x $10 album price). So, are there more than 228 artists grossing over $100,000 in recorded music revenue? Plenty. Who are they?

Several artists are foregoing releasing albums when their singles are selling so well. Even bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers have announced releasing only singles. When they release 18 songs as singles instead of on one album, that’s just one more sign of the album’s decline. But that’s not the decline of the music business. And the Chili Peppers are not alone.

Whole labels are set up around the new music business. Kontor in Europe has over 1 BILLION YouTube streams from dance singles. That’s a lot of revenue before digital or physical sales. They do release some full length albums and compilations. But the bulk of the business is in singles that aren’t counted in that top level album roundup. It’s not just the dance community, and it’s not just Europe.

I’ve previously written about unsigned artist Alex Day getting UK chart hits. Some people in comments criticized that he built a following thru non-music entertaining videos. So then we should discount Disney stars who were actors before they sang a note? Should Jana Kramer’s foray into Country Music not count because she had previously been on a TV show? Let’s not double standard someone just because they’re on YouTube. They made music. It made money. Get over it.

Have you gotten annoyed with all these singers racking up millions of views doing covers on YouTube? Well, you’ve just written off a whole class of musicians. Many of them are making six figures a year. Some solely off of YouTube revenues. Should we not count these folks as artists? Then we should erase the many Pat Boone covers from the charts of the fifties. Or all the covers on the Beatles’ first few albums. Performing covers should not disqualify you from being counted in the music business.

What, just because you make funny music, you shouldn’t count? There was a time when a comedian named Vaughan Meader had the best selling album of the year. The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles won a Grammy (which is comedy AND covers). “Weird Al” Yankovic has routinely had best selling albums. Just because you’re not serious doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be TAKEN seriously. And many of these parody artists are selling lots of singles AND earning lots of YouTube revenue.

Awww…those precocious young kids who can rap Nicki Minaj and end up on Ellen. How cute. How novelty. Also, how rich. Not “buy a mansion” rich. But certainly “gross $100k” rich. Just because they’re not of legal age yet doesn’t mean we shouldn’t count them. They sing. They make money. They count.

Dirty secret of the business. They used to sell a shit-ton of kids music. And they counted in overall yearly roundups. But with that business drying up, they no longer count. Where has it gone? YouTube. I should know because I played endless videos for my daughter when she was a toddler. Have you watched Gummibar? That’s making a lot of money. Someone has even turned public domain kids songs into a business with Super Simple Songs. If we used to count them years ago, we should still count them now.

By the way, this is before we even talk about musicians who are making great strides outside the system WITH great music like Amanda Palmer and Zoe Keating. In my opinion, saying there’s a decline in musicians is cultural elitism. It’s still alive and well, just not in the form a true “passionate music fan” would like to see it in. The music business is alive and well in many splinter forms that don’t involve radio or labels. But they also don’t involve what a traditional music career might be. I’m OK with this. Are you?

FYI…here’s a list of 40 artists who are clearly doing very well in music just from YouTube revenue who don’t have a record company behind them. They’re not traditional, but that shouldn’t take away their success. I know there are many more, but these are ones that are at the top of the pyramid.

Alex Day
Alex Goot
Austin Mahone
Bart Baker
Christina Grimmie
Connie Talbot
Dave Days
David Choi
David MeShow
DJ Earworm
Emmanuel & Phillip Hudson
The Gregory Brothers
Julia Nunes
Julian Smith
Keenan Cahill
The Key Of Awesome
Kina Grannis
Kurt Hugo Schneider
Lindsey Stirling
Maddi Jane
Matty B
Megan Nicole
Mia Rose
Mike Tompkins
Mystery Guitar Man
Nice Peter
Nick Pitera
The Piano Guys
Rebecca Black
Singing Trio
Sophia Grace
Sungha Jung
Super Simple Songs
Tay Zonday
Tyler Ward
Vasquez Sounds


For several months, I’ve heard a lot of complaints on how little Spotify pays indie artists. So I was kind of surprised that very few picked up the story that Spotify is actually, well, starting to pay indies more.

Evolver.FM said that a confidential report from Merlin (the indie label trade organization rights agency) is showing strong revenue growth from Spotify. The reason is an increase in subscribers and usage overall. One would also suggest that the Facebook integration is starting to show up in royalty statements in recent months as well.

As an indie label owner, I get the pain of small micro payments. But I also get the concept of patience. We all dream that our song will be released, spread like wildfire, and generate huge instant digital revenues. Lately, Bob Lefsetz has been promoting the idea that great music finds its audience no matter what, further reinforcing a false notion that great things are instant successes.

But let’s take a look at one of the biggest songs of 2012: Fun’s “We Are Young”. This is the Google search trending for the song over the last year. The song was released in September 2011. This critically acclaimed song produced…barely a ripple. In fact, it didn’t do much until the spike in December which was the result of appearing on the show Glee. Then it dropped off, though maintained a higher popularity than before the show. But it wasn’t until the use in a Super Bowl ad that everything kicked into high gear and the upward ascent began. This popular hit did not go viral out of the gate. It took traditional TV placements for people to see it.

The success occurred because everyone was patient. In fact, the band’s manager Dalton Sim said as much in a Billboard cover story in March.

From my perspective, the success comes from the hard work the band, Nettwerk Records and Fueled by Ramen have put into the band for the last three-plus years to develop a real fan base.

So when it comes to services like Spotify, it appears that patience just might pay off as well. At one point, YouTube didn’t pay anyone. Now they are a top revenue driver for many artists. Financial success at any level is not an overnight story for artists or companies for that matter. However, working towards those greater successes can yield bright futures for all.

UPDATE: As Jim Mahoney of A2IM pointed out, Merlin is not a trade organization, but a rights agency.


It’s halfway thru 2011 and time to make my 2nd annual midyear report. This report defines a hit as a song that has sold the most downloads. I look at the Top 50 biggest selling downloads in the US as a group. This year, these Top 50 downloads accounted for nearly 89 million downloads (and nearly $115 million in gross revenue). Once again, about 1 out of every 3 paid downloads of a new song came from this list of 50 titles. The exact figure is 32.9%, which is an increase over the 32.3% from last year. In fact, having a hit is becoming increasingly important. While the overall download market has increased 11% so far over 2010, the Top 50 downloads have increased in sales at a faster rate (by 15%). The #1 selling single for the year so far is Katy Perry’s “E.T.” with 4.1 million downloads sold. That’s a 22% increase over last year’s #1 song at this time. Also, for the first time, every single title in the Top 50 downloads has sold platinum in the last 6 months.

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What exactly is Klout? Klout measures your overall online influence on a scale of 1 to 100. It looks at Twitter, Facebook and the like and examines several factors. It looks at your True Reach, or how big is your engaged audience. It looks at Amplification Probability, or how likely a person on your audience will click your link. It also looks at your Network Influence, such as how often you get retweeted. All told, it can measure exactly how influential you are.

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