The Ultimate Chart – Number One with a Bullet

When I took over as program director at a major market top 40 station, the first record promotion man to visit me walked in, sat down (with the door open) and pulled out a checkbook.

He said, “how much do you want?”

It’s not like I was naive about payola, but his frankness was still disconcerting.

Maybe because I am an east coast guy I am not that always so trusting.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked (maybe even loved) those Runyonesque characters who pushed program directors to play music they were paid to work.

However, I didn’t always believe them.

When they sat in my office and pulled out Billboard to show me the “bullet” the record they were working "earned" this week, I would take the magazine and page through to see if their label bought any full page ads. Maybe the label bought the "bullet", I thought.

I told you I was not that trusting.

However, I, like a lot of program directors, lived and died by local research that our stations conducted.

Still, creative record promoters would bring free albums, gifts or God knows what to the various record stores in the listening area so that these stores would report hyped sales that exaggerated the record's real sales performance when the station called.

Listener input was important but I caught the labels paying people to call in and request their songs over and over again. All's fair in love and the record business.

It was all part of the game.

I liked Radio & Records because I could track what other stations like mine were adding and how songs were moving up and down the charts. But at no time did I ever believe music charts like the ones in Billboard really mattered to anyone other than the labels and the artists.

Still true today.

Which is why I was so pleased to see my friend Eric Garland of Big Champagne debut The Ultimate Chart based on online streams and social networking services – not just sales and airplay.

Now this chart has the potential to mean something to everyone – after all what is a music chart in this day and age that doesn’t adequately factor in online and social networking? That’s right, Billboard.

Here’s how The Ultimate Chart does it.

They measure legitimate music services such as YouTube, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook. The strategy is sound because there are so many more things that are relevant to what makes music successful than primarily record sales and airplay. There is also television, ring tones and other ways to judge success.

If you study The Ultimate Chart you will see discrepancies between the results they report and Billboard – as it should be.

In a recent New York Times article on The Ultimate Chart, the writer said,

“For the week that ended July 11, Billboard’s Hot 100 had Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” at No. 1 and Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” at No. 2. The Ultimate Chart, measuring the week to July 13, had those songs in reverse order. But No. 3 on the Ultimate Chart — Shakira’s World Cup song, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” — is a distant No. 39 on Billboard; the Ultimate’s No. 4, Eminem’s “Not Afraid,” is No. 11.

The most notable disparity is Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” which is No. 5 on the Ultimate Chart; on the Hot 100, the song peaked at No. 5 in February, but fell off the chart entirely in June.

That would seem to indicate the continued popularity of the song — or at least of Mr. Bieber — on social-media networks even if downloads and radio play have cooled. For artists and record companies, that extra attention can mean the difference between a blip and a long-lasting hit”.

Being number one can also be a disadvantage – I’m speaking of Billboard now.

While they play with their methodology, Billboard has not seen fit to embrace the Ultimate Chart’s approach. Billboard several years ago relented a bit when it started factoring in AOL and Yahoo in their chart compilation but have been slow to reflect the radical swing to online and social networking influences.

The labels show a willingness to look at all type of data that on the surface would indicate that they, indeed, have open minds.

In reality, record labels only use the data that helps them sell an artist or product. So if it were delivered to them by Charles Manson and it showed upward growth of their artist(s) then the chart is good.

I’m kidding – I'm kidding.

What this Billboard challenge tells us is what we’ve been saying all along – that the music industry has changed even if the labels have not.

Consumers can like an artist, cherry pick a tune, go to a concert (or not as the concert industry is beginning to find out), buy merchandise and more without having to have a top ten song.

In the music industry, a song that has earned its “bullet” in Billboard shows the most growth.

Example: debuting on the charts at #39 with a "bullet" is euphoria.

Number one with a "bullet" means the song is so big it is not yet out of juice – something we see a lot less of these days.

With that in mind, Eric Garland’s Big Champagne if it successfully turns the focus on how real people consume music and not how the record industry wishes they did, then I would say it earned a number one with a "bullet" for The Ultimate Chart.

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