Static feedback: Why the UK singles chart needs to keep on moving

Static feedback: Why the UK singles chart needs to keep on moving

Last week, for the first time in history, time stood still on the Official Singles Chart, with every record in the Top 10 a non-mover.

Back in the day, UK fans would marvel at the moribund nature of the US charts, where records approached the summit with glacial slowness, in stark contrast to the fast-paced diet of high new entries, huge leaps and spectacular crashes on this side of the pond.

The shift to streaming has inevitably slowed our countdown too, although the Official Charts Company has been swift in adjusting to the new environment with rule tweaks, such as limiting the number of songs by a single artist and adding video streams, designed to keep things fresh. Indeed, the OCC’s data shows that the chart is still producing more hits than it did. The first 23 weeks of 2019 saw 50 new Top 10 hits (six more than the same period last year), 88 new Top 20 hits (up nine on 2018) and 149 new Top 40 hits (up five on last year).

So, how did last week's paralysed Top 10, headed by Ed Sheeran (pictured) and Justin Bieber's I Don't Care, happen?

“The evidence indicates that this was an anomaly,” Official Charts CEO Martin Talbot tells Music Week. “We have put in place various measures over the past couple of years to increase movement in the chart and the stats show that there have been more new entries to the Top 10, Top 20 and Top 40 so far this year as in the same period last year. Indeed, this week we are seeing more movement in the chart and expect to see more again next week too.”

The charts must reflect what's exciting right now

But scoring a high, first-week new entry certainly feels like it’s getting tougher. This year, Music Week research shows there’s been an average of 0.91 records going straight into the Top 10, and 1.83 debuting inside the Top 20. Four weeks have produced no brand new Top 20 entries at all.

The charts today are a better reflection of what people are listening to than ever before, but it’s also key they reflect what’s getting people excited right now. Brand new music is the lifeblood of the business, and those first-week listens are surely more elective than those for records that have been around for weeks or months, even allowing for the accelerated decline rules.

Many execs ponder whether those lean-in streams should count for more than lean-back ones via playlists, in the same way premium subscriber streams are worth more, in chart terms, than free ones. The Official Charts Company is always looking at further rule tweaks – for example, the vexed question of whether soundtrack albums should appear in the compilations chart or the main albums chart remains under debate – so it will be interesting to see if this one rises up the agenda.

Another static chart or two and it surely will. Because, while things look livelier this week, six of the Top 10, including the entire Top 5, remain unmoved. And few will relish a repeat of the repeat. After all, no one ever got excited about standing still.

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