The Official Charts Company in the UK is about to overhaul the current rules regarding streaming singles and albums on the British charts. The rules are set to come into effect next month.

The OCC now says that the Top 100 singles chart can now be limited to 3 single placings per artist. Their reasoning is that this will encourage new artists to have a chance to place on the chart and prevent more famous musicians from monopolizing the top spots. The OCC cites Ed Sheeran’s recent album ÷ with all 16 songs having appeared in the Top 20 in February this year thanks to stream plays.

The music singles and albums charts have taken streaming music plays into account since 2012. Streaming services like iTunes, Spotify and Google Music have fundamentally changed the way people access and listen to music. The resulting charts are arguably more direct but as seen are likely to be more skewed, as seen with Sheeran’s album. After all, out of those 16 charting songs, only three were officially released as singles.

In the past, chart sales were based on just that: the purchase of a physical CD or record. Today, the chart positions of streamed songs are calculated at 150 stream plays per sale, which went up from 100 streams since January 2017.

A passive listening culture that thrives on the repeat button, along with taste-oriented programming on Pandora and Spotify that doesn’t allow for active discovery may account for this sudden onslaught. Someone listening to Ed Sheeran Radio on Pandora may hear the same songs repeat regularly. And yet, no matter how many times an Elvis fan spun their 45 of “Hound Dog” in 1956, a sale was just a sale.

Perhaps the best explanation is that whereas the single used to be king, it’s now the image. When all songs on an artist’s album can be played individually at a moment’s notice and affect the charts, regardless of whether they deserve to be singles or not, the market changes dramatically.

In a way the OCC’s new measures are understandable, but still cheapens the whole notion of making the charts. Will it ever be possible for a band like The Beatles to hold the top 5 spots at once on the Billboard chart like they did in April 1964? It’s hard to say yet what these new regulations may mean for the album, the single, or even the music video as a means of promotion.


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