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Why Billboard shouldn’t be ranking “breakout” artists
January 24, 2011


Billboard just launched a new chart system to rank "breakout" artists.  Although it sounds like a great idea on the surface, it will most definitely cause more harm than good to the independent music industry.  Here are a couple of reasons why it's a bad idea for Billboard to get involved with indie music this way...

It's based on YouTube, MySpace,  Twitter, FaceBook and other social media outlets' traffic and followings
Much like the music industry, numbers are fairly easy to manipulate to almost any social media site given the budget.  This doesn't give a competitive edge to an artist who may be more talented or have a truly great song.  The artists who are going to benefit the most from a system like this are the ones with an on-point marketing team and  a lot of online advertising dollars.   Although there may be some great grass roots artists doing it from the ground up with a giant following, in an age when you can pay Ashton Kutcher to  tweet about how great your album is, it's probably not a good idea to say you're selecting your billboard rankings by taking social media stats as part of the formula.

Facebook advertising, "sponsored tweets" and MySpace advertising can go a long way
With the advent of the internet and social media, what we're seeing is that ANYBODY can have an audience.  Whether you're "talented" or not, there are so many millions of people using the internet, no matter who you are, given the right PR, there's no doubt you can definitely find an audience.  All things considered, have a look at "artists" like Soulja Boy, Gucci Mane and OJ Da Juiceman.  They aren't huge because they're good.  They're huge because they paid a LOT of advertising dollars and had a great PR team to do market research for them.  They did their homework, paid the piper, came up with the right hook, the right productions at the right time and sold their albums.  Today, the proof continues to be in the proverbial pudding pudding.  Have a look at Souljah Boy's recent album sales numbers for an album that didn't have the same huge marketing push the first one did.  The point to remember here is, the one with the deepest pockets wins, not the one with good music that the fans discovered and truly enjoy and want to support.

It isn't a true music ranking
Billboard currently generates their charts based on radio spins and record sales.  As many of you know, this means nothing anymore.  SoundScan is a system used to track album sales.  It's named for the method in which the retailer scans or enters the albums bar code at check out time.  What you may not know is record labels have been known to hop into bed with retailers by sending them extra shipments of albums and/or barcodes and pay them to bulk-scan them in, thus bloating record sales for the label's artist.  And as far as radio, do we even need to discuss payola and the lawsuit Sony/BMG just paid their way out of?  Thus, allowing any label with money to indirectly buy their way to the top of the Billboard chart and also to an American Music Award (we won't go there today).  How long until rating systems like BillBoard inadvertently do this to to independent music being dispersed on the internet?  How long before people are trying to find a way to make the music faster, cheaper and easier so they can pump tracks to get on Billboard's "breakout" artist chart? I'm not blaming Billboard, I'm just saying it's not looking like such a good idea.

This isn't good for independent music
Announcing that you're basing your charts on social media is not only going to encourage artists and their marketing people to push harder to force feed their music on key social media platforms, exactly how the radio does with their largest broadcast markets, but it's also going to pollute the social media sphere with  really bad, unrealistic data.   How could this be a true music charts ranking if the people who are buying it aren't really ranking it?  If the rankings are based on facebook "likes", twitter followers and MySpace "listens", who's to say those numbers were really generated by true fans and not fabricated through smart PR marketing ad campaigns?

Okay, not to pick on him but he makes such a great example, let's recall Soulja Boy again.....an artist with nearly 2.5 million followers on twitter.  An artist who I'm sure, if he weren't signed would undoubtedly fall into Billboards "breakout artists" chart based on his social media following.  When his latest album dropped, he sold a depressing 40,000 records in his first week which begs the question: how many of those 2.5 million followers are fans who genuinely care about that artist? And how many are actually fans simply because of a smart marketing campaign or hundred.

Billboards new chart doesn't encourage artists to grow their fan base organically by word of mouth and finding people who genuinely love their music which is what made music on the internet a truly exciting venture.  Billboard and other companies creating chart rankings based on social media doesn't do anything but stunt independent music's growth online and it takes us right back to the industry drawing board.  Which again, makes one wonder: Will there ever again be a happy marriage and balance in music between creativity and business?

Being that I'm an active contributor in the independent music arena, I understand that embracing every possible avenue for exposure is an absolute must.  So to present this as a problem and completely shoot down a seemingly nice gesture from Billboard without a proposed solution would be reckless and bad for the movement.  So here it is.  I hope you're ready because it's a game changer.  I should probably trademark and copyright this idea.  You ready?  Here it is...

Don't do it.

Billboard needs to completely leave it alone.  Don't touch it.  Don't do the chart, don't get involved with independent music.  Promote, share and get in the conversation, but don't force artists PR their way to the top.  Let the fans decide.  The only way they could ever run a chart like this without it having any negative impact or getting completely false data and in effect,  misrepresenting themselves and the music they are pushing is to not do it at all.  Thanks but no thanks Billboard.  It was a great gesture, but it's better for us all if you just leave it alone.


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