Ask Billboard

Keith answers readers' questions on parental advisory stickers, singles sales and digital download retailers.


Hi Keith!

I've noticed the new Maroon 5 album does not bear a "parental advisory" sticker. A bit of a shock to me, as the chorus of "Makes Me Wonder" was "cleaned up" for radio. Nor have I read anything about there being two different versions of the album -- an edited version and an explicit one.

So I was curious: are all unstickered copies of "It's Not Soon Before Long" edited or is A&M not releasing an explicit version of the album commercially?

Jeff Fiedler
Washington Crossing, Penn.

Hi Jeff,

I've listened to the unstickered album version of "Makes Me Wonder," and it's pretty clear that the chorus was not cleaned up. There is only one version of the album available:¬ the unstickered (and presumably unedited) version.

You can find out more information than you ever thought possible about the Parental Advisory Label Program at the RIAA's Web site.

Stickering (and additionally offering an edited version of) an album is voluntary and the decision is left to the record label and artist. Perhaps at the end of the day Maroon 5 and its labels (Octone and A&M) felt that this album wasn't something that needed to be stickered with a parental advisory notice.

Maybe the band maintains that in "Makes Me Wonder" they are singing "And it really makes me wonder if I ever gave a funk about you?"

That said, even if lead singer Adam Levine is singing "f***" instead of "funk," just using a cuss word doesn't mean that the album automatically becomes something that needs to be labeled with a parental advisory sticker. The guidelines are seemingly purposely left to interpretation.

Here's one nugget to keep in mind from the guidelines for determining whether or not a recording should use a Parental Advisory Label: "A determination that a sound recording contains (Parental Advisory Label) Content is not a statement as to whether the sound recording is or is not suitable for particular listeners. Nor is the absence of any notification that a sound recording contains (Parental Advisory Label) Content a statement that the sound recording is completely devoid of all references to strong language or depictions of violence, sex, or substance abuse."


Hi Keith,

I was trying to explain to someone how the Billboard singles charts work with album cuts now and I realized I have a question of my own.

Since album cuts have been allowed to count on the Hot 100 and other singles charts for some time now, how does it work if one downloads that one track from the album from a digital outlet? Do its sales count toward chart position? Take Beyonce's, "Get Me Bodied," which is charting on both the Hot 100 and R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts right now.

If someone buys that one track a la carte from the album during the chart week and it still has significant airplay to chart on the Hot 100, do the sales of that track count towards its position on the singles charts or does it have to be specified as an actual single by the label before its sales count towards its position on any of the singles charts?

Also any updates on Whitney Houston latest project?


Dave White
Rochester, N.Y.

Hi Dave,

A song doesn't need to be marketed or advertisted as a "single" by an artist's label in order for its digital song downloads to count towards its chart placement.

So, for example, if you go buy Rihanna's "Umbrella" as solitary download from the iTunes Store this week -- where it carries its own single artwork -- it counts towards the Hot Digital Songs chart. And, once Rihanna's album is released, if you decide to just cherry-pick "Umbrella" out of the album's tracklist for a single download, it will count towards the Hot Digital Songs chart, too.

Remember though, the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart doesn't factor in digital sales yet. Also, the above information applies only to current songs -- not oldies. If a 20 year-old track suddenly becomes popular for one week just because someone on "American Idol" performed it, the single will not enter The Billboard Hot 100. (But it will, of course, chart on the Hot Digital Songs chart.)

And, I've got no update on Whitney Houston's forthcoming album.



Can you tell me who or what determines what songs are released to iTunes, Musicmatch, etc. for individual purchase?

I'm often surprised how obscure songs I'm looking for can be found but others that seem more "mainstream" are not available. Just curious what the criteria for release is.

Thank you for your time.

Sean Campbell
Jackson, Mich

Hi Sean,

It's always frustrating when I browse the iTunes Store and see angry "reviews" from customers blaming iTunes for not having a single available for purcase, or, forcing a costumer to buy an entire album because the song they want is an "album only" track.

Generally, there is always a reason why a song isn't available online for individual purchase. Usually, it's because of some sort of contractual wranglings. Say, for example, one of the artists that participated in a song never signed off on letting it be sold digitally.

When Tony Bennett's "Duets" album was released last fall, a few of the songs on the album were not available as individual downloads ¬ you had to buy the whole album in order to get duets with the likes of Michael Buble and Bono, for example.

Really, the reasons for why this happens are specific to an individual project. While Bono (or Bono's management, or his label, or Bennett's label) opted not to let his duet be purchased individually, it's a different story with the recent Kylie Minogue live album. On the "Showgirl Homecoming Live" album, Bono duets with Minogue on her hit single "Kids," and you can buy the song individually.