Fred Bronson answers readers' questions about chart methodology, Rascal Flatts, and import CDs.
A FAIR HEARING
Regarding your answer from last week's column that radio station playlists reflect what audiences wants to hear, I am giving you an example that will prove Billboard's current chart method is defective. KIIS-FM in Los Angeles tested randomly by playing hit songs and seeing how their audience responded to them. Surprisingly, Mariah Carey's "Through the Rain" was No. 1 according to their survey. After this testing, KIIS-FM increased the spins for the song from about 11 spins a week to more than 30 spins a week. The increased spins only allowed the song to barely break into their top-30 which is a far cry from the No. 1 spot which was the audience's response.
Don't you agree with me that audience response is more important than how many times the DJs spin the song? Isn't it obvious radio stations only care about audience response to a certain degree?
I believe Billboard is probably the only official chart around the world that weighs so much on DJ preferences instead of the public's preference. I really wish other factors could be considered for composing the chart like online radio, music video spins, and of course, most importantly a similar testing like the callout at KIIS-FM to more accurately reflect what audiences like to hear.
Thanks for your thoughts on the subject. I have to point out a couple of things, though. The answer you refer to wasn't mine, it was from our director of charts, Geoff Mayfield. It doesn't mean that I disagree with him, but it's important to note the distinction. I'm a reporter writing about the charts; I'm not part of the chart department and I don't formulate chart policies. When appropriate in this column, I frequently turn to the person at Billboard who can give an authoritative answer based on experience and expertise. In this case, it was important to get a commnent from the person in charge of our charts to offer professional insight.
Also, I don't know the precise details of KIIS-FM's callout research, but I can tell you with authority how many times they played Mariah Carey's "Through the Rain" last week. According to the latest issue of Billboard Top 40 Airplay Monitor available at deadline, KIIS-FM played the song 35 times last week, compared to 24 times the week before. Those 35 spins were good enough to rank the song at No. 14 on KIIS-FM, just above Craig David's "What's Your Flava?" with 34 spins.
During that same week, Z100 in New York played "Through the Rain" 12 times, down from 14 the week before. Just using airplay data from Mainstream Top 40 radio stations, "Through the Rain" had 1,213 spins last week, up 129 over the week before. That's less than the 1,367 spins for Shaggy's "Strength of a Woman" or the 2,820 spins for matchbox twenty's "Disease," and far less than the 3,220 spins for Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful."
If callout research around the country was showing that "Through the Rain" was more popular, it would be receiving more airplay. So be careful what you wish for -- using callout research would probably not produce the results you want on the Hot 100.
While most countries in the world have singles sales charts, they also have airplay charts. The Hot 100 is unique in combining sales and airplay information, but please keep in mind it has always been so. The chart was conceived in August 1958 as a tally that would combine sales and airplay information. In countries where there is no singles market, airplay charts are the only measurement of song popularity.
Unfortunately, the singles market in the U.S. has all but disappeared. Last week in the print edition of Billboard, I wrote about Pat Boone's current appearance on the Hot 100 Singles Sales chart with "Under God." At the time, the single was No. 20. While it was newsworthy that Boone was on the chart, the fact is, his single only sold 900 copies that week, in a nation with a population of 288 million people. That's the continuing challenge -- how do you measure song popularity under current market conditions? As market conditions change, so must the methods of measuring song popularity.
With all respect to our readers, this is not an invitation to come up with new methods. Please believe that our chart department has considered or is considering them all. So while I don't want to close debate on the topic, I also won't post letters here that repeat the same issues that have already been discussed. If anyone has something truly new to add to the thread, I'll be glad to run such E-mails.
You may already know, but "These Days" is definitely not Rascal Flatts' first entry on the country charts. They've been around for at least a couple years, and have racked up a few top-10 singles, such as "Prayin' for Daylight," "This Everyday Love," "While You Loved Me," and most recently "I'm Movin' On." Also, I'm almost positive that the Dixie Chicks' first entry on the country chart was "I Can Love You Better," which made it into the top-10. Their second song to chart, "There's Your Trouble", was their first No. 1.
I always enjoy reading your column, and I know it's rare for you to make a mistake! (In fact, I bet you did this on purpose to make sure we were paying attention.)
Thankfully I'm too honest to suggest I did this on purpose, but it was kind of you to offer me a way out. The truth is I was on vacation for 2 1/2 weeks, and did not have my usual resources at hand. If I had, the item you read would have been corrected before it ever appeared online. Over the last 10 years, I have written my print column through every vacation, and have done the same with my online column since it was initiated in 1996. I do know the history of Rascal Flatts and the Dixie Chicks, and the item should have read:
"These Days" (Lyric Street) is the act's first title to reach No. 1. That makes Rascal Flatts the first duo or group to have its first No. 1 song since August 1998, when the Dixie Chicks achieved pole position with "There's Your Trouble."
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING AN IMPORT
I have a question regarding import CDs. This weekend I was in New York and picked up an import copy of Robbie Williams' new album, "Escapology," because I figured it was never going to be released in the U.S. I know that Billboard does not include import sales in their charts (I imagine it would be incredibly hard to catalog and sort every imported release of every CD out there) -- but does my purchase count toward Robbie's total overseas?
I bought the CD in Virgin. For example, if Virgin imports 1,000 copies of the album from the U.K., does that account for 1,000 sales of "Escapology" in the U.K., whether or not the imports sell in the U.S.?
Any help on this issue is greatly appreciated.
Your purchase of "Escapology" (which will be issued in the U.S. on the Virgin label) does count toward the total number of U.K. copies sold. However, it would not count for the U.K. album chart.
Hope you like the album! It sold enough copies in the U.K. to debut at No. 1 -- no surprise, given Robbie Williams' superstar status at home.