Germany's Music Charts Turn 40: Facts and Milestones in the 4th Biggest Music Market

AP Photo/Sandy Hill
Madonna performs during her Blond Ambition tour in Worcester, Mass. on June 4, 1990.

The world's fourth largest music market with sales of over €1.6 billion ($1.9 billion) last year is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the official German charts, which launched on Aug. 29, 1977. "With our charts, we enjoy international recognition as well as high credibility in the music industry and the media," said Dr. Florian Drücke, managing director of the German Federal Association of the Music Industry (BVMI) in Berlin, in an interview with Billboard. "The German charts are the beacon for business in music."

At the moment, there are more than ten separate charts covering different genres such as classical music, German pop and hip-hop, as well as different formats such as streaming and downloads. With the exception of classical music and jazz, which are published monthly, all the other charts appear in a weekly format.

Says Dr. Drücke: "With a coverage of over 90 percent of all music sales, the official German charts provide a comprehensive view of the German music market. They are based on the sales and utilization data contributed by 2,800 retailers in all sales channels. These include physical retailers, e-commerce merchants, download portals and music streaming platforms. Never before in the history of music has it been possible to obtain such a comprehensive, diversified and immediate view of music consumption in Germany as in 2017."

OFFICIAL GERMAN CHARTS: Top Albums // Top Singles

Billboard asked GfK, the compiling research institute in Baden-Baden, for some notable facts from the charts over the last 40 years. Here are the results:

-- Madonna has been the most successful singles artist since the launch of the official charts.

-- Lady Gaga's "Born this Way" (2011) was the first download-only hit to reach No. 1 on the singles chart.

-- Following his death in 2009, Michael Jackson broke the record of most entires on the official charts simultaneously, with nine albums and 24 singles all placing. In 2017, Linkin Park had nine albums and 17 singles on the charts following Chester Bennington's death.

-- Since 1977, "Grease" and "The Bodyguard" have been the two soundtracks that have stayed at No. 1 for the longest period. They each spent 11 weeks at the top of the charts.

-- Germany aside, no country features more prominently on the official German charts than the United States. Of the 5,364 artists who have made it onto the album charts since 1977, 1,849 came from Germany, 1,417 from the U.S., 880 from the United Kingdom, 141 from Sweden and 96 each from Canada and Austria.

-- German, German-speaking and UK artists lead the singles charts (Helene Fischer, DJ Ötzi, Ed Sheeran, Paul & Fritz Kalkbrenner, David Guetta and Wham!) and the album charts (Helene Fischer, Peter Maffay, Herbert Grönemeyer and Genesis).

According to Dr. Mathias Giloth, managing director of GfK Entertainment, the official German charts enjoy a high degree of credibility. He says that over the last 40 years they have been the main measure of success for labels, artist managers, musicians, media and consumers. "The entire rules are available to the public so that everyone can see how the charts are calculated. Challenges frequently arise, such as the integration of the gigantic volume of streaming data. However, such adjustments are necessary to ensure that the official German charts keep up with the times," Giloth told Billboard.

Tom Bohne, President Music Universal Music GmbH in Berlin said: "A number one in the official German charts was and will be the dream of every artist. At that point the artist realizes that he has reached the people. The same applies to the labels and all the others involved. Up to today the charts are the most important barometer for success everybody in the business takes into consideration. The official German charts are reliable, neutral and valid. This is important in the sometimes shrill and taste orientated business and a reason for high esteem."

Steffen Müller, managing director Warner Music Entertainment in Hamburg: "The official German charts take the complete changes of our market and business into account and also offer innovative steering tools that help us in our daily work. The charts are modern, fresh and terse."

Data collection is performed by GfK Entertainment as chart compiler on behalf of the Association of Music Industry (BVMI). Since 1997 this has been carried out on a fully electronic basis. Sales figures are collected via Phononet from electronic point of sales systems in over 2,800 retail outlets. The point of sale systems in the shops are connected to Phononet. Phononet is, as a subsidiary of the Bundesverbandes Musikindustrie e. V., a service provider which organizes the exchange of data between record producers and record selling businesses.

Over 2,800 record shops participate in the calculation of the official German chart. 

Since 2001, these have included the relevant online retailers. Beginning in September 2004 they have included the download shops and since January 2014 the streaming services. For statistical reasons, the data received is weighted.  The data collected includes all sales to final consumers, the article numbers, the number of records sold per till receipt, price of sale, date of sale and the exact time of day of the purchase. 

Dr. Drücke: "Checks are triggered by various criteria including large numbers of sales of a particular track at a particular time of day or multiple sales of a track on a single till receipt. Reports which seem unusual will be checked and in cases of doubt will be removed from the sample. Each retail outlet is characterized by a region and its average sales volume."

If its reports exceed the average sales volume of similar shops by more than an acceptable amount, the relevant figures will be checked and if necessary eliminated from the sample. The Chart Compiler will calculate the average sales per track for all retailers and download shops in each retailer group. Any reports which deviate from a mean value beyond a certain tolerance threshold will be checked and if necessary eliminated. In this context, the reports are subject to several checks by the Chart Compiler.