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Can Spotify be Top of the Pops?

I thought I would write a blog post responding to the AudioBoo from Brian Dalton, in which he shared his memories of the UK charts from previous years, together with discussing the recent announcement that music from streaming services such as Spotify would form part of the chart's make-up as from July of this year. I was really glad Brian posted his audio as it set me reminiscing and thinking.

I am so glad that I was able to enjoy the charts for most of the 70's and all of the 80's. I first became aware of the chart in late 1972. I think the first songs I can remember are those such as David Cassidy's "How Can I Be Sure" and slightly later, Carly Simon's "You're So Vein". A few months after I began listening to it at 6 O'Clock each sunday, one of my uncle's would test me on the songs I had heard. He had a good record collection, and he would play me a couple of notes from a song and I needed to identify it. I would shout out in my three year-old London-sounding voice, "That's Slade with My Friend Stan!", or, "It's the Sweet with Ballroom Blitz!", both popular hits of the day.

So I was always glued to the radio each Sunday and tried never to miss the chart. When I listen back to those tapes now, I do think that a lot of attention and skill went into presenting 20 songs in one hour, together with mixing in jingles to denote chart positioning, new entries and climbers. I haven't heard any of today's DJ's present a chart countdown with as much precision as I heard back then.

Tom Brown was the host I grew up with and was the man I looked forward to listening to. Tommy Vance in the 80's also brought a special brand of presentation to the chart, because he would tell you things about the songs you were hearing, such as artist biographical information. He would also play alternative mixes of songs, such as those appearing on the B side of a single or the 12 inch mix.

As I grew up, particularly in my early teens, I began to extensively study the charts from previous years, back as far as 1952, the year of the first singles chart in the UK. I would read as many books about the subject as I could, and often referred to the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles, to learn where particular songs reached on the chart.

Speaking of records, Brian mentions that wonderful smell of a new single as you took it out of its sleeve. Ah yes, I remember that too, and you certainly knew when you entered a record shop by the smell. Similarly, I had this fascination with record labels, and I was able to tell by the feel of a single the label of the record. I could easily tell an Epic record from one on the CBS label for example. Epic records had a roughened area towards the centre of the B side and so I was easily able to differentiate those from another label, which was good because quite a lot of the groups I liked were on Epic. CBS records had a small inner circle in the centre of the record, and picture discs also had a unique feel of their own!

Like Brian D, after 1989, I lost interest in the charts for most of the 90's. The music really didn't appeal to me, and although we do have a large 90's music collection, we don't play it particularly often. But I am enjoying a lot of today's music. I think there are a lot of songs with good lyrics and melodies. For example, I do really like Jason Durelo's song "Trumpets", it's a song which catches your attention from the opening lines! At one point, almost every week we were obtaining songs from the chart last year, there was usually something we liked.

What do I think of streaming services being included in the chart? I have mixed feelings about it. Brian D said that, as a child, when he would buy a single he liked the fact that he was contributing to the chart countdown. Although I don't want to shatter Brian's childhood memories, he may not have been, since not all the stores were selected for chart stats. But returning to the point, when you stream a song, financially you are not really contributing in the same way as Brian describes are you? Spotify and some similar services are available for free, (unless you want to pay for added services), so you don't quite get that same satisfaction of financially contributing.

The other thing I have some difficulty with is the poultry amount issued in royalties to the artists by the streaming services. People really cannot live on that kind of income, and the only way really to increase that surely is through the actual purchase of songs.

So on balance, I feel that the more we can encourage people to buy singles and albums, the better, and so I am to some extent against the inclusion of this data. On the other hand, like it or not, this is one of the ways people are listening to songs now, which is disappointing. People are streaming and not necessarily buying. So if that is the case, the chart has to move with the times and include it. Incidentally, a song has to be streamed 100 times to equate to one purchase of a single.

There's another thought too. At least the inclusion of such streaming services theoretically paves the way for lesser known artists to maybe get themselves into the chart. It's unlikely, but it is possible. Indeed if you look at the most streamed songs of 2014 so far as against the most purchased songs of this year, the results are really quite similar.

So there it is. I thought I'd share my thoughts, and it would be interesting to hear other AudioBoo posts on this subject.