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Music Charts in 2024: Industry Dinosaurs or Still Relevant?

Are music charts still the ultimate measure of an artist's success, or have they lost their relevance in the age of streaming?

Photo by Umberto Cofini / Unsplash

Charts have always been a shorthand for who's hot, who's not, and who we should pretend we have on all our playlists.

Charts from different countries tell their own story. The Circle from South Korea, launched in 2010, is the local spin on the Billboard formula. Japan’s Oricon has been churning out rankings based on physical singles sales since the age of the dinosaurs, or more precisely, since well before it embraced digital downloads in 2017. These charts function like cultural barometers, telling us who’s making waves and who’s just paddling.

For the purpose of today’s deep-dive, I am sticking with the Billboard chart, because the U.S. is a global music factory, spitting out hits that dominate playlists from London to Tokyo. Plus, this chart’s got a lot of history, dating back to its first top ten bestsellers list in 1913. It’s the industry standard and acts as the benchmark for whether you’ve really made it.

The rise of streaming has thrown a wrench in the charts’ works. Platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and even quirky places like Bandcamp have changed how we discover and listen to music. No longer do we just rely on radio airplay and physical sales to tell us who’s taking over the world. We’ve got algorithms for that now, thank you very much. This shift raises an important question: do charts still matter in 2024?

The anatomy of a chart-topper

Over the years, the factors that contribute to an artist's chart success have changed a lot. Back in the 1940s, Billboard charts focused on "Songs With Most Radio Plugs."

Fast forward to the 1980s, and the charts reflected "National Sales and programming activity by selected dealers, one-stops and radio stations."

By 2010, Billboard was tracking "the most popular songs according to the all-format audience impressions measured by Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems and sales data compiled by Nielsen Soundscan."

Today, the Hot 100 ranks songs based on "streaming activity from digital music sources tracked by Luminate, radio airplay audience impressions as measured by Luminate, and sales data as compiled by Luminate."

And it’s not just about the metrics. According to Nic Gitter, a music producer based in NYC, "Originally, charts would favor songs that could be considered anthemic — something that people can easily remember the words to and sing along with. This still holds true to this day.  Of course, catchiness is important, but I think that, especially in rave and festival settings, songs that subvert expectations can also break through if given proper media coverage."

However, Eric Stensvaag, director of the curation at, points out the limitations of traditional charts. "As music streaming and the services that power it have proliferated, one of the major drawbacks of these charts is that there is a substantial amount of missing listening data. Thus artists and labels are getting an incomplete view of total listening activity if they only rely on charts from Billboard/Spotify. For example, powers nearly a billion music streams per year in consumer apps, largely in the fitness, wellness, and health categories. But those streams are not currently included in Billboard or Spotify charts.”

He cuts deeper into the anatomy of the problem: “Traditional charts have never been a complete 'source of truth' for an artist's popularity and impact. It's still relatively easy to manipulate a Billboard chart position. Most industry insiders recognize that these charts primarily exist to sell ads in a magazine and satisfy/placate an artist's team."

In fact, Billboard has had to continually adjust its methodologies to keep up with the changing landscape of music consumption. From bundling digital downloads of songs with concert tickets, merchandise, and other goodies to counting music played in ”Roblox”, the charts are trying to stay relevant, but is it working?

Even with these adjustments, it's becoming increasingly clear that the traditional charts simply can't keep up with the fast-paced, fragmented world of music of the future.

The charts of streaming era: bots and manipulation

Fake streams and bots throw a massive wrench into the sleek machine of music charts. Yes, you can witness the level of manipulation that would make a Wall Street banker blush in the music industry. Streaming might be the lifeblood of chart success, but it's also notoriously unreliable. For every legitimate listener, there's an army of fake accounts inflating numbers and polluting the data pool, making the methodology behind charts completely pointless.

Take the recent case of a man in Denmark who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for using fake accounts to trick music streaming services into paying him $290,000 in royalties. The guy had set up bots to listen to his own music through fake profiles on Spotify and Apple Music, collecting royalties in the process. And he's not alone. According to a study, between 1 billion and 3 billion fake streams took place on popular music platforms in 2021 alone.

But it's not just individuals gaming the system. Even artists who aren't trying to cheat the charts can get caught up in the mess. Take singer-songwriter Jonah Baker, who received a strike notice from DistroKid indicating significant artificial streams on his music, even though he says he has no idea why. Or Viper, an artist who uses DistroKid for distribution, who had her song "Fusion" removed with a notice indicating "100% artificial" streams, despite the fact that the song had been included in official Spotify playlists.

As Curse of K.K. Hammond, a U.K.-born blues guitarist and singer-songwriter, puts it: "When it comes to streaming there is the huge issue of chart manipulation/artificial boosting as well as advantages given to acts signed to major labels. There needs to be a major shift here because, not only is the fact some parties have worked out how to game the system in unsavory ways unfair to small artists, the consequences have started to hurt smaller artists too."

Spotify has changed its policies to try to crack down on paid third-party services that guarantee streams, but the problem is still there. Even if the streaming numbers were completely accurate, they still would not be enough for accurate charts, as they are only one part of the story.

And the disadvantage of charts is easy to demonstrate. Let’s take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 chart. (All data points below are snapshotted at the moment of writing this article).

Current top 5 songs are:

  • Post Malone Featuring Morgan Wallen - I Had Some Help
  • Eminem - Houdini
  • Tommy Richman - Million Dollar Baby
  • Shaboozey - A Bar Song (Tipsy)
  • Kendrick Lamar - Not Like Us

Now compare that to the top trending music videos on YouTube:

  • Sabrina Carpenter - Please Please Please
  • Eminem - Houdini
  • Ariana Grande - the boy is mine
  • Tommy Richman - Million Dollar Baby
  • Falling In Reverse - All My Life (feat. Jelly Roll)

And the top songs on Spotify for the week:

  • Sabrina Carpenter - Espresso
  • Sabrina Carpenter - Please Please Please
  • Billie Eilish - Birds of a Feather
  • Eminem - Houdini
  • Tommy Richman - Million Dollar Baby

Notice anything missing? Sabrina Carpenter's "Please Please Please" is crushing it on YouTube and Spotify, but it's not on the Billboard Hot 100 top 5. So while charts can give us a sense of what songs have performed well in the recent past, they're not always the best indicator of what's about to blow up. Clearly, Billboard’s attempt to adapt to the new reality with streaming metrics isn’t quite hitting the mark.

Even new tools like Soundcharts and Chartmetric promising a better-than-Billboard grasp on the ever-fractured music reality are simply putting lipstick on a pig. And as long as music discovery and consumption is getting more diverse it will only get harder to synthesize all that data into something meaningful. So while charts probably stay industry standard and something to brag about those do not necessarily mean much to the music fans anymore.

And probably nobody said it better than one redditor: "Music is more accessible now than ever before. The good side: it makes obscure artists to have a worldwide spotlight […] most of my favorite artists never made to top Billboard 100 or others boards alike."

Do Gen Z and Gen Alpha care about charts?

Yes, the way younger generations discover and consume music is changing.

According to Eric Stensvaag, director of curation at, "TikTok's role in breaking songs on mainstream charts/radio and in resurfacing catalog artists like Fleetwood Mac indicates how younger generations are more likely to shape these charts than to follow them." He remembers the days of tuning into Casey Kasem's Top 40 countdown with excitement but notes that "younger generations are more likely to discover and share songs via TikTok or various streaming playlists. They're much more in the driver's seat."

Nic Gitter, a music producer based in NYC, also have something to say on the subject: "I think this is where I out myself as a spiritual old geezer because I lament the fact that the younger generation, specifically Gen Alpha, is not interacting with music in the ways that we have in the past," he says. "Back in the day, we would stream albums from front to back, or at the very least, I remember going on iTunes and listening to the previews of each individual track and deciding which songs to throw in my shopping cart. Nowadays, a lot of music is found through TikTok, Instagram reels, and YouTube shorts and the music industry as a whole has started to pivot in the ways of shortening music content -- focusing less on album releases and more on individual single sales."

This shift in music consumption has implications for the industry as a whole. As Gitter notes, "This means less coherent musical themes that artists are trying to create, and it certainly means shorter track lengths in order to bend to the will of those with short attention spans." While some artists are still able to pursue their creative vision uninhibited, Gitter argues that "at this point, I would say, unfortunately, that is a privilege rather than a guarantee."

But even as the way we discover and consume music changes, charts still matter for artists. Andria Parides, Executive Producer and Founder of Showstopper Lane Productions believes that "[music charts] generate headlines that are buzzworthy, allowing artists to claim titles like 'Number one album' or 'Number one single,' which is important from a marketing standpoint." However, she notes that "there's a noticeable difference between trending music on social media and what appears on music charts, and that's reflected in award show nominations across industry standards."

For artists themselves, charting can be a validating experience, but it can also come with a lot of pressure. As Jenny Flora Wells, a holistic therapist based in Los Angeles who specializes in working with musicians, notes, "In my experience of being a therapist in Los Angeles who specializes in musicians, it is very common for artists to experience an increase in stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, and imposter syndrome when their music is not doing well in music charts."

Curse of K.K. Hammond agrees that charting can be a double-edged sword for artists. "Charting is undeniably a very validating experience for an artist, especially so for small independent artists or those on little grassroots labels who depend more so on fan support rather than heavily manipulated marketing campaigns by major labels (which are said to have close, under the table arrangements with streaming platforms to prioritize their artists.)," she says. "Achieving a visible measure of success on the world stage by means of my charting success was a big surprise to me and encouraged me to keep pushing forward. The charts do offer an artist further opportunities for exposure and can be a handy marketing tool that will make your music more visible to the press, playlisters, promoters, new fans, sponsors, and potential collaborators. This all adds to the desirability of charting."

So, who exactly are charts for? Well, as validating charts are for the artists and music producers, fans don’t seem to care about it anymore. Because that’s not how they find the music they love and listen to.

As one Reddit user put it: "not caring about charts makes music more enjoyable." They write, "The only time that I even think about a chart is when an artist the I follow gets excited about their chart placement and I think 'good for them' and move on with my day." And hundreds of people actually agreed with it.

Future of music charts

So have music charts become obsolete yet?

The answer, as with most things in the music industry, is complicated. On one hand, the sheer volume of new music being released every day means that charts play a valuable role in helping us navigate the noise. As Eric Stensvaag, director of the curation at, explains it, "With more than 120,000 new tracks released on streaming platforms daily (Luminate data source), music charts play a necessary, valuable role in navigating information overload."

However, the traditional charts we've relied on for decades can no longer accurately represent success in today's fractured music landscape.

So what's the solution? Nic Gitter, a music producer based in NYC, suggests that "the ideal scenario is that charts remain an important part of measuring a musician's success, but that they adapt to this ever-changing music industry in such a way to accurately portray the successes of up-and-coming artists in their respective fields and genres." He believes that "being able to break these metrics into finer parts will allow for a much more accurate representation."

Stensvaag agrees that charts will need to change to stay relevant. "Much like Billboard's introduction last year of the TikTok Top 50, these charts will adapt to spotlight new trends or absorb them into overall stack rankings," he says. "The top-down model of limited chart control with defined gatekeepers is long gone, but as long as there are still human-powered (increasingly AI-aided) tastemaking roles like radio programmers, curators, etc., music charts will persist."

Only time will tell what the future of music charts holds. But one thing is certain: as long as there are artists making music and fans eager to discover it, there will be a need for some kind of system to help us make sense of it all. And I feel that embracing new metrics and technologies while still keeping the human element is the way to go. Because at the end of the day, music is about connection, emotion, and the joy of discovering something new. And no algorithm or chart can ever fully analyze and output that magic.