For over half a century, Billboard has been the standard bearer for what’s considered tops in mainstream and popular music. The Billboard Hot 100 turns 55 years old in 2013 and many a pop music artist have tasted the sweet nectar of having their song sit at the top spot on the chart.
But, as reported over the past few days from NPR to the New York Times, Billboard is taking a step into the future by doing something they probably should have done a long time ago: incorporating YouTube plays into its formula of determining what is the most popular song in the country. Seeming to be perfectly aligned with the new change made by Billboard has been the explosion of the song “Harlem Shake” by DJ Baauer through the uploading of thousands of fan-made videos of people dancing in curious positions to the song. Baauer originally released the song last May as a free track, but Spotify sales of the song have since taken off, even inspiring a new freestyle by Harlem emcee Jim Jones.
As the New York Times story points out, “Harlem Shake” isn’t the first song to benefit so much from the juggernaut that is viral video. From Psy’s “Gangnam Style” to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” to Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” to pretty much anything from Justin Bieber, the new way forward for artists to be successful on a pop level is to the idea of having videos go viral memorized down to a science.
However, this doesn’t mean that any indie artist doing their own rendition of a popular song and uploads a video to YouTube will automatically shoot to superstardom. There are still parameters in place. In a report on CNN, Billboard Director of Charts Silvio Pietroluongo carefully explains that Billboard will track YouTube clicks, plays from videos that are uploaded by the artists and record companies.
Pietroluongo also says that user-generated videos that incorporate the actual recording will be counted. For example, if someone has a clip that uses the official song, those plays will be counted towards the artists’ plays and clicks, which could potentially make their ranking on Billboard climb.
Initial reports say that Billboard had been considering incorporating YouTube plays and clicks into its formula for the last two years. But truthfully, this is something that Billboard, as a musical institution, should have done a while ago. YouTube’s popularity was solidified a long time ago, and it’s position as a place where people go to discover music and see their favorite artists is undeniable.
But at least Billboard seems to be taking a step in the right direction, both for their own relevance as a company and to get what might be a better measure of what people are watching and listening to.