How To Chart On Billboard in 2024

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What Do I Know?

As you might have already gathered from the aspirational title, this will be the second installment in my “Do As I Say, Not As I Do” collection of articles. I admit it: I haven’t charted on Billboard, in 2024 or any other year, but don’t let that dissuade you from listening to what I have to say about the concrete steps an artist might hypothetically take to achieve such a thing, because it’s actually within reach, is closer than one might think.

In a way, that’s because, unfortunately, charting on Billboard doesn’t have quite the same level of impact that it used to; the Billboard ranking system has been in a state of near-constant flux for decades as it evolves to accommodate today’s fractured music industry and successfully account for and allocate correct weight to the mediums that listeners are actually using to consume music.

That being the case, it might be most useful to treat this article as more of a history lesson than a how-to guide. With greater understanding of Billboard will surely come greater insight into how to appear on its charts. And don’t call me Shirley.

Speaking of Airplane, I’m on one as we speak, and I can’t pretend like composing an article about the music business mid-flight while en route to Los Angeles doesn’t make me feel a bit like the kid from Almost Famous, or maybe even, if you remove the music connection and dramatically enhance the sex appeal, Don Draper. I’d like to think there’s someone looking over my shoulder right now as I type these words thinking, “Wow, this guy is a stone-cold rock star,” or “I would ask him for music advice, but I’m too nervous,” or “What a pretentious asshole.”

::checking over my shoulder::

Nope, nobody paying attention. I guess we should just…carry on with the article.

The History Lesson, Part 1

Most of the earliest history of the Billboard charts isn’t of particular relevance to our cause (our cause: getting you on the charts, because you deserve it), but suffice to say the charts have been around for over a century at this point, and let’s just say they weren’t tracking much in the way of popular radio airplay in 1913.

What they were doing was monitoring and publishing the best-selling sheet music (it was, uh, a very different time), so if you fancied yourself something of an early-twentieth-century tastemaker, you might have headed to town in your candy-apple-red Model T and loaded up on all the sickest new sheet music before inviting your friends over for – I don’t know – an evening of cigars, top hats, and classical piano.

Even in its infancy, though, Billboard prioritized staying on top of the times, and over the next few decades it expanded its allowable data set to include radio performances, airplay, record sales, and jukebox selections. By the mid-1950s, it had landed on “The Top 100” chart as its ranking mechanism of choice, and if that chart name sounds familiar at all, that’s because it later evolved into the “Hot 100” chart that Billboard still publishes today.

There were, of course, plenty of small changes, additions, and subtractions to Billboard’s core methodology between the 1950s and the 1990s, but it’s the 90s when, for our purposes, things start to get interesting. By the 90s, the two primary metrics being tracked to determine chart rankings were sales and airplay, and in 1998, Billboard implemented what proved to be a hugely significant new rule to its formula: it opened up Hot 100 eligibility to non-single releases.

That might sound like a small change, but think about it this way: whereas, before the rule, only songs that had been released as standalone singles – only those songs, in other words, that could be purchased as singles in a record store – were eligible to rank on the Hot 100, after the change, any song from a commercially released album was eligible for the Hot 100, whether or not it was released, promoted, or sold as a single.

The original prohibition led to some weirdness, hence the change; songs like “Stairway to Heaven,” though hugely popular and widely played, never made it onto the Hot 100.

The History Lesson, Part 2

Let’s fast-forward a bit.

The aughts, you might remember (Do you remember? How old are you, anyway?), were a time of massive technological advancement and change, as evidenced in particular by the rising popularity of digital music.

Apple invented the iPod, made itself a gazillion dollars, and started hawking digital song downloads on the iTunes Music Store; YouTube became a hub for both short-form video and, somewhat improbably for an ostensibly visual platform, music; and Grooveshark established the general structure for subscription-based music streaming, paving the way for Spotify to jump in and steamroll it just a few years later.

Billboard tried to ignore most of that for a while (it started counting song downloads in 2005), but digital streaming began to quickly eclipse more traditional methods of consumption, and Billboard, accepting now that streaming was more than just a fad, did its Billboard thing and pivoted.

In 2012, it again modified its formula, this time in order to begin incorporating stream counts into its calculations; Bill Werde, Billboard’s editorial director at the time, noted that the changes were intended to provide a “clearer reflection of what’s actually being consumed in the music space,” and, from our vantage point in 2024, it’s hard to argue he was wrong.

Before the 2012 change, it was largely radio DJs who, in deciding what songs to spin based on their own preferences and listener surveys and feedback, determined what songs appeared on the Billboard charts; following the rule change, that middleman was effectively eliminated, such that the charts began to reflect the actual preferences and listening habits of music consumers.

The effects were instantaneous, and songs that would have once been invisible to the charts suddenly sat atop them based on streaming volume alone (“Gangnam Style” was one of the earliest and most notorious beneficiaries of the rule change, and whether you see that as a good thing or an arbiter of doom is up to you).

In 2013, Billboard began to include YouTube streaming data as well, and that basically brings us current.

The Billboard Charts And You

What do you, an artist who wants to chart on Billboard, do with all of this information?

The first thing to keep in mind – the major takeaway from Professor Beard’s history lesson – is that, today, Billboard looks at various metrics to determine song rank. Those three metrics are sales (both digital and physical), radio airplay, and streaming. And while it may seem daunting to shoot for the charts – you may feel unworthy, you may come down with a nasty bout of imposter syndrome, etc. – the truth is that it’s not that hard to succeed, at least on paper, and that’s in part because 1) those three metrics are each weighted differently, and 2) the numbers you need for each metric are high, but not unattainably so.

The Hard Way

The hardest possible route to the charts is through streaming alone. To get there, most educated guessers estimate that you’ll need between 500,000 and 1.5 million streams during a given week. As I’ve discussed at length in another article, yeah, that’s a big number, but it’s not as outrageous as it looks when applied to song streams, and you can get there with enough diligence and talent (plus, a million streams is only worth about five grand, so…there’s that).

Of course, the catch is that you need to generate these million streams all at once, not over an extended period of time. Remember, Billboard ranks songs weekly, and it doesn’t reward a slow burn that never catches fire.

The Easy Way

Album/song sales present an easier route, although “easy” is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and there’s no such thing as a free lunch, etc. (Actually, I can disprove that last aphorism; I had a free lunch once. It was pretty good.)

In order to plonk yourself on the charts through album sales, you’ll need to move somewhere in the vicinity of five hundred units of product during the applicable chart week. To be sure, five hundred song or album sales is nothing to shake a stick at, but five hundred is a much smaller number than one million, so if you think about it that way, all you really need to do is line up five hundred fans devoted enough to buy an album from you.

Additionally, to have those album sales count towards your potential charting accomplishment, you’ll need to do a bit of logistical legwork on the front end, but that part’s pretty simple: just make sure to ask your music distributor (or vinyl/CD/tape manufacturer) to assign a UPC code to your release. That’s it. Now you have a mechanism by which to track your sales.

Picking The Right Target

Both of those tactics, and the streaming and sales numbers I’ve provided to go with them, are fairly broad, and it’s worth zooming in on the various Billboard charts to determine more granularly which of them might be your best target. You might find that you need higher or lower numbers if you’re aiming at the Hot 100 vs. Heatseekers vs. Billboard 200, as each chart has its own fluctuating criteria from week to week, and you might also determine that your music is a better fit for (and has a better shot at charting on) one over the others.

Armed with all this new information about Billboard and the various mechanisms that it uses to derive its weekly charts, you should feel newly empowered to sally forth and, well, climb ‘em! I haven’t devoted any space in this article to advising on how you might go about accruing streams, building an audience, or selling albums, and that’s because I assume you’ve got that part figured out already – you’re here asking about how to get on Billboard, after all. Still, if you want a refresher on those building blocks, click your way right on over here.

Best of luck out there, gumshoe.

The post How To Chart On Billboard in 2024 appeared first on Two Story Melody.

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