Charts: Is This Ranking Still Relevant?
As the moniker 'indie' becomes increasingly attached to more and more music, it's becoming so obvious that there is a certain pride in claiming 'yeah, I knew that band before they were big' or sharing a new album with friends with the disclaimer, 'it's pretty weird, you probably won't know of it'. So do the charts even matter anymore? And if we're not using popularity of a number one single, how are we finding music? 'Indie' has become a genre all of it's own, but it doesn't mean low sales. Wolf Alice's debut album is the second biggest selling album of the week, in a top twenty that also houses Taylor Swift, Paul Simon and Fleetwood Mac. Liking 'chart music' for many people is now almost a guilty confession; we seemingly ignore the fact that chart music is actually delightfully eclectic, instead using it as a shorthand descriptor for music that is seen as generic, manufactured, and something enjoyed only by those with no music taste at all. Listening to music that is influential, independent and exciting has become more important to many people rather than listening to what is simply the biggest album.
This seems to be because the internet has caused a seismic shifting with how music is discovered and consumed. Not only is more music accessible – decades of live recordings, obscure b sides and international artists accessible through Spotify, Bandcamp and Discogs – but it's being made differently too. With inbuilt microphones and easy software to download, the tag 'bedroom recording' brings up over 10 pages of results on Bandcamp, with artists such as Frankie Cosmos having over 40 different records in their back catalogue. There's a huge wealth of music to be discovered; although friends often bond over music, it almost seems to be happening more over sharing new gems rather than having the exact same taste. A handful of recommendations or a short handmade playlist is enough to spark a lasting friendship, and it's all through music sharing made easier. The ease of finding a playlist that perfectly encapsulates a mood means finding the perfect song for a specific moment is so much easier. There is just an incredible wealth of music out there to be listened to.
Over the past several years, there's a clear decline in listening to the charts themselves, too. Numbers of people tuning into Radio 1, the station that broadcasts the chart show, have been dropping steadily over the years. Instead of being a tool to help find music to listen to, acting as a guarantee that music would be worth the money, the charts in 2015 act simply as a measure of what is being bought. They aren't for the music fan so much as they are for the record companies themselves; they are now just a resource for statistics, sales, and marketing. There are other, easier ways to identify what your friends are listening to. The number of likes on a band's facebook page is a clear marker of the number of listeners, and some people even admit to a strange satisfaction of liking a band in the low hundreds, or being an early adopter of a band about to blow up – Slaves, perhaps – and having evidence that you enjoyed their music 'before they were big'. We're not losing our interest with tracking who else likes the music we like, and we're not transcending petty attempts to be cool. We're just going about it differently, in a way where the chart isn't really relevant.
The charts were invented because the music industry was changing and there was a need for them. And now, again, things are changing once more. Shifting the charts announcement to Friday teatime or trying to spice up the charts in a variety of other ways doesn't seem to me like it will intice more listeners – but maybe we don't need to be trying to attract more interest in a list of the most popular songs of the week. Perhaps, instead, it is better to have at your fingertips a wide variety of music to discover and share on a much more intimate level.