Who’s No.1? How do you assess and define success? Who are the most popular artists and recordings at any given time? Ever since there has been a music industry, these questions have obsessed record company executives and artists alike. And to answer these questions, systems were put in place to measure success and identify which artists and songs were the most popular.
In the early 20th Century, music publishers were benchmarking success to the number of music sheets they sold. Then, the industry started counting physical sales, and monitoring radio airplay. And in this brave new digital world, a whole range of tools have started to track the vast activity taking place online, from streaming and social network action, to illegal torrents and legal downloads.
Having information was one thing, but what mattered was also exposing information. In the US, magazines like Cash Box and Billboard have grown due to their ability to provide exclusive charts that the industry used as benchmarks. Billboard, initially launched to cover the outdoors advertising business (hence the name), evolved into becoming the main source of tools measuring music successes, alongside a booming music industry. Its first chart appeared in 1913 – unsurprising it was a chart listing the best-selling music sheets. Over the years, the magazine added more charts. The first “hit parade” dates back from 1936, and was followed by such features as the Billboard Hit 100 for singles – now in its 56th year – and the Billboard 200 Albums.