Changes to the SN chart

You’ll recall one of our evergreen favorites around here when things get slow is the deeply flawed world of gospel music radio and the even more deeply flawed system for charting “hit” songs (just search “radio” in the archives for more on all this). The upshot is, of course, that “chart-topping” songs in southern gospel tend to reflect the songs whose promoters give away the best schwag or talk the best schpiel to charting stations but not much else. And just about the time I got tired enough of that tedious Young Harmony discussion thread to shut it down, along comes one of our correspondents in the field to note impending changes to the Singing News radio charting system. So now we have something new to discuss. Woohoo.

It appears the “Singing News” is finally trying to do something about their obsolete charting system.

The station I work for recently received a letter stating that we would no longer be a charting station. It’ll be interesting to see if we still get the service [from radio promoters] we have received in the past.

The letter from SN states that they are now allowing 75 stations to chart. The last time I had knowledge of a number (several years ago), it was somewhere north of 200. The letter speaks of a new “Chart Advisory Committee,” made up of the usual record company people, radio promoters and Ken Kirksey and Les Butler of SN. (Funny, Rick Hendrix isn’t on the “Committee”.) ;-)

The letter also states that charting stations are apportioned by state, based on the number of SG concerts and SN subscribers in each state.

I’ll leave it to others who know and care more about All Things Radio to comment on this substantively, but my initial (cynical) reaction is that this seems like a solution whose primary purpose is to justify a sufficiently vague rationale by which the SN can cut stations whose chart report was an obvious sham and do so without coming right out and saying as much. This all seems well-intentioned enough, and it will doubtless buy the SN some political cover from critics (like me) who have been howling about how the magazine needs to do something about its charting system. And of course, it’s better than the nothing that’s been done for so long. But these kinds of bureaucratic half-measures can’t do much about eliminating (the appearance of) radio promoters’ payola until or unless there’s an empirically sound, technologically verifiable way to connect chart position to airplay and spins. Or am I missing something?

Update: so on my way home from the grocery store it occurred to me to wonder: will concentrating charting stations in areas where SN readership and sg concerts are more prevalent end up privileging rural areas, and so continue to widen the gap between mainstream gospel in rural, non-metropolitan areas and the suburbanized gospel stratosphere of Gaither, EHSSQ et al? I don’t know that this is good or bad per se, just an observation.

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Trackbacks & Pings

  1. Musicscribe Blog » “Improving” The Singing News Chart on 31 Oct 2007 at 3:56 am

    […] Doug Harrison has an article on his blog regarding changes in Singing News charting procedures. Doug seems to think this is a good thing with regard to getting rid of some bottom feeder stations, and I suppose he’s correct. That being said, I fail to see why there would be more than a modicum of excitement about any superficial changes when the fundamental flaw of the chart still remains. […]

  2. Singing News to revamp airplay chart | www.southerngospelblog.com on 31 Oct 2007 at 11:40 am

    […] Yesterday, Doug Harrison at Averyfineline broke the story that Singing News is revamping its airplay chart. They are cutting their list of reporting stations from over 200 to 75, and making a point of apportioning slots on the reporting stations list to locales where there is a heavy Southern Gospel presence. David Bruce Murray comments on the story here. […]

  3. SouthernGospelBlog.com » Rick Hendrix on Singing News chart changes on 04 Jun 2008 at 7:19 am

    […] has recently been some controversy over changes to the Singing News chart method. During this controversy, it was questioned whether […]

Comments

  1. notimpressed wrote:

    SN did the same “remapping” of their charting stations about nine months ago. Stations were dropped, added, importance level shifted, etc. I haven’t noticed any changes in the charting since that time. Kudos to SN for doing SOMETHING. However, it is a shame that SOMETHING doesn’t change anything.

  2. Jonathan Edwards wrote:

    I heard this was coming I don’t know about the cutting of the stations being the solution however they should give more weight to the larger market stations charts. Usually larger markets have more listeners which should translate to more votes on the charts.

  3. Al Locke wrote:

    This system has forever been stuff of what fairy tales are made of…….FICTION!

  4. jb wrote:

    I work at a SG station and we were dropped 9 months ago in the first round of axing :-) . My question is why wouldn’t they include Rick Hendrix in these meetings. He has a lot of the artists that are popular in the industry. Gaither, Hoppers, Freemans, Ernie Haase, Gold City, Mike and Kelly Bowling, and on and on. Oh and I did forget to mention the most popular YOUNG HARMONY. hahahaha I am actually happier now that I dont have to take all the promoter calls since I have been dropped. I just wish the service would still stay the same from the record companies.

  5. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I started a response here. It grew into a full-length blog entry…
    http://www.musicscribe.com/blog/wordpress/?p=787

  6. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I suppose I could include the “money quote” here, though…
    “In its present state, the Singing News chart is like that big fat woman who pushes her grocery buggy up the left side of the aisle with her left hand while methodically selecting products from the right side of the aisle with her right hand. There’s no way to get around her. “

  7. The Bass wrote:

    #2 I love your name. :) I always knew Democrats read averyfineline.com. Just kidding.

  8. ST wrote:

    Out of curiosity, where can one get a copy of the list? Do you have to be an artist, radio promotor, or record company to get the list?

  9. Chuck Peters wrote:

    Why would an advisory panel, for the charting system,.. include ANY record promoters or record company execs? People who compete for chart positions.. should be removed from the process completely. I am not saying they would be dishonest.. but allowing them a say in how the chart is compiled.. seems to give room for even further criticism of the results.

    I wonder if the chart will still be based on actual airplay. If so.. then why would the market size matter? A station should be part of the process based on their programming habits and ability to measure airplay accurately.

  10. Rick Cody wrote:

    I program 5 24/7 southern gospel radio stations in Oklahoma that reach over a million people and I’ve NEVER been contacted about be a charting station. Not that I necessarily want to be one, but you’d think those who choose the stations that report would at least inquire to see if stations that are reaching that many people would be interested.

  11. curious wrote:

    I am curious of a couple of things. How come only the artist that don’t have songs in the charts are committing on here with this? Why are promoters, label execs and other industry leaders that have something to gain on this board of directors. (Susan Whisnant as always just been concerned about the Whisnants when she has called our station). Last question, is any of the gospel music industry concerned about lost people? It seems way to important to focus on the numbers, sales and defending themselves on here, for lost people to even matter. Just curious.

  12. tim wrote:

    I think that this could be a nice step in the right direction for the SN chart.

    Let me throw this out….how much of the blame for the slow movement on the chart needs to be directed at the artists? Who makes the call to push the same song for 5-6-7 months? If you can’t peak in 5 months get on with it! Throw another dog into the fight (no offense meant to Atlanta Falcons fans).

    IMO if more groups/companies would limit the time they spend chasing #1 and look at the number of songs from an album they can get into the listeners ear, the better the industry would be as a whole. Sales -v -chart position. Growth -v -accolades.

  13. Ben Harris wrote:

    The charting system is still flawed, and because of the lack of quantity of sold SG products it may always be that way. If we went to a sound scan methos as is used by Billboard, Gaither would always be number one, and very likely be the top 15 or 20. In secular music many projects are shipped gold. That means the first shipment to retailers was at least 500,000 copies. How many SG artists can say they have ever sold that many copies of one CD? I would venture to say most have not sold that many CD’s with all their projects combined.

  14. thom wrote:

    i think the industry should give awards based on actual CD sales. this is information that is RARELY if ever shared.

    Help me out here.

    When “Billy Bob and the Flattones” get a “#1 Song” on the singing news charts is it really an indicator of how many people liked the song well enough to plop down there $15 to buy the CD? Or is it just based on how many DJ’s liked it well enough to play it?

    Maybe some of you label people would be interested in publishing your sales figures so we can tell who is Really bringing home the bacon for you.

  15. CVH wrote:

    I’ve programmed a number of stations in my career and currently program a 14-station network. Although SG is only a small percentage (about 10%) of the music we play, I’ve followed the SN charts for years.

    The normal criteria in building a chart is the number of spins per week a song receives. In a small market a hot current may play once or twice a day; in a major market it would probably play 18 times per day. But market size isn’t the only factor. Since most SG stations are smaller operations, the degree of actual research used to determine whether or not to add a song and how it moves on the station playlist is frequently more subjective than objective. Unlike mainstream charts (like Radio & Records), the SN charts may reflect a promoter’s ability to ‘work’ a song rather than actual spins. And because the sample size is smaller the charts may not reflect actual national airplay for a song.

    Promotion is a game. Programmers are the gatekeepers. Record companies and promoters are the ones trying to get in. I can tell you, the fourth quarter this year has been one of the busiest ever in terms of new releases. And everybody wants their song played. Sometimes we reject songs, not because they’re poorly produced or lyrically shallow but simply because we don’t have enough room. We prioritize and move things around and try to accomodate the most worthy songs, but if we were to add too many new songs the familiarity factor audiences crave would decline and the glut of new, unfamiliar material would end up alienating listeners. It’s a hard equation to make work, especially when you’re trying to satisfy several constituencies: listeners, record companies/promoters and your own conscience.

    As far as Curious’ comment (#11) goes, I’m sure most people in the business are concerned about “lost people”. If they weren’t, they could probably be making more money doing something else. But the primary goal is selling records and radio airplay is still the single most influential factor in driving sales.

    It’s like a car salesman showing a potential customer a new vehicle in the showroom. It doesn’t matter whether the guy or girl wants a sexy looking set of wheels with a big engine or a lot of space for their family or the latest high-tech safety and convenience features. The salesman finds what buttons to push and pushes them. Why? Because he wants to sell a car. Period.

  16. jb wrote:

    My only problem is with the current setup a person could enter the Top 80 with about 35 points. Someone could get that with 2 stations. How can a song be on a national chart with only charting on 2 stations. I wonder if they dwindle it down to a top 40 would that fix the problem???

  17. Oldtimer wrote:

    I think Doug hit it on the head when he pointed out the possibility of this widening the gap between the rural Southern influence and the actual growing market (EHSS, etc…) The subscribers are going to be greatly weighted toward rural areas, and if you flip through the conert section of the Singing News you won’t see a lot of metropolitan areas. So if concert location and subscribers’ residences are the standard for inclusion on this chart, then we are going to have a bunch og 1000 watt mom and pop operations determining by and large who is number one on the coveted SN charts. Here is the dirty little secret - the only purpose the SN chart provides is a feeding of the ego. It does not influence project sales, and it certainly does not influence ticket sales. The Cathedrals were not often “chart-busters” but they were the most successful gospel quartet ever who did not have Bill Gaither singing with them. And speaking of Gaither - he is the only one who can sell out those huge arenas and by and large he does so with people who do not dominate the charts.

    So all that said - this is a non-news item reporting on itself in an effort to become news. The SN charts are fun and infating to the ego, but are by and large irrelevant. Did “Heirline” start selling out arenas because of their number one song? Doubtful. let’s pull back the covers and tell it like it is. The charts don’t matter, unless you are one of the groups on them. What sells CDs and concert tickets is 1) quality and 2) the ability to connect to an audience. And -as history plainly shows - neither of these is a prerequisite for an appearance on the SN charts.

  18. arnold cenzaboy wrote:

    Ben Harris said “If we went to a sound scan methos as is used by Billboard, Gaither would always be number one”

    Hold on Ben. That is the Billboard Sales Chart. There is also a Billboard Airplay Chart. And Gaither should regularly be number one anyway. I’d like to see sales numbers on the SG artists. Then we would know what is real and what is hype. Hopefully this change will be a blessing as substandard recordings get culled and the music heard the most in larger demographics will hold the high chart positions. What a good Christian testimony for SG that would be!!!!

  19. dbjga wrote:

    Is there a way to track sales numbers for a particular group or album? I’ve often wondered if there is a “billboard” type system for SGM.
    Also, hope this isn’t too unrelated:
    What three or four groups, outside Gaither, are selling a lot of albums; do sales numbers go up/down/stagnate based on the SN chart?
    Thanks

  20. Jonathan Edwards wrote:

    thanks bass but I am not him nor a Dem and I don’t talk to dead people either lol. Just a man with a dad as a pastor. I don’t mind it at all kind of keeps me focused on what I have been called to do myself.

  21. TJ wrote:

    OK when will Rick Hendrick Company make a statement. He was obviously excluded to control his power over the system.

  22. kd wrote:

    this move by SN is a step in the right direction, but it won’t accomplish anything until the SN drops the notion that their chart is seriously flawed.

    as doug mentioned, we’ve been down this road before. but, it bears repeating that the SN chart won’t begin to be fixed until the SN drops the station count to about 40 stations in selected markets around the country (not dependent on any subscriber rules); reduces the chart to the top 40; bases the chart exclusively on actual spins; and weights the airplay based on listenership/market size.

    for those wondering, the technology is out there to independently measure airplay. but, at present, the companies that keep track only follow ccm and black gospel of the christian genres.

    my final thought on this is a question. SN is owned by the same company that owns CCM magazine. why does SN have to “reinvent the wheel” when all they need to do is consult the CCM folks? of course, i suppose you’d only do that if you really wanted to fix the problems.

  23. arnold cenzaboy wrote:

    Update . . . nevermind about the hopes for quality. I just saw where two members of the chart advisory board are from ECC, and some of the promoters are the culprits of the inclusion of dubious music on the old charts. Seems like if record company execs and promo folk would be included, there should be at least one songwriter and one radio guy on there. Heck, if it is gonna be skewed by labels and promoters, we should have just left it alone. As is usually the case, a good idea will likely be ruined by agendas. And the Hendrix thing . . . well, I suppose SN didn’t want to see Mariah Carey, Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill in the SG top ten!

  24. ST wrote:

    If you chart the sales of CDs, how do you keep artists and record companies from inflating those numbers? (some would do anything just to look number 1) If you go by christian bookstore sales records, most of them do not have a sufficient SG section in their stores. Would record companies have bookstore promoters then who ask the store manager to chart the sales high on the official SN sales chart?

    Somebody explain how this system would work. I mean it’s not like secular music where there are 4 rows of country artist albums in one store and 8 rows of rock.

  25. Derek wrote:

    A couple of comments:

    1. I agree with #10. My beef with the chart has always been quantity…and pretty much nothing else. I have always said that stations should be selected on QUALITY first, then look at quantity (hours of SG music played per week.) Many stations are not full-time SG…but are very professional in their SG portion of broadcasting and reach a whole lot more people than the full-time stations that don’t believe “professionalism” and “Christian” should go together.

    2. Old Timer is right. The SN chart is all about clout…bragging rights…and nothing more. For example, we have a big annual festival that attracts thousands from several states. This year they have booked a SG group for the entertainment one night. Keep in mind the secular`artists booked this year include country stars Darryl Worley and Jeff Bates, among others. Wanna guess who the SG group is? Gold City? Gaither Vocal Band? Crabbs? Any other #1 song group you can think of? Nope…none of the above. It’s the Monument Quartet. Now I’m not as up-to-the-munite in SG as I once was, but I believe I’m correct in saying that they have not had a #1 yet…nor are they a household name, at least in this area. Don’t misunderstand me…I’m not saying they are not a good group. My point is that the festival organizers have probably never even heard of SN. I don’t know how they chose the group…but on the outside looking in it appears that it was certainly NOT based on #1 songs on the SN chart.

  26. Oldtimer wrote:

    # 25 - Monument Quartet was likely chosen for this and other festivals because they actively target fair boards and festival talent buyers. They are smart enough to go to the national fair talent convention in Las Vegas (gasp!) every year and they are the token sg representative. Go to their schedule - it is pretty impressively filled with nothing but fairs and festivals. They have also altered their program. They are no longer necessarily a gospel group - they are family entertainment. They claim to be following the Statlers model and do a bunch of country and patrotic stuff with a bit of gospel thrown into their fair performances for entertainment value. I know this has absolutely nothign to do with this thread, but I just thought I would solve the above referenced mystery of how Monument Quartet ended up on this bill. I think they are good guys and they have made a conscious decison on a direction and a vision for the future. Would I have made that same decision? Hmm…..

  27. Jim2 wrote:

    Derek,
    No offense, but maybe the promoter is as up on SG as I am on Country, Jeff Bates and Darryl Worley? That’s hardly Rascal Flatts or Tim McGraw. Sometimes you get a good group for the money you can pay, but it doesn’t have to be a “top” group to be representative of the genre.
    (not saying anything against Monument Quartet or Darryl Worley or Jeff Bates)

  28. Mickey Gamble wrote:

    For those who have commented here about sales charts. There already exists a southern gospel Soundscan chart. It is compiled every week and the data is available to all the companies who pay to be members. The work of collecting and distributing the data is a business service provided by Soundscan to help companies make business decisions. It is not allowed to be made available to anyone who is not contractually connected to Soundscan. This is how they control their business. Obviously, they cannot afford to “give away” their product nor let anyone else give it away. The Christian Music Soundscan charts are administered through a contract between Soundscan and the Christian Music Trade Association (CMTA).
    The southern gospel Soundscan chart is a bit dicey beause the data is only collected from affiliate stores who have the “scanning” equipment. Many, probably most, stores that sell southern gospel music do not have the equipment and therefore their sales do not show up. So, what we get to see is the number of “scans”, but not actual total sales. Still, this is a handy reference for us and for “member” stores who are trying to make buying decisions.

  29. burt wrote:

    So you’re from Dothan too, #25! The lineup this year is weak.

  30. Not Ernie Haase wrote:

    It seems to me that a SN chart would be nearly impossible anyway. Many stations are part-time and barely exist. There are certainly a few mega-stations, but they’re few-and-far between. I can’t imagine a scenario where the SN chart is truly representative of the nation (SG fans specifically) as a whole.

    Many SG stations are planted in very rural parts of America. Thus, groups like the McKameys and Inspirations do particularly well (for whatever reason); even when they’re putting a somewhat inferior product on the table.

    I certainly look at the SN charts, but don’t really put much stock in them.

  31. Trent wrote:

    “…groups like the McKameys and Inspirations do particularly well (for whatever reason); even when they’re putting a somewhat inferior product on the table. ”

    What a condescending thing to say! They are putting out an inferior product according to whose barometer? Yours?

  32. Trent wrote:

    When do the new changes to the charts take place?

  33. e.c. wrote:

    The new changes are in place now.

  34. Music chick wrote:

    I think it’s such a shame that we are so “chart” driven. Many groups just want to have their music played and heard- it’s about the ministry. . .it’s about the music.. .wait. . .it SHOULD be about the ministry. . it SHOULD be about the music. It shouldn’t be about the charts, or as #25 honestly put, “bragging rights.” I do think that knowing what people like to listen to and what is ministering to them is great, but it seems that some people have the mentality that God is up there saying. . .”Oh! You had a number 1 song on the charts in July 1965 (random date). . wellllllll, come on in!” That “ain’t” gonna happen.

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