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General Methodology of the Rolling Stone Charts
What does it mean to be popular? That’s a question that music fans and music makers alike have asked for ages — but recently with more urgency than ever before, as listening patterns in the digital age shift and splinter. There are now dozens of ways to tally listeners’ music consumption, and streaming services have changed the game forever. The Rolling Stone Charts are an interactive set of music charts that update on a daily basis and offer an impartial, in-depth and in-the-moment view of the biggest songs, albums and artists in music.
The RS Charts are powered by Penske Media’s independent analytics company Alpha Data, formerly known as BuzzAngle Music, which collects and processes data from dozens of major suppliers. All charts populate with newly received data on a daily basis, with official, finalized overviews available at the end of each week. The charts offer daily updates, as well as user-friendly functionality, unprecedented transparency, and deeper, more granular insights into music than what’s ever been available to the public. Rolling Stone‘s chart rules and methodologies were carefully developed so that the comprehensive data collected by Alpha Data can reflect consumer music consumption in the most modern, transparent, and accurate way possible. New rules may be announced as consumption patterns change, to ensure that goal.
For the rules governing individual charts, visit the Methodology tab on that chart’s page.
Data Update Frequency
Alpha Data processes and updates data on a daily basis. Data from the suppliers — which include physical retailers and digital service providers — for each day’s transactions will usually be processed the following day. RS Charts update with new data each day at 12 PM Eastern; however, because of the various timeframes needed to collect data from dozens of suppliers, each week’s chart should not be considered finalized until the following Monday.
Tracking Week Definitions
The tracking week runs from Friday through Thursday — a schedule that began July 10, 2015, with the global adoption of Friday as the day for new music releases. The start of each day is 12 AM Eastern Time.
General Ranking Criteria
Ranking of songs, albums, and artists is determined by transaction totals for the selected period. Ranking by growth is determined by the percentage change of the selected period’s transaction totals over the previous period’s transaction totals. Ties within published depths will be broken as follows: For reports determined by growth ranking, the greater sales total for the selected period. In the event that two titles tie on both growth difference and overall total, the tie breaks in favor of the younger title.
Album Units and Song Units
Entries on the Top 200 Albums chart are ranked by Album Units, a calculation that includes physical and digital album sales, song sales and on-demand audio streams. Entries on the Top 100 Songs chart are ranked by Song Units, a calculation that includes song sales and on-demand audio streams. Multi-level weighting factors for album formats (standard/deluxe), album configurations (Digital/CD/Vinyl), audio streams, monetization methods (subscription/ad-supported) and subscription payment tiers (entry/standard/premium) are used to determine overall album and song total consumption values. Programmed (passive) streams and plays from terrestrial or digital radio stations are not counted in the Top 200 Album and Top 100 Song charts.
Each Album Unit total is calculated as follows: (Digital Standard Album Sales*1.0) + (Digital Deluxe Album Sales*1.3) + (CD Standard Album Sales*1.0) + (CD Deluxe Album Sales*1.3) + (Vinyl Standard Album Sales*2.0) + (Vinyl Deluxe Album Sales*2.5) + (Cassette Album Sales*1.0) + (Digital Song Sales/10) + (On-Demand Audio Subscription Streams/1,200) + (On-Demand Audio Ad-Supported Streams)/3,600).
Each Song Unit total is calculated as follows: (Digital Song Sales) + (On-Demand Audio Subscription Streams/120) + (On-Demand Audio Ad-Supported Streams/360).
The Trending and Breakthrough charts, which rank the growth of up-and-coming songs and artists, respectively, exclude songs and artists that have already appeared in top positions in the charts.
Further restrictions are applied to album- and song-bundled sales (also known as “D2C” sales) that cap the number of bundles that are eligible for the Albums and Songs charts.
Album Sales Tracking
1. Physical sales measure only unopened (new) product.
2. Sales count on a 1:1 basis on all album charts. There will be no weighting for any particular sector of the market, including the independent store community.
3. Shipments and pre-orders of an album in advance of release date are held until the release date and tracked as if they happened on the release date. Sales in advance of release date will be tracked and counted on the day they were sold, with no protection of street date.
4. All versions of an album or music video count toward that title’s sales, providing that the core content of that title’s standard album version remains included and that the bonus audio content on deluxe offerings does not exceed the running time of the standard album. In cases where multiple versions of an album are available, the one deemed to be the standard version must be generally available. A retailer-exclusive version can be counted as a deluxe, but not as the standard version.
5. Removal of songs that appear on the standard album will cause that altered version to track as a separate album. Extenuating circumstances—no physical rights for a particular song, as one example—will be considered individually for exemption.
6. In cases where the audio bonus content exceeds the playing time of the standard album, such versions will be tracked separately as a Super Deluxe. A title can have more than one Super Deluxe version. If multiple Super Deluxes are offered, the sales of those versions will be combined with each other, but not with the standard release.
7. A deluxe version may precede that of the standard release by three months (12 weeks). In these cases, the label or distributor will notify Alpha Data in advance that the later version will be this title’s standard version. However, if a shorter version of that first release releases more than 12 weeks later, it will be treated as a separate album.
8. If a CD-DVD bundle is primarily an audio product, it tracks as an album. If the content skews more toward video, it tracks as a music video. The manner by which such titles are sold by digital retailers is also a determining factor.
9. If two or more separate unique albums are sold together in a single package, those sales will be tracked as a unique listing, separate from those of the individual titles.
10. Ticket/Album Bundles: Albums sold in conjunction with the purchase of a concert ticket or mobile app count toward chart totals, as long as the inclusion of the album is marketed to the consumer at the time of purchase. If the album is shipped to the consumer, the sale will register when that order is fulfilled. Similarly, if the album is fulfilled as a digital download, the sale is registered upon fulfillment. In the event that a CD or download card is distributed at the venue, those sales will be recorded, so long as the inclusion of the album was messaged as part of the ticket transaction. Minimum price rules still apply for the price paid for the album within the ticket bundle.
11. Direct To Fan Packages: Albums included in Direct To Fan packages, be they fan experiences or merchandise, count toward chart totals when the album’s inclusion is specifically marketed. Such transactions will be recorded in the same timeframes outlined in Ticket/Album Bundles.
12. Phone Premiums: If an album is offered as an embedded premium on a phone or other electronic device, such sales will count to the chart as consumers activate the download. Such products will only count as sales on the units for which the option is exercised.
Digital Song Sales Tracking
1. Digital song sales combine all eligible versions of a song, including edited versions and most remixes. Different versions of a song will be merged, so long as alternate mixes don’t distort the original song beyond recognition. In such cases, the unique mix will track and rank separately.
2. Digital sales are tracked and counted on the day of sale. Release date will not be protected.
Streams are tracked on a 1:1 ratio, without weight to the type of stream.
1. Album sales: Minimum price criteria will be applied. In cases where a digital retailer sells a title for less than $3.75 in the first month, those sales will count toward a title’s overall sales, but will not count toward that week’s chart.
2. Song sales: Minimum price criteria will be applied. Tracks sold for less than $0.49 in the first three months of release will not count toward the chart.
SONG ASSIGNMENT RULES
1. A song’s sales or streams may only contribute to one album’s totals; a song’s sales or streams will be assigned to the earliest album that contains that song. If a song’s sales or streams are being overwhelmingly driven from a new compilation or greatest hits album, the songs’ consumption may contribute to that compilation album’s total for the first four weeks of release.
2. In the case of soundtracks, compilations and greatest hits albums from an artist listed as “Various Artists,” no song sales or song streams from participating artists will be counted as part of the unit total, unless the artist has explicitly recorded the song for that album. In that case, a song’s sales or streams will count towards the album’s total units until that song is included on an album by the specific artist.