The draw of longer records

As music charts factor in streaming of songs for their lists, artists with bigger albums have a higher chance of making the cut

Rapper Chris Brown's new album, Heartbreak On A Full Moon, has 45 tracks and spans more than two hours.
Rapper Chris Brown's new album, Heartbreak On A Full Moon, has 45 tracks and spans more than two hours.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Chris Brown has extremely specific instructions on how his fans should listen to his new album.

Create a Spotify or Apple Music account, the R&B singer said in an Instagram post, and stream the album multiple times a day or just "leave the album on repeat".

"We only have 3 days tracking after release for its debut on the Billboard 200," the note explained.

Brown wants his 45-track record, which came out last Tuesday, to shoot up in the charts and that is the way it is done.

To fully get this calculus, it is important to first understand how the charts are calculated.

Before, the Internet charts were simply based on physical record sales. Now, fans download albums or individual songs off iTunes or pay a monthly fee and stream music from Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Tidal or a number of other services.

In 2014, Billboard decided to factor in streaming songs when determining its list of the top 200 records each week, the Billboard 200. It created a simple formula and a few easy guidelines:

•The digital sale of 10 songs from an album counts as one sale of that album.

•Every 1,500 streams of songs from an album count as one sale of that album.

The system makes it easier for longer records to pop up on the charts. For example, if every track on a 20-song album is purchased, that counts as two album sales.

Last year, the Recording Industry Association of America adopted the same guidelines as Billboard for awarding albums gold, platinum or multi-platinum status.

Artists - and the record labels producing them - desperately want to appear on the Billboard 200 and to have their records certified multi-platinum.

Not only is it a nice indicator of success that can lead to further album sales, but it also makes booking large venues easier.

And that is where the money is. Artists can take home 35 per cent of ticket sales and half of the profit from selling merchandise.

"The top 10 per cent of artists make money selling records. The rest go on tour," Scott Welch, who manages singers Alanis Morissette and LeAnn Rimes, told ABC News.

All this has created a potential incentive for artists to produce longer records, which has recently become a trend - particularly in hip-hop and R&B, the most streamed genres, according to Nielsen reports.

Drake's More Life ran for 22 tracks, while his album Views had 20. Rapper Future released two records in a week with a total of 36 songs between them.

In this new pop music era, The Weeknd's Starboy feels downright brief for having 18 songs.

"Never before have so many songs existed just so an album can have a 20th, 30th or 40th track. Now, major artists hoping for quick success on the charts can perfect 10 songs or they can just churn out three dozen," Adam K. Raymond wrote in Vulture.

Brown's album, titled Heartbreak On A Full Moon, contains 45 tracks. It clocks in at about two hours and 40 minutes - longer than most feature films.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2017, with the headline 'The draw of longer records'. Subscribe