Kate Bush is heading for No.1 with Running Up That Hill this week, according to the latest charts update.
But should she have been at the chart summit last week?
Based on the raw streaming data exclusively available to Music Week, the classic 1985 track which features prominently in the latest series of Netflix’s Stranger Things was ahead of Harry Styles on Friday (June 10). As reported in our charts analysis by Alan Jones last week, Kate Bush racked up 7,470,792 premium audio streams, 1,029,666 ad-funded audio streams and 657,694 premium video streams - but still missed out on No.1.
That’s because chart rules on accelerated decline, or ACR (Accelerated Chart Ratio) as it’s officially known, mean that older catalogue tracks are penalised and have to stream at twice the rate of current releases to register the same chart ‘sale’. The thinking is that the Top 40 is for new music which shouldn’t be crowded out by people’s favourite songs of yesteryear.
Part of the reason for the ratio formula is that the OCC doesn’t get the data to be able to weight chart sales based on organic streams and playlist streams (the latter can favour catalogue and older tracks).
With individual chart sales for downloads and physical singles now eclipsed by streaming, the OCC had to come up with a formula for the streaming era and has refined it over the last few years. When a track is subject to accelerated decline, a single chart sale requires 1,200 ad-funded streams instead of the usual 600, and 200 premium streams instead of 100. (These rules are mainly applied to current releases after nine weeks on the chart and three consecutive weeks of decline to keep the chart moving.)
The No.2 finish for Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill has now reignited the debate about the singles chart in the streaming era. The track has already hit No.1 on Spotify and is racking up about seven million streams a day on that platform alone.
But the biggest chart story of 2022 is set for a happy ending this week with Running Up That Hill now on course for No.1, thanks to a manual reset of the ACR rule in this case. According to the latest figures from the Official Charts Company, RUTH is currently on 46,010 compared with sales up 72.1% week-on-week - almost 12,000 ahead of Harry Styles’ As It Was. It would be Kate Bush’s first UK No.1 since debut single Wuthering Heights in 1978.
But just to make things really confusing, Running Up That Hill’s overall consumption is actually down 5.1% week-on-week (remember that last week its high streaming volume was then heavily penalised by ACR). So it’s No.1 may not actually be for its biggest streaming week. For the record, the Kate Bush classic has 771,568 sales post-1994, and 165,762 this year alone (the latter figure apparently includes one picture disc vinyl edition from Record Store Day 2013 that was finally shifted to a fan last week).
For tracks under three years old, automatic resets of SCR (standard chart ratio) can take place if consumption increases by 25 percentage points above the market rate of variance. Chart rules stipulate that two tracks per album can be manually reset if a label is planning promotional activity.
For older tracks like RUTH, a label can request a manual ACR reset based on promotional activity subject to agreement by the OCC and Charts Supervisory Committee (CSC) - which is what happened to Kate Bush - or based on a consistent increase in consumption.
Manual resets are fairly rare - there have been 10 so far this year according to the OCC (although they declined to give details).
The highest-profile ACR manual turnaround this year was Adele’s I Drink Wine, a track under three years old that was given a reset to tie in with the BRITs in February. A less obvious manual reset was Californian band The Neighbourhood's 2018 single Softcore, which increased consumption thanks to TikTok but, ironically, peaked at No.51 while still under ACR status.
Because the chart rules have been in the spotlight over the past week, Music Week decided to speak to Official Charts Company chief executive (and Kate Bush fan) Martin Talbot.
“The charts today are much more complex than they used to be,” he told Music Week. “In the old days, it was relatively straightforward. But you’ve not got streams at different weightings, whether they’re ad-funded or streaming. We’re trying to make sure that streams work in the albums chart, in a world where physical sales are on the whole in decline but still a significant part. There’s always lots of things like that to discuss.”
Read on for his insights on the ACR debate, Kate Bush and his reaction to the question of whether the chart is still working in the streaming era…
Some of the reporting of this story has referred to a ‘rule change’ this week for Kate Bush, but that’s not the case is it?
“No, it’s not a rule change. Whenever this comes up, people always act as if it’s the first time that it's been invented. But we introduced it in the summer of 2017, so it's been around for a while, and for the record it was introduced because we saw lots of old tracks that were sitting around in the chart and blocking the opportunity for newer music. We have mechanisms for things to be automatically reset if they reach a particular surge in plays. For a manual reset, if the label comes to us and says ‘look, this is really working’, they can apply for a manual reset. Sometimes they don’t. In this case, Warner did and that's what's happened. And the great news is that Kate Bush is on her way to having her first No.1 in decades, which will be fantastic.”
There’s been some talk about the Chart Supervisory Committee who can influence these decisions. Who are they exactly?
“It’s a panel of representatives from retail and from record labels. Ten people sit on it, as well as us. Five are from the retail sector, DSPs, retailers, etc, the other half are labels with representatives from all three majors, and BMG and PIAS. It meets four or five times a year to discuss the evolution of the charts, to discuss chart rule changes that might be necessary in the future. It's not that common in other markets to have this kind of committee. It's a function of our ownership, we’re owned by the industry, 50:50 by the BPI and ERA, and our job is to reflect the industry and what the industry wants to see.”
So how was the Running Up That Hill reset approved?
“You can reset a track whenever you want if you’ve got the right criteria. What happens is that the label in question will send us the information explaining why they want to reset something, that will then get circulated to the CSC. If there’s a debate, we’ll have a debate. If there isn’t, then we just go ahead and reset, and that’s what’s happened in this case. It’s obviously been surging anyway but there’s been some additional promotional activity around it, as you would expect for a track like this with the profile on Stranger Things. It’s a natural surge, but as all good labels do there’s an opportunity to amplify it. Everyone was comfortable that there was a real purpose [for the reset]. If there was a majority against a reset, we would not reset it. But that was never the case in this instance. I don’t think we’ve had a real fight over a reset application. There are some that are turned down, but that’s more because there’s not a proper campaign.”
The process of compiling the chart in 2022 is much more complicated than it has been in the past
If there’s an option for labels, why aren’t classic Christmas tracks not reset given the promotional activity that can accompany them?
“One of the issues that we wanted to try and address with accelerated decline was the fact that you get all the Christmas tracks surging in the chart. So we don't encourage people to reset Christmas tracks, and nobody does because they’re going to be there anyway. It's worth noting that there have been a couple of cases where an old track has reached No.1 while on accelerated decline. Three Lions did it in 2018, and also Last Christmas and All I Want For Christmas Is You have both done it in the last couple of years. We know it’s a disadvantage to the track, but in those cases they were able to reach No.1 anyway.”
Are you concerned that RUTH might encourage more attempts at resets for classic catalogue tracks?
“No, I don't think so. When we introduced this five years ago, it was to address a change in the market and the way that consumption would be measured, and particularly the fact that tracks from the streaming environment stay around for longer. And since then, there has been an increasing number of viral, reactive tracks because of TikTok. We're always alert to the possibility. We'll be keeping all of this under review, all the chart rules are always being reconsidered and discussed. I wouldn't say I'm concerned as such. But I think what's likely is that we'll spend some time looking at how older tracks tend to be reset and whether this works in the best way.”
Labels are increasingly working catalogue. Is there a greater appetite for seeing these songs in the upper reaches of the charts now?
“Possibly. But, of course, labels are focused, the industry is focused and the chart is focused on surfacing new repertoire and helping new talent rise. Obviously, we want to reflect when something viral happens as is the case with Running Up That Hill. And the great thing is that it’s on course at the moment for No.1. So accelerated decline doesn’t stop tracks from getting towards the top of the chart. The main reason why this has become a high-profile talking point is because it's right at the top. She’s in a really good position to make No.1.”
Stranger Things has been key to the success, but has it been enjoyable seeing Kate Bush react to the single’s impact in 2022?
“I’m a Kate Bush fan as well as doing the job that I do. So it would be great to see her get to No.1, it would be fantastic. It shows what the chart means to people still, artists get excited about the possibility of being at the top of the chart. It’s a great thing.”
Spotify has its own global and national charts. Do the OCC charts complement them, and can you coexist?
“Retailers have always had their own charts. Spotify’s charts reflect what's happening on Spotify and Apple Music’s charts reflect what's happening there. Amazon have charts, lots of people have charts. The thing that differentiates us, and we feel it adds to their value, is the fact that we capture sales and streams from everywhere. For about 98%, 99% of all music consumption on a daily and weekly basis, we're collecting data for all of them. So that's our big point of differentiation. Most consumers only have access to one of these services. So, yeah, I think our big point of difference that we're very proud of is the fact that we capture [sales] from everyone. It's a long way from where the chart used to be - we celebrate the 70th anniversary in November - when Percy Dickins called 20 retailers and just asked what records were doing well that week. It’s not like that any more.”
Some people have said Kate Bush should really have been the official No.1 last week. Are you confident that the Official Charts are still fit for purpose?
“Yes, of course they are. The process of compiling the chart in 2022 is much more complicated than it has been in the past. We're in transition between ownership and streaming. So people still buy and people stream. And as I said, the days when you have one person and 20 record shops are long gone. Music is consumed in many different ways, and there is no simple way of doing this any more. It is more complex, but that's because it’s a more complex music market.”
Finally, has the debate about the single and its position been good for the charts’ profile?
“If Kate Bush sells a few more records or gets streamed a few more times, that’s all great. As I said, I’m a massive Kate Bush fan. If she made No.1 this weekend, I’d be absolutely delighted.”
PHOTO: Angelo Deligio Mondadori via Getty Images