'Chart music is about young, mass market audiences': Martin Talbot on why the charts still matter

'Chart music is about young, mass market audiences': Martin Talbot on why the charts still matter

As the Official Charts gets a brand refresh, a new study highlights the broad appeal of the charts, especially to an overwhelmingly young audience. Here, chief executive Martin Talbot opens up about the longevity of the “unique, robust and reliable” charts…

Few music industry institutions can match the eight-decade history of the Official Charts. Among the secrets to this longevity has been a commitment to continually reviewing and renewing, moving with the eras. 

And this week, after 11 years as a full-fledged consumer brand, we are launching a fundamental refresh. Squarely targeting our key Gen Z audience, the relaunch introduces a bright, shiny new identity - retaining the brilliant “arrows and 1” icon created by the Give Up Art agency over a decade ago, but refreshed by new agency Electric Mustard with a bolder font and brighter colours. 

The icon has been rotated to align with the Number 1 Award, now received by more than 300 artists from Ed Sheeran to Foo Fighters, Taylor Swift to the Gallagher brothers. Both of them. Separately. 

The new, brighter, bolder branding will be brought to life via our socials and OfficialCharts.com, which has been rebuilt around a new immersive chart experience, bridging the gap between a chart website and contemporary streaming platform. Users can now scroll track-by-track through any chart in history, listen to 30-second clips of (pretty much) every chart hit ever, or tuck into a new snackable “Top 10 in 60 seconds” video format aimed at bringing the Official Singles Chart to life for younger, casual chart fans. Plus lots more charts and chart data in the deepest chart database ever available. 

It all marks the latest stage of our evolution as a consumer media brand, centring around this music-fan-targeted commercial platform, which currently attracts 2m unique users, 3.1m visits and 7.2m page views monthly, seduced by our offer of exclusive, trusted, data-driven editorial, new releases and nostalgia, to complement the weekly Official Albums and Singles Chart Top 100s. 

To mark this moment of refresh, we commissioned CultureStudio to create an independent study about the role of the Official Charts in 2023. Written and researched by former Universal, Radio 1 and Ipsos market research guru Hanna Chalmers, we were ready to hear whatever the study told us. What it said – as published in The Official Chart: The ‘People’s Algorithm – was that the Official Charts have an enduring and important role to play, especially among the younger generation. 

The study is built on a quantitative survey by Omnisis spanning 1,122 participants in April this year (two samples, one nationally representative sample, the other users of Official Charts’ digital channels), accompanied by interviews with academics, music historians, media observers and artists. 

The contributions from artists remind us how important the charts continue to be both for established and emerging artists. “Pure validation…” Raye said about her No.1 single; “The best thing that’s ever happened in my life,” said Joel Corry about his. “It means everything to us,” said the Lottery Winners’ Thom Rylance about theirs. 

Anyone doubting what a No.1 means to the biggest artists in the world need only glance at the picture of Ed Sheeran (whose personal collection of Number 1 Awards, one for every song or album he has performed on or written, is probably the biggest there is) looking adoringly at the award for his 20th chart topper this spring. Everyone should have someone in their life who looks at them the way Ed looks at his Number 1 Awards.

The study highlights the broad appeal of the chart, especially to an overwhelmingly young audience. Aside from 76% brand awareness among the general population, some 69% of chart followers cite The Chart as their number one way of discovering new music, rising to 72% of under 25s – above streaming platforms, radio, YouTube, TikTok and friends. In turn, The Official Chart remains one of the most on-demand shows on BBC Radio 1, with 53% of listeners who tune into the broadcast aged 15-34. Stunningly, also, 40% of all the nation’s 18-24s recognise our Number 1 Award when they see it. 

Of course, the term “Gen Z” is a relatively new one, but targeting the youth market is nothing new for The Chart. Ever since the rock & roll Fifties, the Merseybeat ’60s, through the Britpop, Spice Girls and Take That ’90s, right up to the present day, The Official Chart has been driven by music that appeals to teens. 

Chart music has always been about young, mass market audiences – not their dads

Martin Talbot

I have to confess something. When middle-aged journalists say, “the chart doesn’t mean anything to me these days”, at the Official Charts, we generally shrug. The Chart was never for that demographic; it has always targeted younger audiences. 

In some ways, the conditions we are experiencing today are similar to those in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s – teenage rebels outraging their parents by wearing clothes they don’t like, voicing opinions they don’t understand, listening to music they can’t comprehend. But, what makes today’s environment more intriguing is the fact that so many older music fans, who grew up in the rock & roll era – dare I say, ‘6 Music dads’ – still want to believe they are at the cutting edge of popular music. The reality is they mostly aren’t. Chart music has always been about young, mass market audiences – not their dads. (The day when they arrive at this moment of clarity is a tough one – you can occasionally hear the screams). 

The Official Charts (like so many other charts – Spotify’s Weekly Top Songs, the Apple Top 100, YouTube’s Top Songs) simply reflect the tastes of young audiences today. The difference between us and the rest is that we are entirely unique, robust and reliable, a full market count, the chart of the music industry, the proud, definitive benchmark for artists and labels. 

Our aim at the Official Charts is to ensure that this sense of excitement and meaning transmits to music fans. 

The study also highlighted a particular new role for the Official Charts in 2023, as we wade deeper and deeper into the new digital age. Several respondents spoke of the chart’s role as an antidote to the algorithm-driven music environment of the era. While algorithms do have their place, music fans also want to understand what other music fans are listening to, what is the hottest music of the moment, reflected by the listening habits of other human beings. 

“[The chart is] an unbiased record of how songs are performing, outside of my own algorithm bubble,” said one respondent. 

In turn, Dr Adam Lonsdale (an expert on the social psychology of music) commented on the role of the chart in young people’s development of their identity: “shared experiences are the basis of human interaction… The Charts represent a public square, a shared experience which helps in the formation of nascent identity, of which music is often an important part.”

The chart, then, in a world of many distractions, of 120,000 new tracks uploading to streaming services every day, provides essential cut-through. Some 64% of all under-35s “want to know what music is popular right now”. Its influence stretches beyond a recommendation tool (although that is important) to play a powerful role in setting our sense of national identity; It is “a staple of British culture”, “a record of social feelings throughout the decades”, “it captures the musical pulse like nothing else”. 

This purpose, chronicling the soundtrack of the nation over eight decades, is vital. Nostalgia means many different things to different people – to those in their later years, it means Bowie, The Beatles, Elvis, or even earlier stars; to those in their teens and twenties, nostalgia is just as powerful, even if it means Rihanna, Olly Murs and Katy Perry. The viral power of stories such as the one centred on the simple question “What was No.1 on your 14th birthday?” (1.64m views on OfficialCharts.com alone…) is evidence of this. Everyone, after all, was 14 once. 

And this role of the chart is as important looking forward as it is looking back. Without the Official Charts, what else will record the nation’s favourite music, the tastes of the ’20s, ’30s and beyond? Dr Toby Bennett (a professor of media, culture and organisation, University Of Westminster) is confident – “The Official Charts have endured and, as with any institution, is something that is stable in times of instability and uncertainty… it’s durable, it’s got longevity to it and that’s significant.” 

Don’t worry, the Official Charts will still be here. It has flourished for more than 70 years, it will flourish for at least 70 more. 

CultureStudio’s report: The Official Chart – The People’s Algorithm : Britain’s Definitive Playlist Since 1952 – An Exploration Of Its Role Today can be downloaded here.


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