Who's number one in streaming?

Woman listening to music via a smartphone

For more than 60 years, the release of the charts on a Sunday evening has been both a weekly ritual for music fans and a way of taking the temperature of a whole industry. In 2004, a download chart was introduced as more and more customers started to access their music online, and now next Monday there will be another innovation - the first official streaming chart.

It will look at what people are listening to via new streaming services, both subscription and advertising supported, and will use data from the likes of Spotify, Deezer, We7 and Napster. The initiative from the Official Charts Company is obviously recognition - perhaps rather belated - that streaming, rather than owning music, has become a habit for millions of the music industry's customers.

To mark this new departure, a chart of the most streamed artists of 2012 has been released. At number one is Ed Sheeran, followed by Lana Del Rey and then David Guetta. Compare and contrast with the singles and album charts - which now combine both downloads and CD sales - and you'll see some intriguing differences.

Ed Sheeran, for instance is much lower in the download charts, while the top selling album artist Adele is only number 13 in the streaming chart. Now there's one obvious reason why the most successful recording artist of recent years isn't big on the likes of Spotify - her management have opted not to licence the 21 album for streaming.

I asked a much younger colleague with more experience of the current music scene to compare the charts. "Overall," she told me, "the streaming chart is more alternative, a slightly older demographic and features more music from artists who've not released albums for a while."

But what I really want to know is some information that you can't get from the streaming chart. Such as how big the streaming business is compared to paid downloads, whether it is an industry dominated by Spotify, in the same way that Amazon dominates ebooks, and why many artists are still so unhappy with the rewards it offers.

Streaming is obviously growing fast. According to the charts company, there were 2.6 billion audio streams in the UK last year, compared with 177 million single track downloads and 26 million album downloads. Obviously the two don't compare when it comes to revenue, but we'll come to that in a minute.

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The arrival of a streaming chart means that a new way of getting access to music has come of age”

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Who's winning in this new industry? Well Spotify is certainly the best known brand in Europe, and perhaps now in the US. But with only 3 million paying subscribers there is obviously a huge untapped market to aim at, and the battle is far from over. France's Deezer, with 1.5 million subscribers, is growing rapidly, and the word in the industry is that it is the best placed to challenge Spotify.

For artists, though, it is still less clear what streaming has to offer. I've heard suggestions that music insiders have a ready reckoner which values every paid download track as worth 350 streams. And we've heard from plenty of disgruntled artists complaining of getting pennies for hundreds of thousand streams and from others, like Adele, who've decided to stay out of streaming for fear of cannibalising CD and download sales.

I spoke to Will Hope from Spotify, and asked him whether there were any signs that relations with artists were improving. He pointed to the fact that music from Bob Dylan and the Red Hot Chili Peppers - artists who had kept away from streaming - was now available on his service. And he insisted that the rewards for musicians were growing rapidly. "We're only just beginning, we're one of the most significant revenue providers for artists."

The arrival of a streaming chart means that a new way of getting access to music has come of age. But for now - and perhaps for years to come - most artists will dream of getting a number one album or single, not a number one stream.

Streaming top 10 Singles top 10 Albums top 10

Source: Official Charts Company Top 10 year to date

1. Ed Sheeran

1. David Guetta

1. Adele

2. Lana Del Rey

2. Gotye

2. Lana Del Rey

3. David Guetta

3. Jessie J

3. Emeli Sande

4. Rihanna

4. Flo Rida

4. Florence & The Machine

5. Coldplay

5. Nicki Minaj

5. Ed Sheeran

6. Gotye

6. Ed Sheeran

6. Coldplay

7. Jessie J

7. Rihanna

7. Rihanna

8. Emeli Sande

8. Emeli Sande

8. David Guetta

9. Florence & The Machine

9.Rizzle Kicks

9. Whitney Houston

10. Drake

10. Katy Perry

10. Jessie J

Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    @31 I've never understood this modern obsession with writing and performing your own songs. We don't expect Lewis Hamilton to service his own cars, do we?

    The number of skilled musicians who have a large body of quality work is vanishingly small.

    And I'm sick to death of musical snobs. Abba are as valid as Dylan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Okay, based on your definition, I can't say that any artist who writes his own songs or plays an instrument isn't talented. In that case he is talented, but marginally less so than my auntie who plays the spoons since she at least is not boring and unoriginal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    29.thirdculturekid - "......Again, you may not like his music but you cannot say that he isn't talented"

    Well said - though most folk don't know the difference & are too busy being self satifised & smug to actually bother finding out......

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    26. Albert

    You can say that you don't like his music, but you cannot truly tell me that he isn't talented. He writes all of his own music, plays his own instruments, and often uses his voice to create drum beats. Again, you may not like his music but you cannot say that he isn't talented.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Every single era/genra of music contains some good stuff, a fair degree of bad stuff, and a few absolute gems. It goes for classcial, pop of any decade, each & every sub sect of jazz, rock, dance et al.

    To dismiss any one genra/era as "not proper music" or whatever is simply to show your own ignorance and/or outright bigotry......

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    @24 " Is everyone honestly telling me that Ed Sheeran isn't talented?"

    I've just looked him up on youtube to find out how who he is. After listening to a selection of palsied, derivative dreck from him, I can happily tell you that he isn't talented.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    19. Your quite right and I've downloaded the album, from 1st listening though it's not got a patch on Motown (and I'm not an oldie, I'm 22 and "my days" haven't even happend yet)

    Why did it take a comment thread on the BBC website to find this music though? That is the point I am making.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    @ 18.Aardvark

    Whilst I agree that many of the "chart" music can be ignored, I don't think people should be so closed-minded about modern music. Yes, some (many, in fact) are rubbish, but I don't think it's right to disregard a musician purely based on their presence on the charts. Is everyone honestly telling me that Ed Sheeran isn't talented?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I am shocked, for once we can read an article that does not glorify Apple. It must been really hard to write this one, Rory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    20.ozzy07 - sorry I think I miss heard you. Did you say you don't listen to the charts because you're a bit boring these days.....?????

    21.Mr_Memo - there has been decent music in every decade since pop music first began, if you can actually be bothered to go out & find it......

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Let's have proper charts for us "oldies", who remember what decent music is really like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Personally I don’t listen to the charts anymore, it’s a bit boring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    15.WhyStandOnASilentPlatform - ".......What was the last new song that touched you?"

    I really enjoyed hearing a track called Raw Monkey from a US outfit by the name of Three Leaf - you can download the album from their website at a price you choose to value it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Most "chart" music is noise and talent has been replaced by "reality artists" who will be forgotten in months. My internal software saves me the trouble of forgetting about garbage by ignoring names like Rizzle Kicks and Flo Rida in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    It really frustrates me when older generations have a mindset that new music automatically means it will be bad music. People who say that modern music is rubbish/boring/doesn't touch you should look beyond the charts, and open their mind a little instead of having the preconceived view that it won't be good. Good music is good music, whether it came from the 60s or from last September

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    " At number one is Ed Sheeran, followed by Lana Del Rey and then David Guetta." Anyone? Nope - me neither.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    If it looks good, you'll see it. If it sounds good, you'll hear it. If it's marketed right, you'll buy it. But if it's real, you'll feel it.

    What was the last new song that touched you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Any chart that places Coldplay high, outside of a chart entitled, "10 bands even my nan thinks are a bit wishy washy" is not to be trusted.


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