SOUNDSCAN R.I.P.?: Big Champagne Rivals With a New Type of Hit Chart. Or Do They?

Moses Avalon

CEO Garland challenges the Old Guard to the seminal question: is a chart based on electronic metrics more relevant than one based on actual sales? Does a song with 100,000 CDs sold deserve more notice than one with 500,000 streams/downloads, regardless of if they are legal or royalty generating?

Last week the data monitoring service Big Champagne brought a whole new meaning to the words “Chart buster” when they announced that they intend to revolutionize the industry and give Billboard/SoundScan a run for their money.  Their release of “Ultimate Chart,” lit up the blogs; a hit chart that ignores traditional brick and mortar sales and instead aggregates data from electronic sources to determine what is truly the “most popular” music.

I chatted with Big Champagne’s CEO, Eric Garland over tea at the Beverly Hills Montage.  As a result, you are about to know what just about every other blogger got wrong  about this new chart’s methodology and just how “ultimate” it might be.

I was excited to learn about Ultimate Chart. It’s something I suggested the industry needed in a 2008 article called “The Golden Click.” You can read it for yourself if you’re interested, but the basic theme was how, in the new music business, will we evaluate a “hit record?”  Does a tracking physical sale matter when consensus is that most music today is acquired illegally? Or as one of my readers put it, does an industry that is below the radar, still need the radar?

Does Ultimate Chart definitively answer the question?  Let’s see.


I recall when SoundScan hit the street in 1991. Its imperial data revealed something most in the north east US didn’t want to know: the biggest selling CDs were not what major labels shoved down our throats with payola and TV campaigns, mainly suburban hair-band rock and harmonized pop. Back then SoundScan bomb-shelled the truth:  Country music is what most people buy and Rap was in close second.  Of course, this was all before iTunes entered the scene, thus creating a digital sales metric.  And it seems, according to some sources, that CD sales figures are presently being maintained mostly by people who still confuse RAM cache with Johnny Cash.

So, I naturally thought that a new chart based on non-mainstream data would yield a new truth, like what we saw in 1991; that a chart based on pure street data would have the hippest, most cool and most creative artists. But, I was disappointed when I saw the first results of Ultimate Chart. You’ll see why in a second. (If you can’t wait look at the comparison charts below.)


First, bit of mythos debunked: Ultimate Chart DOES NOT use data from music that is traded/streamed in an illegal fashion, even though Garland claims they could.  WTF?

Although the company does claim to monitor all P2P activity, Garland was clear with me while sipping his Earl Grey, “For the Ultimate Chart there is a Chinese wall where the [illegal data] is excluded.” This assumption, made by most bloggers covering this story, was disappointment number one for me.  P2P data mixed with real sales data would be an interesting chart indeed and something that insiders cannot get in an organized format.  Minus that, Ultimate Chart will only give me data acquired from legal but solely digital sources.

Presently, Billboard uses a combination of two Nielson products: bar code scanning (SoundScan) at the point of purchase and BDS (a digital wave sample data-base for over-the-air monitoring). Billboard will argue, therefore, that their chart is more accurate in terms of what people will pay for, and I don’t think Big Champagne will take issue with that.  Garland would just say, “Who f–king cares.  Charts are supposed to tell us what people like.  Ours does that better than theirs.  Why?  Because we’re looking at people’s native choices, not just the forced ‘choices’ of commercial fluff shoved down their throat from major label douche bags.”

Okay, Garland didn’t actually say any of that to me, but reading between the lines of his press releases and some off-the-record comments he made in our chat, it’s fairly clear that he would if he wasn’t concerned about offending potential future clients, the major labels and Billboard, itself.


Ultimate Chart claims to be “an unprecedented aggregation of timely, relevant metrics.” And by “relevant” Garland means the following: Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, VEVO, Pandora, MySpace, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL and many, many others, including ClearChannel.

WAIT!  ClearChannel?!? But doesn’t their data make up a significant portion for the Billboard charts?  Yes.  So how much of Ultimate Chart’s data comes from ClearChannel as opposed to their “other sources?”

“A very small part,” says Garland.  A vast majority comes from smaller chains and a group called, Street Pulse, an independent service that includes some Big Box data.

While SoundScan uses a one-sale-equals-one-point formula and then combines them from its many reporting stores for a ranking, Ultimate Chart takes a radical departure.  It gives physical sales more weight than stats generated from streams. Garland: “We weigh a song purchased [like on iTunes] at hundreds of times a song streamed.  On this chart it’s better to sell a few things than stream a great many things.”

So, one song sold on iTunes, in theory, would equal 100s of streams on say, Spotify.  This seems to kind of go against the theme of the revolution Garland wants to usher in, I began thinking.  Disappointment number two.

The Ultimate Chart website claims they, “…collect billions of points of data, online and off. Our machines are very clever [and] real people grade the computers’ work to ensure accuracy.”

So rather than rely solely on a computer to count beans, like BDS or SoundScan, or humans, who in the past were vulnerable to graft, Big Champagne has its staff of twenty-six “very clever” people check the various reports generated by others over a one week period before publication.  Leading to Disappointment number three: it’s not a fully automated process.  I’m sure the humans are as clever as Garland’s claims, but they are still prone to human error.  And clever humans just make clever errors.

And finally, disappointment number four:  one metric that Ultimate Chart does NOT use is CD sales from big box stores. Now I know the tech-biased media has convinced most that CD sales are relics, but it’s the metric that still makes up 75%-85% of all recorded music sales in the US.  How one ignores this is, in my view, pure techno-arrogance.  But, Garland would say, it’s pure progress.  He doesn’t feel that Big Box sources tell an accurate enough picture (although I get the feeling that he would not turn down their data, should they agree to provide it–  which they don’t, even to most labels).

This marginalizing of traditional main stream sources like Big Box and Clear Channel data and replacing it with clever humans and clever machines who vet reports from hard-to-audit digital sources has me curious to see the results.  I’m looking forward to seeing cool obscure shit in the top slots, like, deep cuts of Lou Reed, circa 1984, B-sides of old Stones LPs or Live/Dead. What did I find?


I took Billboard’s Top 200 chart, Billboard’s Digital Songs chart, iTunes Top Singles chart and compared them in the same week to Ultimate Chart.  If you look at the table you’ll see that all charts place virtually the same artists and songs in similar positions in the top ten. Shocked?

New data, same old gas?

So, if the Ultimate Chart methodology is so revolutionary why are the results so similar to traditional charts?

Garland suggests that this is proof that his system works, “All charts that measure popular music at the highest levels have commonality.  The most popular artists are the most popular artists.  That’s how we know the Ultimate Chart is an accurate reflection.”

Nielsen SoundScan has never maintained that they catch every sale. Only that their method creates a mean average and a bird’s eye view.  So far, they seem to be right, and after years of tweaking, Big Champagne has succeeded in proving one thing:  that Nielson’s method of counting point of purchase sales is just as accurate as the new one where we monitor the net.

So, we learned what we already knew: big artists sell the most records.  Alright! Garland’s chart is a success, in his view, because it tells us virtually the same thing as his competitors’.  Is that the kind of “unprecedented data” we were hoping for right now with the industry in its greatest transition?

We’ll see.


Garland is one of the smarter people in the room, in my view.  But he may be holding back for some reason.

Big Champagne plans to market the Ultimate Chart aggressively to compete directly with Nielsen, a company that has a virtual monopoly on the for-pay chart business. To do that, in my view, they will have to offer something more than a long walk around the block just to go around the corner. For this reviewer, if you’re going to tout all the bells and whistles that new technology offers, then you should publish some products that counting bar codes can never deliver.

For example:

–A P2P chart of illegal streams and downloads only, so we can all see who is really getting the most ear-balls and through what torrent site so labels can go after the cash.

— A YouTube chart so artists/labels can start demanding from Google performance royalties from uploads and streams.   I’m sure all the unions and PROs would salivate at the opportunity to do a blanket license with Google, but they need the data first.

Garland told me that this type of product would be a simpler render than the Ultimate Chart, which bundles many sources.  “Un-bundling would take less time,” he told me.  He also indicated that patience will prevail as he is working on a publicly available version of exactly what I suggest above.

Okay, Eric.  Your bluff is called.  Let’s have it.  You want to make a difference in this business? Screw all this science-fair fluff.  Produce something new that artists and labels can actually use to collect some friggen money and instead of just tea at the Montage, next time I’ll spring for crumpets.

Mo out

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19 responses to “SOUNDSCAN R.I.P.?: Big Champagne Rivals With a New Type of Hit Chart. Or Do They?”

  1. Val Gameiro says:

    Hey Mo,
    I think you’re spot on, this service had better offer something new, and it’s VERY suspicious that their charts are virtually the same… but then again, if they count an iTunes purchase at 100x vs a streamed song, it’s no surprise.

    On the P2P thing, I don’t think they’d want to get involved in that because then you have to go to P2P servers, collect stats, and from there it’s a small hop into collecting IP addresses who downloaded them, and very close to siding with the law, and alienating the illegal download crowd. From there to handing/selling those records over to the labels and the courts would be a small step.

    To me, I think these guys are sucking at the same power teat as SoundScan, and seem to have zero interest in supporting smaller artists… after all, who are they going to charge for their services? I’m certain they’re not expecting to get much money from indie artists!

    I do agree with you, though, that they could really do a lot of good for the indie community if they could find a model that would help them pay the bills, without having to rip off indie artists!

    The technology is certainly there!

  2. Taylor says:

    Moses Avalon, you are a sell out and this article is bullshit smoke and mirrors. I subscribed to your blog after I read your amazing work, ” Confessions of a Record Producer.”

    You weren’t a sell out back then because things hadn’t changed yet. You still make money off the traditional music biz outlets and consistently criticize newer forms of media and distribution. You are here to protect your own interests and the interests of those who pay you a little bit on the back end.

    Ultimate Chart may not be perfect, but obviously neither was Billboard and Soundscan (you even wrote about their “fixed” numbers in your book).

    You’re a sellout and you must acknowledge this. Acknowledge the fact that you’re protecting your own interests and no longer care about truly independent artists.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      @taylor. Sorry you feel that way. Everyone who knows me knows that I am uncorruptable and what I stand for– artists making more money than the already are. Now if you could be more specific about why this article is “smoke and mirrors” maybe I can respond more intelligently. But as for “selling out” I’m not sure what that means in this context. I want artists to make as much as they can. That means critical analysis of the industry. Sometimes that means saying unpopular things about companies who make things we love, like Apple. Sometimes it means defending major labels, when they are on occasion, right. So, what do you mean by “selling out?

  3. Gabor Klein says:

    Hi Mo,

    Interesting post as always. The problem I see with Big Champagne and indeed ALL of the charts is that it tries to aggegate the entire music business into some marketable whole. We really know that it is a fragmented mess and an aggregated whole may never have existed. The R&B/Hip Hop crowd, the NuFolk crowd, the Hipster crowd, Country, Bluegrass, Metal, Classical, Classic Rock, etc all behave differently from each other and all have different tendencies for sell through. Some exclusively pirate, others will only buy at live indie shows, others go to Best Buy, others buy vinyl and pirate digital, some stream, some don’t etc. We have not reached a point where everyone is at the same digital and cultural level. In the old days, it was easy. Exposure and airplay on the radio and buying physical product at a store. Still differences in behavior but basically the same easy path to follow and then measure. The fragmentation of the market and new technology has now also fragmented peoples buying patterns and concert attendance habits. It was always the case, for instance, that a merch deal for a metal act was very different than a merch deal (if there was any) for a folk act. Metal audiences had a higher per/head merch count than a folk act and they bought a larger variety of merch. Van Halen made more money on merch than they made on their guarantees. A chart like the CIMs chart is very specialized and accurately shows how one fragment of the market who goes to indie stores behaves and what they are buying. It seems that creating these very specific fragmented charts may be more useful for the artists and the business people and the consumers in describing what is popular, how to market, when to tour, etc. than any aggregate chart can be. Of course in the easy days, Billboard did just that as did CMJ and the various radio tracking trades. finding out which stores or radio stations reported was important ( and possible). Other than being able to accurately track royalties (which is real important if you’re trying to make a living from music), the aggregated charts don’t matter as much unless you’re trying to market the chart to the large buyers to justify their accounting procedures and royalty statements.

  4. Marilyn Miller says:

    I think Gabor hit the nail on the head when he said that very specific fragmented charts may be most useful. Different groups/markets DO access their music in different ways, which could render very inaccurate reports unless ALL results are tallied.

    Thanks, Mo, for keeping us informed.

  5. LOL Great analysis, Moses. Not only is this on point, but its comical since you bring to light some serious “holes.”

    Full automation would def. be ideal here.. and it makes me wonder what sort of processes/tasks these “clever humans” are preforming…. Data scrubbing/integrity or what?

    Also, I love this quote and will use it:

    “Now I know the tech-biased media has convinced most that CD sales are relics, but it’s the metric that still makes up 75%-85% of all recorded music sales in the US. How one ignores this is, in my view, pure techno-arrogance.”

    Given that 75%-85% barely includes the thousands of independent artists selling CDs in live venues annually (which is one of the issues my company,, is fixing), I can confidently say that CDs represent an even bigger share of all music sold in the US.

    From this artist turned industry-pro, you nailed the best course of action for Big Champagne: to publish charts that differentiate it from Soundscan in a truly useful way… charts that measure and segment useful data not already measured and segmented AND that help the artist make more money (e.g. P2P activity and streams)!

    Thank you for your insights!

  6. Lisa Haley says:

    We charted on Billboard in 2008, with our GRAMMY Nominated CD “King Cake.” The complexity of how “charting” comes to pass was overwhelming. As an indie record label owner and artist, I am so glad to hear about Ultimate Chart.
    Very exciting, about time!, and thank you very much for giving us the facts.

  7. DJ Feist-E says:

    I heard somewhere that easy listening and elevator music was “most listened to” with some portable BDS device because we spend a great deal of time as a captive audience waiting in the doctors office and at the grocery store. What was that device called? I think randomly selected people were supposed to wear it like a pedometer and a company like Arbitron was tracking it.

  8. John says:

    I dunno what this Taylor guy was yammering about Moses selling out…doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, something doesn’t smell right here. On one hand Big Champagne says they count a sale bigger than a free stream, yet they ignore the box stores which account for the biggest percent of gross sales in any retail category. Moses, you said it was a form of cyber/tech arrogance, but I think it smacks of “insider trading”; it seems as though they WANT to have the same numbers as soundscan. Wonder why?

  9. Jai says:

    Moses YOU have to create the MOSES CHART that covers You Tube plays and illegal shares!!! You!!! While ya at it make Google and others PAY PAY PAY for iballs too! Petition every poster/uploader/iballer to make Google & other corporate gangstas PAAAAYYY!!!!

    Artist X OUT!

    • Moses Avalon says:

      @Artist X, beliveit or not, we are trying to make as many peole as possbile pay artists for thier work. Sometimes the method is not so obvious, but, trust me, we’re in the mix.

  10. Andrew says:

    So are you saying this?

    By counting illegal or non royalty downloads, we get to count ear drums and this would give weight to new indie acts who are not signed and are using free downloads to establish a presence. And once they do achieve a following, those free downloads will translate to monetary sales further down the line.

    What gets paid will get repeated. With the computation of current charts are biased against new acts, what ways can you get the beneficiaries to contribute to such a service? And what other revenue streams can new charts have?

    • Moses Avalon says:

      @Andrew. Answer to first part is “yes, probably.” Answer to second part: this was answered at the end of the article. charts, if accurate, are evidence of owed royalties.

  11. TC Smythe says:

    I could give a crap what happens to SoundScan. They never reported my brick and mortar sales anyway. Same for BMI on radio play. never saw a red cent after ten years of radio play. Your reader was right – I don’t need ‘the radar’. The only tracking I pay attention to is the feedback my fans give me personally. We’ve begun to offer customized individual album mixes based on the song lists they ask for. If they ask for a cover tune, I pay the publisher double statutory directly, so I suppose the publishers don’t really need SoundScan either…

  12. Paul Schulz says:

    I agree that there should be some separation of metrics for different formats/outlets. This fits with my belief from a decade ago that a song on MP3 was worth about 25 cents where a CD would be worth $12 or more. Taking that farther, the pricing model for music has changed – the labels get a certain price for an iTunes single and a different price per track for CD. They, I would assume, have a variety of prices for other sources – vinyl, YouTube, pandora, live365, etc. It would be hard to imagine the labels not already knowing what they are getting per song from these outlets. I guess the question is, what info do the labels need that they don’t already have? How do they use the SoundScan/Billboard data now? They don’t want to know what’s selling in order to price it, they want to know so they can market appropriately so they sell more of what is hot. The variety of charts is probably the way to go since they market differently to different formats. -pas

    • Moses Avalon says:

      @ Paul. Good closing point. One correction though:

      [the labels get a certain price for an iTunes single and a different price per track for CD. They, I would assume, have a variety of prices for other sources – vinyl, YouTube, pandora, live365, etc.]

      Lables don’t “get a certain price” for sales on iTunes. They wish they could dictate prices for Apple the way they used to for CDs in retail. Unfortunately, Apple sets the prices barriers and pays a flat percentage for each sale. The labels don’t have a lot of say except to pick a price plateau, like 99 cents, $1.25, etc. Same goes for other digital sources. One reason labels were resistant to embrace digital sales was the fact that they would lose the ability to control pricing. This is great for the consumer but bad for the label and ultimately the artist and songwriters.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      @ Paul. Good closing point. One correction though:

      [the labels get a certain price for an iTunes single and a different price per track for CD. They, I would assume, have a variety of prices for other sources – vinyl, YouTube, pandora, live365, etc.]

      Lables don’t “get a certain price” for sales on iTunes. They wish they could dictate prices for Apple the way they used to for CDs in retail. Unfortunately, Apple sets the prices barriers and pays a flat percentage for each sale. The labels don’t have a lot of say except to pick a price plateau, like 99 cents, $1.25, etc. Same goes for other digital sources. One reason labels were resistant to embrace digital sales was the fact that they would lose the ability to control pricing. This is great for the consumer but bad for the label and ultimately the artist and songwriters.

  13. Jimi says:

    One other problem with electronic stats is gaming. Back in the early days of mp3 when it was a company, not just a format, there were people setting up fake/free email accounts to constantly play their friends songs into infinity, & that penny-a-play racked up to hundred of dollars quick, even though those weren’t real “plays” where someone was listening.
    You know my stance, I believe there’s no way the music itself can be a viable commodity, although when used in commerce, it should be licensed & paid for…within reason.
    It still makes me laugh when “Happy Birthday” is NOT sung at a fave restaurant for fear ASCAP is listening.
    P2P doesn’t capture other file transfers either. I can bluetooth my songs to all my friends at a party, who can do the same with their friends & so on. I could have a million fans & ten million plays but it will never be picked up. Am I an idiot for giving it away?
    Only if I don’t somehow track where it goes or tag it somehow so I can add these users to my fanbase. Which drives my alternative revenue streams.

  14. Ella De G says:

    I’m just wondering if people pay to be in the top 100? It just wouldn’t faze me if they did. As you can tell my faith in the music industry has hit an all time low. Sometimes I just find it bizarre that the number one song is also the song everyone hears and turns to say “you’ve got to be !’@&$ kidding”

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