The “million sellers club”, the elite ranks of musicians who have sold more than a million copies of their singles, has been given a modernising shake-up by incorporating streaming for the first time.
The Official Charts Company (OCC) has brought together streaming and traditional sales in Britain for the first time to reveal which records have been the most popular, ensuring the likes of Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran are now rated alongside Elton John and Queen.
With the shifting patterns of music consumption, from physical sales and downloads to streaming, it has been difficult in the past to compare the popularity of musicians through the ages.
The new system uses the same methodology used in the weekly music charts, where 100 streams equate to a single song sale.
The rise in popularity of streaming as the favoured way to access music has meant a decline in sales, even though more people than ever are consuming music, where in the last year 98m singles have been sold in the UK and music fans have generated 44bn audio streams. But now selling a million copies is almost unheard of in the UK charts, while racking up a million streams is increasingly the norm for big artists.
The Official Charts Company chief executive, Martin Talbot, said:
“Clearly sales today are not what they were even last year or the year before, because people are moving to this new form of consumption, so it’s going to be increasingly difficult for tracks to physically sell a million copies; we may never see that again.
“But if you count streams, it allows us to properly examine who are the iconic and big artists of today.”
In 2015, streaming was incorporated into the official charts for the first time and it proved such a dominating force that this year the rules had to be changed so that artists could only have three of their most popular tracks featuring in the chart.
The two artists who top the revamped music millionaires list do so on the back of traditional sales figures that would be impossible to achieve today.
Elton John’s Something About The Way You Look Tonight has long been one of the biggest selling records of all time, having shifted almost 5m copies when it was released in 1997, while Band Aid’s 1984 song Do they Know It’s Christmas sold 3.8m.
Yet it is the sheer force of streaming that got Ed Sheeran to No 3 in the new OCC chart, with 2.1m streams and the same for artists such as Justin Bieber and Drake, whose One Dance track sold just 553,973 copies but gained an equivalent of 1.8m sales through streaming.
The shift in consumption is also marked in the fact that No 16, Justin Bieber’s track Love Yourself, has had 1.3m equivalent streams, while No 17, Boney M’s 1978 track Rivers of Babylon, has had just 6,164 equivalent streams.
“Doing this chart is really capturing a unique moment in time,” said Talbot. “This industry is really in a moment of change, when people are both buying and selling music in decent numbers, but there will come a time when sales will decline and most people will consume their music through streaming.
“It really highlights how significant streaming has become and how engaged and seduced music fans have become by streaming.
“It’s already incredibly popular but even now it’s only being accessed by about 1% of the global population, which gives you an indicator of how massive it could be in a few years.
“I’m almost certain that a time will come when something will have been streamed so many times that it will overtake Candle in the Wind.”