Chart this...!
Ron Healy, IrishUnsigned
{NB: this article was written for a UK online magazine}

"This is really for the Irish charts but the theory is the same, I assume.

Do you ever wonder how the charts work? I do. I often wonder about control and access to information and such paranoia-inducing topics. Living in ireland, and having lived in and around
London for about ten years, I am familiar with the thought that I might well be doing, buying, saying, voting for and eating whatever it is that marketing departments, Publicity and PR companies, government agencies and other assorted vested interests want me to, while believeing that I am an independent minded anti-establishment-control type individual.

In recent times I was looking into the composition of the Irish charts network. I am going to try to explain how things work over here, in terms of how a record gets into the charts and sells albums . As 'singles' are these days often a loss-leader for an album or publicity tool, they usually lose money. Let's just take an example: Sutras ( are a band that I have had a lot of contact with over the last two years plus.

They were finalists in the band of the year competition in 2001, had a song ("Machine") voted song of the year and were the second highest ever on the Wittness Rising nationwide radio vote.

They also had three singles released and each one made the irish charts. "Princess", their debut release, was in the top 20. All in all, a pretty good resume for a 'new' band and makes them ideal for our look at the system. Incidentally, they currently have another available (online only) if you want it called "believe" and another called In God

So, since I run an information resource for new bands IrishUnsigned in Ireland, I took a look at what they did, spoke to people in the media, radio etc and spoke to 'chart track uk' - who are commissioned to compile the Irish charts.

Yes, thats right. A UK Company is commissioned to do the Irish Charts.

Although not a Xenophobe, I draw attention to that while also pointing out that the Major record labels in Ireland are not Labels at all - they are branch offices of their UK, US or wherever, HQ.

In Ireland, they are represented by IRMA (Irish Recorded Music Association). Now, here it gets interesting. Chart Track UK cannot release the list of shop outlets they use for compiling the Charts. However, IRMA (the Labels) are the paymasters. IRMA pays chart Track UK to compile the Charts in Ireland. Chart Track UK uses a dial-in system to 'poll' the Network machines and create the Chart from those sales. Even if a Band was to sell enough in one shop to make the Charts, they won't count unless they are in the right shops.

Bands don't know the right shops, IRMA (the Labels) do. Bands are left to put records in places where they might sell - disregarding the Charts - and these are usually where their fanbase is, but might have no impact on the Charts.

Why is it so important to impact the Charts? Well, a huge amount of daily radio play (here, and there) is made up of the Charts. Being in the charts is vital to increasing the exposure to a wider geographic area and to winning new fans. Otherwise, why would the Major releases be so focussed on attaining a decent Chart position? To use an analogy, the Charts is like the Premier League. The higher up you are, the more money you will make from added exposure, airplay, sales (in an ever-increasing cycle).

If new Bands cannot get into the charts they stay 'local' and the big boys are happy with that arrangement as they usually have no 'stake' in new bands.

The UK/US are slightly better in that they have a more developed Indie scene and some smaller labels do help discover and nurture new bands. However, at the top (national radio plays) level, it's all about the big boys.

So.... what can be done about it? Why should anyone reading this actually care? when Sutras reached number 19 in the Irish charts it made their year. On the back of reaching that lofty number, they ended the year with a cheque from IMRO that would have bought a new car (I can't say how much, obviously), a song named as Song Of The Year (which was actually the 'b' side of the single!) and more chance of the follow-ups being successful.

So, how many did Sutras sell to get into the top 20 and how can any other band manage it? According to Chart Track UK, average sales for the Irish Charts are:

No1 6,000 sales
No10 1,000 sales
No20 400 sales
No30 250 sales

Not much, is it? That's the number of sales required from Chart-network outlets. Even if a band sells twice as many in their local shop it will not count unless the shop is a Chart shop. If IRMA (the labels) know where to place the singles they release so that any sales get registered and they are not adversely impacted by people buying in non-chart shops, they have a huge advantage over the little guys and that, again, is how they want it.

Bands can make sure that the balance is tilted slightly in the favour of new, independent, DIY (whatever your choice of handle) bands by very simple means. Find somewhere to place a list of the known Chart shops. make it very public. Make sure bands releasing anything have a barcode on it and know where to place it. Get the word out and about (rather than doing the usual thing and moaning about how there is nothing out there to help new bands get going).

I am sure that everyone out there knows at least one store that has a chart machine in it (independent stores, not Chains as they are centrally controlled). Road Records is one. Maybe there can be a place for the list to be held and added to. After that, it is a matter of making arrangements so that *all* sales happen thru the stores. You *can* still sell at gigs but what you have to do is sell a voucher that has to be redeemed at the store if you want the sale to count. we got Chart Track UK to agree that this should be acceptable.

Once a band gets in the charts by having all it's sales at the right places at the right time, they can only benefit. Never mind whether you are of the Unsigned or the Never-Want-To-Be-Signed variety, it's all about empowerment. Get the band heard in more places, make more sales, get more exposure, make more sales, get heard in the right places, get on radio, make more sales.... in the end, IMRO will owe you enough money to make an album.

Let's put it this way: if a band was to release two singles in a year, get them both into the charts, work their asses off to get it played on radio and even TV, within a year they will have the money and exposure to be able to prove whether or not they have the potential as they will be in control of it all themselves.

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