How To Read the Billboard Charts

The Hot 100 and Pop 100

Billboard magazine is frequently considered to be the music industry's Bible. Billboard has been the recognized authority in charting the popularity of music for over half a century. Charts have been created for nearly every type of music commonly listened to in the U.S. This article gives instructions of how to read and understand the primary pop music charts produced by Billboard. The orgin of the chart, data used in putting the chart together, and potential biases of the chart are all discussed.

The Hot 100

The predecessors to the Hot 100 began in the 1940's. A number of charts including "Best Sellers In Stores" and "Most Played In Jukeboxes" were combined to form the Hot 100 on August 4, 1958. For decades this chart was considered the music industry authority for the most popular pop singles. It was the chart used by American Top 40 to create its weekly radio show from 1970 to 1995.

The Hot 100 for much of its existence has used data from sales of singles and radio airplay to put the chart together. Traditionally, the Hot 100 only charted singles released commercially as a 45 or later a cassette or CD single. On December 5, 1998, with pressure from much of the industry, Billboard allowed songs to reach the chart based only on radio airplay. With this change, the Hot 100 became a chart of songs, not singles. More recently, sales of digitally downloaded songs have been added to the formula for generating the Hot 100.

By the beginning of the new century, many fans and members of the music industry became concerned that the Hot 100 had become biased in favor of r&b and hip hop music. It was becoming more and more difficult for rock and mainstream pop songs to do well on the Hot 100 due to changes in radio airplay formulations that favored r&b and hip hop music.

For example, in 2004 all of the #1 songs on the Hot 100 were performed by r&b or hip hop artists. Many in the music industry argued that pop is a specific genre of music (See What Is Pop Music?), not just shorthand for what is most popular. To address the concern, in February 2005 Billboard created the Pop 100. Some in the music industry believed that the chart had been created in an effort to re-segregate popular music based on race. In June 2009 Billboard ended the Pop 100 leaving the Hot 100 once again to be the authoritative chart on the overall popularity of singles. For those interested specifically in mainstream pop music, Billboard suggested they follow the Mainstream Top 40 radio chart.

  • How To Read the Billboard 200 Albums Chart
  • How to Read the Billboard Digital Downloads Charts
  • Radio and Miscellaneous Pop Charts

Albums Chart

Billboard began charting the bestselling albums in the U.S. in 1945. The chart was titled the Pop Albums chart beginning in the mid-1950's. In 1983 it was renamed the Billboard 200. The chart first included 200 positions in 1967.

Until 1991 the chart was compiled by written reports from record stores and other music retailers. In 1991 the chart began using Nielsen SoundScan data to compile the chart.

Every time an album is sold from one of approximately 14,000 retailers in the U.S., that information is scanned and becomes part of the Billboard 200 chart. The chart published in Billboard magazine only indicates the ranking of an album's sales relative to other albums. It does not include data on the actual number of units sold. The data on number of units sold is only available directly from Nielsen.

In the 1990's Billboard made a significant change to its albums charts by adding the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart. In the past, the Billboard 200 tracked the sales of all albums regardless of how long they were in release. With the creation of the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart, any album which is more than 2 years old and has fallen out of the first 100 places of the Billboard 200 is permanently moved to the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart. Therefore, the Billboard 200 became specifically a chart of newer albums.

It is unlikely now that any album will ever match Pink Floyd's record of 741 weeks (or about 14 years) on the Billboard 200 for Dark Side Of the Moon

  • How To Read the Billboard Hot 100 and Pop 100 Charts
  • How to Read the Billboard Digital Downloads Charts
  • Radio and Miscellaneous Pop Charts

Tracks and Songs

In recognition of the increasing sales of digitally downloaded music, Billboard created the Hot Digital Tracks chart in 2003. This chart ranks the sales of legally purchased online digital tracks from a wide variety of retailers. In 2005 this data was incorporated into charts like the Hot 100 and Pop 100 out of recognition that digital sales were more reliable in measuring the popularity of a current single than traditional store sales of a single.

Currently, many popular singles are unavailable for purchase in a traditional store, but almost all popular singles are available for purchase as a digitally downloaded track.

Billboard also now publishes a Hot Digital Songs chart as well. This chart combines multiple versions (including remixes) of a song by an artist to measure the popularity of a song. It is part of Billboard's gradual migration to focusing on charting popularity of songs instead of a specific single configuration. The first Billboard singles charts focused on the popularity of a particular recording released on a 45. Today, a song's popularity is determined by a combination of sales and radio airplay in many possible configurations.

  • How To Read the Billboard Hot 100 and Pop 100 Charts
  • How To Read the Billboard 200 Albums Chart
  • Radio and Miscellaneous Pop Charts

Billboard publishes a number of other charts that address the popularity of particular pop recordings. The most important of these is the Mainstream Top 40 radio airplay chart. Billboard's radio airplay charts are not published in the regular release of Billboard magazine. They are part of a separate publication called Billboard Radio Monitor. The Mainstream Top 40 chart ranks songs played on radio stations specifically identified as using a mainstream top 40 format by the number of times they are played during a given week.

Billboard also provides a figure of the number of people reached by a particular song based on the audience size of the reporting stations. However, the number of people reached does not affect the chart ranking

Other relevant pop music charts published by Billboard include Hot Videoclips and Hot Ringtones. It is possible that data from either or both of these could be used in the future to determine song popularity on the Hot 100.

  • How To Read the Billboard Hot 100 and Pop 100 Charts
  • How To Read the Billboard 200 Albums Chart
  • How to Read the Billboard Digital Downloads Charts