Poll: does chart action affect purchase decisions?


Our poll this week asks whether airplay or sales chart reporting has an impact on your music purchases.

Here at Bluegrass Today, we publish both a weekly and a monthly chart that measures how often new bluegrass songs get played on the radio. Other publications, like Billboard, publish charts based on sales reported to Soundscan, and still others measure how popular new songs are with radio programmers.

How about your personal buying habits – does chart action affect your decision-making?

As always, your additional comments are welcome.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.

  • Jon Weisberger

    Folks who buy CDs from retailers – probably a declining, but perhaps still substantial group of consumers – may be affected without knowing it, as retailers may regularly consult sales (and sometimes airplay) charts in deciding what to stock in what quantities.

    I guess this is an interesting question in the sense that any bluegrass-related question could be interesting, but I’m not aware of any chart that is geared mainly, or maybe even significantly, toward directly influencing consumers’ buying decisions.

    John, what are the purposes and goals of publishing the Bluegrass Today airplay charts? Are you hopeful that they will directly affect readers’ buying decisions?

    • We publish charts simply as a matter of news. We’re not trying to influence anyone directly.

      The poll question was suggested by a loyal reader, Ivor Trueman, and we agreed it was an interesting question.

  • Jon, you make a good point and I suspect you are largely correct, but I would like to note that the Bluegrass Today charts have iTunes widgets which provide quick access for anyone to sample and purchase the songs. We receive periodic reports from Apple showing a number of our readers actually do purchase tracks listed in the Bluegrass Today charts.

    Now the point could be made that the consumer had been looking for that song already and finally found it here, or perhaps they just heard it on the radio and wanted to see what all the buzz was about, etc. But I do believe the chart is likely ancillary to one’s buying decision.

    That said, our mission in producing the BT charts was simple; provide an accurate snapshot of bluegrass radio airplay. What our readers and the bluegrass community at large does with that information is entirely up to them.

    The simple fact is, the BT charts are just another measuring tool for those who want to know what’s happening in radio land. I’ve heard from a number of industry professionals, including labels, artists, promoters, agents and retailers who appreciate having this information. For example, you may have read the recent article in BT highlighting the chart success of Detour and Jim Roe’s decision to add them to his Roster. Will that help them sell CD’s? I have to think so.

    Your band has seen a lot of chart action as well, and I’m curious to know if you think it has helped your sales and/or bookings?

    • Jon Weisberger

      Good point on the iTunes links, Terry. I mostly wanted to point out that the purpose of publishing charts typically isn’t to directly influence consumers in their buying choices, so if the poll shows that consumers aren’t directly influenced by the charts, it doesn’t necessarily mean that publishers would want to think about doing anything differently from what they’re currently doing. And, given how much many bluegrassers invest in seeing themselves as individualists who aren’t swayed by anyone else, I’d be surprised if the poll shows anything else ;-).

      I agree with your assessment that the BT charts are a tool – and, in my opinion, a very useful one – for understanding what’s happening with airplay. So it can be hard to separate out the impact of the report from the impact of what it’s reporting. I’d say that our profile has certainly been raised by the airplay that “Final Farewell” got as reported on the Bluegrass Today charts, but I don’t know enough to be able to distinguish the value of the airplay itself (in the absence of any chart which reported to the world at large how much airplay that was) from the value of the *news* of the airplay.

  • Darren Sullivan-Koch

    As someone with access to Nielsen Soundscan, I can say with certainty that none of the charts the bluegrass world considers authoritative have any substantial influence on mainstream retail sales, nor do they reflect mainstream retail trends. The same is true with the Americana charts. It’s not necessarily a bad thing: Bluegrass remains something of a cottage industry, almost defiantly separate from mainstream outlets. While climbing the charts, or even topping them, does not necessarily equate to an increase in sales, it does give presenters more reason to book this act, agents more ammo to approach promoters with, and labels a barometer of who is captivating DJs and listeners. In turn, in theory, artists will be able to sell more product on the road—where it seems the majority of non-Krauss/Thile bluegrass is still sold.

    The same is true with IBMA awards: they do not generally affect mainstream sales to any appreciable extent. But they give an act credibility within our community and allow them to charge more for shows and draw more fans.

    • Good point, but it brings up the ongoing debate about whether Soundscan is an accurate reflection of bluegrass CD sales. Very few artists report venue sales in our community.

      • Darren Sullivan-Koch

        Exactly! Soundscan is certainly not an accurate reflection of sales in our world. We just need to be aware of the uniqueness of our community, as more and more folks with non-bluegrass experience (agents, managers, etc.) are gravitating towards bluegrass, and expecting things to work just like they did in rock/pop/metal…and lo, they most certainly do not!

  • Jon Weisberger

    “Very few artists report venue sales in our community.”

    That’s probably true if you count every band, but if you count at the ones who are likely selling in considerable numbers, I’m not at all sure that that’s true these days. I have some problem believing that there are a lot of bluegrass acts out there who are selling more than Rhonda Vincent, Steve Martin & The Steeps, Alison Krauss + Union Station, Dailey & Vincent, et.al. and just not reporting their sales. I think you’d have to carry out the Billboard (Soundscan-based) chart to a lot more positions before it started to lose accuracy due to artists not reporting to SS.

    • Darren Sullivan-Koch

      Yeah. In my experience, bands that sell in serious numbers (like the ones you mention, plus Doyle Lawson, Blue Highway, Dr. Ralph, etc.) are concerned with the prestige and authority that the Billboard (SoundScan-based) charts confer, and so they bring those forms with them, sign them, and fax them back.

  • David Morris

    Keep this up, folks, and I’m going to start thinking I won’t get rich off my bluegrass royalties.

    I have to say, btw, that while I don’t routinely buy music based on chart position, I do so on occasion, usually if I’m not familiar with the artist but sometimes because I am familiar with the songwriter.

  • Peter Smith

    For forty years I was a fringe bluegrass listener recognizing only a few Monroe, Stanly Bros and Lester & Earl songs.

    In 2003, I seriously began attending festivals and joining jams. Published charts allowed me to ‘kick some tires’ by listening to snippets of songs through iTunes and other music web sites… artists, bands and songs I’d never heard have enhanced my experience; I’ve since come to embrace and expand my knowledge and appreciation of a variety of bluegrass styles.

  • Shawn Cramer

    One of the many reasons I listen to Bluegrass/Americana music is the accesibility of the artists. I love to listen to live music, go to shows, etc. and that is where the majority of my music purchases take place. At the show, from the artist or whoever they have manning their merch table. Of course I also buy alot of second hand music at flea markets, garage sales, antique stores etc. which does not get listed on any sales charts either.