Ed Sheeran is a major pop star. He’s on the cover of Rolling Stone. He’s appearing on the incredibly popular TV series Game Of Thrones. He’s even a Taylor Swift BFF! But with his latest album Divide, Sheeran has become so popular that he’s actually turned the UK music charts on their heads. Analysts think that Divide was so popular it may have thrown off results for other artists who released music the week of 3/3.
Here’s Divide by the numbers: It sold 672,000 copies in Sheeran’s native UK, 451,000 copies in the US, and 97,014 in Australia. The album is also topping charts in Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden. But according to The Guardian it’s the streaming numbers for the record that are truly staggering. In the UK, sixteen tracks off the album hit the Top 20 chart, where 150 streams are equivalent to a download.
Currently, the charts incorporate data from both paid and free streaming, which is what throws a wrench into things. Chief executive of the independent music body Worldwide Independent Network Alison Wenham told The Guardian that this kind of dominance speaks to dysfunction in stream to download ratios.
“Having Ed Sheeran dominate virtually the whole of the top 20 is indicative of the fact it is evolving and the rules will need to be examined fairly regularly in terms of the conversion — how many streams equals a download,” she said. It should be changed, she argues, so that it “has a degree of value associated with it, people have paid to listen to it.”
However, not everyone within the industry agrees. A chief executive of the Official Charts Company, Martin Talbot, said that changes in responses to Sheeran’s success would be kneejerk, but Jon Webster, president of the music managers group MMF, thinks the major problem is in conflating streams and sales. The topic is still a heated on in the industry: Should a chart reflect the artist’s popularity, or their actual revenue?
Chance The Rapper is another figure who has run into this issue, but on the other side of the spectrum. Since Chance doesn’t sell his music, but lets fans stream and download it for free, his albums never officially chart, which means he’s denied the accolades that these chart milestones traditionally hold for artists. Speaking with Complex today Chance said this might be the reason he sells his next album.
One thing is for sure, both Sheeran and Chance The Rapper are helping redefine how fans consume music in 2017, and as long as we’re constantly refining the process of getting people the music they love, and getting artists the compensation they deserve, that can only be a good thing, no matter what speed bumps may come along the way.
Read The Guardian‘s full break down of the issue here.