Journal of the
Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association
Volume 13, Number 1 (2013)

The Urbanization of the Billboard Top Album and Singles Charts: How SoundScan Changed the Game

John P. Kellogg, Berklee College of Music

The author acknowledges and thanks research assistant Dominika Hwang for her excellent work on this project.


Resistance to Billboard’s recent incorporation of digital download sales and streaming data along with radio to determine weekly chart rankings on the Hot Country and R&B/Hip-Hop Song charts was to be expected. Uproar over the magazine’s changes to chart methodology date back more than sixty years to its first publication of the Hot 100, a weekly chart that determines the most popular singles in America. However, the most controversial change occurred with the publication’s 1991 decision to incorporate SoundScan data in determining rankings on both the Top 200 Album and Hot 100 Singles charts. While some experts predicted the change would alter the make-up of specific genres of music appearing on the weekly monitors, few had the foresight to project the significant increase in certain types of music hitting the top of the charts after the alteration to these most important measurements of popularity of American music. Urban music (R&B/Rap) and Country titles roared to the top echelons of both charts immediately thereafter. This paper will explore the severity of the change and its effects on the marketing, production, and business plan decisions that emerged as a result thereof, and led to Urban music dominating the charts for the next twenty years.

The document will delve into the history of Billboard’s determination to change its methods in 1991 and, through an examination of both pre- and post-change data in charts, diagrams, and empirical evidence, investigate the resulting changes in both the complexion of the artists and the content of popular music in the last decade of the twentieth and the first decade of the twenty-first century.

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