Billboard's On-Demand Songs Chart Debuts — Streaming, Indeed, Counts.

1- Streaming counts.

2- Listeners, not gatekeepers, control the charts more than ever before.

3- We are entering a golden era for music fans.

Today Billboard, Nielsen and digitalmusic.org, announced the first ever subscription services On-Demand Songs Chart.  

This new chart tracks all the on-demand streaming activity on Subscription Music services such as Slacker Radio, Spotify, Sony Music Unlimited, Rhapsody, RDIO, Muve Music, Mog, and Zune. Additionally, this streaming play activity will now influence Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, arguably the most definitive ‘Top Songs” chart in the music business.

So, what does this all mean?

Well, let’s start with the fact that I am biased. I work at Slacker Radio, and have a vested interest in seeing Subscription Music models gain traction. I also chair the Music Subscription work group for digitalmusic.org, so I live and breath this stuff.

That said, I think there are three big takeaways:

1- Streaming counts.

2- Listeners, not gatekeepers, control the charts more than ever before.

3- We are entering a golden era for music fans.

Let’s take these ideas one by one. Streaming counts now, literally and figuratively. While the (rightly) respected Big Champagne has long been quantifying streaming activity, both legal and illegal, Billboard’s recognition of the Subscription Music Services certainly signals a milestone in the ascension of streaming music. With nearly 500 million on-demand weekly streams being generated by these nine legal services alone, a new scale of activity has been reached that is undeniable.

Listeners are becoming the new gatekeepers. Traditionally, Billboard song charts like the Hot 100 were comprised around a combination of radio airplay and single sales. Over the last few years, Billboard has done an admirable job of layering in other data to this mix, including song plays on MySpace, Yahoo and the like. With the inclusion of this On-Demand Songs Chart, Billboard has struck another blow for the idea that the end user, the listener and customer, has tremendous impact in shaping what our conception of a “charting” song will look like.

Lastly, for music fans, this really is the start of a golden era.  I grew up in Manhattan in the late 70’s. When I was a kid, every Saturday I would walk from my apartment on 53rd street and 1st avenue to the Donnell Library on 53rd street and 6th avenue to read Billboard.  I especially was focused on pouring over the charts, and spent countless hours discovering songs, artists and trends to pursue based on Billboard’s charts.

During that walk I often made up “dream music” scenarios for myself.

Things like:

I dreamed I had the largest music collection in the world. In my fantasy, I had every song, album and artist at my fingertips. True, in that era, I imagined converting my Mom’s midtown one bedroom apartment, into one enormous record and cassette library, but that’s how childhood dreaming goes…

I wanted my stereo to be able to count every song and artist I played, and tell me truly what my most played songs and artists were. I imagined some kind of song kind of song counter “connected” to my stereo. I wanted the data, even then.

I dreamed of having my own radio station. I wanted to be able to play The Ramones, Smokey Robinson, Grandmaster Flash, Elton John, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead, The Talking Heads and Big Daddy Kane all on one station. I wanted no formats. Actually, I wanted my own format. I walked around with reams of paper with all sorts of stations and playlists mapped out, documenting these concepts.

I fantasized about building a Music Clubhouse. I envisioned a cross between a rock club and the perfect mom and pop record store, dominated by a gigantic listening room equiped with a world class stereo and video set-up, so that all my friends could hang out and argue about music all day long.

Naturally, I knew that we would have all the liner notes and lyrics for every album in the world at the Music Clubhouse, as well as an unlimited supply of photos, bio information, and videos — again all at our fingertips.

When I flash back on those music fantasies, and then think about all the experiences available now across these subscription music streaming services, I realize that fantasy has largely become reality. These companies have built these new music experiences from a fan’s perspective.

Think about it  — just about every song, album and artist is available at your fingertips. At certain services, you really do have almost unlimited ability to create your own radio stations. You really can an engage with all your friends online at once, and in ways, thanks to technology, that I couldn’t even imagine in my best childhood music fantasies. Lyrics, liner notes, your most played data — all of these things are available.

And I truly believe this is just the START.

This On-Demand Songs Chart documents what has the potential to be a great era for music fans. There are certainly formidable challenges around label licensing, monetization and building economic ecosystems that subscription services face. So, it’s both the Subscription Service employee AND the music fan in me that works daily to have the industry support and reward continuing this kind of innovation.

I think it is really exciting to know that there will undoubtedly be some kid out there this weekend, who will be reading about all this streaming activity in Billboard. I imagine that he or she will not just try one of these services, but also will start thinking about the innovations and experiences that will reshape the fan experience yet again.

Who knows what the streaming music era will really look like. I imagine we have just started.