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How To

The Complete Guide To Music Charts

Photograph of the blog post author, Cristian Poow

Cristian Poow


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Whether you are an artist, label manager, A&R rep or an music business entrepreneur, you will need to focus on what music charts are and how they work. Charts can turn music from an under-the-radar creation into an acclaimed piece of art, thanks to plays on radio airplay stations, social media rankings, digital downloads, streams on music streaming services, and more. Music charts tell most people what to listen to, and where the whole music industry is going for the time being.

Woman in record shop

Charts are forever adapting to the music industry. 30 years ago, for example, audiences had to wait for VH1 to play music videos, or for their local radio station to play songs that they would then buy cassette tapes of to listen on repeat. Popularity nowadays is largely based on streams, YouTube views and even social media influence… so how have charts incorporated this into their rankings? Let’s explore how charts are calculated, the history of charts and different types!

What Are Music Charts And How Are They Calculated?

Historically, music charts are lists based on popularity of songs and albums. They are showcased in order to highlight the trends of each era according to the level of consumption. In the modern day world, we are talking about physical sales, digital downloads and radio airplay. 

What typically counts are elements such as:

  • Physical sales
  • Digital downloads
  • Radio airplay
  • Streams
  • Video views
  • Social media influence 

In the 1950s, the UK Singles Chart was created. Over the next ten years, it would see an increase in its activity, becoming “Official” by having acts such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles listed. In the following decades, music charts became important, as people were able to acquire more equipment and new technologies (the cassette and compact discs). These earned importance as globalisation grew, so the music charts became relevant in the management of music’s popularity in most parts of the world.

Streaming, Digital Downloads And Video Views

Laptop with headphones

Starting in 2005, Billboard began including digital downloads as a factor, meaning that radio airplay wasn’t needed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2007, Billboard allowed the Hot 100 chart to include digital streams. Then, in 2012, they changed the methodology for their country, rock, Latin, and rap charts, when it incorporated sales of digital downloads and streaming plays into what had been airplay-only charts. Finally, in 2013, Billboard announced that its charts would also include YouTube video data.

Over the last two decades, the way that music charts work has changed. Music charts are basically a momentum-measurement for songs, either in the mainstream or underground. Music charts define the lines of a long story that we might call “The Yearbook” of music. Even though today we look at the old top-notch hits (disco, synth-pop, dark, grunge and so on) as being from a certain decade, some time in the future, the current lists of ‘music bangers’ will be seen the same way. We were able to check that in 2010’s-decade-tops of everything. From Dance songs that brought new masses into festivals to the large number of uprising Reggaeton stars that are beating some of the most influential icons of the last 3 decades like Madonna or Daft Punk.

Top 40 Music Charts

Simply – these charts showcase the top 40 songs of the moment! These types of music charts are located in almost all countries with a strong music industry. The leaders are the USA and the UK, with Official Top 40 Music Charts that can be found on the Internet and broadcasted from radio and record companies.

The Official Music Charts can be accessed via the Internet or by listening to the most important radio stations in each part of the world such as BBC1, American Roots, WBGO, SiriusXM, Kiss FM, Frisky Radio, etc.


Previously called “Los 40 Principales”, this is the top 40 for Spanish-speaking countries. Coming to light in Spain as a radio program and then a 24/7 station, they selected the 40 biggest songs of the moment. It has received many awards and acknowledgements since the 80s. “LOS40” are found in ten other countries, being the most important radio locations in Spain and Latin America, currently broadcasting both by FM and by streaming. Since 2016, the first edition of LOS40 Music Awards took place (formerly called ‘Los 40 Principales Awards), and it was presented to a large audience.

So, how do these music charts work? Unlike streaming-based listings, they feed on fan calls and votes from the web. This system works well because it engages listeners directly to build their favourite song listings in a social way. Every Saturday, they are announced from position 40th to 1st, and all of the songs are voted on during the week. Permanent residents of the podium include Shakira, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello and more.

You can also check out the Spain Top 50 Spotify!

Billboard Music Charts

Billboard Hot 100

The Billboard music charts have become the starting point of every music star in the Eastern world. Billboard charts are a series of listings updated on a weekly basis, and dates back to 1936. Over the following decades, what we know as the ‘Hot 100’ combines  physical sales, digital sales, music and video streaming and radio airplay. Each musical genre contains a Manager who determines the formulas used to calculate positions in the general list.

Billboard’s Main Music Charts


Hot 100, Billboard 200, Artist 100, Social 50, Genre Charts (Breaking / Pop / Rock / Latin / R&B and Hip Hop / Dance & Electronic / Dance Club / Country / GOAT / Holiday 100 / Christian / Japan Hot 100).


The best music from each year from Hot 100 and Billboard 200.


The best music from every decade from the Hot 100 and Billboard 200.

Notice that the system Billboard uses to measure the success of songs, albums or artists is calculated using the information of sales distribution, streaming and radio airplay, as standard. However, it also is formed including the interest of DJs and radio hosts, paying special attention to artists who are emerging or established ones with a good marketing base, which helps with popularity.

Spotify Charts

Spotify US Top 50 music chart

Considered the current top charts in music by many, Spotify charts have the greatest relevance in terms of the fashions that prevail. They also show a lot of information that intersects between YouTube videos and the amount of streaming in Spotify playlists. Listeners can browse the main musical genres, obtaining a weekly list of songs that rise and fall according to their popularity. 

The algorithm of Spotify works so well that people cannot believe it ‘guesses’ the way it does. Discover Weekly and Release Radar have replaced the way music charts used to work, as now you may get old songs appear as popular in your algorithmic playlists. There are also two more specific music charts: ‘Viral, which takes into account the popularity of songs at this precise moment (unlike weekly or monthly charts), and a general Top 200 that includes all genres.

Spotify is international, it’s definitely worth checking out the Spain top 50 Spotify or even Dubai’s Spotify Club Hits to broaden your horizon!

iTunes / Apple Music Charts

With dedicated Top 200 songs, Top 200 Albums by country and Top 100 artists (calculated by digital purchases/downloads), iTunes and Apple Music charts are some of the fundamentals in music chart listings.

YouTube Charts

YouTube released two types of charts. One is worldwide according to each country, and the amount of streams each day.  This is what we will call the main chart. YouTube is always focusing on trending videos rather than having a classic music/video chart just showing up. At the bottom of the simple main page, you will find Top Music Videos and Top Artists. Not to forget that at the top there is a list of countries, in case you enjoy styles that don’t usually appear in your own country’s charts. So we must say it works differently for the people and the industry.

YouTube For Artists has its own music charts, but isn’t modified for long periods of time. However, it is still useful for showing information about past and current trends.

Genre-Specific Charts

Billboard country albums chart

If you prefer to listen to mainly one type of music – don’t fear, there is a place for you. For example, Billboard has its own Country music chart, if you want to exclusively limit the genre that you are listening to. For Rock or 80’s music fans, radio stations raised from the Internet may have their own in-app option for mobile phones. They mostly have their own sources of information and music charts without using any of the metrics or big data available. 

Music Charts Dictionary

Here is the list of some important terms to get familiar with around charts:

  • New Entry: A song or an artist that is entering the music charts for the first time.
  • Re-Entry: A song or artist that is entering the charts again, after being out for a certain period of time.
  • Best Seller: A song, album or artist that is breaking records and receiving a lot of attention.
  • Most Played: A way to identify a song or artist that has gotten a superlative quantity of airplay, streaming or support by DJs and radio hosts.
  • Supported By: Used to focus on important acts that are giving feedback to any song, album or artist. Important for getting attention.
  • Radio Airplay: Plays on the radio for a certain song, album or artist. Very important for the music charts consideration.
  • Climber: A song or an artist that is going up on the charts every week.

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Summing Up

Vinyl record

Essentially, music charts are calculated electronically, whilst also involving human elements. With charts based solely on what is ‘trending’, or popular on social media – there are so many different charts with unique calculations and factors. Artists who want to jump into the music charts will have to work hard from the beginning. 

Here are some questions to ask if you are aiming to get your music featured in charts:

  • Is my song similar to other popular ones?
  • Am I copying something or creating a new wave?
  • Have I established solid contacts to get my song heard?
  • Is there a real-life, interesting story behind the creation of the song?

Many artists struggle when they become famous overnight, without having prepared. If you continue putting in the work, networking and finding contacts and putting out good music to a solid fan base – your music could one day reach charts. Whether specialist, genre-specific or even Spotify generated, all exposure is good exposure for your music!

Мusic Gateway can also help boost your career, including promoting your music! Take a look at our Music Promotion page to find out what we can offer to get your music heard and help with music marketing. Also, check out our Sync opportunities page to get your music in TV and Film. Try it out for free today by signing up or clicking the button below.


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