How the launch of the Official Streaming Chart heralds a new chapter in our relationship with the music industry

Jonathan Weinberg

If you're old enough to remember making a mix tape for a friend or recording the Top 40 from the radio each week onto a D60 cassette tape, you'll appreciate just how far music technology has come over the past 30 years.

From vinyl to CDs to MP3s to Apple iPods to Playlists to Sonos wireless music systems, the way we listen to our favourite artists has moved on as fast as our tastes in chart acts has changed.

And now another landmark in musical history has been reached with the launch of the UK's brand-new Official Streaming Chart.

The Top 100 of tunes has been compiled using data from popular digital services including Spotify, Deezer, We7 and Napster, each of which allow users to choose something to listen to from millions of tracks stored in ‘the cloud’ rather than on their own computer or mobile device.

At the touch of a button, streaming allows them to play a track live using the internet connection on a desktop or laptop, mobile phone, tablet computer or even a wireless stereo system such as Sonos or Apple's AirPlay speaker technology.

The popularity of streaming has soared over the past few years with monthly subscriptions available in both paid-for and ad-funded models.

The former gives users the choice of songs uninterrupted for a monthly fee while the latter ensures the artists and record industry get a fair deal from their copyright work by raising money through adverts broadcast between tracks.

It does away with the need for a user to have to choose which single tune or album to download and pay for and often the music listened to often differs widely from the top downloads of any particular week, with back catalogues and classic performers rivalling newer chart acts.

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However, it was one of music's newest artists who was crowned the No.1 most-listened to track using audio streaming with Canadian Idol contestant Carly Rae Jepsen taking the honour for her hit Call Me Maybe.

Others featuring in the Top 10 include Fun ft Janelle Monae, Nicki Minaj, top DJ David Guetta and Marina & the Diamonds.

Official Charts Company managing director Martin Talbot said: ‘The launch of this chart is a landmark moment for the UK music industry – and it is appropriate that such a signature Spring smash can claim this historic first.’

While downloading music still remains massively popular, the rise of streaming has been boosted by faster and stronger internet connections both at home via broadband or on the move using Wi-Fi networks and 3G.

The push by many mobile phone networks to offer better value with so-called ‘unlimited’ data packages has allowed smartphone and tablet owners to stream more often without racking up expensive charges.

In the past year, according to figures from the British Phonographic Industry, the income from digital subscription music services grew by a whopping 47.5%.

Digital music revenues overall were also up by nearly 25% during 2011 and now represents a third of record industry trade income.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI, said: ‘Streaming is a fantastic way to discover new music and plays an increasingly important role in the UK’s music scene. The Official Charts tell the story of British music, and this development keeps that story bang up to date.’

Steve Savoca, head of content at Spotify, which works across a range of platforms, added: ‘This is a defining moment in the evolution of digital music as it shows music consumption as a whole.

‘Streaming is a hugely important part of both discovery and consumption. Having a chart that reflects this allows the industry and the public to get a much better understanding of the full range of music that people are listening to.’

His view was backed by Steve Purdham, the WE7 CEO and founder investor, who said: ‘Music streaming is the real heartbeat of music taste and is coming into its own in the UK. The timing for the Official Streaming Chart launch is perfect to showcase what music fans are listening to from millions of songs.’

Kieron Donoghue set up website in early 2009 after being blown away by what he saw as the potential of Spotify after receiving a Beta invite.

It now has two million users per month through its website, Spotify app or Android and iOS apps with 15,000 playlists are played through its service each day.

Kieron said: ‘I began to wonder if we could build a model where we crowdsource discovery via other people's playlists. The idea is simply that if you're a great "mixtape" curator then you can let your talents shine by uploading your playlist to the site for others to discover and enjoy. Or maybe you just want to find some great new music to listen to?

‘Whether it's books on Amazon Kindle, video with Netflix or YouTube and now music for Spotify, we're moving very much towards an "on-demand" era of consumption for all media. The Web has spoilt us for choice. Why should we pay £9.99 for an album download of just 12 songs when for the same price per month we can have access to a library of some 16 million tracks on demand?’

Mr Donoghue added even the record labels love the service with so-called music pluggers now switching from trying to get their newest and under-the-radar artists pushed on radio to wanting them on the playlists of the most influential and popular curators.

Tim Ingham, editor of music industry bible Music Week believes streaming can only grow stronger. He explained: ‘Some argue streaming is the new radio; some say it's the new iTunes – but in the future, everyone will be listening to their albums on the likes of Spotify and Deezer.

‘These services grow in popularity every day, and it's no surprise: who wouldn't want music from across the ages available on demand and on tap? It's the sort of thing most older fans would have dreamed of in their teens.’

And Mr Ingham argues streaming is most important for an industry that has rallied against digital innovations in the past due to concerns over piracy.

He added: ‘These platforms are also tempting kids away from piracy. Our artists in the UK are being unfairly short-changed by fans who avoid paying for music – money that would also be used to fund the discovery of tomorrow's Adeles, Kasabians and Dizzee Rascals. Streaming services help defeat piracy in the best way possible; by simply providing a better experience for fans.’