Music charts

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Music charts (abbreviated also English charts ( plural tantum )) or German hit list as well as hit parade (abbreviated hits ) describes a method for the numerical compilation of a ranking list of pieces of music over a certain period of time, which should reflect their popularity or their success on a limited scale.


Hit parades are supposed to be a yardstick for the success of a music track. Music titles that rank higher in the music charts are therefore more successful than titles that occupy lower ranks in the charts. The number one is therefore the most successful music track in a hit parade of a certain period. The hit parade provides interested parties with information about the ranking of music titles, along with the artist and the associated record label, as well as the previous placements back to the date they entered the charts. The order of the music tracks should provide information about the relative popularity of a track. The popularity or popularity of a music track, in turn, depends on the criteria by which it is to be measured. Popular criteria include the frequency of broadcasts ( airplay ), sales figures and, since the advent of online media , downloads and streaming as well. Most of the charts are restricted to a specific geographic area, and some to a specific genre of music .

Hit parade-specific terms

  • Chart placement is the current as well as the highest numerical rank that a music track could achieve.
  • Top Ten (also: Top 10 ), Top Twenty or Hot 100 etc. are names for the numerical scope of a hit parade and also for the placement of a music track within this aggregate.
  • Newcomers or newcomers ("new entry", "newcomer") are music titles that are listed in a current hit parade for the first time after their official release. In many printed chart lists they are conspicuously marked with the note "NEW". Titles that were placed outside of the scope considered in previous charts are also referred to as newcomers to the top 10 if they were ranked higher than 10 in the previous week.
  • As a newly promoted titles are designated, which improved with continuous charts over the placement from the previous week. This can be seen in many hit lists from a column with the previous week's position. Similarly, there is the designation of relegated songs for songs that fall in placement compared to the previous week . Movers of the week and declines of the week are titles that show the greatest change.
  • Returners ( "re-entry") are songs that were already recorded in a chart, have dropped out of this again and now re-emerge as a new arrival.
  • Hit (plural: hits, English for hits) is a music title that has reached one of the top positions in a hit parade. Depending on the extent of the placement success, colloquial terms are also used as a “super hit”, “top hit” or “mega hit”.
  • Number one hit or top hit describes a music track that occupied first place in a hit parade within an evaluation period.
  • As Chartbreaker or chart-topping song or an artist is called, the newly einsteigt on a chart of the foremost places or can improve his position from the previous week. When entering a hit list at first place, one also speaks of “from zero to one”.
  • A one-hit wonder is when a single by an artist reaches the top of the charts, but no more hits follow.
  • On the one hand, songs or albums that occupy first place on a chart list over a longer period of time are colloquially referred to as "long-running hits" . On the other hand, titles or albums are also called "long-running hits", which can generally be placed in a chart list for a very long time.
  • Crossover hits are music titles that can be assigned to a certain music genre and are simultaneously placed in at least two hit parades, which are separated according to music genre. Such was Is not That a Shame of Fats Domino in 1955 not only number one in the rhythm-and-blues -Hitparade, but also to rank 9 of the pop singles chart in the United States.


United States

The earliest hit parade sources (from 1891) were the sale of sheet music or a ranking by ASCAP , published in the journal Phonogram (from 1891) or the monthly Phonoscope (1896 to 1899). In particular, these records are the basis of Joel Whitburn's compilation Pop-Memories 1890-1954 , which, however, does not achieve the accuracy of later hit parades because of the different sources and survey techniques. The Billboard worked since its first edition from November 1, 1894, first for the advertising industry ( "billboards" are billboards). Weekly sheet music sales were published on Billboard from 1913, and from 1914 to 1921 the record companies supplied Talking Machine World magazine with sales. From November 1934 Billboard published the bestseller charts of the record labels, and in late 1938 the weekly compilations of the most popular records in jukeboxes were added. Hit parades were first published on January 4, 1936, and the first "Music Popularity Chart" was compiled on July 20, 1940. Billboard has since used a mix of airplay and sales statistics. Other major US music magazines with their own charts were Cash Box (from October 13, 1951 to the last issue on November 16, 1996) and Record World (closed in 1981). Each magazine uses its own method when compiling its charts. With Cash Box (1996) and Record World (1981) disappearing from the market, Billboard continued to build on its market power as the leading music magazine.

The term "Hit Parade" was first widespread in the United States with the radio program "Your Hit Parade", which was broadcast from April 20, 1935 on NBC radio with 15 tracks that were played in random order. Since June 1956 Your Hitparade was also broadcast nationally on television; the regularly broadcast program ran until June 1958. It was mostly about live performances, which were the main factor for the music industry to determine a hit on the radio.

The privately organized US radio stations were increasingly looking for an individual identification that differentiated them from competing broadcasters. In this way, stations were initially created that played exclusively pop music , country & western or rhythm & blues music as a specific program format . This was followed by the “Top 40 Radio”, which played the latest hits and gave the stations a compact and clearly identifiable sound.

In 1952, the private radio stations KOWH in Omaha / Nebraska, WTIX in New Orleans / Louisiana and others had started offering the Billboard Top 40 charts as a specific program format. Todd Storz, owner of a radio chain - to which WTIX belonged - had observed that no more than 40 songs were selected in jukeboxes; Guests tended to always play the same of the mostly 40 records. This is how the “Top 40 radio”, which still exists today, was created. That was the core of the "music rotation" , according to which the most popular songs should be played more than others. From May 1953, other stations also adopted this hit parade concept, so that the expression “Top40-Radio” stood for a radio format in which the hit parade is played on the countdown principle with the number one hit at the end. This format was broadcast for 24 hours and consisted only of short, neutral announcements without naming the record label and commercial breaks . Very popular records were played between 30 and 40 times a day. Top 40 Radio offered little space for other program content than hits; it was specialty radio mostly based on the Billboard hit parades. This program format required little attention from the listener, especially since around 50% of the listeners were listening to the car radio . American Top 40 is the longest-running national music countdown on US radio.

United Kingdom

The British music magazine Musical Express has existed since March 7, 1952 , and since November 14, 1952 - since then as the New Musical Express  - has regularly published hit parades (later "Top 30"). Since the takeover of Melody Maker by the New Musical Express in 2000, Record Retailer and Music Week have also remained as trade magazines with their own charts.

Radio and television stations also create their own hit parades. The BBC began presenting its own hit parade in 1965, the "Fab 40" were Radio London's hit parade from September 19, 1965. Almost all pirate stations had decided on the program format of the hit parade radio.

German-speaking area

The first single hit parades were published in April 1954 by the music magazine “Der Automatenmarkt” on Germany's third largest sound carrier market for a long time. For the first time, statistics of operations in jukeboxes were kept. These hit lists can be regarded as the first “official” hit parade. The magazine "Musikmarkt" continued the tradition and initially carried out local surveys and pure sales lists that were much more accurate than the complete list published by the same publisher from 1959 onwards. With the change from monthly to fortnightly publication at the beginning of the 1960s, the survey mode was standardized. There are always publishers who bring out chart statistics, but these are often not very objective; especially if they refer to their own archives as sources. The first German-language hit parade on the radio was broadcast on April 6, 1958 by Radio Luxemburg ( Camillo Felgen ). It was not until 1967 that the term hit parade was included in the spelling dictionary and also denotes corresponding forms of representation in radio and television broadcasts.

The music market led the charts weekly from 1971. From 1976 on, Media Control was responsible for determining chart data. The transition of the charts from the music market and Radio Luxemburg up to then was fluid. Since 2013, the market research company GfK Entertainment has been collecting the official German charts on behalf of the Federal Association of the Phonographic Industry. To this end, over 2000 partner shops in Germany connected to the “PhonoNet” automatic ordering system, alternately at random, electronically report all CD sales that go over the counter and are settled with electronic cash registers. Large retail chains are just as involved as small shops. The prerequisite is that the respective store has a full range, i.e. has all current records ready and does not specialize in punk.

In Austria the Ö3 Austria Top 40 has existed since 1965, in Switzerland the Swiss hit parade since 1968.

Methods of Survey

Music charts represent statistics , so that their compilation must also meet statistical requirements. The basis for the survey must be a source that provides objectively verifiable data and which is also quantifiable at the same time. As a survey method that come total- or sampling (with representative identified samples) in question. Airplay can be measured by evaluating the playlists that the radio or TV stations have to create for the national collecting society (in Germany: GEMA ). Sales figures can be made available by the sound carrier trade or by the record companies. Finally, representative surveys of music consumers and legal music downloads are measured. Some charts use combinations of these survey methods. Because of the different survey methods, the charts in the various publications almost never match.

Many charts are in principle open to all artists, but some specialize in a certain music genre . So Billboard had started to split up the pop music hit parade, which existed until 1942 and encompassed all music genres. A separate rhythm and blues hit parade has existed since October 24, 1942, a country & western hit parade and various other charts from January 8, 1944 . With the Billboard Hot 100 , a chart has been published again since August 4, 1958, which includes all genres. However, the separate charts still exist today with different survey methods.

Sales charts

Sales charts mean that only sales by retailers to end consumers are decisive as a criterion for the ranking of the “bestseller list”. Deliveries by the music industry to retailers are not taken into account. As a rule, the absolute sales figures are not published for economic reasons. The publication of the data is limited to details such as the placement, the number of total evaluation weeks in the charts or the highest chart position reached.

Listener and reader charts

Listener and reader charts are often compiled via the Internet and / or telephone voting. Mostly they are organized by radio, but also by television stations . The respective voter is given the opportunity to select his / her favorite song (s) from a list either by post (rarely), by telephone or via the Internet. In many cases, the voter can make his own suggestions.

Airplay charts

The Airplaycharts show the ranking of the titles played on the radio according to the number of missions per week and broadcasting range. The charts can e.g. B. by evaluating the broadcast lists created by the broadcasters or by direct observation of the programs broadcast. Nowadays, the basis for determining the operations (the airplays) is usually an electronic recognition system in which every song is recorded by so-called "digital fingerprints", i.e. H. a kind of musical fingerprint is taken at short intervals. The detection system then permanently compares the electronic structure of the titles broadcast in the monitored stations with the fingerprints in the file. If a title is recognized, the respective use is automatically recorded with title, artist, station and time and evaluated later. During the evaluation, the plays are weighted with the respective listener ranges of the stations.

For a long time, this type of survey was especially interesting for the music and media industry. Since songs were first played by radio and television stations before they went on sale, airplay was considered an indicator of the development of a title on the sales charts. The allocation of radio stations and music programs also made the positioning of a music track transparent with regard to the target groups. Since the 2000s, however, radio stations have hardly added new records that are (still) unknown to their playlists. Instead, they wait until they are B. have prevailed on YouTube or Spotify and landed in the sales charts (see also radio ). Therefore, airplay charts are becoming less and less important. She mainly published in the specialist media, in Germany z. B. in music week or music market .

Nielsen Music Control determines the airplay charts in 18 countries, e.g. B. in Austria and Germany. In Switzerland the official Swiss charts are by the German company MusicTrace created, this company also provides on behalf of several record labels German airplay charts at.

Download and streaming charts

For singles and albums, separate charts have also been collected for legal and paid downloads since the 2000s , in Germany around 2004. Since the 2010s, this has also been the case for music streaming ; the first streaming charts in Germany were published in 2012.

Dealer charts

Dealer charts are bestseller lists compiled by larger dealers themselves and displayed in their own shops, some of them also published in newspapers or on websites. They are a marketing tool that promotes sales and is intended to refer to the listed repertoire . Conclusions on the overall market can only be drawn to a limited extent, since retailer-specific product ranges and marketing measures are reflected in the result.

Editorial charts

Many rock and pop music magazines compile their own leaderboards, which are determined by the specialist editors themselves. Examples are the Musikexpress and Rolling Stone . The decisive factor for the selection of the songs and their placement is the personal taste of the editorial team. Often, at the end of the year, charts are published with the best albums and songs of the year.

Some radio stations also have their own editorial charts , such as the weekly FM4 charts on the youth culture radio station FM4.


Most hit parades are compiled on a weekly basis so that the extensive weekly new publications can be taken into account as quickly as possible. This means that even the slightest changes in popularity can be tracked promptly. All the music titles that appeared in the previous week can be included in the current weekly hit parade, provided that they meet the potential as a new addition. In order to be even more up-to-date, midweek charts are sometimes published, which show the intermediate status of a weekly chart up to the middle of the week. In Germany, for example, there have been official midweek charts since 2015. In addition, there are often annual charts as a summary at the end of the year. Critic charts in music magazines are published either in each issue or as annual charts.


Hit parades represent a selection criterion in which they select a limited number (“Top Ten”, “Top Twenty”, “Hot 100”) from the large selection of music titles and use the survey type described to put them in an order that is regularly updated due to the survey is created. In doing so, they focus the consumer's attention on this limited number of hits. They serve the music consumer as an important guide when making a purchase decision . Aural impression and hit parade status are, in addition to the affinity for certain artists, sounds or music styles, the main criteria for the purchase decision. For radio and TV stations, the hit parade represents a popularity scale on which they can orient their playlists. The trade, in turn, uses charts for its order lists in order to orientate the audio carrier orders according to title and quantity. Since chart placements influence program decisions on radio or TV and order decisions in retail, they consequently also have an effect on the sales of record labels. Hit parades serve the music industry as an important measure of the success of their performers. Record labels enjoy special prestige when they consistently produce chart hits or even often reach number one placements . This self-reinforcing process can have a sales-promoting effect. After all, successful national hits ensure that they are licensed internationally in other countries. Performers also benefit from good chart positions, as their status with the record company and fans increases. Charts are often used by other media (radio, television, press, literature) as a reference for discussing music titles.


Due to the importance of hit parades for consumers, the media and the music industry, they must not be influenced by these interest groups. Radio hit parades are identified by radio or television stations as part of the media and are therefore subject to the risk of dependence or manipulation, which could affect the composition of or placement in hit parades. This independence is intended to prevent the risk of manipulation of the charts, which could consist of a certain title ending up in the “Top 10” or even number one in the charts, although it would not be listed there without manipulation. Manipulation allegations have become increasingly loud again, as in the case of Boyzones Hit No Matter What or the German Euro Vision Post Run And Hide of Gracia . The US American " Payola " scandal from 1959, in turn, revealed that radio stations were bribed by the record industry to play certain music titles in order to influence the hit parade placement via this increased airplay . Famous disc jockeys like Alan Freed were involved and were punished.

The charts are a fragile gauge of the public's taste, especially since in the 2000s a turnover of 2,000 to 3,000 CDs per week was enough to get quite high in the charts, possibly even in the "top ten". In 1968, 750,000 singles had to be sold in the USA to reach a top position in the charts; in 1979, 50,000 were enough. In addition, record sales are seasonally heavily concentrated in winter, so that lower sales figures are sufficient for a good chart placement in summer ( summer hit ) than in winter. As the absolute sales figures decrease, the risk of manipulation of those charts that are based exclusively on sales figures as the basis for the survey increases.


"Hit parades don't really reflect the bestseller except in relation to the other chart positions of the same hit parade". In early 1980, one of the top five titles in the United States had sales of 700,000 copies, and "two years earlier that position would have required sales of three million," said Cynthia Kirk of Variety magazine . Lower sales levels are also reflected in the gold or platinum status of a plate. Whereas in 1976 a million singles were required for a gold record in Germany , since 2003 there have only been 150,000 units. Joseph Murrells' worldwide reference book for million- sellers counts a single as one unit, an EP as two and an album as six units, but also has to make sales estimates. Murrells often proves that a million seller did not advance to the first rank, which was blocked by another title that was less selling.

"There is no one who can give precise information about White Christmas record sales ," says industry expert Bob Livingston. Returns of unsold records can also correct the sales statistics downwards. The RIAA, which awards gold or platinum status in the USA, only checks the exact sales figures after a waiting period of 120 days. The transfer of sales figures, airplay or online downloads into a current compilation by means of sequence is a highly subjective process. The tabulation of a certain chart is not a measure of the intensity (sales figures, airplay etc.), so that a certain top 10 hit is a certain period might have surpassed the number-one hit of another period.

The fact that a publication does not appear in the charts is not a general sign of a flop: A record that sells very slowly but continuously sometimes does not sell so high in a single week that it is enough for a chart placement, but can after a few Years or decades, achieve a higher sales figure than one that had a very high chart position for a few weeks, but then disappears again into oblivion. The probability of not getting into the charts has always been high. In the first half of 1952, the then six major labels in the USA published a total of 788 singles, of which only 66 (= 8.4%) were listed in Billboard's charts.


Music charts, like bestseller lists in literature, can lead to purchases being made purely on the basis of previous sales success. In addition, the survey method was criticized, which in Germany is based on sales instead of numbers. More recently, the question of the relevance of music charts has also been asked, the mechanism of which no longer corresponds to the market.

Number one hit

A sound carrier ( single , LP , CD or DVD ) becomes a number one hit if it has occupied first place in a particular hit parade for at least one week. It thus enjoys a particularly prominent status in hit parades. This exclusively statistical attribute is of particular importance because theoretically there can only be 52 number one hits in a year, while in Germany a total of 6,698 single titles were released in 2012. This means that the probability that a single will become a number one hit is just 0.8% per title. This probability decreases / increases both with the increase / decrease in the number of new releases and with the length of time a hit remains on the first rank. In Germany, for example, there were only 7 music titles in first place in 1959, compared to 25 in 2003. Number one hits are important for the music industry as well as in the media and with consumers. The music industry celebrates first place in any hit parade as a particular success and focuses on the artist concerned more than on other performers without this status; A first place in the charts can have a positive effect on the record deal. For interpreters, the status of a first rank is an outward symbol of stardom , radio stations favor the first rank with more intensive airplay, and consumers often base their purchasing decisions on number one hits. A number one hit can also be linked to the possibility of a sales bestseller ( million seller ), although this does not automatically apply.

Examples of national charts

See also

Portal: Charts and Pop Music  - More articles on Charts and Pop Music

Web links

Sources and Notes

  1. Charts in, accessed on March 1, 2013
  2. ^ Joel Whitburn: Pop Memories 1890-1954 . 1986, p. 7 ff.
  3. ^ Harvey Rachlin: The Encyclopedia of The Music Business . 1981, p. 429
  4. ^ Harvey Rachlin: The Encyclopedia of The Music Business . 1981, p. 72 f.
  5. Frank Sinatra moderated the series for almost two years from February 13, 1942 to December 30, 1944
  6. Steve Chapple, Reebee Garofalo: Who Owns Rock Music ? 1980, p. 73
  7. Ben Fong-Torres: The Hits Just Keep on Coming , 2001, p. 23
  8. ^ Mary Lou Widmer: New Orleans in The Sixties . 2008, p. 85 f.
  9. Russell & David Sanjek: American Popular Music Business in the 20th Century . 1991, p. 174
  10. ^ Roland Gelatt: The Fabulous Phonograph 1877–1977 . 1977, p. 306 f.
  11. ^ R. Serge Denisoff, William L. Schurk: Tarnished Gold: The Record Industry Revisited . 1986, p. 240
  12. Michele Hilmes, Jason Loviglio: Radio Reader: Essays In The Cultural History of Radio . 2002, p. 381 ff.
  13. Christopher H. Sterling, Encyclopedia of Radio , Volume 1, 2004, p. 117
  14. Hit parade on, accessed on 23 August 2011
  15. Radio charts
  16. The Nielsen Company ( Memento of the original from July 6, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  17. Airplay Charts Germany ( Memento of the original from February 7, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  19. Official German midweek charts are launched on /
  20. ^ Harvey Rachlin: The Encyclopedia of The Music Business . 1981, p. 75.
  21. Cynical manipulation of the best . In: Die Welt , December 11, 1998
  22. ^ Artists demand Gracia's exclusion . In: Spiegel Online - Kultur , April 12, 2005
  23. ^ Harvey Rachlin: The Encyclopedia of The Music Business . 1981, p. 241 ff.
  24. Instructions for being successful - How to get into the charts quickly and easily on VIVA
  25. ^ A b Louie Robinson: Top Record Sellers of All Time. In: Ebony magazine, February 1980 issue, p. 88 f.
  26. ^ Joseph Murrells: Million Selling Records . 1985
  27. ^ A b Frank W. Hoffmann, Howard Ferstler: Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound, Volume 1 . 2004, p. 904.
  28. Russell & David Sanjek: American Popular Music Business in the 20th Century. 1991, p. 122.
  29. Thomas Hecken: Pop: History of a Concept 1955-2009 . 2009, p. 278
  30. Music Charts: " Völlig irrelevant , in Spiegel, 42/2009, p. 159
  31. Yearbook Paragraph 2012 ( Memento of the original from August 13, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /