Understanding: Billboard BB200 vs US Album Sales


III) Billboard Issues

A) The Switch: the first Soundscan chart ever

To understand the issues of the Billboard Album chart prior to the introduction of Soundscan, the best way is to have a look at the very first ranking that was based on Soundscan figures. It happened on May 25, 1991. Here is that fundamental BB200 Chart.

We will ignore the big climbers that had album releases just before like Michael Bolton and Luther Vandross. We already know that pre-Soundscan charts were slower, completing a curve rather than starting high and going down. As it was based on reports from various areas, an album often needed several weeks before getting reports from the entire country, although this issue was sorted slowly year after year.

The first striking fact is the increases of Garth Brooks. His No Fences rocketed from #16 to #4 while his self-titled debut climbed #40-#22, both hitting new peaks after many months on the charts.

Produced by: Allen Reynolds
Date: 12/05/1990 – Run: 133-138-141-132-113-100-96-77-71-65-58-57-52-50-50-49-49-48-51-53-43-65-65-66-50-48-53-57-66-76-87-88-85-85- (34 wsf)
            05/01/1991: 73-64-67-74-77-78-68-70-69-74-78-84-84-93-104-107-110-116-69-40-22-25-25-30-35-24-32-34-36-42-47-44-41-41-45-49-50-50-43-45-49-33-32-37-40-40-35-33-33-37-37-37- (86 wsf)
            04/01/1992: 38-38-31-32-23-*13*-17-19-19-21-23-27-27-28-29-37-33-38-35-31-33-32-39-39-37-37-33-35-47-42-47-50-54-54-59-53-51-54-49-42-42-45-46-47-52-60-67-61-59-65-63-60- (138 wsf)
            02/01/1993: 60-62-64-59-69-77-83-87-94-92-97-100-102-116-118-101-102-115-131-132-130-118-131-130-151-149-155-155-162-164-164-160-152-150-142-136-147-123-122-126-133-142-141-151-157-165-169-153-165-173-149-141- (190 wsf)
            01/01/1994: 139-130-141-146-170-175-178-176-169-163-171-171-174-164-179-158-169-177-181-166-149-132-158-174-177-176-183-193-0-199 (219-218c wks)
Re 01: 24/09/1994: 180-163-165-185 (4 wks, 223 wsf)
Re 02: 24/12/1994: 200 (1 wk)
Total # of re-entries: 3
Total # of weeks: 224-218c (Top 20: 4 Top 40: 49)

    2. NO FENCES
Produced by: Allen Reynolds
Date: 22/09/1990 – Run: 52-32-23-26-19-15-12-13-15-16-17-17-15-15-15- (15 wsf)
            05/01/1991: 17-19-24-26-26-27-27-27-27-24-23-22-25-27-31-34-36-34-25-16- 4-6-7-8-8-4-4-8-10-8-11- 10-9-12-12-11-12-13-14-15-15- 10-10-10-10-13-12- 9-12-14-12-12- (67 wsf)
            04/01/1992: 14-16-12- 10-5-*3*-3-4-4-4-5-7-5-4-5-11-12-14-15- 7-6-6-10-11-11-11-13- 9-7-8-12-14-16-15-19-20-21-20-21-18-15-16-19-21-18-27-25-27-27-23-26-23- (119 wsf)
            02/01/1993: 24-33-29-29-36-38-40-40-46-47-57-59-60-64-76-67-69-73-77-78-71-64-72-79-92-91-89-98-108-109-111-103-97-90-89-85-87-82-84-90-93-98-93-98-106-117-126-109-121-116-100-93- (171 wsf)
            01/01/1994: 91-89-97-99-121-132-129-121-120-125-130-129-133-130-136-123-132-137-142-135-108-102-112-128-138-141-143-138-152-147-147-143-156-153-162-166-180-163-146-136-136-154-177-169-177-182-190-186-181-167-153-143-186 (224/36-12c wks)
Top 10 re-entries: 6
Total # of weeks: 224 (Top 10: 36-12c, Top 20: 88 Top 40: 126)

With both albums we see a clear improvement on chart runs from the introduction, which suggests his real sales were deflated on former charts. Thanks to our formulas, we can now confirm – or not – this situation. The next page will do just that. Let’s first continue to see big climbers / droppers of that May 1991 chart.

  TW LW WKS Album Artist
24   53     8 Eagle When She Flies Dolly Parton
39   59   36 Rumor Has It Reba McEntire
41 104   39 Reflections Of Passion Yanni
42   69   45 We Are In Love Harry Connick Jr
  57   76   61 Here In The Real World Alan Jackson
62   98   26 Love Can Build A Bridge The Judds
70 152   41 Country Club Travis Tritt
74 199 123 Beaches Soundtrack
105   RE   22 Pass It On Down Alabama
134   RE   22 Starry Night Julio Iglesias

This list is far from being comprehensive – that chart was a huge shaker. Among the climbers, we can easily identify a lot of country acts as well as atypical artists including foreign acts such as Yanni and Julio Iglesias.  If some albums climbed a lot, others had to go down.

 TW LW WKS Album Artist
  17     7   13 MCMXC AD Enigma
25   13   31 Heart Shaped World Chris Isaak
40   17   15 Divinyls Divinyls
52   23     6 Flashpoint The Rolling Stones
56   22   16 The Soul Cages Sting
59   31     9 Free Rick Astley
63   21   13 In The Blood Londonbeat
77   38   18 Hi-Five Hi-Five
90   47     6 Mama Said Lenny Kravitz
114   64   39 Trixter Trixter
118   61   34 X INXS
128   78     4 Real Life Simple Minds
137   91   38 Ritual De Lo Habitual Jane’s Addiction
140   60   10 Night Ride Home Joni Mitchell
141   96   35 Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 George Michael
144 102   14 Innuendo Queen
185 117   37 World Clique Deee-Lite
191   94   14 Rude Awakening Rude Boys
194 100   11 International Pop Overthrow Material Issue

Unsurprisingly, this list is extensively made up of Pop / Rock artists. Those acts used to sell well in big cities and large retailers, unlike the country acts that had specific demographics and specific retailers. This list includes big names who sold a lot in the years prior to Soundscan like Sting and INXS.

The ups and downs may not appear that brutal. When we add both effects, deflations and inflations, and put them head to head, the results are worrying.

1     8     3 Time, Love And Tenderness Michael Bolton
5     1     9 Out Of Time REM

40   17   15 Divinyls Divinyls
43 101   97 Soul Provider Michael Bolton

63   21   13 In The Blood Londonbeat
74 199 123 Beaches Soundtrack

90   47     6 Mama Said Lenny Kravitz
96 181   21 If There Was A Way Dwight Yoakam

With those examples, we notice that albums charting #17 were selling the same as albums at #101, or that #21 albums had a similar pace of sales to the album ranked #199. We may believe they were natural climbers / droppers for the week, but I explicitly used albums that were steady for long with no reason for a big change in sales in the middle of May.

What happens when we compare the full chart runs of artists from the two extremes?

22 thoughts on “Understanding: Billboard BB200 vs US Album Sales”

    1. Hi Gus!

      Obviously you are correct, I always think about Kenny G when talking about Michael Bolton and vice versa, don’t ask me why! Now fixed 😉

  1. Hello dear MJD it’s really a very interesting article on RIAA certifications.
    From this article it is evident that some artists such as U2 or Michael Jackson were massively inflated.
    This fact will affect on global sales ? For example the U2 in last year’s article have sold about 192.400.000 equivalent album sales with 12x platinum for The Joshua Tree, 8x platinum for Achtung Baby, 5x platinum for Rattle and Hum and War etc..
    Based on this new article for example their US album sales and their world album sales will be lower ?

    1. Hi Anthony,

      No, it doesn’t impact RIAA certifications. Their awards were achieved thanks to catalog sales and CSPC articles took that into consideration already!

  2. Great job man! Are we getting the 2nd part of your Understanding article about download sales vs. streaming? This is the one I’m most excited about, haha.

  3. Hey MJD,
    You’ve done a lot of work on 90’s and 2000’s artists and I think you should consider looking at Ashanti’s discography. She came out with a strong debut and had hit songs in her time

    1. Hi Luca!

      The factor can be easily calculated for post-1990 years using US Sales Database. I avoided it on purpose for two reasons:
      – Soundscan reflects better ups and downs, runs are much less linear, which corrupts the grouping of positions logic. In the past, a standard run was 152-81-55-38-33-32-33-39-60-121-155-187-out. Now you can have 10-39-101-199-out, which would give a much better result than 11-41-101-out.
      – Internet/pre-orders: they massively frontloaded sales which means now a #1 can sell 30k or 1m. This completely corrupts every possible calculation!

  4. Hi MJD!

    Forgive me for being quite ignorant, but I’ve re-read your article a thousand times, and I still don’t know how you input the Xmas factor in your calculations. I know how to calculate without the Xmas factor, but how do you add in the Xmas factor? Does it depends on which positions it charted during December?

  5. Hi MJD!

    Forgive me for being ignorant, but I still don’t know how you add in the Xmas factor in your calculations. Could you elaborate on how to do that?

    1. Hi Raffi!

      You are two that did this comment (with someone at SHF) so I suppose this part is unclear, I’ll amend the text! In the meantime, here is the answer I made to the other comment:
      The Xmas factor ais roughly the same scale as the chart overall, just slightly lower. Here is the weight you should give to an album depending on its average ranking in December:
      At #1 = weight 15 to 20 (depending on how big it was / how long it remained at 1)
      Charting 2-5 = weight 12
      Charting 6-10 = weight 8
      Charting 11-20 = weight 6
      Charting 21-40 = weight 4
      Charting 41-100 =weight 2
      Charting 101-200 = weight 1

  6. Hey MJD. Can I ask you something? You mention that before the soundscan era, black(R&B) retailers weren’t really covered to the same extent as rock and pop on the BB200. The RIAA situation reminds me of the new edition album certifications but unlike kool and the gang and teddy pandergrass their certifications came years after they reached those sales. Here is a picture of them where their self-titled album new edition is double platinum in 1985 already but on the RIAA site it was only certified 2X PLAT. in 1995 https://www.instagram.com/p/BW4CdtAha4G/?taken-by=neluvforever_nikkiriv Some people say the N.E Heartbreak album sold 3-4 million copies in the usa and bobby’s dont be cruel has also passed the 8 million mark according to billboard even though its still 7x platinum riaa wise. Can you estimate the group’s album sales in the u.s. I ask because their concerts sold really well in the late 80’s http://www.americanradiohistory.com/hd2/IDX-Business/Music/Archive-Billboard-IDX/IDX/80s/1988/BB-1988-11-26-OCR-Page-0028.pdf#search=%22new%20edition%20bobby%20brown%20boxscore%22 . Also on one of their dates they made 600k plus in a single night and that couldn’t have been possible in the 80’s if they just had an r&b/black base. http://www.americanradiohistory.com/hd2/IDX-Business/Music/Archive-Billboard-IDX/IDX/80s/1988/BB-1988-11-19-OCR-Page-0024.pdf#search=%22new%20edition%20amusement%20business%22 Also the charts were still divided in terms of race after the civil rights movement. SMH http://www.americanradiohistory.com/hd2/IDX-Business/Music/Archive-Billboard-IDX/IDX/80s/1989/BB-1989-04-22-OCR-Page-0080.pdf#search=%22new%20edition%20amusement%20business%22

    1. Hi Lunga!

      Please find below the calculations of US sales for New Edition 80s albums:
      Candy Girl 252,000
      New Edition 1,863,000
      All For Love 993,000
      Under The Blue Moon 365,000
      Heart Break 2,126,000

      As shown on previous examples, Billboard charts used to represent roughly 80% of sales for Black music artists.

      As for their RIAA history:
      – they never had a major audit as shown by the absence of mass updates of various albums together
      – All For Love and Under The Blue Moon reached their awards relatively easily in spite of calculated sales under their criteria which evidences the 80%-ish coverage
      – self-titled album did most likely cross 2 million in late 1985. It makes sense, as the lead single for follow up album was released in October 1985 they haven’t cared certifying officially an album they weren’t going to promote anymore.
      – Heart Break did sell well past 2 million especially since it had 3 hit singles with no cross over appeal (#1/3/4 hits on R&B charts that peaked at #44/95/out inside the Hot 100), likely 2,5/2,6 million by the end of 1989
      – both New Edition and Heart Break went 2xP in mid-90s, this still means they were below 3 million. Almost no catalog sales information came out since so it is difficult to gauge their sales since then, although Heart Break sold 1,600 copies in the week following the BET special this year. In all likelyhood, Heart Break did pass 3 million since while New Edition should be close to the mark too.

      As for Bobby Brown, Don’t Be Cruel went 7xP in 1995 after the allowance of all Club sales. For that reason, it could have been anywhere from 7 to 8 million already back in 1995. Once again, we miss Soundscan information for recent although it is doubtful that this album sold well for obvious reasons. It can perfectly be over 8 million now though since it could have been very close by 1995 already. Plus, it must be said that MCA are slow for RIAA awards: Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedos is the only album their certified multi-plat during the last 10 years. The last time they updated a catalog Urban album on their roster was in 2000 with Mary J Blidge’s What’s the 411?

      1. Hey MJD. Thanks for your insight. They were a big touring group and most artists don’t make the bulk of their money from record sales but rather ticket sales unless they like prince and do most of the writing and producing or mariah who has songwriting and production credits on her biggest hits so maybe that’s why they didn’t care to do a proper audit of their album sales. You should do an article on how royalties work and publishing rights and income. I know the media claims Beyonce has $500 million but her best-selling album took 12 years to go 5x platinum and adele has had two diamond selling albums back to back so Im willing to guess she makes more from her record sales than Beyonce and her tours sell well too —->https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adele_Live_2016. I think Beyonce only has the upper hand on adele in touring https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Beyonc%C3%A9_live_performances But beyonce has a great marketing team behind her

        1. Hi Lunga!

          While Forbes-like figures have their interest, I tend to let them out while judging the popularity of music artists. You will get people like Puff Daddy who’s richer than almost every singer on Earth only thanks to business skills rather than thanks to his music, in a similar way to Floyd Mayweather who grosses way more than any other boxer because he is his own promoter. Beyoncé is a striking example – her main source of revenue so far has been her marriage with Jay-Z, himself immensely rich thanks to several well-powered businesses more than his records sales. This completely corrupts the picture.

          Last but not least, the inflation plays a major role. There is tons of “highest grossing tour” figures going on but they make basically no sense has the ticket price exploded over the years. For example, you will have tons of divas fans fighting on the biggest female tour being owned by Madonna vs Beyoncé vs Taylor vs Celine vs Gaga vs whoever else going on for years while Tina Turner did bigger tours than all of them.

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