Are the Official Charts Reflective of the Times?

Tom Atkinson

By Tom Atkinson

Tom Atkinson

9 Jun 2023

In 2023, music is consumed in a variety of ways. You can buy your music through CDs, cassettes, vinyl, and, of course, downloads. In 2014, streaming was introduced, which highlighted a change in music consumption. Since then, the Singles Chart in the U.K. has been dominated by streaming on the likes of Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. Also, downloads and physical singles have become much more marginal.

However, this is not the case with the Album Chart where streaming was introduced in 2015. While, streaming has an influence, especially when it comes to an LP’s longevity on the chart, physical sales are still important. The rise in popularity of vinyl and even cassettes has emphasised the physical purchase of full-length projects in the race for number 1.

This has been shown in many cases. But, a case that recently caught the eye was the chart week of the 6th of May, 2023. That week saw four new entries vie for the coveted number one. They included indie-rock band The National, pop singer and now Disco revivalist Jessie Ware, U.K. rapper Nines, and indie-pop band The Lottery Winners. For context, The National had previously attained one number 1 album and four top 5 entries. Jessie Ware had achieved two top-five albums. Nines had gone to number 1 with his previous album, and all of his three previous albums had hit the top 5. The Lottery Winners, however, had previously peaked at no. 11 with their 2021 release ‘Something To Leave The House For.’

In the end, and against the odds, The Lottery Winners came out on top. Meanwhile, Nines placed at number 2, Jessie Ware took the bronze, and The National finished in 4th place. It was a fairly dominant win for The Lottery Winners finding themselves almost 5000 sales ahead of Nines. There was, however, an interesting outlier that worked in the indie-pop band’s favour. They, Ware, and The National banked the majority of their sales from physical copies. In addition, the latter two had ok streaming numbers. Nines, on the other hand, received the majority of his sales from streaming. His physical and download sales were much smaller in comparison. The Lottery Winners also had very low streaming sales, making just 261 of their 22,209 total sales from this format.


The question we must ask ourselves is, was The Lottery Winners‘ number 1 success a result of better marketing, or has the official albums chart not caught up with the times as the singles chart has?

A good place to start is with comparison. The biggest recent example of a chart-topping album in U.K. chart history by a British rapper is Dave’s We’re All Alone In This Together‘ from July 2021. The second LP from the Streatham MC made an impressive 74,164 sales during its first week. This was, at the time, the biggest launch of the year and earnt him an instant silver plaque. When breaking down where they came from: 1258 were from downloads (cracking 1000 downloads is a decent number in the 2020s), 40,354 came from physical copies, and 32,552 from streaming.

While using Dave, who is probably the biggest rapper in the U.K. right now, may be unfair, it does show that having a good physical and streaming presence will lead to success. We all knew he would get the streams due to his hits like ‘Funky Friday‘, ‘Location‘, and album teaser ‘Clash‘. But, he has also built up a dedicated fanbase. This, and taking advantage of the rise in vinyl and cassette saw him garner impressive physical sales. The music was good, but to be successful you have to get the marketing spot on. Dave and his team did just that.

Another good example is 2022’s hottest U.K. star, Central Cee. He took the number 1 spot last year with ‘23‘. It had the biggest first-week sales for a U.K. rapper in 2023 (yes, even more than Stormzy). He attained 29,765 in sales, with 19,882 from physical, 9418 from streaming, and 464 from downloads. While the Shepherd’s Bush MC was a known face in the U.K. scene, he had not quite become the worldwide sensation he would be known as after his release of ‘Doja‘.

His streaming was impressive, but not as good as Nines did recently. This is shown by how ‘Tony Soprano 2‘ and ‘Calendar‘ charted in the U.K. top 20 on album release week. Despite, Central’s highest charting hit being ‘Obsessed With You‘ at number 4, this had been months in advance. His two biggest songs on mixtape release week were ‘Straight Back to It‘ (no. 25) and ‘Khabib‘ (no. 36).

What achieved these impressive sales was his impressive marketing. With billboards galore, sold-out bundles, and the impressive promotion that saw ‘Obsessed With You‘ and later ‘Doja‘ achieve what they did; it gave him impressive numbers. He built upon the foundations of his marketing campaign for ‘Wild West‘ and took it to the next level.

Even Stormzy who had the second best-selling project from a U.K. rapper last year, won the number one by sales. His streaming number was over 50% less than Nines‘ (7954). And yet, his physical sales of 18,432 helped him win a very close chart battle with Cliff Richard. If you want to beat the oldies, you got to sell physical copies.

The Wicked Skengman may not have done the numbers of previous projects, but he has built a fanbase that is going to buy his records. The fact he can do live performances on both Radio 1 and 2 shows the diversity of his audience. This is also visible at his arena shows.

The only recent outlier is Digga D’s Noughty By Nature‘. The mixtape reached the top of the charts with 6,111 from streaming, 2,356 from physicals, and 388 downloads. Now, Nines absolutely smashed his streaming numbers and slightly beat his downloads, but the Ladbroke Grove lyricist beat him on physicals. Also, his streaming and physical numbers were much closer together compared to Nines. Further to this, Digga was the highest new entry by far that week with the next highest at number 34. You can see from this that he didn’t have the same amount of competition. Clearly, there is a precedent for achieving number 1 with high and comparable physical sales.

Now, let’s delve into the marketing campaign. The Lottery Winners knew when competing with more established acts they weren’t going to win in terms of streams. They heavily advertised the album on social media, which Nines also did but mainly through videos and a short film. The Manchester band put in a graft with shows, billboards, radio appearances, and most importantly a variety of physical packages. They released the album in different formats across CD, vinyl, and cassette. Fans could buy the album, the acoustic version, and download it on Amazon, with each version counting as a sale. This gave fans multiple ways to consume the album physically.

Nines on the other hand did give fans a reason to consume his content. However, this was mainly through the means of streaming. You could buy a CD and he did a CD signing session, but his lack of promotion for physical copies may have cost him in this battle. Also, not having vinyl/cassette options is costly. Fans who love an artist want that as not only a memento but a way of giving back. Maybe he has plans to release physicals later down the line which other artists have done in the past. An example of this technique is the rock band Bring Me The Horizon. Upon initial release, their EP ‘POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR‘ would chart at number five in November 2020 based on streaming and download sales. It would reach number one in January 2021 when released physically.

The achievement of a big first week in the album chart is largely due to physical sales. But, a good mix of both physicals and streams seems to be the way to get that coveted top spot. But, is this a true representation of what is the most popular record? A week after The Lottery Winners‘ victory they were out of the U.K. Top 100 completely. Nines meanwhile was still at number 2 as Ed Sheeran topped the charts. As of writing, Nines is at number 30 on his fifth week on the chart. He is the only remaining project of the four new entries that battled for number one back in early May.

With continuing strong sales it is likely the rapper will win out in the long run and have the most sales of the four. However, the way streaming works on the official charts is likely to work better for a project in the long run. The two biggest tracks on an album are neutralised to the level of the next highest 14 tracks maximum from the project. This means ‘Tony Soprano 2‘ and ‘Calendar‘ (which were number 10 and 19 respectively on the singles chart when the album charted) would have had their sales figures reduced to the average of the other 13 from ‘Crop Circle 2‘. After that, you then convert the figures from the ratio of 1000 streams equals 1 album sale. This means that Nines made 14,864,000 streams from the album after the figures were calculated using this metric.

This shows that to do amazing streaming numbers in the first week, you would have to be on the level of an artist like Dave or Ed Sheeran. Also, it shows that as a musician you would need to have a few hits released before the project came out, to help boost these numbers. It highlights why most of the album chart is older releases. Out of the current top 40 album chart (2/6/23) and excluding new entries, 8 albums had come out in the last year (with two being compilations). In fact, the Top 40 had 14 compilations and 5 Taylor Swift albums, which is almost half the chart. Harry Styles, Ed Sheeran, Fleetwood Mac, Tina Turner, Eminem, Lewis Capaldi, Arctic Monkeys, and Oasis also have multiple albums this week.


To summarise, The Lottery Winners‘ victory in the chart battle has many lessons for people trying to get that coveted achievement of number one. Marketing and physical copies are key to the success of a project’s first week. However, streaming is what will get you longevity on the charts. The current system for streaming figures is working against new albums, in particular when they have big singles. It benefits compilations, classic LPs, or those by huge artists like Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. They have big catalogues and multiple big singles.

In terms of physical sales, these will continue to rise as vinyl and cassettes continue to rise in popularity. Streaming is still important to sales, but the current metrics are going to halter the progress of newer and upcoming artists. This is especially the case for those who have a big fanbase, but only one or two charting hits. The metrics for streaming have changed a few times over the years. Maybe it’s due a change once again to reflect the current landscape of music consumption.