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Playing the System

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Since I’m currently in Australia I thought it apt to write about a new Australian based upstart to the music industry, which is causing waves of consternation on a global level. The company in question is called Chartfixer (http://www.chartfixer.com), and as the name suggests it has come up with a new way to ‘game’ the ARIA music charts in Australia.

Chartfixer works like this; the artist or label pays $5,000AUD for 1,000 guaranteed iTunes sales. That would guarantee an artist placement in the top 80 chart-wise in terms of track or album sales for the relevant week. For $30,000AUD the company is stating it can guarantee 5,000 iTunes sales. In turn this would generally result in a top 20 placements within the ARIA charts. 

How do Chartfixer enable this? Quite simply, they pay loads of music fans/members of the public to purchase said artists tracks on the week specified by the client artist or label. For each track that costs around $1.69 AUD Chartfixer pays the purchaser $3.00AUD, and as such the track purchaser receives a profit of $1.31AUD for each track brought. To TMV this sounds quite similar to the payola scenario to get radio pay in America…

Since the payola scandal was massive and enabled major labels to monopolise radio airplay on the American airwaves you may ask what is the big problem with Chartfixer as the labels have previously been knee high in such high jinx for many a decade. To TMV it does seem rather hypocritical, as that radio airplay secured via payola is exactly what enabled chart positions and building artists careers from shite music.

Drilling down on the figures using Charfixers Top 20 package as an example; for $30,000AUD as an artist or label you would receive 5,000 track sales at $1.69AUD, which equals $8450AUD. Yet these same 5,00 downloads at $3.00AUD equal $15,000AUD. This means chart fixer are making a net profit of $15,000AUD. So an artist or label spending the $30K AUD would receive around $5,000 back from the sales. Yet they are essentially paying $25,000 to ensure the single enters the top 20 charts.

From one side that could be viewed as great value considering top 20 chart positions usually bring with them associated radio play, industry and press interest. However, on the flip side what happens when this Chartfixer ensures and absolute shite song enters the charts? Could we be about to witness charts full of shit songs? One could say most charting records are shite so what will the difference be? One thing it does do, is provide a method for cash rich artists (probably with no talent whatsoever) to boost their egos. 

The industry still suffers from parasite non-promoters (link to TMV article) running what are effectively pay-to-play live music shows and now we have the first automated pay-to-chart technology solutions …TMV does wonder what will our industry next experience? Will competitors enter the market and offer a larger slice of the pie to the music fans using such systems to game the chart system? Could it be a whole new music service category? TMV certainly hope not for the sake of our ears and sanity…

More seriously though, according to Billboard (http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/content_display/industry/e3i0179550940df36d15ca00067a00318ad) magazine ARIA has stated that any release found to be using Chartfixer would be disqualified. On what legal basis that would be TMV would like to know. According to ARIA CEO Stephen Peach “ARIA will take all necessary steps to preserve the integrity and accuracy of the ARIA Charts”. 

A spanner already seems to be in the works for ARIA’s goal of disqualifying releases using such services. At least one major label is using the service for releasing the “Stone Temple Pilots” album in Australia and another label is rumored to be using it for the Chemical Brother swoon ‘Single’. So it seems major labels are already using Chartfixer to play the system…not a good sign of the confidence they have in their artist’s releases to chart on a natural and organic basis. In actual fact it may enable labels to bring costs associated with ensuring a record charts down. As $30,000AUD is peanuts in major label budget terms of ensure a Top 20 chart entry for their artists.

And where does Apple sit amongst all of this? Probably not happy but also no doubt understands there is not a lot they can do about it, as there is nothing illegal in terms of the service offering a profit to track purchasers.

TMV have investigated and discovered that the service recently succeeded in some VC funding via the iPitch web space for investors and digital media startups. 

On a final note the musicadium blog (http://blog.musicadium.com/general/chartfixer-the-real-breakdown/2829/) does raise some very important facts that once an artist enters the charts they do require sufficient infrastructure and industry knowledge to capitalise on the chart entry to follow it through and ensure a long-term career. The entrepreneur behind Chartfixer has their sites set on the UK and US charts in the future…so this may not be the last you hear of Chartfixer. Indeed if two major labels are already using the service then TMV have no doubt it will be used on a wider scale in the future.



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