Brown wants his 45-track record, which came out Tuesday, to shoot up in the charts and that’s the way it’s done.
To fully get this calculus, it’s important to first understand how the charts are calculated.
Before the Internet charts were simply based on physical record sales. But now fans download albums or individual songs off iTunes or pay a monthly fee and stream music from Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Tidal or a number of other services.
In 2014, Billboard decided to factor in streaming songs when determining its list of the top 200 records each week, the Billboard 200. It created a simple formula and a few easy guidelines:
- The digital sale of 10 songs from an album counts as one sale of that album.
- Every 1,500 streams of songs from an album count as one sale of that album.
The system isn’t perfect, as it makes it easier for longer records to pop up the charts.
If all 10 tracks of a 10-track album are purchased, then that counts as an album sale. But, for example, if every track on a 20-song album is purchased, that counts as two album sales.
And if an album with 10 songs is streamed by 150 people, then it counts as a sale of the album. But if an album with 15 songs is streamed by 100 people, that also counts as a sale of the album.
More importantly, the songs don’t need to be streamed as part of the actual album. Instead, they can be individually added to playlists, and each stream still counts toward the album itself.
This has created a potential incentive for artists to produce longer records, which has recently become a trend — particularly in hip-hop and R&B, the most streamed genres, according to Nielsen reports.
Drake’s “More Life” ran for 22 tracks, while his album “Views” had 20. Ty Dolla $ign’s “Beach House 3″ contains 20, and BIG K.R.I.T.’s “4eva Is a Mighty Long Time” has 22. Lil Yachty’s “Teenage Emotions” ran for 21 tracks, while Lil B’s “Black Ken” clocks in at 27. Future released two records in a week with a total of 36 songs between them.
In this new pop music era, The Weeknd’s “Starboy” feels downright brief for having 18 songs.
“Never before have so many songs existed just so an album can have a 20th, 30th, or 40th track. Now, major artists hoping for quick success on the charts can perfect ten songs, or they can just churn out three dozen,” Adam K. Raymond wrote in Vulture.
Traditional vinyl albums generally contain 10 to 14 songs.
Chris Brown’s album, titled “Heartbreak on a Full Moon,” contains 45 tracks. It clocks in at about 2 hours and 40 minutes — longer than most feature films.
But length is not necessarily an artistic decision. It’s a business move.
Having so many tracks gives a record a strong advantage in the charts, such a strong advantage that many have accused Brown of overstuffing his album with songs for that very reason.
That’s because the more tracks an album has, the better chance it has of climbing up the charts.
Nonetheless, in 2016, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) adopted the same guidelines as Billboard for awarding albums gold, platinum or multiplatinum status. An album must sell 500,000 copies for gold certification, 1 million for platinum certification, and 2 million or more for multiplatinum certification.
Artists — and the record labels producing them — desperately want to appear on the Billboard 200 and to have their records certified multiplatinum. Not only is it a nice indicator of success that can lead to further album sales, but it also makes booking large venues easier.
And that’s where the money is. Artists can take home 35 percent of ticket sales and half of the profit from selling merchandise.
“The top 10 percent of artists make money selling records. The rest go on tour,” Scott Welch, who manages singers Alanis Morissette and LeAnn Rimes, told ABC News.
Brown may well have been inspired to write an album longer than “The Avengers.” But it also stands to reason that he may be trying to regain a bit of relevance.
It’s been two years since he released a record. He’ll likely soon announce a tour. And he can likely take all the help he can get filling seats and selling records, since many have called for a boycott of the artist in reaction to his alleged history of violence toward women, particularly former romantic partners such as Rihanna.
“… Another side note on injustices, I have about 8 billion friends who are artists who HAVENT beaten women who can’t release 1 song, let alone 45,” tweeted one user.