The story of how SoundScan changed everything for popular music 30 years ago

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SoundScan is the system by which sales of physical music formats are tracked. When implemented in 1991, it replaced an archaic (and corrupt) system of estimate-based sales tracking. SoundScan data was much more precise and it changed everything in the music industry. The Ringer has this story.

Almost overnight, SoundScan changed the rules about who was supposed to be a mega, a mega superstar, and the domino effect – in terms of magazine covers, TV bookings, arena tours and other the media attention and the adulation of the music industry – was enormous. , so sometimes exasperatingly slow to come. Garth, Metallica, NWA, Nirvana and Skid Row were already very popular, of course. But SoundScan revealed exactly how popular it was, which of course made all of these Imperial artists exponentially more popular.

The methodology involved – cash registers, barcode scanners, and a national database that on launch day didn’t even include industry powerhouse Tower Records – is painfully mundane by 2021 standards. tools of the revolution often are. “The old graphic couldn’t begin to touch democracy from that graphic,” then Billboard editor-in-chief Timothy White told the New York Times in January 1992. “There’s no question,” he said. he added, “that our old system was subject to manipulation and people abused it.”

Read the whole story here.


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