Streaming, or listening to music online without actually downloading, is becoming the cultural norm. It is much more convenient than downloading, because it takes less memory space in one’s device.
As many people use streaming, music content sites keep track of the overall streaming volume per song, and then release a ranking of songs that were streamed the most. By announcing an actual ranking chart, many users will be able to see which song is trending the most. However, there have been many who indicated that the streaming chart ranking system violates fair competition between songs.
In response to such allegations, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (MCST) sent a notice to the Korean Music Content Industry Association (KMCIA), addressing the lack of fairness regarding the music chart streaming system, and asked the music content industry to actively seek implementable solutions. In response to such a notice, major Korean music streaming sites—Melon, Genie, Soribada, Bugs, Naver Music—implemented the reform on February 27th, 2017.
Midnight Release Preference
Before the reformation, songs were released, and then entered the streaming chart. The chart would be updated per hour which helped singers check on their performances and keep track of immediate feedbacks on their songs. Such constant updates also helped to aid the public in figuring out what was ‘trending the most.’
According to Jeong Yun-beom, an EBS Radio Producer as well as a member of Group Purr, a contract between a singer and a distributor is needed to release an album. The distributor usually allocates the time of release at twelve a.m. for popular idol singers. This process is beneficial not only to the singers but also to the distributors because the more attention the distributed song gets, the more revenue it creates. However, as the rule changed, many distributors avoid releasing their album at midnight, and instead, prefer releasing in the afternoon.
The Problems of the Original Chart and an Introduction to the New Regulation
Users have recognized various problems of the original music chart. The main problem was the distortion of the ranking’s purpose, which was to introduce what kind of music the general public favor.
Many popular idol singers were able to exploit this system by choosing to release their songs at midnight. They did so because it was easier to rank higher as many fans turn on their streaming system all night when there are few users. Then in the morning it creates the illusion that the idol songs are popular amongst the general public. “Many fandoms exploit the unlimited streaming process and cover the chart with their favorite boy or girl band’s songs. The music chart today barely reflects the taste of the public, but instead shows songs popular to a certain group,” said Park So-young, a Sophomore majoring in the Department of Policy in Hanyang University (HYU).
Morevoer, Producer Jeong also pointed out that many new users had no possible way to find new music due to the relatively few updates of the chart. The chart, which was supposed to exist for new artists to promote their songs, was strongly deterred from this objective which leads to an ultimate defection of the overall fairness.
The problems of the original chart were not only limited to the users, but also to the workers in the music industry. As many songs were released at midnight, the use of the music chart or sites by idol singers’ fans reached its peak at late night. Thus, the workers’ working hours had been naturally set at night in order to fix any errors in the streaming system. The continuation of working late at night leads the workers to have difficulties of focusing on their work as well as keeping up with their regular daily routine.
Since all of these problems point out an absence of fairness, a new regulation was introduced. It stated that albums or tracks released from twelve p.m. to six p.m. would immediately be introduced to the chart. Songs released between twelve a.m. to eleven a.m. and six p.m. to eleven p.m. will be introduced during the following afternoon at one p.m.
How is the Reformation Progressing?
Almost three months have passed after this new regulation, providing enough time to accurately assess the problems of this new reformation.
First of all, fans argued that it is unjustifiable to point out that it was their actions that were causing such disturbances. “We are not using any rigged measures to line up the tracks. Instead, we are also part of the general consumers who pay money to listen to music. It’s just that the music we listen to are songs from our favorite boy band group,” claimed Kweon Hyo-eun, a Sophomore majoring in the Department of Policy in HYU.
Moreover, several cases of lining up the tracks for a certain singer have been observed by the users, such as when popular singers known as IU announced her new album Palette, and SECHSKIES released THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY. “Changing the time does not necessarily mean that fans are not listening at noon. They can still continue with what they have done before, but just at a different time,” said Park So-young.
Some even pointed out that the music chart reformation was unnecessary because there was no problem with the chart in the first place. “The streaming chart is like a buffet of songs set in front of me that I can choose from based on my taste. In other words, the ranking has no effect on my music choice,” said Producer Jeong. Due to such insights, users barely feel the difference after the reorganization of the chart because they could still utilize the chart for their purposes.
On the other hand, LOEN, the holding company of Melon, did not offer any position about the controversy over the current reformation of the music chart. Yoon Seo-han, a Manager of the Promotional Team of LOEN, said that the company has no viable responsibility to disclose any opinion about the reformation since the idea of implementing such regulation was not their idea. Instead, the company consistently stated that it was done under the MCST’s demand.
Reformation was a Temporary Expedient
Changing the reflecting time of new songs on the real-time chart is not enough to solve problems about the fairness of the ranking system. There are suggestions such as creating a combined chart of various music sites in Korea. “Like ‘Rotten Tomatoes’—the site most people trust regarding movie quality—Korean music charts need a standardized combined music chart so that users can easily understand the public trends,” said Producer Jeong. Additionally, he emphasized the importance of the chart reflecting how long the songs have been posted in the real-time chart: a song with high-quality stays in the chart for a long period while low-quality music does not.