Why does the music industry still judge itself in weekly intervals?

Do you know why the seven-day week exists? I mean, beyond the fact global governments all agree that ‘takeaway night’ – a concept clearly keeping society from descending into barbarism – becomes dangerously redundant without it.

The Biblical seven-day week apparently came to be in the sixth century BC (or thereabouts). Many historians believe it was inspired by the Babylonian chronicling of the moon within the 12-month lunar calendar. So far, so Wikipedia.

But here are two other things you might not know about the ‘week’ – things which call into question the very fabric of modern civilization, aka the TV programming schedule of Game Of Thrones.

First: the days of the week are outdated nonsense. They were named in tribute to the seven ‘classical planets’ from Babylonian astronomy: the Moon, the Sun, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mercury and Mars.

These were the only ‘planets’ believed to exist during this period, because they were the only ones we could see with our dumb eyes; humankind didn’t get round to inventing the telescope until 1610.

As you’ll have noticed, two of these ‘classical planets’ aren’t even planets. Also, there are actually eight official planets in our solar system today (Pluto doesn’t qualify).

Yep: we badly miscounted, then decided we were too set in our ways to adequately fix the problem. (A dilemma which a certain non-US collection society will know all too well.)

Second: a few countries throughout history have successfully experimented with non-seven day weeks, with the most famous being the French. From 1793 to 1802, France officially adopted a 10-day week, the décade, to establish the pattern of its social stratification.

The French Republican Calendar organised itself into 12 months, each consisting of just three weeks. (Little known fact: many people employed in the music industry today still actually stick to these 10-day weeks. They just silently cram them into seven days without complaining or getting a bloody pay rise since 2014 amiright? etc.)

So what’s with the amateur history lecture? Because I’m starting to believe, for this industry to evolve into the best next version of itself, we must begin examining the concept of a week, too. More specifically, the concept that seven days is becoming an increasingly unhelpful and misleading unit of time on which artists and record labels judge themselves.

Important stuff in the modern music industry tends to happen in one of two ways: (i) Right Bloody Now; and (ii) Looking Back At The Past Few Months, We Probably Ballsed That One Up A Bit.

Streaming has ushered in an era where momentary spikes in popularity are monitored so closely by record companies, they’re actually paying for robots to seek them out (see Warner’s acquisition of Sodatone).

The closest-watched charts within these same labels are daily Spotify, Instagram and YouTube rankings. And, when it comes to all-important financial performance, Universal, Sony and Warner’s investors are patient enough to rely on quarterly and annual earnings updates.

Yet for a single or album campaign to earn its ritualistic ‘crown’? Everyone continues to look, without question, at positions on a weekly chart.

To a degree, this is understandable; records are still released, by and large, on a weekly basis.

But 2018 was a year when Drake claimed another 3.5 months at the top of the UK’s domestic singles chart. And in the first 26 weeks of 2019, according to this MBW analysis, there were just 30 tracks which hit the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 in total – an average of little over one new entry per week. [Old Town Road by Lil Nas X, pictured, has remained in the top spot for the past 13 weeks.]

Despite such a lack of chart dynamism, the industry still promulgates the idea that a seven day countdown is fit for today’s era.

It does so while accepting that this approach causes short-term thinking, as well as blazing rows about how non-stop modern consumption patterns are best reflected.

Time for a rethink?

A version of this article was originally published in the Q4 2018 edition of MBW’s quarterly Music Business UK magazine. It has taken on new relevance with the launch of Rolling Stone’s new set of charts in the US, which auto-populate in “almost real-time on a daily basis”, and which aim to take on Billboard’s long-established weekly rankings. Subscribe to MBW’s annual physical magazine bundle through here.Music Business Worldwide

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