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After over two years of crunching, examining, and poring over the numbers at New Canadian Music, we’re announcing a major update to our charts.

We've moved from two charts to five, and now group artists according to whether they have crossed specific social media milestones or stages, defined as Underground, Buzz, Headliner, Mainstream, and Global

How we got here

When we launched the original New Canadian Music Charts in November 2012, we already knew that they were different to other national charts in two significant ways.

First, most Canadian charts showed what the Canadian public was listening to or buying, mixing both Canadian and International artists. The NCM charts effectively reversed that relationship, showing exclusively how Canadian artists performed globally. 

Second, our charts ignored sales and radio spins entirely and instead ranked musicians based on what kind of online activity they were generating.

Pie graph

The importance of grouping

Initially we built only one chart open to all artists, but very quickly found that there wasn’t a lot of movement. Week to week, the top positions were dominated by the same high achievers, the Drakes and the Biebers. The chart was stagnant and too broad.

We then decided to employ the twofold distinction used for decades by the CRTC: Emerging vs. Established. This divided artists into two camps, using sales data and past Billboard chart performance to determine whether an artist had "made it" and deserved to be called established. (Or, more accurately, no longer deserved to be eligible for cultural subsidies.)

Immediately, things became more interesting. Though the usual suspects still dominated the Established chart, the Emerging chart showed many new faces and greater movement. The numbers were beginning to tell unique stories, revealing how genres like dance/electronic performed incredibly well in the online world, and highlighting outlier artists whose internet success bypassed the traditional trappings of albums sales or tour grosses.

Pie graph

Pushing further

As exciting as these initial findings were, we could tell that the CRTC categories were still not the optimal way to categorize artists on our charts. Many of the EDM artists topping the Emerging chart didn’t care about gold records—indeed were giving their music away for free! There was little chance they were going to technically cross over into the Established camp, even though the size of their global following suggested they should be there. And it seemed odd to us to count pop/rock acts such as Stars as an emerging band, just because they had never broken onto the Top 40-dominated Billboard Hot 100.

As the internet continued to wreak havoc with the traditional media order, the waning relevance of the old distinction become more and more pronounced. In the end, the solution became clear to us: to have an effective and relevant social media music chart, the grouping categories themselves also needed to be determined by social numbers, not by sales or airplay.

The five stages

But how to determine these categories? Fortunately, our friends at Next Big Sound had already been working on this very problem. The data geeks in their Labs division recently defined the five social stages that we are now adopting as the segmentation parameters for our own charts. Compare the pie chart above to the one below, and you can see how the new classification lends itself to a deeper appreciation of who the artists in the top 25% of the popularity spectrum are. Immediatly one is curious about a much larger swath of music makers, and instead of using just one boundary to demarcate success there are now four key junctures where an artist can be considered to have progressed to a new level.

For those keeping score at home, here are how the five stages break down in terms of raw numbers. An artist needs to hit just one of the milestones on a single platform in order to advance to the next stage. 

  UNDERGROUND       0 to 4,999       0 to 19,999       0 to 999,999  
  BUZZ       5,000       20,000       1 million  
  HEADLINER       80,000       200,000       7 million  
  MAINSTREAM       300,000       600,000       40 million  
  GLOBAL       2 million       10 million       400 million  


A new graph for showing progress

When you visit an artist page on NCM you'll notice a new Popularity graph that illustrates where an artist is at on the social milestone spectrum. You can see the relative rate at which they're adding either Followers, Likes, or Video Views, as well as when they hit a milestone and how far they have to go before reaching the next one. Below is the graph for up-and-coming modern rock darlings Alvvays, who became a Buzz band last Nov 8th after diligently accruing fans and doubling their Twitter follower count over three months last fall on the strength of their July 2014 eponymous debut album.


Below is the milestone popularity graph for alternative R&B sensation The Weeknd, who just crossed over into elite Global territory less than two weeks ago. The enormous upswing in his video count over the past four months is due to the wild success of his contribution to the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack, a measure of what can happen when a mainstream musical phenomenon joins forces with a global cultural juggernaut like the 50 Shades book/movie franchise.

Adapting our understanding

It’s not lost on us that this adjustment still provides much fodder for debate. For example, the milestones here were originally tailored by an American company for a global audience. We considered handicapping our version to compensate for our smaller, sparser population (in the same way a gold record in Canada was 50,000 versus 500,000 in the US). But we felt that wasn’t a fair distinction to make on a chart that uses social numbers from around the globe. Besides, many of our artists are world-class achievers anyway!

In the end, we adjusted the titles of each stage to better reflect the social media and musical climate of Canada. I
t’s not quite perfect. Looking at these new groupings, we do notice some anomalies. To a CBC listening homegrown crowd, it will seem a little ridiculous that the relatively low social numbers of a band like the Polaris-shortlisted Whitehorse currently leave them an Underground band. Similarly, well-established veterans like Sloan find themselves designated as merely a Buzz act, a good chuckle for anyone reflecting on the quartet’s storied eleven album career.

But one of the worst sins in science is confirmation bias. Our job at NCM isn’t to simply reflect back what people feel they already know. Instead, we strive to bring to light things previously well-hidden. In that regard, these categories shine a far stronger light on many bands that are climbing up the social ranks with nary a mention in the media.

Moving forward

As a rule, reporting on music is something that comes with a healthy dose of opinion and subjective interpretation. Objectivity is not only impossible, it’s boring and unrealistic. There are no “best” artists or records—only a perception of these things. As such, nothing in our charts is meant to represent artistic truths. But to the same point, numbers don’t lie (click farms aside, of course). We’re excited about the possibilities opened by this makeover to our charts, and we’re positive that you’ll agree that if nothing else, they will get you talking. Please do send us a note and let us know what you think, or leave a comment in the field below.

— The NCM Team

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