Like all ranking systems where not everyone can win, the Beatport Top 10 has been the target of criticism since very early in its inception. Ghost-producing and pay-to-win tactics have plagued it since early in its lifecycle, with backlash ebbing and flowing with the dance music tides. While the chart is again in the middle of a negative storm, the cause of the criticism is neither the chart’s nor Beatport’s fault. Rather, the fault lies in the industry itself, and the fundamental flaw by which success and popularity are actually measured. An endemic obsession with quantifiable rankings has overshadowed the focus on quality music, with numbers trumping fans and purchases skewing real plays. When so much of the attention is focused on a chart based on revenue, it completely misrepresents actual popularity or true trends within a highly amorphous culture. The fact that the chart can be manipulated so blatantly is just the tip of the iceberg of a larger problem, and further diminishes its value in the conversation.
The chart itself was a noble endeavor, and there was a time when it was an accurate indication of what tracks were being played across the world. Even as recent as 2009, DJs could use it to see which tracks were trending in the industry. Today, it’s a shadow of its former self, a chart unable to keep up with the ever-evolving landscape of a highly digital world.
For months, a variety of artists, many who have been at the top of the chart themselves, have hinted off the record that a handful of peers and labels were buying their own tracks on Beatport to climb the chart. It’s common knowledge that pay-to-win companies can help no name producers crack the Top 10 for next to nothing, and the cost to climb to number one is chump change to an already established producer or label.
In the industry, the cheating appears to be an unspoken breach of ethics — a fraud more serious than that of the polarizing debate on ghost producing. So it was surprising to see the Beatport News headline: Cheating: The Costs and The Consequences. We agree, the costs are real — but the consequences are not. They are instead reactionary — a necessary but futile posturing when the issue is far deeper than a handful of cheaters. The real issue is misrepresenting the music that is actually leading the industry and pushing it forward.
When you look at artists like ZHU or Kygo, the quality of their music and their rabid fan bases do not lie: you cannot cheat talent. So why then is this chart based on sales any indicator of success, popularity or quality — especially when most of the music fans consume is never purchased in the first place?
The conversation should be not about putting the labels, artists, or the chart itself on blast, but rather about informing the audience that the information they’re receiving is based on a flawed metric.
It’s about acknowledging irrelevance.
Beatport’s stance on the “cheaters” is a respectable one, and a forward step towards regulating its userbase, but the way to stop cheating is not to ban those who cheat, it’s to no longer give them a reason to in the first place.
The solution? Get rid of the charts altogether and tastemake, rather than automate, a process better left to the dance music collective and not a number on a balance sheet.