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Pop Music Charts and the Metadata of Culture
Main contributor
Liam Cole Young (Carleton University)
This talk traces a pre-history of the popular music chart—from its earliest incarnation as a list of sheet music bestsellers in fin-de-siècle roadshows to its most recognizable and paradigmatic form, the Billboard Hot-100 (ca. 1958). As a solution to the linked problems of information organization and commodity circulation, charts were essential in the emergence and management of popular music as a cultural field. In spite of this, like other forms of ‘grey literature,’ they have received relatively little scholarly attention. Charts do not offer access to recorded sound but instead compile, arrange, rank, and disseminate metadata. What data to include on the charts, how to arrange it, and how frequently to update it were decisions with long-term consequences on the popular music field: charts were a key site in the struggle for artist recognition and compensation; data points like ‘previous position’ and ‘weeks on chart’ establish the frequency and duration of song circulation and audience attention; even uses of the term ‘popular’ to describe musical genre, and a new category of fan, occurred first on the charts. Focusing on these metadata functions shows how cultural knowledge and experience is premediated by interstitial forms of writing and data organization, usually unnoticed, like the chart. In processing distinctions at the heart of the popular music field, charts are an exemplar of what recent German media theory calls ‘cultural techniques.’ Conceiving of them as such throws 20th century charts into longer histories, and futures, of listing—a technique that has structured ways of knowing and acting in human societies for millennia. (
Axel Volmar
Panel I | Histories of Data Practices
SFB 1187 Jahrestagung 2019
SFB 1187
Other Identifier
MEDIAS: 47243_02