Music Streaming and Playlists are Reducing U.K. Artists' Chart Exposure, Says Record Label Boss

Ellie Goulding
Ellie Goulding at the Cartier Fifth Avenue Grand Reopening Event in New York, September 7. The British singer, signed to Polydor Records, is a global success, but Polydor boss Ben Mortimer says newer U.K. acts are having a tougher time breaking through. Mike Coppola/Getty

UK acts Adele, One Direction and Coldplay are among the biggest music attractions in the world. However, new British artists face an uphill battle in the charts today due to streaming playlists favoring U.S. artists, according to a top U.K. music industry boss.

Ben Mortimer, co-president of Polydor Records, home to the likes of Take That, Ellie Goulding and Years & Years—as well as the U.K. label of Lady Gaga and Madonna—believes the lack of recognition for homegrown artists in playlists curated by the likes of Spotify and Apple Music makes it more difficult for emerging acts to gain recognition.

"Playlists are skewed towards U.S. artists, which makes it harder to break U.K. talent," Mortimer told the BBC. "I love streaming. Everyone knows this is happening, and we're working 24/7 to figure out how we can fix it. It's a conversation that's going on in rooms in every streaming service and in every record label [office]."

The U.K.'s official singles chart, compiled by the Official Charts Company, began incorporating streaming to determine the official top 40 in July 2014. 100 streams of a track now count as the equivalent of one sale.

In 2016, the singles chart has been dominated largely by North American artists—not least of all by rapper Drake, whose summer anthem "One Dance" topped the chart for 15 consecutive weeks. Justin Bieber has also spent eight weeks at the summit with two songs, "Love Yourself" and "Cold Water," the latter a collaboration with Major Lazer and MØ. All three songs have greatly benefited from streaming: Spotify announced last week that "One Dance" was its most-played track of the summer. It's repeat streams like this that have had a great impact on the chart.

The only U.K. artist to score a number one on the singles chart this year is former One Direction singer Zayn Malik, whose "Pillowtalk" spent a single week in pole position in February.

Another popular U.K. artist, Olly Murs, had to settle for a position of number 15 on the chart for his last single "You Don't Know Love" in July. The song had strong radio airplay, but unlike the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, radio doesn't contribute towards the singles chart in Britain.

"I feel like the chart now, for breaking new artists, is harder," Murs told Digital Spy. "It's not a fair chart at the moment," he added.

Prior to streaming's inclusion on the chart, Murs had typically enjoyed strong success with his singles purely through sales alone: he achieved four number ones between 2010 and 2012, with songs such as "Heart Skips a Beat" and "Dance With me Tonight" certified platinum—denoting 600,000 copies sold. However, more recent efforts that have had similar platinum certifications haven't reached the top spot: the Demi Lovato-assisted "Up" in 2014, which peaked at number four.

Earlier this year, UK Music, the body that oversees the music industry's business interests at a political level, said that paid-subscription music streaming had seen a significant increase in 2015, suggesting more and more music lovers in Britain are turning to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and the like to listen to their favorite tracks.

In the UK in 2015, £251 million was spent on these services—up from £168 million in 2014.