Ultimate Guide To Soundscan (Luminate) And Why First Week Sales Matter

Todd McCartyMusic45 Comments

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What is Soundscan and Why Is It Important?

Nielsen Soundscan was a music sales tracking tool that the music industry paid to access in order to track and measure weekly music sales in the United States and Canada. Nielsen Soundscan sales data also powered the Billboard music charts from 1991 to 2019. Currently Luminate Music Connect powers the Billboard charts. 

In 2019 the Nielsen was acquired by Luminate (formerly MRC Data) and Soundcan was merged into another music sales tracking tool called MRC Data Music Connect. In 2022 the name was changed again to Luminate Music Connect and this is the industry standard for music streaming and chart tracking. Luminate provides chart data for many of Billboard’s charts like Billboard 200, Heatseeker Albums, Digital Albums, Independent Albums, and many others. 

Luminate Music Connect (formerly Soundscan) is used for tracking charts, researching historical sales data for specific artists, and making predictions on future music consumption. So what is soundscan you ask? It’s the key to validating your band’s sales and potential in the industry, and has a new name – Music Connect.

Who has access, who uses it, and what does it cost?  

Music Connect (formerly Nielsen Soundscan) is most frequently used by the sales, A&R, finance, radio, marketing, and executive staff at record labels. It is also used by music publishers, booking and promotion agencies, large management firms, radio promoters, and market research companies. Luminate (the company that sells Music Connect subscriptions) doesn’t publish a cost for the service and costs depends on how large the organization is and how many users will have access. From my experience running a record label, I can tell you it was the most expensive utility or overhead other than rent and payroll. The cost is out of reach for most individuals, bands, or small organizations.

Where can my band get access to it?

The information is intellectual property owned by Luminate (formerly MRC Data) and each individual subscriber is not allowed to share with anybody. Luminate have tight security restrictions on its use, and ways to know if a user is violating the rules or sharing. If it is shared, your account is shut down and you lose access. 


What specific music metrics does Music Connect track?  How about Streams?

The formats tracked by Music Connect are streams, radios spins, compact disc, vinyl, digital downloads, cassettes, and music video on DVD/Blu-ray. They collect the sales weekly from cash register data at brick & mortar retailers, online mail-order outlets, radio stations, digital service providers like iTunes & Amazon, drug stores, ticketing companies, and venue sales.  

Soundscan did not track streams. Music Connect was a new application created to track “music consumption”. And actually, Music Connect was what powered the top charts for Billboard, such as the Billboard Top 200 (albums with streaming and track equivalents) and the Hot 100 (songs). The reason Sounscan was still relevant is it powers the MP3 and physical album and single sales for Connect, and it has the historical records going back all the way to 1991. But in 2019, Soundscan was merged into Music Connect.

What are some charts that developing artists should be aware of?

Billboard Charts

These are charts that are actually printed in Billboard’s weekly magazine or on their website. Billboard changes up the charts that are published in the magazine each week. The magazine always prints the Top 200 and the Hot 100, but they don’t always publish the other charts in the magazine. But for smaller niche charts you can find the weekly Top 10 or up to Top 3 on billboard.com/biz.  

      • Heatseekers – measures consumption of independent artists that have not charted in the top 100 of a major chart before.
      • Rock & Hard Rock Digital Songs   – 2 separate charts
      • Alternative Songs
      • Emerging Artists Chart (combines sales, radio, and social ranks) more here
    • Tastemakers (derived from a panel of independent brick and mortar shops)

Here is a handy Billboard Chart Legend   http://www.billboard.com/biz/billboard-charts-legend

Like what you’re reading? I teach my fanbuilding and Spotify strategy inside Band Builder Academy. I’ve also developed free software that taps into the Spotify API and its for members only. CLICK HERE to Learn More.

Music Connect Charts

Music Connect charts are found only inside of the Music Connect portal. The charts below do not print in Billboard and they are not called Billboard Charts. Billboard only publishes select charts from Music Connect for their weekly magazine and their website.    

      • Top Current Albums (measures only pure album sales with no track and streaming equivalents) This is what the Billboard 200 consumption chart replaced. It’s much easier to make this list than the Billboard 200
      • Hard Music Albums (distinguishes hard rock, metal, and loud rock from mainstream and alternative rock)
      • Current Rock Albums
      • New Artist Chart – The top 50 of this publishes as the Billboard Heatseeker Chart. If you don’t make the top 50, it’s only visible in Music Connect, not in Billboard.
      • Alternative New Artist – Similar to the New Artist Chart above, but you have to have been tagged “alternative” by Luminate chart polishers.
      • Record Label Independent Chart (sometimes called the Independent Chart)
      • Current Digital Albums
      • Current Tracks
      • Digital Rock Songs
      • Internet Albums (measures mail-order, so if you have a big pre-order you can make this chart)
      • Alt Rock Songs
    • Hard Rock Songs

Digital Service Provider (DSP) Charts
Each digital service provider (DSP) has their own charts. 
Here are some examples:

Global Charts

If you are not concerned with sales and charts in the United States, you can find some interesting global chart information and history at http://www.mediatraffic.de/   
Another interesting resource https://kworb.net/ compiles the most popular songs and artists globally by day. 
Please don’t leave comments with questions about these sites or how they work. Use the FAQ’s on these sites. 

What Can Good First Week Sales Do For Your Band?

    • The unit numbers and chart positions are a historical record and have authority. The statistics can be cited in media, Wikipedia, Google, and shared across the industry.  
    • The first week sales and chart positions are used to size your band up to the competition. From an industry point of view, the more soundscan sales you have, the more attractive and less risky of an investment your band will be. So Soundscan is a big factor in getting signed.
    • A big showing first week provides momentum and buzz in the industry and with consumers. Think about your first week as leaving a “footprint” in the industry. The bigger the footprint, the bigger the audience. The multiplying effect carries on throughout the album cycle and snowballs.

    • Booking Agents look at the charts, especially the new artist charts, so they can uncover who the best support acts for tours might be.
    • If you start off with a big first week (something that makes one of the Music Connect or Billboard charts), it’s easy to go back and get support from anybody that had reservations before. If you have a small first week, it has the opposite effect. It is very difficult to jumpstart the project after it’s already been released. You’ve probably used up most of your content pre-release and on release week. Thus, pre-release campaigns are MORE important that post-release campaigns.
  • Visibility in the industry. It’s similar to box scores in sports and a key tool for scouts. Charts are a way for the industry to keep tabs on who’s who. 

How Do I Register My Music on Soundscan?

  • DIGITAL CONFIGURATIONS: Registering your UPCs and ISRCs with Luminate (formerly MRC Data and Nielsen) is the first step. Some music distributors can do this for you. But before deciding to work with a music distributor, merchandise fulfillment, or ticket & VIP services, ask if they report to Luminate (formerly MRC Data). 
  • PHYSICAL CONFIGURATIONS: Be careful with this. Don’t double up and register a physical UPC that your physical distributor already registered – it creates problems with genre tagging. It’s best if you leave this to your physical distributor to handle. But if you don’t have one, and have pressed your CDs or vinyl on your own, make sure to register your physical UPC’s here. Physical Registration takes 3 weeks to process. Your band should be taking venue pre-orders on the road, so setup the UPC with MRC Data 3 weeks before your tour starts. Then follow up with Luminate (formerly MRC Data) the week before you leave, so you can make sure the UPC shows in the atVenu app. (more on this below)
  • VENUE SALES – ATVENU  – This will be a major source of sales for you in the early days. Read more about this BELOW and watch the video.

Get A Free Download – 10 Steps For A Big First Week on Soundscan & Billboard – CLICK HERE

What Are Some Tips On Maximizing Your Sales?

    • DIGITAL SALES – Make sure you have clean metadata  when you setup your music with distribution. This will ensure that all of the hard work you do to get people to buy and stream your music shows up on Music Connect. IMPORTANT: For stand alone singles, use the same ISRC that you use on the album or EPs. If you don’t, it creates a ton of major problems for you on Spotify and Apple, and also on Music Connect (formerly Soundscan). This is a very common issue I see, and causes a lot of headache for you and your distributor. So I’d like to save you the trouble and emphasize this tip.
    • MAIL ORDER (D2C) – Make sure you use a direct to consumer fulfillment company that reports your CD, Digital, and Vinyl sales to Soundscan.  MerchNow, District Lines / AKT, IndieMerch, and BandCamp are all great partners. Once you have your products available on these sites drive pre-orders and traffic there using best online practices. Amazon is the largest seller of physical music online, so get your products on Amazon.  
  • PHYSICAL CDs and VINYL – Get your music onto Amazon.com, into independent retailers, and other music retailers. CD Baby has a partnership with AEC – Alliance Entertainment and they have the capability to get your CD anywhere there is demand for it.
Here is a free list of distribution companies you can reach out to.  After going to this pageclick the banner on the right side of the post (or bottom for those on mobile).
  • STREAMS – The industry now measures overall music consumption and follows this on the Billboard consumption charts and Luminate’s Music Connect (formerly Nielsen Connect)
For increasing your streams, please read my article How To Get Followers On Spotify My Way (click here)
  • DOWNLOAD CARDS – If you make download cards, make sure you work with a company that reports to Luminate Music Connect, and that the UPC is registered with Luminate (formerly MRC Data). The company you work with will know how to do it, but make sure you see the process through so you don’t have any disappointments on street week. I only have experience with one company, and it was a great one, DropCards.
  • VENUE SALES – This has been affected in the post-COVID era. But I’ve watched artists build a career with venue sales. Before a new artist has proper distribution, this can be the biggest source of sales in Music Connect.

Some artists will tour as much as they possibly can, and make a goal to sell 20, 50, or more CDs at every show. If you multiply that by 150 shows, you can see how 5,000 units is well within reach. Add your digital sales, mail order, track and streaming equivalents, and you’re on your way to 7,500 or 10,000 as an unsigned artist. I’ve seen DIY bands sell 10,000 to 25,000 of their first EP on their own.

Their dedication to building a Music Connect history (and fan base) is rewarded with a very good record contract. Anybody can do this, if they understand how it works, and are determined to get there.

Soundscan Rule: You may not sell the album or EP for less than 50% of the listed retail price. Soundscan Rule: You cannot bundle the CD with a ticket or other item, and give the CD away. 

Reporting Venue Sales To Soundscan with atVenu

There is only one option for reporting your venue sales to MRC Data’s Music Connect (formerly Nielsen Soundscan). If you haven’t met the great people at atVenu, I’m here to tell you they are awesome and their service & app is excellent. You never want to miss a sale on Music Connect (formerly Soundscan). Never, never, ever, ever miss a sale, because you can’t go back and submit sales after the sales week closes. atVenu is basically a smartphone app that is connected to Music Connect (formerly Nielsen Soundscan). There is a small cost, but it’s very fair and only when you are on tour.

To use this app, your CD and vinyl UPC’s need to be registered with MRC Data (formerly Nielsen Soundscan). And I don’t mean the UPC for your digital download album. You can’t report digital downloads at venues. If you don’t have a company handling physical distribution you can register your physical UPCs here.

Every night at the show, you enter the quantity of the units sold, and there is a sign-off form built into the app that the venue representative must sign with their finger. The venue must be registered in atVenu’s database in order to qualify. If the venue isn’t registered, there is no chance of getting credit for the sale.

There is also a way to collect pre-orders and submit them in the atVenu app, but there is a very specific process to follow. You can’t compile the data privately, outside the app, and then submit it a week before street date. So read carefully on this.

Q & A with atVenu

Question:  If the UPC you enter into atVenu is a Digital product (EP or Album) will it count? Or does it have to be a physical CD or Vinyl?

Answer:   “The sales must be for a physical product sold at the show with the music already on it. You can sell and report a USB stick, because the songs come with it and it’s a purchased product, but you can’t report download cards, those must be reported via the fulfillment partner of those cards.” – atVenu

Question:  You have to register your EP or Album as a physical album UPC with Luminate before trying to use atVenu for venue sales, correct?

Answer: “ Yes. Once a UPC is properly registered with Luminate, then you’ll see a check mark in atVenu next to the UPC when saving it. This indicates that the UPC is properly registered and saved and sales can be reported. Without the check mark, atVenu can’t report the sales.” – atVenu

Question:  Any tips on pre-ordering at venues?

Answer:   “Luminate (formerly MRC Data and Nielsen) has very specific rules for pre-sales. The album can’t be bundled with other products or tickets. It must be sold at the approved sale price, not given away. The artist cannot give the customer the album at the event prior to release date. The artist must collect the fan’s shipping information and mail them the album to be delivered no earlier than the release date. In atVenu, the artist must check the “Pre-Sale” box when saving the album, enter in the release date, and save a label contact email. There are just a lot of moving pieces to it and we want to make sure bands understand all that’s required before jumping in so there aren’t any surprises when Luminate audits the reported pre-sales.” – atVenu

A Complete FAQ for AtVenue – Please read this article on atVenu’s website.   
How To Track Pre-Sales – Please read this article on atVenu’s website.   

Here is a cool overview video of AtVenu’s complete merchandise app


That’s it!  Don’t forget to download the free PDF to get EXTRA BONUS tips. I look forward to your comments, questions, and thoughts.   Please leave your comments below.

Like what you’ve read here? I teach my fanbuilding and Spotify strategy inside Band Builder Academy. I’ve also developed free software that taps into the Spotify API and its for members only. CLICK HERE to Learn More.

Todd McCarty

45 Comments on “Ultimate Guide To Soundscan (Luminate) And Why First Week Sales Matter”

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  2. I got a question about what the reporting week is. For nearly all sales channels, the sales week starts Friday and ends the following Thursday. There are a few exceptions below. Since it takes Nielsen a little longer to process and verify internet mail order sales, those have a different reporting week schedule.
    *Mail order CDs/Vinyl shipped between Tuesday and the following Monday report for the sales week. So you lose Tuesday through Thursday of the 1st week in this situation. Only approved mail order companies and labels have the ability to submit mail order sales.
    **For bands submitting venue sales using the AtVenue app, these report real time daily and follow the Friday to Thursday reporting week.

  3. How do you get direct to fan download sales reported to Nielsen?

    The majority of my albums are sold from my website – not through any 3rd party.

    1. You have two options. You may not like either of them. You can use a Direct to Fan / Direct to Consumer store or platform that already reports digital download sales to Nielsen. That would require changing your current store to another and giving up a distribution fee. Or, you can pay for and register your store with Nielsen, and report the sales directly, which would not be worth it. The fee to get set up with Nielsen is very expensive and annual. It’s meant more for medium to large retailers.

  4. Ok so all my songs are masterd as .wav files. Do i need to change them to mp3 to soundscan to send them? Then when i get it back and burn the songs on a cd do i convert them back to .wav files? Will the information be lost if i change the dot file for printing on a cd? What is the right file to print onto cd units after o get the songs back from soundscan?

    1. Soundscan is only tracking data (UPCs and ISRCs) and there is no need to send them any audio files. I think you are asking how Soundscan fits in the CD manufacturing process. Make sure you have ISRCs encoded at the time of mastering. The mastering engineer can encode the ISRCs into the data on the master audio files. Always deliver high quality wav files to a CD manufacturer. Provide your CD manufacturer with the proper track names (spelled correctly) and an ISRC for each track. Ask your CD manufacturer to assign a UPC to your album. Many CD manufacturers offer this service (usually for a reasonable fee). Once you have the UPC for your album, EP, or single, then you can submit a title addition form to Nielsen Database. That’s it. No need to send Nielsen Soundscan any audio.

  5. Hey Todd,

    A wealth of great information in this article – thank you for producing it!

    A quick question in regards to mail order album sales. Assuming we are using a direct to consumer facility company, is there a way to bundle say a physical copy of the album with a shirt or other piece of merchandise and have that purchase register as an album sale?

    I read under the AtVenue principles that the album needs to be sold separately from any other piece of merchandise for the sale to count. I did not know if the same principles applied using the mail order route.


    1. Hi Seth, great question. Yes, you can bundle albums with merchandise on a D2C (Direct To Consumer) online retailer and get credit from Soundscan. If your D2C company bundles it on the store, and is experienced with reporting to Nielsen, they know Nielsen’s policy and procedures, and you will get proper credit for your sale. I’ve never been a D2C reporter myself, so I don’t know the exact method, but I believe most D2C companies break apart their bundles for accounting reasons. So the album is always separate from the bundle in accounting (usually). Furthermore, I only recommend using online (D2C) companies that are experienced with Soundscan, and already have an account open with Nielsen Soundscan. Usually companies operating outside of the USA will not haven an account. If your D2C partner or fulfillment company do not already have an account open, you won’t get credit. There is a considerable cost and many procedures for opening an account with Nielsen. So even if a company wants to report to Soundacan, many D2C retailers will not complete the process of opening an account, and you will be disappointed if they overpromise and underdeliver.

  6. Thanks for the great article! By far the most informative I’ve read with everything compiled in one place.

    I’m still confused about digital vs physical album sales. If I plan on releasing an album on CD, vinyl, and digitally, do I need 3 separate UPCs, or is the UPC for the CD and its digital version the same? Thank you!

    1. Thanks Nikki, glad it helps. The answer to your question is you should have 3 separate UPCs. Each configuration should have it’s own UPC. This helps track the various formats, so you (or label & distribution) can segment them and analyze them on the Soundscan or Nielsen Connect report. What’s key is that you merge all the UPCs, so that they all come up under the same “report” or “record” in the Nielsen Database. To have UPCs merged email music.clientservices@mrcentertainment.com and database@SoundScan.com List the UPCs by format, and request they be merged. It could take 1 to 4 weeks for the merge to be complete.

      1. Really appreciate the info – it was a big help!
        Heads up – I don’t know if it’s a recent adjustment or not but on the title registration page you can actually add the UPCs all in one submission. You can click on ‘Add New UPC/EAN Code’ and continue adding other formats/configurations of the title. Of course I didn’t see this until I did my third separate submission! But thought you might want to know!

        1. That’s great information for other readers! Thanks for pointing that out Nikki 🙂

          Update: 4/19/21

          There are actually 2 forms. One form for registering individual songs & ISRC’s / and a second form for registering the UPC’s for Albums/EPs.

          How To Register Your ISRC Codes:
          Form: https://support.mrc-data.com/portal/en/kb/articles/how-to-register-your-isrc-codes
          Help file: https://support.mrc-data.com/portal/en/kb/articles/how-to-register-your-isrc-codes

          How To Register Your UPC with Nielsen MRC Billboard Soundscan
          Form: https://titlereg.soundscan.com/soundscantitlereg/
          Help file: https://support.mrc-data.com/portal/en/kb/articles/how-to-register-your-upc-codes

  7. Hey Todd,

    I took your advice in this article and used it to the best of my abilities and woke up today to find my new album Zaragoza “Child of The Sun” on Billboards Pacific Heatseekers #5, Heatseekers albums #24 and Independent Albums #47. Thank you for this article and everything you do to inform us artists.

  8. Now that venues have closed and my album has pre-release sales and “virtual location” sales how do I get on the charts!

    1. Hey Warren. Thanks for the question. A couple ways you can ensure your pre-release sales count towards the charts. If you are in the USA, you can take the orders through a Shopify (online store). There is a plugin called “Single” It cost money, but I think it is worth it for the period of pre-release and a little bit afterward. I think it might be about $10 p/month. more information here – https://apps.shopify.com/single They report sales to Nielsen Soundscan and BuzzAngle in the US.
      The other way is to take your physical CD pre-orders through global stores like Amazon.com. Also the crowdfunding sites like IndieGoGo or Kickstarter might report to chart companies (I can’t confirm this though). You could ask them directly.
      Bandzoogle and BandCamp are website creation platform for artists, and music sold through their platform reports to chart companies. Hope that helps.

  9. Hi Todd,

    I hope this thread is till going. Hope you’re well and thank you for the great info.

    I did see a gentleman above mention he was on Billboard Heatseekers and other charts. My question is, does Billboard let the artist know that they’ve been charted? How does one find out? Do we need to register for something to be notified?


    1. Hey Rudy,
      No, Billboard does not alert you, if your music charts. You must seek it out yourself. If you are not a subscriber to either Nielsen or Billboard, sometimes you can Google search your name, track name, and billboard chart name and see something in the search results. But usually Nielsen & Billboard charts are behind a paywall so you’ll need to subscribe, even if temporarily.

      1. Sounds good, I’ll probably just subscribe to one of them. Does Nielsen have their own charts as well?

        I actually reached out to the gentleman above (what a great artist) and he mentioned Billboard contacted him the week before asking a few questions saying he might chart the following week. So that might be another indicator since when songs are registered you give a contact Name/Number.

        Does Billboard Heatseekers only do albums or is there one for digital singles as well? Thanks again man!!

  10. im about to register a song on nielsen with a feature artist on the song so my question is do i put (artist feat.artist) in the slot where it says artist or do i just put my own name in the slot(artist) basically how do i type the credits properly

    1. Here is how the Music Biz global style guide recommends listing featured artists. (feat. XYZ Artist) feat. should be lowercase and abbreviated.

      If it follows other information use the brackets [ ] like this example : A Rockin’ Good Way (Hidden Track) [feat. Maceo Parker]

      However, if you didn’t put it this way when you set it up with your digital distributor, you should probably not put it like that on Neilsen. Keep it consistent with what you put in distribution.

      You should make sure to keep your metadata consistent across all platforms you register with. Make sure it matches exactly the way you have it with your distributor. This will ensure you get paid properly. You can download my metadata template here: https://www.heatonthestreet.com/music-metadata-spreadsheet/

      But going forward with new songs you register, please follow the MusicBiz style guide. https://musicbiz.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/MusicMetadataStyleGuide-MusicBiz-FINAL2.0.pdf


  11. I just read all of this valuable information. Thank You! I’ve gotten mixed instructions along the way and am afraid my singles/album releases weren’t processed correctly. I have 1 UPC code for my CD, digital and vinyl releases. How could I make sure they’re categorized correctly regardless? Also I registered my releases with Soundscan after my release dates. Do they back track with streams/sales? Thank you.

    1. Hey Tivon,
      Using a separate UPC for each configuration (digital, CD, vinyl) is helpful for tracking, but it’s not 100% necessary. It shouldn’t prevent you from having your release chart or be tracked in Soundscan. In the future let your digital distributor assign a UPC for the digital configurations. This way you won’t double up and report two different digital UPCs for the same product.

      In order to ensure your releases chart on the first week (usually when the most sales report), make sure you register your tracks with Nielsen Soundscan several weeks in advance of street date. Nielsen will not go back and credit the sales for the time before it was registered. It starts from when the submission is entered into their database. They usually don’t give any confirmation (unless you are a paying subscriber to their service).

      If you use the same UPC for CD and vinyl, the sales will still count, but they will most likely be combined on the report under the CD column (default). So nobody will be able to break out the CD sales from vinyl sales.

      If it’s important to you, you could get a new UPC for the vinyl and resubmit that UPC to Nielsen with a vinyl configuration. But whoever reports the vinyl sales to Nielsen will need to submit that new vinyl UPC. So if it’s your physical distributor, online webstore, make sure you submit that vinyl UPC for vinyl sales. And if you use AtVenu for venue sales, make sure vinyl sales are reported under that vinyl UPC.

      Glad this blog helped you make sense of it, and you’ll get it right on your next one. cheers,

  12. Hey Todd
    My artist new album release accumulated 1.5mil streams the first week, within 24hrs debut at #36 on Amazon Top New Album Releases, one song debut at #4 on iTune Pop Chart in the Middle East, and another debut at #174 on iTunes Global Chart. What is the chance that the album made the Billboard heatseekers Chart?

  13. Hey Todd,
    I reached out to a rep at Billboard he literally told me they aren’t doing Heatseekers anymore. Which sucks, because now we have to play against the big leagues. He mentioned below August 2020:


    Your email was forwarded to me. In regards to your Heatseeker question. As of Mid-January when we flipped the Heatseekers Chart to a Consumption based chart we stopped the 8 Heatseeker Regional charts which were Full Album Sales based only charts. We broke the US & Puerto Rico into 8 different regions. Also those 2 Spotify charts are no longer done.

    The only chart we have dedicated to showcasing just Independent artist is our Independent Albums chart. We recently tweaked the rules to allow Major distributed labels that are NOT OWNED by the Majors to chart on this chart. Please let me know if there is anything else.

    1. Hey Rudy. Thanks so much for letting us know about your exchange with Billboard.

      (updated 4/20/21)
      Keep in mind Billboard curates a selection of Nielsen charts (now MRC Data) and not all charts are available publicly. Paying subscribers to Nielsen get many more charts that Billboard has. The charts available online are not the only charts Nielsen (and the labels) have.

      However, after reading their response, they didn’t say “they aren’t doing The Heatseeker any more”. The main Heatseeker chart is still there under “All Charts” -> “Breaking and Entering”. The main one was always an album sales chart, now it’s an overall consumption chart. They did away with the regional Heatseekers. Yes, that’s a blow for developing artists to lose those, and the main Heatseekers chart is a little more competitive with streaming included in the chart. Indies can be competitive still on these charts. More established artists are excluded as soon as one of their tracks or albums lands in the top 100 of a bigger consumption chart.

      I noticed they still have the Emerging Artist chart – https://www.billboard.com/charts/emerging-artists

      Thanks again for looking out for Heat On The Street!


  14. Hello, I know that Billboard/ Nielsen filters sales when more than 4 units per transaction. Does this mean only one transaction per week will count towards Billboard charts? Can Nielsen track digital songs by upc alone even if someone forgot to download it?

    1. Hi Laura,
      On your first question… I think you are referring to mail order sales of physical goods where one person purchases more than one copy of an album? It’s true they only count one sale, even if that person ordered 10 copies. They are doing this to prevent corruption. And yes, if somebody ordered 3 copies on the same mail order purchase, only one of those album sales will be chart eligible.

      On the second question… MRC Data (formerly Nielsen) can track digital songs by ISRC. All songs will have an ISRC (assigned by the digital distributor or record label). So if a song has no UPC registered – like in the case of a song that was only released as part of an album, and does not have it’s own unique song UPC – MRC Data can sill track the song by ISRC. So rest assured, that if you register your UPCs for stand alone singles and albums, and you register your song ISRC’s, your songs will get counted towards the Billboard Charts.

      *Nielsen’s music products were acquired by MRC Data in late 2020.

      Thanks for your questions. Feel free to clarify anything I misunderstood.


  15. If an album includes a really old song (like from 5 years before release), do they count those streams in the first-week release of the album?

    1. Yes, MRC will count the streams for that old track – but only for that first week. They don’t include all of the streams that track has accumulated in 5 years and add that into the first week. (If that is what you were wondering). This also goes for pre-release singles that appear on the album. For example if your first single is released 3 months before the album is released, when you get your first week streaming report for the album (the one eligible for that album release date) it only includes the stream for that song for the week, not the previous 3 months.
      The age of the song doesn’t matter. Think about “Best Of” and “Greatest Hits” albums. When those are released, it’s the same thing. Only the song streams for the album release week are chart eligible. Not the historical streams/sales.


  16. Thank you for the article Mr.McCarty.
    If My goal is to chart on Billboard 200 and most of my fans are international and purchase from a US store, will those international sales contribute to BB200? Does each transaction of 4 albums need to be on different credit cards?

    I’ve researched these questions for a while to find conflicting answers.

    Thank you

    1. No problem.
      International from a US Store? (please clarify)
      Only US sales from US location are eligible for the US BB200 chart.
      If it is a physical purchase, MRC Data verifies the shipping address with the retailer. The retailer must also be a MRC Data official reporter.
      Only one sale will be counted per credit card transaction.
      I actually don’t know the answer about purchasing on different credit cards. But I will tell you they are trying to prevent a situation where one person (or a group of people) buy a bunch of albums to inflate the chart position.

      take care Kat.


  17. Thanks for all the great ongoing help you provide artists directly on these topics that really matter in a world where anyone can compete and get noticed. But… Two questions:

    1. Physical cut off of Monday. I am baffled for a release week. Mail order, is Amazon reporting considered mail order for physical? If fulfillment happens same day as order or I preordered it, what does shipping date have to do with anything I.e. “customer receives it”?

    2. What happens to mail order physical sales from most of Monday to Thursday (13th to 16th) for that release week if release comes out on the 10th? Accounts to following week?? And baffling so physical mail order only has 3 actual days Friday to Monday to track for these sales?

    Bonus question – What is the best place and time to buy physical product if not in store brick and mortar available … someone buys physical record from Bandcamp or Amazon … to get tracked for first sales release week?



    1. Hey David, no problem.
      1. About Amazon, I’m actually not sure if Amazon physical sales are reported as mail order, or chain. I just can’t remember. But I do recall that Amazon has a different reporting procedure than other mail order accounts. From a chart reporting perspective I recall it reports similar to how brick & mortar retailers report. But I can’t be certain without an MRC Data (Billboard) employee. I’m also not sure about Bandcamp, but I’m going to assume they report similar to brick and mortar too, since they are such a large player.

      2. If the sale misses the cut off, they would count for 2nd week. There is a long verification process (audit) for mail order – so that the system can’t be gamed. It takes a few days to verify all sales, so this is why they have the hard cut off. It’s just the way it is.

      Bonus: So make sure you focus on physical pre-orders and tell customers to get their preorder in early so that it has time to ship to them by street date. Nothing is worse than paying for it early, but then getting your album after everybody else already got it on release date.


  18. My son has a new teenage band and they have music soon to be released. I’m used my credit card to purchase 4 of their music CD’s online at four seperate times and not all at once. My son is freaking out because he says that I can only use my credit card once (one transaction) and not four seperate times before it counts towards their Soundscan credits/units. Is that true? I should be able to use my credit card as many times as I want to as a long as it’s seperate transactions of the same physcial CD or download, correct???

    1. 🤣 Your son needs to relax and just say THANK YOU.
      I haven’t found a specific rule printed by Luminate / Billboard / x-MRC Data / x-Neilsen…whatever we’re supposed to call them these days… that addresses your exact form of chart-stuffing. By the way, I’m not searching high and low for some cheat codes to the Billboard charts.
      At the same time, if it did come down to a situation where it mattered – and your son-loving efforts were harming another artist and pushing them down a high profile chart, Billboard/Luminate audit their charts and might disqualify your transactions. Especially if it was widespread from friends/family/fans.
      I have seen Billboard address buying multiple copies of an album in the same transaction. In that case, only one album sale is counted. That was an effort to prevent wide-spread chart stuffing, making it easy for people to buy their way onto a chart. But separate transactions was not addressed. Sorry I can’t find the link, I’m going from memory on that one.
      All that is to say, you’re a good parent. Others reading wish their parents would do that for them. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  19. For a physical-only release (for example, a CD/vinyl release of an album that is already released on streaming platforms), might it actually be better to release on a Tuesday instead of Friday, because of the Monday cutoff for physical sales? Seems like the first week would have 7 days if Tuesday, and only 4 if Friday, unless I’m missing something.

    Are there other reasons why a Friday release might still be better, in this scenario?

    1. Hey Niel. Thanks for your question.
      I’ll clarify what I said above “For nearly all sales channels, the sales week starts Friday and ends the following Thursday.”
      There are only 2 exceptions (smaller mail-order reporters & venues). Amazon and other larger mailorder reporters (maybe BandCamp) seem to be able to report a full week, because the audit process is different.
      Friday is the standard global release day for both physical and digital new releases and I recommend people go with the flow. In the post thread above, I see too much emphasis on the Monday cutoff for physical mailorder releases, and for no good reason (trying to hack the rules unnecessarily).

      Even if mailorder is your only avenue and 100% of your sales will come from mailorder, I still recommend you choose a Friday release date. The reason is, the the chart reporting week starts on Fridays. So since you started before the week you’re trying to chart for, you’ll actually end up only qualifying for the previous week’s chart (and you’ll have a partial week of sales). So everybody has to accept that their website-store mail orders will only be the Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Monday of the release week – plus any pre-orders from the weeks/months leading up to release week. Make sure your reporting partner sets it up as a pre-order with MRC/Luminate so that the sales are accrued and reported all at once (on release week), and not each week separately (before the release week).

      For mailorder, I would focus on “pre-orders” more than release week sales. With mail-order (especially in the USA) people don’t expect to order a product on one day, and have it shipped and arrived on the same day. And the bulk of your orders will come from pre-orders and perhaps the first and second day of release date.

      Also if you don’t do Friday, and you go earlier, all of your sales (streams, MP3s, and physical) are actually going to end up in the previous week’s chart, and not the week you think you’re aiming for. So if charting is you goal, do what 99% of charting artists do and use the Friday global release date. Otherwise you’re at a chart disadvantage.


      1. Thank you for the extremely helpful response! I’m not sure if I totally follow your second paragraph. I get that the chart reporting week starts on Fridays, but if we start from the rule “small mailorder Tues-Thurs sales always count for the following Fri-Thurs chart reporting week, and never the current or previous Fri-Thurs chart reporting week” (so far so good?), then I don’t see how it would be possible to end up in the previous week’s chart. Wouldn’t this require the Tues-Thurs of Week 1 to be treated differently from the Tues-Thurs of Weeks 2, 3, 4, etc.?

        Maybe I’m still missing something obvious. That said, it’s a moot point, because I agree–the Amazon/BandCamp thing alone is enough of a reason to go with Friday 🙂

        1. Hey Niel.
          Glad my response helped you. I like the tough questions 🙂
          We’re getting deep in the woods on this detail, and it’s not an area I’ve tested or paid close attention to.
          I did sort of contradict myself when I said that your vinyl sales that ship Tues-Thurs (before release date) wouldn’t count towards your first week. They will, but only if your title submission lists a Friday release date. For a Friday release, those Tues-Thurs small mailorder sales will be held and accrued for your “first week” chart reporting. But if you list the release date as the prior Tuesday, then your album will have it’s true first week the prior Friday. So only mailorder sales shipped the following Tuesday through Monday would count… So the chart company would tally your pre-orders up to the Monday before your Tuesday release. All you would be left with for your first-week chart reporting would be the brick & mortar and digital sales / streams. So it’s a mess. And like we both agree, it’s a moot point.
          Stick to Fridays. 🙂

  20. Thank you for this! Quick question – we live in an age where there is a lot of discussion between the merit of streaming vs purchasing music. I’ve seen people argue that both can be manipulated (i.e., streaming farms, fans bulk buying songs to push an artist to the top).

    Do you have insight on how Luminate ensures the data they receive is legitimate? Is someone sitting there reviewing individual transactions and checking the IP address of where people are streaming from? I feel like this is becoming more and more of a thing. And it also calls into question data privacy to some extent. I’ve even seen calls that radio isn’t a valid measure of consumption anymore since its ‘passive’ (i.e., not individually-driven). I’m kind of curious what your take on this would be – is one format of consumption more valid than the others?

    1. Thanks for the question.
      I don’t think one format is more valid than the other.

      However, there is more transparency with streaming. For example, Spotify and YouTube post streaming counts publicly in almost real time. One tenacious blogger tracks the daily top artists from Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes (MP3s), YouTube, Shazam, and Deezer. There is enough correlation globally (and from service to service) that it would make an “outlier” or “cheater” stand out. You can view that blog here: https://kworb.net/charts/

      I believe there will always be manipulation in digital music just as there has been since the existence of charts in the music industry.

      Luminate powers the industry standard “Music Connect” analytics portal and the Billboard Charts. It’s in their best interest to protect the integrity of both products.

      Over the past 20 years, I’ve personally experienced Nielsen and MRC Data (which are now lumped into Luminate) doing audits, particularly on venue and mailorder sales. And yes, there were real people with names, addresses, phone numbers. So I would like to believe they do the same with other channels of distribution. All along, they’ve constantly reiterated their policies to reporters and updated rules when a loophole has been uncovered. They’ve also corrected and republished their charts to omit fraudulent reporting giving justice to the artists who didn’t cheat.

      But I don’t know the methods they use to audit streaming data. From what I understand, they have agreements with each retailer or reporting party. Those reporting parties have to follow their terms of verification. If there are too many instances of fraud, that reporter would lose their ability to report to Luminate. I think the honus of privacy concerns would be on the reporting party.

      There’s much more competition in charts and analytics tools than there was just 5 years ago. I’m actually surprised that the Billboard charts have maintained their status in the face of all this competition. Artists like to publicize the official playlists they are added to (Spotify and Apple Music playlists), or their year-end recaps from Spotify, or milestones for total stream counts. There are so many global charts artists could brag about, but still the ones most artists and their teams strive for are the big legacy names. Billboard (US & Global), Official Chart (UK), ARIA (Australia), Oricon (Japan).
      – Todd

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