“Songs of Surrender” Hits the Charts
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2023-03-24)
Update (March 26, 2023):
In the USA, on the new Billboard 200 chart, U2 gets it’s 13th top 10 spot, with Songs of Surrender debuting at number 5. U2 becomes only the fourth group with a newly-charting top 10 title on the Billboard 200 albums chart in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and now the 2020s. U2 sold the equivalent of 46,500 equivalent albums (total album sales 42,000, streaming equivalents 4000, digital track equivalents 500.) To reach number one, U2 would have had to sell more than 209,500 copies of the album or track equivalents.
Chart positions for other countries can be found in our discography entry.
Original Story (March 24, 2023):
It has just been announced that U2’s Songs of Surrender has charted at #1 on its first week of release in the UK. U2 outsold the rest of the top five combined to reach the top of the charts. This is U2’s first #1 since 2009, when No Line on the Horizon made it to #1. The album has also hit #1 in the Irish charts at home for U2.
Here’s a list of the charts provided by the Official Charts in the UK for the new album:
- Official Albums Chart Top 100: #1
- Official Irish Albums: #1
- Official Scottish Albums: #1
- Vinyl Albums Chart Top 40: #1
- Albums Downloads Chart Top 100: #1
- Albums Sales Chart Top 100: #1
- Physical Albums Chart Top 100: #1
- Vinyl Albums Top 40: #1
We expect to know where it charted in the US shortly, but in the meantime we thought we’d take a little time to look at the charts, with a focus on the two big ones worldwide, those in the UK and USA.
How are the charts tallied these days? The UK chart is still based in sales. And selling a physical copy in the UK counts as one sale. The album must be sold in the UK, by a UK based store, to a UK resident. The charts in various regions are one of the reasons we have been separated into separate geographical shops since the announcement of the album. The UK chart includes streaming and digital sales as well. Streaming in the UK is calculated by taking the total number of streams and dividing that by 1000 to come up with what is called a total-album equivalent. There is no differentiation between paid and free streams. (In Germany free streams don’t count at all and in the US, they count at different rates). 1000 tracks streamed is the equivalent to one physical album being sold. To prevent hit singles from falsely adjusting totals, the top two streaming tracks are removed from the total, and added in at the average of the entire album. U2’s album having 40 tracks means we all contributed more when streaming than we would have for a 10 track album by a band. All those streams count.
How do the multiple formats get counted? In the UK a standard version of the album is defined. This is the basic version of the album. In U2’s case this was the 16-track version of the album found on most vinyl pressings, and the cassette and regular CD. As long as those 16 tracks are on every format, the albums will count regardless of additional formats. Thus the 20-track and 40-track versions of the album both count toward the charts as they contain the 16-track basic version of the album. This also explains why there was little variation between content on the different vinyl formats.
Like the UK, in the USA, streaming is counted as album equivalents. Sales of ten digital tracks from an album is counted as one album sale. So those of us going out and buying all 40-tracks digitally would count as multiple sales and not just one. Streaming counts as well, but it takes many streams of songs from the album to count as one album equivalent. Selling a track still counts very much more than streaming a track. Currently it’s 1250 premium audio streams to count as the equivalent of an album sold. That’s a subscription, on-demand type service. Streaming on free services takes more, 3750 streams to count as one sale on a free version of Spotify.
Starting on January 18, 2020, the US charts also include video and audio from YouTube as well as visual plays from Apple, Spotify, Tidal and the like. It’s no surprise that U2 approached a variety of tastemakers to make short one minute videos for each song on the album. Those count towards album streams. It takes just 30 seconds of streaming a video to count toward the total streaming count, so each of the YouTube shorts do count at one minute in length.
Although streaming does play a big role in charting these days, the physical sales still provide a good push up the charts. In the past, U2 has bundled albums with concert tickets, or offered a presale opportunity if buying the album. Schemes such as this have been removed from chart eligibility in recent years, preventing artists from getting a boost from the concert going fans. They have found other ways to sell product, including enticing different shops to advertise your album, by offering them an in-store exclusive. If stores are all getting the black vinyl version of an album, there’s little reason to promote the album by the store. However, if they have a unique pressing with some feature that won’t be available elsewhere, they know it will drive fans into the store and increase their sales, and they will advertise. Labels are doing this by offering unique coloured vinyl pressings to stores. This time out bigger chain stores such as Target, HMV, and Sunrise, got a blue coloured vinyl, which was available only in one chain per country. Smaller independent record shops had an opaque white version which they could advertise. Amazon wasn’t left out, and a unique orange pressing was done for them.
U2 also had cross-promotional vinyl available in several areas. They paired with two Irish themed sports teams in the US to sell their St. Patrick’s Day release. Those cross overs with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Boston Celtics saw U2 get advertising for the new album where they might not have otherwise. All alumni at Notre Dame University received an email letting them know that there was a new U2 album out, probably reaching thousands of people who wouldn’t have seen news of a new album otherwise. There were also special offers for Spotify listeners, SiriusXM listeners, and those who had registered for the Verified Fan program for U2’s upcoming show at the Sphere. Many of these offers were tailored towards residents of the USA, and produced by Interscope Records in the USA, as it was always going to be more difficult for U2 to get a higher chart positions there.
The whole coloured variant pressings also tend to draw in more eyes as people talk about the variety available. The idea is to convince people to buy one copy of the vinyl by offering them a wide range of options. But we aren’t fooling ourselves, the labels also know there is a collector market out there where some people will be looking to buy multiple copies, or even trying to buy every copy. The whole practice has come under criticism, as it slows down the ability of other labels to get time on presses producing vinyl, and it also tends to clog up record stores who need space for all the variants offered. The comic book industry famously used a lot of variant covers to create interest in the books in the 1990s, causing prices to soar, but eventually the bubble did pop.
It isn’t just U2 who are producing coloured variants. Since the start of COVID, it has become the preferred method to market your album.
- Billie Eilish – Happier than Ever (2021) (10 vinyl versions, 7 cassettes, CD, plus signed versions)
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – Unlimited Love (2022) (17 vinyl versions, 2 cassettes, 3 CDs)
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – Return of the Dream Canteen (2022) (17 vinyl versions)
- Madonna – Finally Enough Love (2022) (4 vinyl versions, CD)
- Taylor Swift – Midnights (2022) (7 vinyl versions, plus signed versions)
- Muse – Will of the People (2022) (5 vinyl versions, 3 cassette versions, CD versions)
- Harry Styles – Harry’s House (2022) (5 vinyl versions, 4 cassette versions)
- Inhaler – Cuts & Bruises (2023) (6 vinyl versions, 3 additional versions with signed OBI, 5 cassettes, CD, plus signed versions)
- Depeche Mode – Memento Mori (2023) (4 vinyl versions, plus cassette, and multiple CD versions, plus signed versions)
It makes Beyonce’s two album covers for her latest album, and Adele’s three different vinyl colours relatively quiet doesn’t it? One band, KGLW probably has the worst example, their album polygonwonland was released into the public domain, and they urged labels to print their own copies and release different variants. Many did, and in total there are over 200 versions of the album. U2’s final tally of releases included 12 vinyl versions, 2 cassettes, and three versions on CD. Four of the vinyl versions were only available in the US (Notre Dame, Celtics, SiriusXM, Red U2 Sphere). More on all of the versions of the album can be found in our discography.
Another way to sell more product is by bundling things together at a reduced price. In the UK some fans may have noticed you could buy the vinyl and a cassette for less than you could buy the vinyl by itself. This isn’t a mistake, it means they get two sales and it looks like a deal because it is priced at less than the vinyl by itself. Why not take the vinyl for cheaper and get a free cassette with it? But doing so, the band gets two sales towards the charts. The bundled items don’t work the way elsewhere in the world towards charts, so these bundles were a UK phenomenon this time out, and only seen in the UK store. Why cassettes? They are cheap to produce, and don’t require the advance turnaround time to produce that vinyl, or even CD require. So it’s easy to do up a new cassette with only a few days notice if you aren’t quite reaching where you want to be in the charts. They’ve certainly gained among popularity and a number of artists are now including a cassette option again when selling a new album.
Check back tomorrow and we should have updated with the US chart positions as well, where U2 is battling for top five. We’ll see how close they manage to get to the top.
Check back tomorrow and we should have updated with the US chart positions as well, where U2 is battling for number one. We’ll see how close they manage to get to the top. And we’ll be updating our discography entry with other charts from around the world throughout the weekend.
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