Hit machine on the road

AT AROUND 6.55pm tonight Britain's adolescents will have the answer to one of the burning questions of the week: Is Mariah Carey still top of the pop music charts?

Bob Barnes is long past adolescence, but he will have found out several hours before then. He has just taken over the task of compiling the masterlist of the country's biggest-selling singles and albums. Radio stations and recording companies will be waiting anxiously for his findings at around 2.30pm today and every Sunday.

Gallup did the job for 11 years but lost it when the Chart Information Network recently put the pounds 1m contract out to tender. The winner was Millward Brown, the fourth biggest market research company in the land, with a pounds 30m turnover, ultra-modern offices on the outskirts of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, and a computer system known as Eric and Tracey.

Eric digests the sales information from more than 2,500 record shops throughout the UK. Tracey, an Essex computer, provides back-up from the company's Chelmsford office in the event of a breakdown.

Mr Barnes, 38, is not one to leave anything to chance. Millward Brown's 'charts director' is well acquainted with the tricks of the trade, having spent nearly 15 years running a small chain of record shops called Music Junction. He knows the lengths to which recording companies will go to hype an artist. Each has a sales team, known as the 'strike force', whose job it is to identify the shops that contribute to the charts' survey and target them with marketing campaigns.

It is now possible to have a Number One with just 50,000 sales. So, are singles still important?

'Yes they are. They provide air-play and exposure on Top of the Pops. An album will sell better after two or three hit singles.'

The recording companies are only too well aware of it. Back in the mid-1980s, for instance, CBS was desperate for a second hit for Jennifer Rush as a launch pad for her album. It ensured that anyone going into a record shop to buy The Power of Love was given it free, as long as they bought the follow-up single. And CBS was hardly alone. Sales of any number of recording artists were boosted by offers of free albums, videos and other merchandise.

Such stunts are now outlawed, according to Mr Barnes. He has a strike force of his own, made up of 20 'field liaison detectives' (or chart-checkers) who also target record shops with eyes peeled for malpractice.

Each shop in the survey is linked to the central computer by an Epson terminal with a modem. Every time a sale is made the bar code should be transferred on to it by a scanner. But there are times - a busy Saturday afternoon, for example - when sales go unrecorded. 'That's the weakness in the system,' said Mr Barnes. 'They should really be connected to the cash register.'

Most of the multiples and the specialist chains are now switching to the EPOS (electronic point of sale) system, and Mr Barnes's field detectives are putting pressure on the independents to do likewise.

Before the electronic era, every shop recorded its sales in a written ledger. Gaining access to it and amending the figures was not above the wit of the more unscrupulous strike forces. All they had to do was offer the retailer some free stock.

'Going in and offering incentives to falsify the till has disappeared,' says Mr Barnes. 'Now it's down to marketing strategies, and the dividing line between what is in the rules and what is outside can be a thin one.'

Campaigns considered excessive can lead to the sales figures for certain shops being given less weight by the computer. Eric is doing his bit to improve the accuracy of the charts. And if it proves too much for him, there's always Tracey down in Chelmsford.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee