Charts matter in music and you might be wondering what is SoundScan?
They’re quantifiable ways of measuring the success of your creative efforts, and SoundScan is one of the most important music tracking charts on the block.
It’s run by the Nielsen Corporation and is a name you’ll need to remember when working in the music business.
This guide will dive deep into what SoundScan is and how it fuels the music industry.
By the time you’re done, you’ll be intimately familiar with everything you need to know about SoundScan. Let’s get started.
What Is SoundScan?
Nielsen is a global marketing research firm founded in 1923 and one of the most respected sources of information. Its data analytics and measurements are trusted across industries and geographic borders, and its revenues make this century-old company a component of the S&P 500.
If you’ve ever heard the term “market share,” it was coined by the company’s founder Arthur C. Nielsen. That’s how foundational this company truly is. It regularly tracks ratings and sales for TV, internet, mobile devices, radio, and more.
These datasets are routinely cited by the world’s leading media outlets and analysts, and SoundScan is its specific platform for tracking music sales.
SoundScan was created in May 1991 by Mike Shalett and Mike Fine and was released for albums every Sunday and singles every Monday. It has since grown into the largest music sales source, fueling the Billboard charts and more, although it’s not used to issue RIAA sales certification plaques. Modern SoundScan numbers are released to subscribers every Wednesday and are crucial to providing an artist’s chart clout and revenue.
Access to the raw data is a subscription-based service whose clients include everyone from indie and major labels to distribution companies, artists, managers, booking agents, promoters, venue owners, streaming services, ecommerce, and more.
The only requirement is the product requires a UPC or ISRC to track sales, and registration is a simple online process you can access here. If you don’t register your music releases with SoundScan, your sales figures don’t count. Basically, you don’t exist in this industry.
How Does SoundScan Work?
Music can be purchased in a variety of platforms, such as a physical compact disc or vinyl, digital downloads, or music videos on DVD or Blu-Ray. This sales data is tracked across both brick-and-mortar stores (like Best Buy and Walmart) and ecommerce like iTunes and Amazon, along with ticketing companies and venues.
One thing SoundScan doesn’t track is streams. Nielsen Connect is a separate subscription service that tracks those numbers, although SoundScan is still powering the sales charts in Connect and has historical records that predate it. These are necessary for deeper research purposes.
These metrics are used to determine music trends and find out who’s hot or not in the moment, often leading to buzz gathering around first-week sales and the Billboard Top 100 overall or in any given niche. The raw data is also intellectual property owned by Nielsen and requires individual subscriptions for access. The information is heavily protected with military-grade security and zero-tolerance information sharing policies.
At its root, tracking each sale is done through the Universal Product Code (UPC) and International Standard Recording Code (ISRC). This is why it’s crucial to register for these codes prior to registering with SoundScan, which is usually provided by your digital music distributor. This leads to why all of this is so important.
Benefits/Importance for Artists
Subscribing to SoundScan is typically limited to those with a business need, such as music publishers, booking and promotion agents, management firms, and radio promoters. Most people will not need the actual detailed sales figures and can simply rely on the Billboard charts. However, these rankings are constantly buzzed about among media/analysts and become part of an artist’s promotion.
For example, first week sales numbers are usually a barometer for how an artist will sell, and that’s why they’re so heavily reported on across the media. This leaves an important question of whether to sign up or not.
Should I Sign Up for Nielsen SoundScan?
With how important it is, you absolutely need to register every single song and album you release. It’s mandatory to even become part of the conversation, especially for indie artists. It should be a part of your process, along with registering for a UPC and ISRC.
However, you don’t necessarily need to subscribe to the SoundScan sales figures unless you have a business purpose. In short, it’s great to be part of the data, but you don’t always need to be part of the audience. If you’re able to wait, you can see the general results through Billboard and other secondary sources.
There’s a fee associated with the subscription that’s based on your business. Prices aren’t published anywhere, and you need to contact Nielsen directly to discuss getting set up. Their reps will get you set up with an account. Each individual will get a login (even within the same company), and sharing these logins can get your account suspended, so do so with caution.
However, whether you subscribe or not, it’s absolutely vital to never skip over registering every musical work with SoundScan. It’s a free process and the only way anyone will know how much you sold. If your indie label is going to be taken seriously, it needs to be registered with SoundScan.
How to Get Started with Nielsen SoundScan
How you get started with Nielsen SoundScan depends on how you plan to use it. As a musician, you simply need to register every song and album released using the form at the link above. There’s no charge for registering your music with SoundScan as of writing this article.
Getting started with a subscription to Nielsen’s SoundScan can be done at the Nielsen website. This information is proprietary and the associated subscription costs adjust based on the size and nature of your business.
For more breakdowns on similar music industry services check out the articles below:
Kevin is the founder of Music With Flavor, which joined Whipped Cream Sounds in 2023. He is a seasoned musician turned industry expert. His passion for music goes beyond melodies; he delves deep into the intricate world of music marketing, striving to unearth the most effective strategies for indie musicians. However, Music With Flavor isn’t just about Kevin’s knowledge; it’s a network of industry experts handpicked to provide the most trusted advice. Kevin’s role is to pose the right questions, not just answer them, as he and his team tirelessly research trends, connect with artists, and gather valuable insights.