Go to any service that reports "hit songs" and what you read is based on downloads, song sales or spins. How to determine the top spots on a "hit song" list was conceived by major record and radio industry players years ago;
with the exception of adding "downloads," it remains pretty much the same. Major record and radio industry players literally define "success," and they keep the number of successful music groups low (to maximize profits).
The change is this:
With an increase in internet music play and sales outlets over the past decade, tens of thousands of quality artists have an ability to reach fans in ways that are not measured. My hunch is that even if there were a universal system, the radio industry and record labels would refuse to acknowledge the numbers.
"Counting a true number of spins is like counting the number of stars in our universe. You won't get a correct number."
The above idea is reinforced by reading a Billboard.biz story titled "How Lady Gaga, Katy Perry And Rihanna Came To Dominate Top 40 Radio." Here's the catalyst line in that article: "...uptempo fare from the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry - has made up at least 60% of the survey's total top 10 hits each year from 2008 through 2012 (from January through July annually). Last year, the style accounted for a whopping 79% of the list's top 10s - the highest percentage in the chart's history..." (my bold).
Having 79% of listed top 10 hits made up of any one style of music is unacceptable. The world is musically too big to limit exposure of talent or musical style.
Besides having only a few companies counting digital metrics, broadcast airplay still makes up the majority of spins reported.
Broadcast plays "to the masses," offering the lowest common denominator to gather the greatest number of people. This building of reach is not typical on digital and device listening. We're not always playing to the masses.
Counting a true number of spins is like counting the number of stars in our universe. You won't get a correct number.
As the shift to online listening grows, we have a narrowing of core artists by stations playing a specific style of music (say, only Southern Rock). And many of these online stations and music services are not measured.
In the "old days," if your song was not picked up for airplay on broadcast, it didn't exist. As many indie artists are finding out today, though, having a hit song without anyone but fans knowing about it is possible. Broadcast play is not an absolute requirement anymore.
The result of this shifting music landscape is a chorus of artists beginning to chant, "We don't need your stinking charts! Our own data says this was a hit!"