We’ve all heard of the Nielsen Ratings, which are used to measure television watching habits. Most people are familiar with Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales. But few know of Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems, which tracks song plays on radio, television and the internet using a patented digital pattern recognition technology. Performing rights organization SESAC relies on BDS to calculate royalty payments, while ASCAP and BMI use their own digital fingerprinting technologies. In the United States, Nielsen publishes Billboard Magazine, which combines SoundScan and BDS statistics to create their Hot 100 Chart.
It will come as no surprise to you that Color Theory is not, and will probably never be, on that chart. Nor am I looking to impress a major label with my sales numbers. Still, I went through the motions and submitted my stuff for tracking. For those of us who dare to dream big, let me tell you how it’s done.
Registering your CD with SoundScan couldn’t be easier. Just go to this page (no longer valid – see update below), download the appropriate form (they track US and Canada sales separately), and e-mail the completed form to firstname.lastname@example.org. You must have a UPC barcode, which makes sense, because you’re not going to be selling at many retailers without it. If you’re with CD Baby, my understanding is that they’ll report to SoundScan automatically, though I don’t know if that registers your album for sales through other outlets. You might as well spend the ten minutes to submit the form yourself.
Submitting music to Nielsen BDS is a little trickier, but they’ve clearly put some effort into making the process user-friendly. Rather than mailing in physical product, I used their online service, called Virtual Encode. First you have to e-mail their client services department with “Virtual Encode” as the subject to get a username and password. In a couple days, you’ll receive an e-mail explaining how to log in and install their software. Then it’s as easy as inserting your CD and waiting (longer than you’d think) for it to rip, encode, and compress your songs. If your album is in CDDB, it’ll pull the song titles in automatically. If not, you’ll need to enter them manually, along with the UPC and catalog number. After all the songs are uploaded, you review the information and submit the album. I went ahead and encoded all seven of my CDs. You never know!
If any of you lovely readers have access to SoundScan, could you look up Color Theory? I’ve always been curious.
UPDATE 8/10: You no longer have to download a form to register your release with SoundScan. You can do it all online here. Unfortunately, you’ve still got to go through the same hoops in order to submit to BDS.