How To Get On The Billboard Charts As An Indie Artist

Career

 minute read

Thinking about shooting for the stars and landing on the Billboard charts? It might be easier than you think. 

First of all, there are a lot of different charts all with different requirements. If you're an indie, unsigned artist, then your best bet is the "Heatseekers" charts. 

"The Heatseekers Albums and the Heatseekers Songs charts were introduced by Billboard in 1991 with the purpose of highlighting the sales by new and developing musical recording artists." - Wiki

So, how do you actually land on one of these Billboard charts? 

You need to sell, on average, 450 to 500 albums in the first week to get on a Billboard chart. Or get between 562,500 and 1,687,500 streams. Or have a combination of the two.


Many unsigned artists have hit the Billboard Charts just by selling this relatively small amount of units. 

Sure, that's still A LOT of albums, especially if you're an unsigned artist who maybe has only sold a couple dozen albums (if that) up to this point in your career. 

But we're only talking hundreds. Not thousands or tens of thousands. At least when it comes to sales. Streams are a different matter (more below). 

How To Make Sure Your Song Qualifies For A Billboard Chart

In order to even be in the running for a Billboard placement, there are a couple boxes you first have to check. 

You need:

  1. 1
    Registration with Nielsen Soundscan
  2. 2
    International Standard Recording Code (ISRC)Universal Product Code (UPC)
  3. 3
    Universal Product Code (UPC)

The great news is that all of these can be done for free!

Registering with Nielsen is free, and can be done here.

And then most digital distributors (Like DistroKid which is what I use) will generate a UPC and ISRC for your release.

Ok, with the red-tape out of the way, let's get into the meat for how you REALLY can get on the Billboard charts...

How A Song Gets Onto The Billboard Charts

In order to actually land on a Billboard chart, it's important to understand what exactly Billboard looks at to determine who to rank. 

Here are the three key ranking factors:

1. Airplay

In other words, how much your song is played on the radio. Now you may be wondering how exactly this is tracked.

According to this article...

Airplay is tracked through Broadcast Data Systems (BDS). BDS uses digital pattern-recognition technology to identify songs that air on radio and TV channels across the United States and Canada. This process is done 24/7 and captures over 100 million songs annually.

So if you want to increase your chances of getting on the charts, try reaching out to radio stations that play your style of music. 

The downside is that this will take a lot of work, and isn't really something you can control. 

2. Album Sales

As you probably guessed, album sales also factor into getting on the Billboard charts. Neilson SoundScan tracks album sales via bar codes. 

So be sure to get a UPC code if you're going to be releasing music independently.

DistroKid makes this really easy, which one of the many reasons why I prefer to use them as my digital distributor for my music.  

If you want to try DistroKid yourself, you can get started for 7% off when you use my referral link here. 

3. Social Media & Streaming

Billboard now considers plays and streams from the following platforms in their calculations: ISRC

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Spotify
  • Vevo
  • Rdio
  • Slacker
  • And more

Be sure to engage your fans on social media and get them sharing and listening to your music to increase your chances of getting on the Billboard charts. 

4. Other

There are a few other factors Billboard takes into consideration when ranking artists or releases. You can see a detailed description here on their site.

But the items I listed above are the top 3. 

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How Many Sales To Get On A Billboard Chart?

As I mentioned above, you need an average of between 450 and 500 album sales in the first week to rank on the Heatseekers chart.

That might sound a little daunting until you factor in that any sales during a pre-order period count toward the first week sales.

So you are DEFINITELY going to want to have a 6-8 week pre-order period. 

It can help to run some kind of special promotion running during this period where your fans can immediately download bonus songs for free if they order. 

During our last album launch, we ran a 5 Day Email Treasure Hunt, which was a big hit with our fans (more on this in a future post).  

How Many Streams To Get On A Billboard Chart?

These days, streams count more than ever for getting ranked on a Billboard chart. But how many streams do you need? Well, according to this video by my friend, Jonathan Miller, streams break down like this:

  • 1 Unit = 1,250 clicks/streams from paying users
  • 1 Unit = 3,750 clicks/streams from non-paying users

In other words, if only paying members of Spotify, YouTube, etc., streamed your music, you would need 1,250 clicks/streams to count for "1 unity sold". 

1 Album sale = 1,250 streams from paying users, no matter the platform

Or...

1 Album sale = 3,750 streams from NON-paying users, no matter the platform. 

Doing some simple math, then, you need between 562,500 and 1,687,500 streams to get on a Billboard chart from streams alone.

So encourage your fans to get Spotify Premium!

4 Tips For Landing On A Billboard Chart

So you know that you need a lot of sales and streams in a short period of time to rank. How do you get there? 

Here are 4 key tips...

1. Build An Email List

This is really the first thing any serious music artist is going to want to do. 

When you have an email list of fans, you can more directly control your results. You can instantly direct all of your biggest fans to stream your music, or share a link to your music on social media using a unique hashtag.

I cannot overstate the power of an engaged email list, so be sure to set one up and start "digging your well" before you need it by building your list.

The email list tool I use and recommend for music artists is ConvertKit. You can sign up for ConvertKit for free by going here.

2. Create A Buzz

Before your album launch, you are going to want to start to create a buzz. Start sharing pictures, videos, and song clips from your upcoming album to get your fans excited. 

You should also consider doing a press release, or collaborating with artists in your music niche to grow your audience. 

3. Launch A Pre-Order Campaign

Remember what I said above about sales during your pre-launch campaign counting toward your first week sales total? Be sure to take advantage of this. 

6-8 weeks before your album launch, promote hard!

Offer bonus songs for those who buy the album early, or other special rewards.

Post frequently on social media talking about your album, and share stories about the creation and production of the songs to get people excited so they want to buy during the pre-order campaign. 

4. Offer A Special Promotion Just During Launch Week

Okay, now it's launch week. This is your last chance to rack up the sales and the streams. 

Consider running one final promotion just during launch week to incentivize people to buy. 

Maybe throw in a merch discount for everyone who buys, throw in some more bonus songs or content. 

By offering limited time promotions with a clear end date where fans will lose out on something if they don't buy, you create something that marketers call "scarcity" and "Urgency". 

It gives people the incentive to buy now, rather than putting it off for later. 

Should You Even Try To Get On A Billboard Chart?

Now with all of that in mind, if you're an unsigned, indie artist like me...

Let's just face it, it's really hard to get on the Billboard charts. 

But, the good news is you don't have to chart in order to make a good income as a music artist.

In fact, you really only need 1,000 true fans (or superfans) to make a great living with your music (or anything for that matter). 

A true fan is anyone who loves you and what you create so much that they'll buy anything and everything you put out.

It's not uncommon for these people to spend at least $100 a year on their favorite artists.

If you do some simple math...

1,000 True Fans x $100/year = $100,000/year for you!

Therefore, I would encourage you not to make getting on the Billboard charts a major goal of yours. 

First focus on creating great music, building a fanbase, generating regular income, and THEN shoot for getting on Billboard chart if you want. 

Because after all, it would be pretty cool and a fun accomplishment. 

How Do You Get 1,000 True Fans?

Getting 1,000 true, superfans is certainly very manageable, but definitely not easy. 

This is something I'm still working on myself, but after years of study and experimentation, I think I've found the formula...

And I've distilled into a simple guide you can download for free below. 

grow music fanbase

Get More Fans Fast!

Click below to download my free Fan-Building Formula, which will give you the 7 steps you need to master in order to create "Superfans" and make a living from your music.

The best part? You can grow your entire following online. You don't need to tour and gig to make a full-time income with your music. 

I hope you found this post on, How To Get On The Billboard Charts, helpful!

If so, I'd love for you share this post with your musician friends. 

Also, let me know in the comments below...

What's Your Biggest Struggle With Promoting Your Music Online?


Reagan Ramm


Hi! I'm Reagan, and I've been writing, recording, and mixing music since 2011, and got a degree in audio engineering in 2019 from Unity Gain Recording Institute. I also work full-time in Digital Marketing and Entrepreneurship, and am striving to help fellow musicians and producers improve their art and make a living doing the work they love.

- Reagan Ramm

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