Friday, August 29, 2008

Estelle Latest Victim of Billboard Hot 100's Bias

If you've been following the pop music charts recently, you've noticed the invasion of acts from across the Atlantic including Leona Lewis, Duffy and now Estelle. While Leona has already had a multi-format U.S. #1 smash here with "Bleeding Love" and a follow-up in "Better in Time" about to crack the top 10 on the pop chart, the other overseas acts have struggled to get widespread acceptance here in the states until recently.

Surprisingly, Estelle has been able to hold off Leona's latest hit on the pop chart, currently sitting at #13 with her hit "American Boy" ("Better in Time" is at #14). With nearly 90,000 downloads in the previous week, "American Boy" was the #6 most downloaded song in the U.S. With airplay from other formats thrown in, Estelle's song was just about to crack the top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. As of last week, it sat at #11.

Personally, I'm not really a huge fan of Estelle's hit (though the song is growing on me), but still what has happened this week is just more fuel for my argument that the Billboard Hot 100 should go to a rolling six week sales average to determine the sales component on the chart. This past week, Estelle's label pulled "American Boy" from all of the digital download sites including iTunes. With that, the song experienced a 75% drop in sales this week to just over 22,000 units. Despite the continued airplay gains, the song plummeted to #37 on the Hot 100 chart as a result of the label suddenly repressing downloads!

Did Estelle's song suddenly drop in popularity? No. Did the Billboard Hot 100 just lose even more relevance? Of course.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Guzman Puts Dodgers In Complete Slide Cycle

A week ago today, the Los Angeles Dodgers were tied with the Arizona Dimondbacks for first place in the National League's western division... The Dodgers headed to Philadelphia to start a 10 day road trip to hopefully take control of the division... such though has not been the case at all... Greg Maddux got pounded by the Phillies as did Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers losing the first two games by a combined 17-3 score. The Dodgers then wasted a great outing by Derek Lowe, blowing a 2-1 lead and eventually losing 5-2 in extra innings. In game four of the series, the Dodgers reached base a staggering 17 times (13 hits and four walks), and yet failed to plate a run in losing 5-0.

While being swept by the playoff contending Phillies on the road is hardly embarrassing, what happened to the Dodgers in the nation's capital the past three days was beyond bad... In game one of the series, another strong outing by D-Lowe was wasted as the Dodgers could only manage a single run off Collin Balester and four Washington Nationals relievers. A throwing error by Greg Maddux led to two unearned runs - the margin of defeat - as the Dodgers lost again to the Nats last night, 5-4.

Game three of the series was a complete rout almost from the outset. After Manny Ramirez gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead with a home run which also plated Andre Ethier in the first inning, the Nationals offense exploded. Clayton Kershaw gave up five runs in just 2 1/3 innings, including a solo home run Cristian Guzman and a three-run blast from the just returning Elijah Dukes. Dukes would homer again in the 7th inning... it was Guzman though who stole the show, singling in the second inning and then doubling in the 6th inning. In the 8th inning, Guzman drove a ball deep and over center fielder Matt Kemp's head for a triple to complete the rare cycle. In the four year history of the Nationals, Guzman's was only the second cycle, the first being by Brad Wilkerson on April 6, 2005. At the end of the night, the Nationals had an 11-2 win and an improbable three game sweep of the quickly fading Blue Crew.

Fortunately for the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks have been losing as well but their losing streak is only four games. With a day off today, the Dodgers loss increased the D-Backs lead to 3 1/2 games in the National League West. Tomorrow, the Dodgers start a crucial three game series in Arizona. Needless to say, something's got to give. Realistically, the Dodgers really need to take at least two of the three games to have a legitimate chance of making the playoffs. Of course, if the Dodgers lose two of three or (gasp!) extend their losing streak to ten games, it will look like my hopes of a "Freeway World Series" will be all but dashed once again.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Fantasy Baseball Update...

With completion of tomorrow's games, there will be exactly five weeks left in the Major League Baseball season. For those of us that play Fantasy Baseball, it means the six month daily grind of managing your teams is soon coming to an end. If you've done well, you're still contending for some titles.

As for me, I'm in 18 leagues total this year, and I still have a chance at winning 13 of them. Most importantly, I'm still very much alive in almost all of my five money leagues! At this very moment, I'm in first in one (by 6 points), in second in one (5.5 points back), fourth in one (only 8.5 points back), and seventh in two (but only 9 points out of first in one and 18 points out in the other).

Come September 1, the goal is to generally be within 10 points of the lead in a standard 5x5 roto ML universe league if you want to have a chance to win... to be in that position in four of my five leagues, tells me that I've at least done something right. All you can hope to do is draft well, manage your team well and put yourself in a position to win. What will happen to me over the final five weeks? I have no idea, but I can only hope that the guys who have been most instrumental in helping get me to this point such as Aramis Ramirez, Jermaine Dye, Brian Roberts, Geovany Soto, Chris Snyder, Aubrey Huff, speed demon Willy Taveras, Johan Santana, Jake Peavy, James Shields, Tim Lincecum, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, Ricky Nolasco and the ageless Randy Johnson can keep it going another five weeks. If so, chances are I'm going to be very happy come October 1!


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fixing the Billboard Hot 100 chart: Part V

So how do we fix the Billboard Hot 100 so that it has meaning again? Before I get into that, we have several more examples of the chart's irrelevanace this week's chart. This past season's American Idol runner-up David Archuleta debuts at #2 on the chart this week with his first single from his upcoming debut album called "Crush." Taylor Swift's "Change" debuts at #10 and Chris Brown's "Dreamer" debuts at #16. Have you heard ANY of these songs yet? I didn't think so. Meanwhile, Kid Rock's mega-format smash "All Summer Long" inches up to #25 on the chart despite moving up from #6 to #4 in Hot 100 airplay! Thanks mostly to the aforementioned hit, his "Rock N' Roll Jesus" album sold over 101,000 units this week, good for the #3 spot on the Top 200 albums chart. Are the three debuts more popular songs than Kid Rock's hit? Of course not.

Once again we have cases where a formatically popular artist (an A.I. winner, a Country star and an R&B/Pop star) released a song to the online sites for download and it debuted high on the Hot 100 chart based almost exclusively thanks to sales. Do big week one sales make a song popular? As I've said before, the answer to this is an EMPHATIC NO! Big week one sales on a new release, whether it be of an album or a single mean the ARTIST is likely popular. As for the song, it's sales over time and how it does on the airplay charts are what determines whether or not it indeed is popular.

So how do we fix what is broken with the Hot 100 chart so that it once again has some sort of semblance of meaning? Following are my three main suggestions:

1. Change the sales component to a rolling six week sales average. As I've mentioned before, sales tend to run quite a bit ahead of airplay, so by getting the sales in sync with airplay songs will more naturally go up and down the chart, rather than having the jagged up and down style that is prevalent today. Also, by making the sales a rolling six week average, you eliminate the biases which currently exist on the chart thanks to the practice of "repressed downloads" and new releases by popular artists and/or American Idol contestants.

2. Factor in album sales for all charting songs, most especially for those which there is no physical single available. Should Kid Rock (or anyone else for that matter) be penalized on the Hot 100 chart just because he doesn't have a physical single available? I think not. The purpose of the Hot 100 chart has always been to reflect the songs that are most popular in the nation. Kid Rock's "All Summer Long" is definitely much more popular than the #25 position currently shown on the Hot 100 chart. For the album sales component, again use a six week rolling sales average, and award 75% of those sales to the current biggest hit track on the airplay chart. If this were done, Kid Rock's hit would be in the top 5 of the Hot 100, which is reflective of it's true popularity today.

3. Change the airplay component back to just pop radio airplay. Songs peak at different times at different formats. Those who are in the business and/or follow the charts religiously are very aware of this. Indeed, it's very common for a song to peak at Pop or Hot AC and then not peak for another six months to a year at Adult Contemporary. A country song may similarly cross over to pop radio or Adult Contemporary in a similar way. When Billboard combined the airplay of all formats, this resulted in unnatural jagged runs on their airplay chart. While the intention may have been good, this was not a well thought-out change. This change was also made with the assumption that all formats move sales units fairly equally. From what I've presented previously, this is not at all the case. Urban and Urban AC in particular don't move units. The three main formats which sell singles today are Pop (Top 40), Hot AC and Rhythmic in that order. My suggestion here would be to weight the airplay component so that it's based on 50% pop airplay, 35% Hot AC airplay and 15% Rhythmic airplay. The reason for the lower weight on the rhythmic side is that the format is not open to playing "all of the hits" as are Top 40 and Hot AC.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

MLB Finally Getting Replay!

It was just over a year ago when I wrote my blog entitled A Case For Instant Replay In Baseball. Well today, I finally got my wish as Major League Baseball along with baseball umpires signed an agreement to institute instant replay. Now while replay won't encompass all controversial situations, it will be used in the so-called "boundary calls" such as determining whether a ball is fair or foul and whether or not a flyball cleared the outfield fence.

Baseball has finally attempted to follow the NFL's innovative lead. All I can say is it's about time!!! Getting the call right is what it's all about, and this long overdue change should help revolutionize and popularize baseball as it did football. Heck, baseball umpires (like NFL officials) will likely now become more popular... Half the excitement of an NFL game these days is seeing the official go to the replay booth to correct a missed call. This should be fun and it should help make baseball games more enjoyable for the players, coachers, managers, umpires, and most especially the fans!


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dodgers reacquire Maddux!

Two years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Greg Maddux for the stretch run, and he helped lead them to a playoff appearance going 6-3 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 12 starts. Some may question the acquisition of the now 42 year-old future Hall of Famer, but Maddux is still going along strong, posting a 3.99 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 26 starts for the San Diego Padres this year. His 6-9 record is very deceiving as the Padres offense has been all but nonexistant in 2008.

The Dodgers definitely now have a nice blend of veteran presence and youth, and Maddux should definitely help take some of the pitching burden off of co-aces Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley, while helping out rookie sensation Clayton Kershaw. Indeed Kershaw was sitting next to Maddux in the dugout tonight in the Dodgers 8-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies, so it looks like he is already making an impact.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Phelps Wins Record 8th Gold!

Amazing, unbelieveable!!!... what an accomplishment for U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps as he broke the Mark Spitz record for most Gold medals in a single Olympic Games, winning his eighth tonight as a member of the 4x100 men's relay. Congratulations to Michael on breaking this record that was set by Spitz 36 years ago.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Fixing The Billboard Hot 100 chart: Part IV

Most of you are probably very familiar with the show American Idol. In it's seven years, the singing talent show has uncovered many great stars in a variety of music formats including Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Jordin Sparks and Kellie Pickler. Idol will always be associated closely with it's season one winner, Kelly Clarkson. On September 4, 2002, Clarkson was crowned the champion and did a tearful rendition of her soon-to-be released single "A Moment Like This." The song was released to radio almost immediately, debuting at #41 on the R&R pop chart just nine days after Clarkson's crowning moment. Four days later, on September 17th, 2002, the single for was made available for purchase.

Due more than anything to the show's amazing popularity, "A Moment Like This" sold a staggering 236,000 copies in it's first week. I still remember purchasing this song myself at my local Best Buy and noticed that it was the ONLY song out that was available at the time as a single. Needless to say, since there really wasn't anything out at the time readily available as a single, it had a HUGE advantage saleswise over anything else charting on the Billboard Hot 100. Due to the strength of it's Pop (Top 40) and Adult Contemporary airplay, the song had already climbed to #52 on the Hot 100. Needless to say, with it's huge sales advantage, the song had no problem leaping 51 spots to number one on the Hot 100 after the first week sales were tabulated! Was this fair or right? Hardly. Eventually, the song would climb to #4 on both the Pop and AC charts, while also peaking at #27 on the Hot AC chart. So yes, the song did turn out to be a pretty significant hit, but was it deserving of being called the "number one song in the U.S." at any point during it's chart life? No.

Sadly, Billboard did nothing to fix this inherent flaw on the Hot 100 chart methodology. As bad as the Kelly Clarkson example was, it was nothing compared to what followed. Since Clarkson won, a string of songs which hardly anyone outside of fans of the American Idol show would become "number one hits" on the Hot 100. On May 21, 2003, Ruben Studdard narrowly won the second American Idol title over Clay Aiken. Three weeks later, both Studdard and Aiken released singles. On June 28th, 2003, Aiken's "This Is The Night" debuted at #1 on the Hot 100 chart, while Studdard's "Flying Without Wings" was right behind at #2. As per the Clarkson example, nothing else was readily available as a single at the time. Aiken's song would go on to become a VERY minor pop radio hit, peaking at #48 on July 18, 2003, while Studdard's song never even charted on the pop chart! American Idol as a show was definitely popular, but were these two songs the two "most popular songs in the nation" at the time? Heck no!

And so it went... Fantasia won season three of the show, released a song called "I Believe" which flopped on U.S. radio, but managed to sell enough to reach #1 on the Hot 100 chart. Carrie Underwood won season four of the show and released a song called "Inside Your Heaven" the her first single. Season four runner-up Bo Bice also released a version of the same song as a single. And once again, both Idols would be at #1 and #2 on the Hot 100. While Carrie's song would eventually peak at #10 on the R&R AC chart, and also barely crack the Top 50 at Country and Top 40 radio, Bice's song never charted on a radio chart. Once again, we had songs ruling the Hot 100 which were hardly relevant outside of American Idol's audience.

In season five, Taylor Hicks won Idol in what most to this day still consider a HUGE upset. Anyone who watched the show that year knows that the guy with all of the talent that year was one Chris Daughtry. Daughtry only took fourth place that season, but he would end up having the last laugh as I'm sure you know. Taylor's coronation song, "Do I Make You Proud" flopped at pop radio as did most of the previous winner's songs. The song did manage to eventually peak at #20 on the Adult Contemporary chart - not much of a feat, considering it usually takes less than 200 spins in a week nationwide to get to that position. Sales in excess of 228,000 copies though ensured yet another illegitimate #1 Hot 100 debut. Not even two months after release, the song was off the Hot 100 chart as sales for it dramatically fell after the first two weeks.

Jordin Sparks won season six of Idol. Unlike the previous winners, her coronation song, "This Is My Now," was not released as a physical single. The main reason for this is that Billboard had FINALLY come to the realization that physical singles were no longer relevant. Even if a song sold 150,000 physical copies, it wasn't going to have a significant impact on the Hot 100 chart now. Like Hicks' song, Jordin's song was available for digital download though. The song did not receive signficant airplay and also didn't sell all that well as many people were probably looking to buy a physical copy. As a result the song "only" reached #15 on the Hot 100 chart. Jordin's first "official" release from her debut album, called "Tattoo" was released to radio on August 27, 2007. Despite her label, Jive, repressing downloads of the song for four weeks, the song would only manage to get to #8 on the Hot 100. "Tattoo" would turn out to be the second most successful pop radio Idol winner debut hit to date though, reaching #5 on the Mediabase pop chart. It would also crack the top 10 at AC and hit #12 at Hot AC.

With Billboard's realization that digital was now the preferred method of single purchase, you would have thought that some sense of accuracy would be applied to the chart... However, as seen with the Mariah Carey and Rihanna examples in Part III, this was hardly at all the case. With season seven Idol winner, David Cook, the Hot 100 chart would arguably reach it's all-time low. Prior to Cook's winning of Idol, Billboard decided to attempt to "tweak" the chart again in 2006. Digital sales became a HUGE component of the chart. So much so, that it was now common for songs that no one had heard of to chart. Miley Cyrus had SIX songs debut on the Hot 100 with the release of her Hannah Montana album. Cook would have 11 songs debut on the Hot 100, including four in the top 30, when his album came out earlier this year! Cook's first single, "The Time Of My Life" debuted at #3 on the Hot 100 on the strength of 236,000 sales in it's first week. The song has gone on to become a decent-sized hit, reaching #30 at Top 40, #6 at Hot AC and #3 at AC. Since radio airplay is now a bigger component of the Hot 100 chart, the song did not make it to #1 despite it having the second largest week one sales for an Idol winner's coronation song. Lil' Wayne's "Lollipop" and "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis - two singles which have sold more than 5,500,000 units to date combined - prevented it for hitting the top spot.

I bring up the sales figures for "Lollipop" and "Bleeding Love" for many reasons, but first and foremost is that huge sales over a long duration (rather than a few weeks)are usually a sure sign of a hit record. Additionally, sales usually run ahead of airplay on the charts today. In other words, a song usually will peak in sales before it has peaked in radio airplay. If the people at Billboard realized this, it would go a long way towards fixing the Hot 100.

In part five, I'll explain the above statement along with asking the agelong question - why can't Billboard find a way to incorporate album sales into the Hot 100, especially in cases like Kid Rock's??? In case you don't know, Kid Rock currently has the #5 pop song in the nation with "All Summer Long." It's also #4 at Hot AC and even #13 at Country! It's a bona-fide multi-format smash! Even in Billboard's much-maligned airplay component, the song is in the top five at the moment with nearly 90 million in estimated listening audience. Kid Rock's current album Rock N Roll Jesus is selling in excess of 90,000 copies a week. Yet, Kid Rock's HUGE current hit sits mired at #28 on the Hot 100 chart!!! Why is it sitting so low, despite the fact that over 1,500,000 copies of the song have been sold to date? That's to come, along with me finally recommending some solutions to fixing the chart.

Next: Part V - The Fix


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fixing The Billboard Hot 100 chart: Part III

As I mentioned in Part II, Billboard revised their Hot 100 chart formula in the mid-1990's to include all major types of popular music in the airplay end of it, rather than just pop (top 40) radio airplay as it always had been. The very erroneous assumption that all formats of music move sales units equally was made in doing this, an error which to this day Billboard has failed to recognize. This assumption couldn't be further from the truth! Formats such as Rock, Country, Alternative, Urban and Urban AC were figured into the Hot 100 formula instead of just pop stations. And while there may be many of these kinds of stations around, the fact of the matter is that these formats (no matter how much they play their format's hits) DO NOT SELL singles!

Since it's heyday in the early 1980's, the pop radio format has fragmented somewhat. And while Mainstream Pop (top 40) is still the dominant format, the Rhythmic format was birthed out of it in the 1980's, and in 1994, we saw the debut of the Adult Top 40 charts (also known as Hot AC). When you study the sales charts of the top selling singles of today, the popular songs from these three formats tend to dominate them. For all it's popularity, the Country format as a whole does not move singles units. However, Country crossover artists such as Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift (who both hit the top 10 of the pop chart last year) tend to sell very well.

As a result of the revised Hot 100 policy, the chart began to slant toward the Rhythmic end of things in the mid-1990's and has continued to do so to this day. Straight ahead pop hits, or pop songs with a rock edge rarely had a chance to hit the top of the chart anymore because formats such as Rhythmic, Urban and Urban AC effectively were not "mass appeal" enough to play a mainstream pop record, no matter how big of a hit it was nationally.

So, as we entered the 2000's, the Billboard Hot 100 continued to be very inaccurate on both the airplay and sales fronts. When digital downloads began to be incorporated into the Hot 100 formula in 2005, there finally was some hope on that end of things. For the first time in about 15 years, you could purchase practically any song you heard on the radio for a reasonable price. Whether it be via iTunes, Walmart, Rhapsody or some other source, the digital download now ruled the singles marketplace.

Unfortunately, Mariah and the evil minds at her new label, Island, figured out a new way to manipulate the sales component of the Hot 100 chart. It was basically the same thing Sony did with the physical singles back in the mid-late 1990's and early 2000's - they repressed sales of a new release until it had racked up enough of an estimated listening audience (airplay) to ensure a #1 hit on the Hot 100 chart. And while in early 2005, Mariah had her huge comeback hit, "We Belong Together" - a song which no one can dispute was a legitimate MASSIVE #1 hit on the Hot 100 and otherwise, a lot of funny stuff happened in the two years after that.

On October 11, 2005, Mariah and her label officially released a song called "Don't Forget About Us" to pop radio. Although a huge hit at several formats, including Pop, Rhythmic, Urban and Urban AC, it "only" managed to reach #2 on the Hot 100 in it's first 9 weeks of official airplay. It would have reached #1 and probably would have had a very long run at the top of that chart if they had released a single for purchase. Island decided to repress the song, and didn't make it available for download until December 13, 2005. Not surprisingly, the song sold A TON of units in the weeks that followed, and ended up spending two weeks at #1 on the Hot 100 chart.

Fast forward to 2008. In the two years that passed, other artists such as Rihanna repress singles to purchase a #1 hit on the Hot 100 chart... Mariah in the meantime has completed a new album entitled E=MC². The lead single, entitled "Touch My Body," is released to radio on February 12th. Since Mariah was coming off a huge 6x Platinum album in The Emancipation of Mimi , it figured that no matter how good or bad the song was, that it would have no problem getting airplay or adds at the formats where her previous hits had been successful. The reception to the song though was VERY lukewarm at pop radio after the initial hype died down. After reaching the top 10 in only five weeks, it was out of the top 10 just six weeks later, peaking at #7. Low callout scores (as with "Honey") doomed this song's chances from the start. Quite frankly, the song just wasn't anywhere close in quality to Mariah's early albums or her comeback hits from the last album. While a #7 song is nothing to sneeze at, most expected Mariah's first single to do better.

Which brings us back to the Hot 100 chart. While Rhythmic, Urban and Urban AC stations played "Touch My Body," it wasn't as huge as any of the three hits off the previous album either. Yes, it reached the top 10 at all of these formats, but not number 1. As a result, it was stalling in the mid-teens on the Hot 100 chart. Island figured they could get Mariah another easy #1 if they repressed downloads. What the label didn't expect was the lukewarm reception to the song on all levels. On March 24, 2008, the label finally released the song as a single to all of the digital outlets. Of course, when you build up demand for a song for six weeks, you would expect that when the song was finally released in it's seventh week on the radio that people would buy it. Think of it as compressing seven weeks of sales into just one. It's not exactly rocket science here... Sure enough, the 48 days of sales compressed into a week were enough to sell 286,000+ units. "Touch My Body" moved from #15 to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, knocking off a legitimate number one song in "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis. Mariah would spend a second week at #1, before being replaced on top by Leona.

Just five weeks after Mariah's shenanigans, Rihanna's label bought her another Hot 100 #1 by repressing downloads of her hit, "Take A Bow." The song entered the top 40 chart on March 23, 2008, but wasn't available for download until six weeks later, on May 6, 2008. Unlike Mariah's song though, this song turned out to be a legitimate hit, reaching #1 on the Pop chart the first two weeks of July, 2008.

NEXT: PART IV - American Idol uncovers a new Hot 100 flaw, and Kid Rock exposes the BIG flaw which the Hot 100 had even before the problems of the past two decades...


Leona Hits #1 Again!

After 10 week runs at number one on both the Pop and Hot AC charts, there really was only one music chart left for Leona Lewis to conquer here in the U.S... and after waiting seemingly forever, she finally has reached the top of the Adult Contemporary chart. With this morning's update, "Bleeding Love" reached the #1 position, knocking off another song to reach #1 on all three charts, "Love Song" by Sara Bareilles.

Top 5 by spins:
Date: lw TW Artist Title TW lw Move aud
2 1 LEONA LEWIS Bleeding Love 2149 2071 78 17.543
1 2 SARA BAREILLES Love Song 2086 2240 -154 16.629
4 3 DAVID COOK Time Of My Life 1926 1829 97 14.613
3 4 JOHN MAYER Say 1810 1873 -63 14.110
6 5 TIMBALAND/ONEREPUBLIC Apologize 1497 1335 162 9.699

Leona is now ascending the pop chart here in the U.S. with her second single, "Better In Time" which has already reached the #20 position and is also the biggest airplay gainer on the entire chart the past week. While it would be crazy to think that "Better In Time" would be able to be as massive a hit as "Bleeding Love" was, it's not out of the question for the song to duplicate her first hit's success and hit #1 on the pop chart. Congratulations to Leona on another #1 and her continued incredible success here in the U.S.!!!


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dodgers Dunn in?

The Arizona Diamondbacks traded yesterday for one of baseball's premier sluggers, acquiring Adam Dunn from the Cincinnati Reds. Despite a low .233 batting average, Dunn is leading the National League with 32 home runs and also has driven in 74 runs. The move definitely is in direct reaction to the Los Angeles Dodgers acquisition of Manny Ramirez. While the Manny trade probably made the Dodgers the favorite to win the divison, this latest move probably evens things back up, or even swings the ball back into the D-Backs court.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Harrington Gets Double-Major!

Padraig Harrington is doing his best to take the place of one Tiger Woods while the world's #1 player in the world recovers from surgery. Harrington holed long putts on the final three holes in a very Tiger-like performance to outlast both Sergio Garcia and Ben Curtis to claim his first PGA Championship by two strokes yesterday.

Congratulations to Padraig on winning his second consecutive major and third career one. He definitely has taken full advantage of Tiger being gone, hasn't he?


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Carlos Lee Out For Season! :(

As many of you know, I'm an avid fantasy baseball player, and a less avid fantasy football player. I still play the latter, but I honestly believe it takes little to no skill to win a fantasy football league - it's usually about luck. Anyways, being a fan of fantasy baseball, I participate in nearly 20 leagues each year. Some or more casual, others are more important - particuarly the money leagues I play in every year on CBS Sportsline. When I tell you the prize for winning such a league is in the four figures, you'll probably understand why I'm a little upset at what is going on right now.

In case you missed the news, Carlos Lee of the Houston Astros was hit by a pitch from Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo last night. The pitch broke Lee's left pinkie and he's going to be out 6-8 weeks. In other words, he's all but done for the year!!! Just how big of a loss is this? Lee was leading the National League in RBI's with 100, and was 4th in the league in homers with 28, to go along with a .314 batting average. Yes, this is a major jolt to not one, but TWO of my five teams!!! And it could have been worse as I traded him for Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon a couple of weeks ago in a third league.

Players such as Carlos Lee are deemed by Sportsline and most other fantasy sites as "too valuable to drop," so they are typically put on the respective site's list of Undroppable Players. In other words, even if you want to drop these players, you can't drop them. Albert Pujols, A-Rod, Johan Santana and other players that would typically be picked in the first five rounds of a fantasy draft are usually on these lists. Anyways, as of early this morning, Carlos Lee was STILL on the undroppable list for CBS Sportsline even though he's done for the year! Given that lineups freeze on Monday and I need to get a decent substitute to replace him with, you can probably understand my frustration. It would be awful to lose a league as a result of something being there to protect the integrity of leagues. Hopefully, I will be able to drop Lee VERY soon!

** EDIT **

After some going back and forth with a representative at Sportsline this morning for a bit, I was able to get him dropped from my teams and he is now off the Undroppable List. Mission Accomplished! I only can hope that my fill-ins Mike Cameron and Jason Kubel will perform decent for me in the coming month and a half.


Note: Fixing the Billboard Hot 100 chart: Part III will appear tomorrow... ran out of time today as I was celebrating my hephew Jason's birthday.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Fixing the Billboard Hot 100 chart: Part II

By the early 1990's, physical sales singles were no longer a very accurate way to measure a song's success. Billboard in their infinite wisdom, decided to mess with the one part of the chart which didn't need fixing - the pop airplay component. Pop radio stations (also known as Top 40) were known as such because they played the songs that were popular regardless of format. Whether it be pop, rhythm and blues, country, easy-listening, etc. a song had a home at top 40 radio if it was truly a hit. That's always been the beauty of top 40 radio - it's the "melting pot" of POPular music so to speak. Instead of just tracking pop station airplay, Billboard would eventually combine the airplay of EVERY other popular format into one chart: The Hot 100 airplay chart. This created a whole new monster, one which I will explore in Part III.

In the meantime, while the "airplay only" hits were finally allowed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, they still faced a serious disadvantage to any song actually available as a single. The very first song that was #1 in pop airplay after Billboard revised it's chart policy in late 1998 was "Lullaby" by Shawn Mullins. Despite spending five weeks on top of the Radio & Records pop airplay chart, it only made it to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. And this handicap was the norm for #1 pop hits without an avaiable single - they rarely ever cracked the top 5 of the Hot 100. Billboard would later revise it's formula from 60% airplay/40% sales to 80% airplay/20% sales, but the reality was even this wasn't good enough as for all intents and purposes, the single was dead.

There were so few singles available by this time, that even a song that didn't get much pop airplay could chart VERY high on Billboard's Hot 100 chart if it sold a lot of units, so the record companies decided to start the practice of deeply discounting CD singles to the point that they were actually losing lots of money on them. Typically, a deeply discounted single sold for only .49 cents.

The first artist to habitually exploit this loophole in Billboard's Hot 100, perhaps ironically, was Mariah Carey. As this GREAT article entitled "Hot 100 Blues" by Jon Cummings points out:

"Labels began playing more overt games with the Hot 100 as well during those years. More and more frequently, beginning with Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone” in September 1995, they delayed releasing a single until airplay was cresting – and then often put the singles into stores at a huge discount – so that a song’s combined airplay and sales figures would result in a Number One debut. Sony employed this strategy with Mariah Carey three times between ’95 and ’97."

Up until the early 1990's, the Hot 100 had always been a chart that a song would naturally rise up and down based on it's popularity. As per the above, Michael Jackson's song was the first song to debut at #1 on the Hot 100. "Fantasy" would do the same for Mariah four weeks later, on September 30, 1995. Sony then began to even more blatently manipulate the chart starting with Mariah's duet with Boyz II Men, "One Sweet Day." And while "One Sweet Day" indeed was a huge radio hit, spending eight weeks at the top of R&R's pop chart, the record label manipulation (i.e: deeply discounting the song), to go along with the fact that so few songs were now available as singles allowed it to spend a ridiculous 16 weeks at #1 on the Hot 100!!!

In the modern era (1965-present), The Beatles were the first act to spend as many as nine weeks at number #1 on the Hot 100 with their hit "Hey Jude" in 1968. Debby Boone broke that record in 1977, scoring 10 weeks at #1 on the Hot 100 with "You Light Up My Life." Olivia Newton-John tied that record four years later with "Physical." With the single getting phased out in the early 1990's, it became easier and easier for songs to have long runs at the top of the Hot 100. In fact, from 1992 to 1994, FOUR songs spent 11 weeks or more at #1! Those four songs would be "I Swear" by All-4-One (11 weeks), "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston (14 weeks), and the Boyz II Men hits "End of The Road" (13 weeks) and "I'll Make Love To You" (14 weeks). Clearly, even prior to Mariah's first two chart manipulations in 1995, something was VERY wrong with the Hot 100 chart.

In 1997, Sony employed their shady chart tactics a third time as the song "Honey" was released from Mariah's Butterfly album. Unlike all of her previous releases, "Honey" was not accepted well either by pop radio or Mariah's huge fanbase. Indeed, at the time I was such a fan of Mariah's that I would buy her albums the day they came out. Well, Butterfly marked the first time that I was disappointed with a Mariah album. "Honey" was a very highly anticipated single, and within two weeks of relase, it had already reached #18 on the R&R pop chart. It struggled mightily after that though, peaking at #10 just four weeks later. Callout scores (numbers which measure a song's popularity amongst radio listeners) were also very low for the first time with a Mariah release. Seeing all of this, Sony rush released "Honey" to the record stores just in time to get it three weeks at the top of the Hot 100 chart, again discounting the song to .49 cents just to ensure that it got there.

Over the next three years, Mariah's label would continue this practice of chart manipulation. "My All" reached only #15 on the R&R pop airplay chart in 1998, "Heartbreaker" reached #21 in 1999, and "Thank God I Found You" peaked at #28 in 2000. Thanks to Sony stalling the release of the deeply discounted singles until the songs were peaking at radio and thanks also to perhaps only 5% of songs at that time even being available as singles, all three of these songs managed a #1 peak on Billboard's Hot 100. Have any of you out there even heard of these three songs? I didn't think so. None of these songs was a radio hit, nor the "most popular song in the nation" as the Hot 100 would lead you to believe.

While people could shell out .49 cents for the few singles that were available during the late 1990's/early 2000's, the fact of the matter was that for most popular songs, you usually had to purchase a full length CD to get the one song you wanted. So out of public frustation more than anything, the file sharing site called Napster came to prominence as more and more consumers became fed up with having to shell out $10-$11 for a full length CD for their favorite song. By 2001, many other sites, including Kazaa had sprouted up and tried to get a piece of the "illegal file sharing" marketplace. Several years after the illegal sites came into prominence, the record industry finally figured out a way to tap into this source of potential revenue. The single was re-birthed (for the most part) via iTunes, Walmart and many other online sites where you could legally download popular single songs to your computer for .99 cents or so. Unfortunately, Billboard didn't start using digital downloads in the Hot 100 formula until 2005. With this change, it finally looked like there was hope for the Hot 100 chart...

WEDNESDAY: Part III ... Just when things were looking better, Sony finds yet another way to manipulate the Hot 100.


Friday, August 8, 2008

And why is Facebook???

Putting on ads by giving out a million Obama buttons??? If they're going to be promoting Obama stuff, they better start doing the same with McCain... it's only fair, right?


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fixing the Billboard Hot 100 chart: Part I

As many of you know, when I cite the positions of popular songs, I rarely even mention the word "Billboard" here in this blog. Usually, I will use the radio airplay charts from Mediabase (old Radio & Records), and occasionally, I will cite sales figures from iTunes or Soundscan. For those of you that don't know the reason why I don't care for Billboard, it's because I don't recognize their main chart, the Hot 100, as being realistic or even close to resembling what is truly popular.

Once upon a time - think back about 20 years - you could buy pretty much any song you wanted to that you heard on the radio in the form of a physical single. Singles were pretty cheap back then, ranging from .99 cents to $1.99 depending on where you went to buy them. If you liked a song, it was much better for the consumer to spend a couple of bucks on a single instead of $9-10 or more on a full-length album. And for the real music fan like me who actually collected singles, it was a GREAT hobby. If I really liked an artist or multiple singles from the album, then I was more likely to buy the album in addition to the single.

At that time, Billboard's Hot 100 chart was comprised of Pop radio station airplay and physical sales, unlike today where they combine the airplay from stations of all formats (more on this inherent problem later). For a very long time, this method of combining pop airplay and sales produced very reliable and informative charts which represented what was truly popular. Sometimes you'd have songs not be such huge airplay hits such as Golden Earring's "Twilight Zone" (which never even cracked the top 30 in pop airplay) be such huge sellers, that they would end up in the top 10 of the Hot 100 chart. Conversely, there were songs such as Billy Joel's "Allentown" which were huge in pop airplay (#3), yet only sold well enough to get to #17 on the Hot 100. And of course, you had other songs that did well in both areas such as "Every Breath You Take" by the Police, which was #1 in airplay for eight weeks and also #1 on the Hot 100 for the same eight weeks as a result of it's dominance on the sales front.

In the late 1980's though, the first signs of true corporate greed within the music industry began to take hold. Record companies were looking at ways to generate more revenue. Short-sightedly, they inferred that sales of singles cut dramatically into album sales. As a result, the physical single started to become harder to come by in 1989 as record labels began to limit their releases. By 1991, this trend got to the point that even releases by very popular artists such as Mariah Carey were affected. Mariah's hit "Emotions" reached #1 on the pop airplay chart for four weeks late in 1991, and #1 on the Hot 100 for three weeks. However, due to the fact that the label didn't release a ton of copies of the single, it only reached #10 in sales. Songs that weren't even reaching the top 40 in either sales or airplay were becoming top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. For example, Nelson's "Only Time Will Tell" reached #28 on the Hot 100, yet only reached #42 on the airplay chart and #51 in sales. Cher's "Love and Understanding" reached #17 on the Hot 100 on the "strength" of reaching #38 on the pop airplay chart and #45 in sales. Clearly, the once reliable Hot 100 chart had some major problems... and it only got worse! 17 years later it's STILL trying to recover!

The main reason the Hot 100 lost it's accuracy in the early 1990's is that Billboard was slow (and I mean VERY slow) to react to the fact that the record companies were phasing out the single. "Airplay only" hits became more and more prevalent as a result. In 1994, the Counting Crows had a HUGE #1 pop radio hit called "Mr. Jones." Their follow-up single, "Round Here" also cracked the top 10, peaking at #9 on the Radio & Records airplay chart. Not surpringly, their debut album August and Everything After was a huge success here in the U.S., eventually going 7x platinum. If you were watching the Billboard Hot 100 chart during their 1994 run though, you would have completely missed out on the Counting Crows. Since neither song had a physical single released, neither was eligible to chart on the Hot 100.

Remember the T.V. show Friends? Of course, you do!!! And yes, it's true that I've been known to recognize Courtney Cox-Arquette just from seeing her amazing blue eyes on a magazine cover. Anyways, a band called the Rembrandts had a song called "I'll Be There For You" which turned out to be used as the theme for the show. The song spent eight weeks at #1 on the R&R pop chart in mid-1995, but once again didn't chart on the Hot 100 while it was huge on the radio. Over 3 1/2 months after it peaked at radio, the song was finally released as a single. By that time, most of us had shelled out $10 for the Rembrandts' LP album and didn't need a copy of the single. As a result, it only reached #35 in sales, and a #17 Hot 100 peak.

In 1996, a band from Southern California called No Doubt was gaining national prominence... Their debut song, "Just A Girl" hit #22 on the R&R pop airplay chart. The follow-up, "Spiderwebs," hit #11 on the chart. Late that year, the song which probably more than any other single song caused Billboard to FINALLY start to rethink their Hot 100 chart policy, "Don't Speak," spent nine weeks at #1 on the R&R pop airplay chart. As with the Counting Crows, none of the No Doubt songs was available as a single and of course none of them charted on the Hot 100. By the end of 1997, their Tragic Kindgom album was 11x Platinum here in the U.S...

To further add insult to Billboard's injury, the Cardigans came from across the Atlantic to have their hit "Lovefool" spend six weeks at #1 on the R&R Pop airplay chart in early 1997... once again, no single available, so no Hot 100 chart appearance. The next year, Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" would spend 11 weeks at #1 on the Pop airplay chart. Later that year, "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls would spend four weeks at #1 and an amazing 28 weeks in the top 10 of the R&R pop airplay chart. On December 5, 1998, Billboard FINALLY made the change to their Hot 100 chart which had been many years overdue - they allowed airplay only hits to chart... but did that fix the problem? No. In fact, the colective record company greed of the 90's decade finally caught up with them, creating it's own "piranha" so to speak the very next year in the form of a little thing called NAPSTER.



Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Pujols FINALLY Gets To D-Lowe

The St. Louis Cardinals have always owned Derek Lowe - OK, everyone but perhaps superstar Albert Pujols. As I told a few friends and family over the weekend, I had a VERY bad feeling about this game for Lowe and the Dodgers. I told them that I think Pujols is long "overdue to have a good game against D-Lowe." Coming into last night's game pitting the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols was only hitting .235 in 17 career at bats against Lowe with no home runs. Overdue, you bet!

With a 1-5 career record, a 5.24 ERA, 1.63 WHIP and a .325 batting average allowed in six career starts against the St. Louis Cardinals, it was clear going into tonight's game that Lowe was going to have his work cut out for him. The good news for him was that Rick Ankiel and his career .500 batting average against was out of the starting lineup again for the Cards. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, known "Lowe killers" Ryan Ludwick (.571), Adam Kennedy (.379), Yadier Molina (.308) and Troy Glaus (.300) were all in tonight's starting lineup for the Cards. The writing was certainly on the wall...

Lowe and the Dodgers though got off to a quick start tonight, taking a 2-1 lead after two innings thanks to Manny Ramirez's third home run in four days, and an Angel Berroa run-scoring triple. Ramirez would score Matt Kemp with a single in the third inning to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead. Lowe gave up four hits in the first two innings, so he was already looking shaky, but got bailed out by overanxious Cards newcomer Felipe Lopez in the bottom of the second. Lopez tried to score from second on a Cesar Izturis single with two out in the second inning, but was cut down easily at the plate to thwart the rally... A Pujols double, a Ludwick single, a Glaus single and a Molina single in the third quickly tied things at 3-3.

Things went from bad to worse for Lowe in the fourth inning. Opposing pitcher Joel Piniero opened it with a single, Izturis followed with a one out single, and then Kennedy singled. The bases were now loaded and Mr. Pujols was coming to the plate. You probably can guess what happened. Pujols unloaded on a fastball, driving it high and deep into the left field stands for a grand slam. Ludwick followed with a home run of his own and Lowe's night was done for. The carnage: 3 1/3 innings pitched, 13 hits allowed, eight earned runs allowed - the kind of performance that can severely hurt your fantasy team... The Dodgers would try to rally, but it would come up short as they would lose 9-6.

As for Pujols, he certainly got well quickly against Lowe and now owns a robust .350 career average against him with his 3-for-3 effort tonight. He also walked in the sixth inning and added a fourth hit in the 8th inning to complete his perfect night at the plate. With the 4-for-4 hitting barrage, Pujols upped his batting average to .352 on the season.

Being an owner of Lowe in four of my five most important fantasy baseball leagues, I'd ordinarily be very upset about his poor start and how it negatively affected all of my fantasy teams... But, it didn't affect me in the slightest as I had the foresight to bench him in EVERY ONE OF MY LEAGUES this week! Yes, I dodged a BIG bullet!


Favre Traded To Jets! :(

I'm in a state of shock and sadness with this news. Brett Favre is the Green Bay Packers, or make that WAS... It's a sad day to be a cheesehead for sure. While I'm sure Brett will have some success as the QB of the New York Jets, it's certainly not going to be the same seeing him in that uniform. An era has ended, a legacy is over... it's very sad to see what the Green Bay Packers brass has done to ruin the great thing they had... I guess it goes to show that you're truly only as good as your last pass. For those that forget, Favre's last pass as a Packer was an interception.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

My iPod is OK after all! :)

Good news on the iPod front... after telling a few of my friends at work what happened with my iPod the previous day, many told me just to wait a while and it would start working again on it's own. Skeptical, I said "O.K., if you say so" to all of them, expecting the worst. Well, these friends of mine obviously knew something that I didn't from past iPod experiences as sure enough I plugged it into my computer after work last night and the "charging" sign came up!!! It appears to be just fine this morning. I guess Leona didn't bleed it dry after all! :)


Friday, August 1, 2008

iPod Bled Dry???

... at least that's what my friends are telling me. My iPod, which I only have had since Christmas last year suddenly stopped working yesterday a little before 10 a.m... Perhaps appropriately, the last song it played before it ceased function was "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis - far and away the song I had played the most on my iPod. My friends have told me that perhaps it will start working again if I let it sit for awhile. I did drop it a few times - the worst one being at the gym about four weeks ago when it somehow fell out of it's protective case while I was doing some arm curls. That was about a three foot fall right onto the hard gym floor. I just hope it starts working again soon and/or that it isn't too expensive to repair. I'm missing it A TON already!