Think of the last time you heard major news about music charts.
Whether it was a record-breaking moment like Drake passing Madonna for the most top 10 hits in Hot 100 history, or an announcement about your favorite artist earning their latest chart-topping album, it's likely the news first spread through a @Chartdata tweet.
Since it was launched in 2016, the Chart Data Twitter account has grown into one of the internet's most trusted sources for timely and accurate news about the charts. The day Cardi B earned her first No. 1 hit in 2017, she excitedly refreshed the Chart Data page for updates. Any time K-pop superstars like BTS are about to set a new record, their fans go straight to Chart Data for confirmation. And just yesterday, when Drake broke his latest Billboard record, his only public response was to share a screenshot of Chart Data's tweet on his Instagram Story.
So, who is behind the Chart Data Twitter account, and how are they beating long-running industry establishments like Billboard at their own game?
In an effort to remain anonymous and impartial, the person who runs Chart Data chooses not reveal their own identity. But Complex can confirm that they started the account without established industry connections, and they handle day-to-day operations alone. Their secret to success? Speed and consistency. By sharing easily digestible tweets about relevant milestones more quickly than accounts like @Billboard get around to doing it, Chart Data has become the go-to source for fans looking for the latest chart news.
The tweets themselves are simple and formulaic. One recent tweet reads: "Billboard Hot 100: #100 (new) 'The Climb Back,' J. Cole (@JColeNC)." Another says: "Today in 2002, @AvrilLavigne's 'Complicated' reached #1 on the Pop Songs airplay chart." The person behind the account says they purposefully stick to the facts and keep personal opinions out of the tweets, but the relatively dry messages still elicit emotional responses from fans. Under every Chart Data tweet is a barrage of GIFs, memes, and replies like, "We stan!" If you scroll far enough, you'll invariably see someone type: "BTS outsold!"
Somewhere along the way to reaching 500,000 followers, Chart Data stumbled into the epicenter of a beautifully strange place called Stan Twitter. In this corner of the internet, everyone's a "legend," any artist who didn't set records "flopped," and hyper-competitive fans are obsessed with tracking sales numbers for their favorite musicians. Chart Data has become their news source of choice, and in turn, these passionate stans have fueled the growth of the account.
Celebrating the occasion of Chart Data tallying half a million followers, I called the person who runs the page for a conversation about how they've built one of music's most important Twitter accounts from the ground up. Two years ago, I conducted a short email Q&A with the same person, but the account has grown so much since then, we had a lot more to discuss this time. Over the course of the phone call, we dove deep into the full history (and future) of Chart Data. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
What made you want to start Chart Data when you launched it back in 2016?
I had some experience running Twitter pages in the past, and I've always been interested in numbers and music. When I started [the account], it was the middle of summer, I was bored, and just having fun. I've always prided myself on being professional and trying to be very clean with facts, without giving too many opinions. I think a lot of people liked that, because Twitter is typically a place for opinions.
I realized Twitter was the way that I was getting my information, but it took a while for articles to pop up about things I was interested in. You would have to wait hours after the news had already broken, so I thought I could use that to my advantage. I noticed that there was an opportunity, but in all honesty, I didn't start this with the intention of having half a million followers. That wasn't the plan. I was just having fun.
What was your main goal for Chart Data at the beginning?
I just wanted to make a place where people who were really interested in the charts could see the information right as it was happening. There's a new No. 1 every week, and it has always been something that I've followed. So I was like, maybe I can get other people to look at my page. It wasn't anything more than that. I didn't have a specific goal other than wanting to get the information out there. But after that, once I started seeing artist reactions, I saw that maybe there was more potential for this than I realized.
How were you able to grow your following in the early days of the account?
I'm not really sure what happened. At the beginning, I wasn't even tagging artists all the time. In hindsight, that may have been a mistake and it probably slowed growth. But again, that wasn't the focus. In the early days, people noticed that I seemed to be on top of things, and it just spread. The first real reaction, where I remember being, like, "Wow, this is a thing," was Cardi B, because there was a whole video of it.
Even before that, though, Cardi B used to screenshot your tweets and share them on Instagram.
I'm not going to lie. I spend so much time on the Twitter page that none of the other social media platforms really exist to me. That sounds bad, but if that happened, I wasn't really aware of it.
When we spoke last, you had just reached 100,000 followers. Now, you have half a million followers and everyone in the industry knows about your account. How have things changed for you?
Well, on a personal level, I am more stressed out than ever, because I realize that I'm not just tweeting to five people. I don't tweet with intent of trying to get a hit tweet, but at this point, I'll know what's going to get a big reaction [before sharing it]. I think the reason why it's changed so much, from me being a random person on Twitter to a trusted source, is that I'm relentless. I keep going. It was a combination of being timely and getting lots of updates out all the time. Now, I don't tweet as much as I used to, because I can't. I have too much going on, and Twitter has certain limits they've put in place that have really changed the entire way I run the account, compared to a year or two ago.
Is Chart Data still a one-man operation?
Every single tweet that has ever been sent, which is like 80,000, is all by me. But I do have people that are helping me a little bit behind the scenes, and I definitely would not be in the same place without them. So I do appreciate those people.
Has your goal for Chart Data changed over time?
This is a complicated question, because I can't really answer it without giving away too much about me, but I just want to see how big it can get.
Besides the Cardi B reaction, what are the other biggest moments in Chart Data history?
Well, the whole point of the account is that I don't give my personal opinion. But I'm not going to lie, when there are artists that I really like, and they share me, I get very happy. It makes it feel like I'm not just doing it for nothing. I really appreciate all artist's responses. It's motivation to keep going, because it shows they trust me. I guess the [Chart Data] name is so well-known now that you don't have to question it, and that makes me feel great.
Taking your personal feelings out of it, can you pinpoint the biggest reaction you've seen?
I feel like this one's going to get me in trouble, but out of the early ones, there was one from Taylor Swift. It was just a "like." But she doesn't often "like" anything on Twitter, and I didn't even mention her directly. I didn't tag her. So the fact that she somehow saw that, or someone on her team saw that, was just like, wow. I didn't expect that. There's been a lot, though, so it's hard to choose.
Do you know what your most-liked tweet is?
I think the most-liked tweet was from earlier this year. It was about the debut positioning for the BTS song, "ON." I think it has around 95,000 likes. I think my most-viewed post is my Instagram handle post, which is funny, because it's just been sitting there [pinned] the whole time. Other than that, I think it was a tweet about Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert going platinum.
How often do artists reach out directly in DMs?
Not all the time, but I've received a few. One of them was public, and the artist shared our conversation. But other than that, I don't really want to get all into it. It happens occasionally. It's mostly when someone reaches out to me. Or maybe someone at a label is like, "Oh, we have some interesting updates for you." It's usually stuff like that.
What has been the biggest key to your success growing the account?
I think it's mostly timing. On certain things, I was the absolute first. I don't want to say that I've let that go, but I think that there's a little bit less pressure now. The fact that I built it all based on timeliness has given me more access to things. I don't really know how to explain that in more detail, but I have received some extra help because of how big it got.
How would you describe your daily workflow, running Chart Data?
Honestly, it's maybe a little sad to think about. It takes up a lot of time. Being the only person that is working on it, I had to figure out the schedule of how the industry operates, and base my life around it. That's horrible to me, but that's just how it works. I've actually been able to make it work for me, though. I won't say that it doesn't impact my life, because it does, but I'm okay with it now. I'm used to it. It's not like I spend every waking moment on Twitter. I schedule things ahead of time, and stuff like that.
Can you explain your process for finding the actual chart information and projections?
In terms of the album projections, that's entirely HITS Daily Double. I share that because they know what they're doing. The fact that they're so spot-on with the albums, in particular, is just them.
And if a song is really close to No. 1 on the Hot 100, or if it looks like it's going to hit another significant milestone, I will look at the information that I have and maybe reach out to other people to make sure that it all lines up. Then I'll do very specific posts. For example, when Roddy Ricch was very clearly going to go No. 1 with "The Box," I made a post about that because it was, like, 95% locked. Other than that, in terms of the singles projections, I try not to do too many, in order to maintain accuracy.
Then, in terms of sources, I can't really say, because that might get me in trouble. But I do have a few different sources and places that I can go if I need help with something. Those are the people, again, that really help drive the account forward.
What do you do if one of these sources is wrong? What happens if you report on something, and then the source admits they were incorrect?
I actually love this question because I have a really good example, but that example will land me in hot water. So I'm going to keep it very vague. There was one instance where that did happen, and the artist shared a retweet from the original source that claimed this, and it was a trusted source. They also retweeted my post about it. When the original source deleted their tweet, obviously the retweet disappeared. So then someone reached out to me and assigned the blame to me. Looking back, that was the most ridiculous conversation that I have ever had with anyone in regards to this, because they basically said, "Well, maybe that person made the mistake, but you're the one at fault." A lot of people were reporting on this, though. The artist was talking about it. It wasn't just me. I just happened to get a retweet from the artist. So I didn't know how to deal with that. I try to be as upfront as possible. I basically fell on the sword for that one. I didn't like it, but I did it. And if I do notice something is really wrong or if there's a mistake, I will try to correct it. I try to take responsibility for my own mistakes when they do happen.
The charts are really mysterious in general. Billboard has never released their full chart calculation system, and the rules are constantly changing. Where do you think most of the confusion about the charts comes from?
I think one thing that's really confusing to people is that our definition of a sale seems to change constantly. When a record used to come out, it would sell 500,000 copies, and copies literally meant copies. You went to the store to get a copy, or you bought it on iTunes for $10. That's a copy. And the [total sales number] is: the record sold this many copies from the date of release until now, and they just keep counting on top of it. That, to me, makes sense.
Now, there are rules where the singles will count toward the album. There's also pre-album stuff. Explaining all of this to a casual follower is very confusing for them. Like, what does a pre-release unit even mean? Technically, it makes sense. If a song comes out in 2018 but the album doesn't come out until late 2019, you want to give all the credit to the associated album. But it's confusing to explain that if the song sold two million in 2018 and another three million in 2019, the album is already gold before it's even out. The average person can't pick up on that. And then they've tried to update the process to add video streams and other things. They keep trying to make sales, sales. But they're not sales anymore. They're streams. It's just confusing to try to convert it, but that's how they decided to do it.
Have established music industry people reached out and tried working with you?
I'll say this: I've had contact with a few people in the industry, and for the most part, it's positive. So I'll engage with that. I've never done a pay-to-post or anything like that, though, and I won't. That just doesn't work with my setup at all. I have great respect for most of the people that I've talked to. I have heard some stories of people being quote-unquote "upset" with me, but it's funny, because once I actually talk to these people directly, that upset feeling disappears.
Have you figured out a way to make a living doing this?
It's complicated. Not directly. I think maybe there's potential for me to make a legitimate living from this in the future, but I'm not there yet. I don't make any money for anything that I post directly on my account.
The comments section under your tweets is one of my favorite places on the internet. People are so passionate—
[Laughs]. That's a word to describe it, yeah.
How would you describe how your followers interact with your tweets?
It's complicated. There are different groups of followers. I won't talk about the people that post negative things. When you're on Twitter, you get notifications every time something happens, but I don't get those anymore, so I don't really read my mentions. There are people that I actually recognize, though, and I'll see them comment frequently. Sometimes they'll reach out, and they'll be like, "Oh, I hope you're doing well on a personal level." So it's not all toxic. It's hard to differentiate sometimes, so I try not to get too wrapped up in what's happening in the comments. But there are certain people that I really do appreciate on there, who encourage me to keep going. It's funny, I never thought that I would actually have, I guess, fans of my own.
Do you think people will keep getting more interested in charts as the years go on?
I think the general interest in charts is increasing. Apple has charts. Spotify has charts. Now, we're tracking the exact amount of days that you're No. 1 on Spotify. And we track if you're No. 1 for six days, but not for the week or whatever. There are so many different variations of how you can define an achievement. In a way, it gives a participation trophy to everyone, but at the same time, there are so many different ways to analyze things, which is really fascinating. I think it allows people to have their own moment that they deserve, and their fans get excited about that.
There are certain artists that I tend to focus on, as I'm sure you can tell, but I will say that I'm able to get away with more unique genres than I used to. There are certain genres that I didn't anticipate being very well-received, but when I talk about them now, there will be some traction. That might be due to the fact that the following is not so concentrated on just stans. It's more broad now. I think that actually has a lot to do with the artist shares. I get a lot of casual people following now.
Since you've had such a front-row seat to the phenomenon, I'm curious, how would you describe Stan Twitter?
I've got to be a little careful here, because if they don't like this, they're going to be angry. I think the right word is passionate. It could be good, or it could be bad. It disappoints me a little bit when it's bad. I don't want them to attack the artist that I talk about, and I don't know how to really stop them from doing so. I think when they're positive, they can be really important to a developing artist. I think it's an interesting section of Twitter. They go hard for their artists, and I can respect that. Maybe the artist had some sort of great impact on them, and that's the reason their dedication is so potent. But it is interesting to see everyone come together under my tweets.
Of course, because people are so passionate and competitive, there is also a dark side to stan culture. Have you experienced that much?
The artists definitely experience it a lot worse than me, so I just have to accept that it's become like this. There have been a few instances that really did bother me, but for the most part, I try to act like it doesn't exist. In all honesty, I don't have time to argue with everyone. I don't even have time to get all the tweets out that I want to. Sometimes I miss things and I don't have extra time to divert toward negative attention, so I just try to avoid it. But there have been certain instances where it really did get to a point where I was like, "Do I even want to keep doing this?" So that's been hard.
Recently, there was an incident where some fans turned against you and personal information supposedly got leaked. Is there anything you would like to say about situations like that?
I guess I will just say this: I never intend to make anyone upset in any way. I'm just sorry that certain things are taken negatively. Sometimes people are upset with the way that I present stuff, and the only thing I can say is I'm sorry that they don't like it.
Beyond Twitter, you have branched out a little bit. There’s a website. You have an Instagram account. Can you talk about your plans for expanding?
Honestly, I personally don't like Instagram at all. The only reason why I have an Instagram is because someone made a fake account and it had around 40,000 followers. So I was like, well, I guess I have to do something about it now. I don't have that many followers on Instagram, and I think it's mostly because I just don't care. It's almost a liability thing. If someone screws up really badly on the page that isn't me, I want people to know that I don't run that. In terms of the website, unfortunately, it's just not the priority. The Twitter page is growing so quickly, and the content is much easier. It's much more comfortable for me to just tweet than to write more dedicated stories. I would love to do that more, but it's just too time consuming for me right now. There are a few updates here and there, though
There's the Rolling Data account, too.
Yeah. I run that as well. I don't really know how to approach all of that right now, because it is so new. In certain weeks, people really care a lot about what is happening with that chart. Then other weeks, it doesn't even update. I think there are some kinks to work out in terms of how that chart is presented, and how it should be projected in my realm. I will say that I do like the general idea behind that chart, though.
What are your big goals and ambitions for the future of Chart Data?
Half a million followers is a really big moment for me. I get excited when I see that there's an impact of some kind. Right now, I'm happy with where it's at. I'd like to see it continue to grow. I don't have too many specific goals, because I don't really know what's going to happen. It depends on what the music industry throws at us. I'll just have to play it by ear and see how it goes.
What is the biggest misconception people have about Chart Data?
I have a certain style, and my tweets tend to follow a very generic layout. So if you don't understand how a chart works, there can be some confusion, especially with the pre-release stuff. It's like, how do you go gold on the first day if you're only going to sell 100,000 in the first week? People get really confused by that. But the thing is, I'm willing to answer questions and help clarify things. One of the misconceptions is that I am purposefully confusing. But the problem is, there are only so many things you can fit in a tweet. So I can't be like, “Well, this includes sales from this single and that single, from this year to that.” I'm willing to explain things, though. Sometimes if people don't understand, they'll leave something negative [about me]. But actually, I'm willing to help you understand.
What's the most important thing you want people to know about Chart Data right now?
I really just like music a lot. None of this is done out of spite or anything. When I have to share things that I know the audience isn't going to like, it's hard. I don't want to make anyone upset. I just do this because I really like music. I just like looking at charts. Everyone else is on the journey with me.