South Korea’s Melon Streaming Service and Circle Chart Move To Ban Muted Streams: ‘We Hope To More Accurately Reflect the K-Pop Industry’

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Seoul, South Korea. Photo Credit: Jul Lee

As diehard fans – and especially K-pop fanatics – continue to organize carefully coordinated listening campaigns to boost their favorite acts’ releases, South Korean music service Melon and the Circle Chart are ceasing counting muted streams.

These steps to stem the tide of streams racked up without actual listening just recently came to light in regional reports. Of course, the mentioned campaigns, far from being a secret, have long been plugged at length on social media – complementing K-pop acts’ organic listenership and, in turn, enhancing overall streaming numbers.

“Are you ready to smash some records and give Taehyung [the last name of BTS member V] a successful solo debut on our local and global charts?” a Philippines-based BTS fan account asked on Twitter/X today, including for good measure a list of clearly defined streaming objectives for the forthcoming release.

“PH ARMYs, gear up for Taehyung’s upcoming solo debut album on September 8, 2023! 💜 PS. Kindly promote and spread the word using the official poster for the PH Goals that the PH Fanbases have created. Thank you!” the decidedly dedicated fanpage wrote.

Predictably, a portion of the involved repeat-heavy listeners – who’ve gone as far as describing ways of avoiding being flagged by streaming services – have in the past attempted to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet by silencing tracks as they continue to play. Now, though, Kakao-owned Melon has moved to put the kibosh on muted streams, which will cease counting towards its charts beginning on Sunday, October 1st.

According to South Korean outlets’ coverage of the pivot, these retooled stream-calculation protocols will impact nearly every official chart, including the Top 100 and the Hot 100. Meanwhile, the Korea Music Content Association’s Circle Chart (formerly the Gaon Chart) is itself preparing to stop factoring for muted streams sometime before 2023’s conclusion.

Notably, the Korea Music Content Association (data from which feeds directly into the IFPI’s global recorded music stats) signaled that domestic muted streams make up an astonishing seven percent of total weekly plays. Omitting these streams from calculations, the organization drove home, will enable the resulting figures to “more accurately reflect the K-pop industry.”

Needless to say, numerous workarounds – from streaming music to headphones without wearing them to playing low-volume tracks on devices left in different rooms, interacting with the platforms at hand as necessary – will still be on the table for ultra-committed followers even after muted streams are prohibited.

But the move could be indicative of a long-term commitment to curbing the prevalence of streams that aren’t accompanied by actual listening. Furthermore, the change has arrived as a number of artists are continuing to break records on platforms including Spotify, where Jungkook yesterday became “the fastest K-Pop soloist” to crack two billion streams “across all credits,” per Chart Data.

Even with price increases now live in a variety of markets, however, the many streams (and users) behind these milestones are contributing to a lower-than-ever average per-stream royalty rate. And with a tidal wave of AI-created tracks further diluting platforms’ (largely overlapping) song libraries, the major labels have in 2023 been advocating for compensation-model changes.