Record labels have always differentiated the music they sell between what’s called Frontline and Catalog. Frontline are recent releases, and Catalog is anything older than 18 months. While the Catalog designation might have worked back in the day of physical products, today the 18 month time frame seems so out of step with the way music is trending.
The Reason For The Time LImit
According to a Chartmetric special report, the 18 month mark seems completely arbitrary to music fans, but it was significant to artists and labels. Writes former Spotify chief economist Will Page, “Back in 1991, the industry was going through a format change; consumers were replacing their vinyl collections with CDs. As a consequence, purchasing albums for the second time became the norm — none more so than Meat Loaf’s classic Bat Out of Hell (1977). This second wave of demand caused this 14-year-old album to dominate the charts — again! Yet the purpose of charts is to promote new releases, not old, so in response the ‘catalogue rule’ [in many countries] was born — decreeing that only ‘new’ or ‘frontline’ albums were chart-eligible, while anything released more than 18 months ago was ineligible. The rule succeeded in removing Meat Loaf from the top of the charts — and all because the music industry was struggling to deal with a format change.”
So the 18 month rule is just trying to keep older music from dominating the charts as the labels attempt to push the latest and greatest!
Trending Today (Or Not)
But here we are today when decades-old songs like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” come back from the dead to the top of the charts. As a result, the term “catalog” seems moot.
For one reason, “old” music is new to listeners that have never been exposed to the song, and that happens a lot. Another is that there just hasn’t been that many blockbuster hits in the last two years. As a result, hits from 2020 like Dua Lipa’s album Future Nostalgia, and Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG, which should technically be defined as catalog, are still on the charts.
Chartmetric suggests that the catalog window time limit should be increased from 18 months to 3 to 5 years. That seems much more appropriate given the status of just about any music popularity chart right now, and how music seems to be trending. Regardless of the reasons, what’s old is new again, and whatever that is should be embraced instead of labeled.