10/05/2012 09:35 BST | Updated 10/07/2012 06:12 BST

Music Streaming Comes of Age With New Streaming Countdown

It is hard to believe that it is now eight years since the first Official Download Chart was launched in the UK. How the world has changed.

It is hard to believe that it is now eight years since the first Official Download Chart was launched in the UK. How the world has changed.

Back then, in 2004, the iTunes Store was less than six years old in the UK, YouTube was still a year away, barely 200,000 downloads were being sold in the UK every week and the first series of X-Factor had just launched.

Fast forward eight years and that download tally has increased 20-fold - and music is available to fans anywhere and anyway they want, through handheld smartphones and digital 'pads' which had barely been thought of in 2004.

Plus, for the price of one cup of coffee a week, it is possible to access pretty much every piece of popular music ever recorded - barring a few exceptions, such as the Beatles, AC/DC and Coldplay - through services such as the likes of Spotify, Deezer, Napster, We7 and a range of others.

These services, which offer unlimited music for a set monthly fee (usually between £5 and £10), or surrounded by revenue-generating advertisements, are now contributing to the UK's first Official Streaming Chart, which will reflecting the most popular streamed tracks in the UK from this Monday. It is a genuine coming of age for digital music.

These streaming services help play an important role in the music community's eco-system. When charts were first invented, they were designed to encourage labels to advertise in the magazines which compiled them - such as the NME and Billboard (in the US).

Since then, the charts have evolved to encourage music fans to listen to and buy the music which other music fans are enjoying - but also to encourage music fans to consume music in new ways.

Just as the Albums Chart was launched in 1956 to encourage consumers to buy albums, so the download chart promoted legitimate (non-pirate) downloads - and now the streaming chart promotes this new way of accessing music.

Today, this function is particularly important. In an era when digital piracy remains an open sore for the music makers and professionals, labels are licensing millions of tracks to streaming services to provide a legitimate, safe, virus-free, all-you-can eat alternative.

Initial reports show that most popular artists so far this year are who you might well expect - Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Rey, the king and queen of streams, if you will. Last year, they were Rihanna and Adele. But, week by week the chart is an intriguing mixture of the music reflected in the Official Singles and Official Albums Charts.

In 2012, the singles chart most directly reflects the music listened to by the nations teens - for much of the past month, Carly Rae Jepson has had the number one - ask a teenager who she is and watch them pull that "are you stooopid?" face at you, alongside tracks by Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj and Tulisa.

The albums chart, on the other hand, reflects a much more mature market - Jack White, Marina & The Diamonds, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Weller, Lana Del Rey, Emeli Sande, Ed Sheeran have all been Number 1 albums this year.

The Official Streaming Chart will be an intriguing mixture of both, with a smattering of curveballs thrown in for good measure. It is a chart which reflects the popularity of the biggest selling singles, as well as tracks from the newest and most popular albums - and, also, among the most streamed acts of this year are the likes of Bon Iver, Ben Howard and Skrillex, acts which got nowhere near similar artist rankings reflecting singles or album sales.

Fact is, when people stream music, either under a subscription or free (but surrounded by ads), they can experiment risk-free.

There is no downside to trying out a new album or artist. And that can only be good news for anyone interested in developing music talent.

More details of the new Official Streaming Chart are available here.