Monday, February 25, 2013

A Brit of alright?

It’s easy to mock the Brits and judging by the column inches, status updates, blogs & tweets it seems to have been an itch that few could resist scratching. Even my mum told me that James Corden was rubbish and she didn’t watch it.

Undoubtedly I have also been guilty of this in the past but of late I’ve come to terms with the intent of the awards, the function of the show and its reason for existence. If you look at it in these terms – some of which are outlined below - you’d have to acknowledge it is very successful indeed.

The awards themselves in the main recognise the success of British music – music being something we are still capable of manufacturing and exporting. One might viably argue that the likes of Adele & One Direction are not in need of further reward, their multi-million sales being sufficient gratification. This misses the point that success begets success and the status of the ceremony as two hours of prime-time television for mostly-British music is incredibly valuable indeed.

We’ll get to the sales figures shortly but in the absence of regular music programming on TV and in these fragmented times of YouTube, Facebook and whatever it remains the case that The Brits TV show represents a very valuable opportunity for musicians to flog their wares to the mass-market, to middle-England and those people who do actually like music but are not exposed to enough of it.


Yes, we can whinge and moan that this glossily produced and executed mainstream-friendly self-congratulatory extravaganza is not representative of music as a whole but it probably remains the case that the presence of these larger artists and their phenomenal sales does aid the music business as a whole. Essentially some of this money filters down to other acts; it keeps the business of music viable.

It may be a simplistic way of looking at the economics but a few mega-successful acts on a label generally pay for everything that label does. This is as accurate for small labels as it is for the large ones. What is without question is that TV is extraordinarily effective at selling music – perhaps only so because it does it so infrequently. What is true for the X-Factor type progs is also true for The Brits as these sales uplift percentages (from two days after the event) prove.

BRIT sales winners (% uplift):

1. Ben Howard - Every Kingdom (320%)
2. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange (136%)
3. Mumford & Sons - Babel (110%)
4. Muse - The Second Law (103%)
5. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (95%)
6. Taylor Swift - Red (92%)
7. Justin Timberlake - Justified (76%)
8. Robbie Williams - Take The Crown (66%)
9. Emeli Sandé - Our Version Of Events (62%)
10. Lana Del Rey - Born To Die (52%)

 
Whilst these may only be impressive as many of the songs/tracks/albums were building from a low base it does signify that TV still sells. The track Ben Howard performed,'Only Love', rocketed 1156% which proves to me that however successful a song appears to be on airplay or in the charts it may still not have reached the mass-market. The Brits certainly helps with that, particularly as the show itself recorded a record high viewing figure of 6.5m.

The event has a reputation of having an atmosphere akin to a sales conference; there are similarities since it is one of the few at which the industry as a whole still celebrates. I was there for the first time in years. I used to go regularly but turned down a couple of invites in the late nineties/early-noughties and then those invites dried up. That’s the way it works.

It seems churlish to say it – certainly so having attended – but it’s not an event I would normally be enthusiastic about attending. It’s too big and I’m not important enough. That it is now a slick arena show, designed for TV, actually improves the experience to a degree. It means you turn up to see the show and go elsewhere to party – before and after. I’m sure it also benefits from being in a recognised concert venue, my favourite of all Brits ceremonies having been in the Hammersmith Odeon with the KLF/ExtremeNoise Terror opening the show – Muse doesn’t really compare.
 
To be at an industry event is to have endless conversations with people whose names you can barely remember; people whom you can see continually looking over your shoulder trying to spot anyone more important or beautiful that they should be talking to.

I had one conversation with a guy I used to work with but whose name had totally escaped me, which was OK as he clearly thought I was called Mark and came from Manchester. It wasn’t until a mutual friend stepped in that the picture became a lot clearer – I at least remembered his name at that point.

Returning to the event and its critics, John Robb wrote a reasonable ‘open-letter’ , delivering some good points whilst unfortunately still making it sound like he realised a dog has to defecate but that doesn’t mean he should admire the by-product of that defecation. His excellent web-zine then printed a less flattering review which was really only preaching to the converted.

The Guardian rightly claimed the Brits reflect the charts but then also said the winners were predictable. It’s easy to say that post-event but try judging it in advance as I did here and it becomes less so.

I was clearly wrong-footed by Ben Howard who has taken his place as this year’s Ed Sheeran, James Morrison, James Blunt, David Gray, etc. This is not to disparage Howard or the others, all of whom have at least some merits, nor is it damning with faint praise – it is just a case of where he fits. I called it right in 7 of 11 categories, though I was hedging my bets twice so it’s hardly above average. I maintain that Skyfall was far from the best single, it was another award that seemed politically motivated – in this case for cutting Adele short at last year’s event.

It is hard to be fair-minded (this almost achieves it ) but watching The Brits just to criticise it is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. By all means disparage the state of music generally and the failings of the industry if you must, but choosing a once-a-year celebration to do so is mean-spirited to say the least, particularly when it has such a positive effect on music sales.

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