Friday, January 24, 2014

From hate to rate

Year zero: 1976. The time that punk was acknowledged as a genre and its formative bands made their great advances. We had Anarchy In The UK and the biggest selling single was.......Brotherhood of Man’s twee-Eurovision ditty, Save All Your Kisses For Me. Abba’s Greatest Hits was the best-selling album.

1977. Sid joined The Pistols, Nevermind The Bollocks was released. The best selling single? Wings, Mull Of Kintyre. 7” singles were a punk-staple but no punk singles featured in the fifty most popular. Other artists represented more than once were the likes of David Soul and Showaddywaddy, even Emerson Lake and Palmer featured. Once again Abba had the biggest selling album.

Fast forward in a random fashion to 1990, the best-selling single? Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers, Phil Collins had the best-selling album. 2001’s top three? Shaggy, Hear’say and Kylie. If there’s a pattern to be derived from these random years it is only that the music you remember may not be the stuff that was most popular. Seismic shifts in culture, music in particular, are not always reflected in sales.

I was pointed towards The Telegraph web-site for a repetition of my own views that the BBC’s Sound Of and others are essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy. They seem to have taken the concept a little further though into the territory of individuality, self-determination and Beeb-bashing.

What the BBC do, similar to the BRITs/awards/best of polls and other helpful aggregators and compendia of tastes is provide sign-posts, a guide. They tell you what’s likely to be big and you can choose whether you like it. The Telegraph guys may suggest that you should make up your own mind  but you’d have done that anyway.

The problem is that most people are so conservative in their tastes that radio stations increase their audiences by provide less choice and variety of music – despite often claiming the opposite. This piece from the Wall Street Journal  is specific to American stations and audiences but relevant worldwide, it is utterly depressing. At a time when we need a revolution in music we are sadly faced with more of the same. Perhaps it was always this way, just not as obviously.

The music that is most influential is not always that which is successful. You can make up your own minds but a little help to navigate the mass is always worthwhile. The Telegraph could do this for their readership and it might make a difference. The probability is that we'll carry on as always but it is better to try and fail than fail to try and moan about others doing so. Their point may have been made to promote Luke Sital-Singh but they only succeeded in pointing out that they could've praised him earlier. Nice work. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to get ahead in the music business

It seems the only way to get ahead in the music business this year is to be named Sam Smith or to feature on someone else’s very-poppy, dance-crossover Euro-smash. Better still to be called Sam Smith and also appear on a couple of poppy-dancing-smash hits. Smith, it seems, can do no wrong.

Smith recently topped the BBC’s Sound of Poll for this year as well as being the Brit Award winner for act most likely to – or whatever it’s called. Previous recipients of either award have tended to do quite well for themselves, the dice being heavily loaded in their favour. To win both is just greedy though and it seems as though that problem I have about distinguishing Smith from Newman is unique to me and certainly not holding Sam back. If you can be bothered to read most of this piece about ‘collaborations’ you’ll see that Newman doesn’t seem too impressed by the comparison though. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The end of the year as we know it.

If you’re in any way depressed about the state of modern music then it might be time to look away, change channels or simply go off-the-page. The end-of-year charts simply back up what you already knew – guitar based rock or ‘indie’ music is very firmly in decline.

While research commissioned by the BBC suggests that genres are of less importance to today’s music consumer the labels and media appear to be following an agenda that is predominantly urban, EDM or pop-led. In this instance the stats don’t lie.

UK Best selling singles of 2013

1. Robin Thicke feat TI and Pharrell - Blurred Lines  
2. Daft Punk feat Pharrell - Get Lucky  
3. Avicii - Wake Me Up  
4. Passenger - Let Her Go  
5. Naughty Boy feat Sam Smith - La La La  
6. Katy Perry - Roar  
7. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat Wanz - Thrift Shop  
8. Pink feat Nate Ruess - Just Give Me A Reason  
9. OneRepublic - Counting Stars  
10. Justin Timberlake - Mirrors  

The full forty is here in all its gory detail and, as I don’t subscribe to the theory that Passenger, Imagine Dragons or Bastille are even remotely identifiable as such, you’ll be searching in vain for an act that would be traditionally known as rock or indie.

As you might expect rock fares a little – but not much – better in the albums format.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The landscape of the electric lady

Given their ubiquity it is often said that opinions are like arseholes. Pursuing this thought you might also add that those who like to express their opinions with the greatest frequency and volume are also like…..well, you can probably see where I was going with that.

In the context of musical appreciation and its many foibles we need the opinionated though. We need those arbiters to sift through the mass and present us with the nuggets, the must-listens and the like. There’s too much out there – past and present – and the average person, even the average music-lover, cannot even scratch the surface. In the main people (in this country) rely upon radio, other media and their friends and until the streaming sites get better at honing their algorithms this will probably remain the case.

I had been relying heavily upon the end of year summaries featuring the top albums of 2013, trying to work out which of the featured albums/artists I’d probably like and hadn’t heard. Where the lists converged I made a point of trying to catch up with those albums. In general, although I’m probably only half-way through my ‘research’, I wasn’t overwhelmed.