This year Breaking More Waves blog was invited by the BBC to vote on the BBC Sound Of 2010 list, which was published earlier this week. Considering that the blog in this format has only been seriously operating for just over a year, this was a pretty big honour, effectively the BBC recognising Breaking More Waves as having some degree of expertise in new music. Of course when it comes to views on music, opinions are always going to be subjective, but it's nice to see that someone appreciates your views. It seems that this year the BBC asked a greater number of music blogs to participate in the voting, recognising the ever increasing value of the format in identifying and promoting new music. Of the blogs that voted, I can recommend every one of them, do check them out. The full list of voters is here.
One of the misconceptions about the BBC Sound Of list is that the voters are asked to pick who they think will be ‘the next big thing’ in the future year. Articles such as this written by the editor of Drowned In Sound, who is on the voting panel, bolster the misconception. Yet instructions issued to those who are entitled to vote from the BBC are very clear. They ask voters to vote for three new acts who they consider to be the best and most exciting new act, irrespective of record deal or marketing campaign. One also cannot vote for X Factor type contestants, soap stars, friends or relatives.
In fact there are many misconceptions about the BBC Sound of List. One only has to read some of the comments placed on the BBC’s ‘Have Your Say’ section of their website here since the publication of this years list to see this. The number of negative comments are startling, ranging from the totally blinkered to the uninformed. However amongst them it is good to see the odd ray of positivity such as Andy from Romsey who says "I must say I am astonished at the level of hostility on this board. Well OK, I did expect it from the any-music-since-1980-is-awful brigade, but all the criticism of the BBC and the record industry for "telling us what to think" seems ridiculous to me. No one forces you to look at the list!I for one greatly enjoy these lists each year, picked by people who know the industry inside-out, and find that I am introduced to some great new artists that I hadn't previously heard of. Well done BBC." Well said Andy.
Ultimately the BBC Sound Of list intends to promote what music ‘tastemakers’ (and we use the word tastemakers reservedly as we are not so egotistical to think that this blog forms peoples tastes, but hopefully it does push them onwards to explore some of the bands we feature) consider to be the best new music out there, irrespective of if it is the next big thing or not. If it fulfils that ideal is somewhat arguable. As Sean Adams of Drowned in Sound correctly identifies in his article we linked above, the list is nearly always full of acts who have major label backing, despite the request to consider artists irrespective of record deal. However look carefully at this years list and there a few artists who have not got such backing in the bag.
Of course the irony is that the artists who come top of the list, when the short list is published in the new year, are then more likely to become the ‘next big thing’, even if they weren’t before the list is published. However is that such a bad thing if a collective of individuals, who are considered supposed experts in their field have voted for the artists they really believe are the best. Maybe this is a good thing for great new music ? Well, that’s the theory anyway, and given that in the current climate where unless you’ve appeared on X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent your chance of gaining mainstream exposure is very limited, any chance to get your music heard has to be of some value. Doesn’t it ? Well possibly. For a relatively small indie act such as Everything Everything, getting a nomination on the list probably provides more exposure than they have ever had, and will lead to further bookings for shows and festivals for example. Of course over exposure can also lead to dangerous levels of expectation and cynicism. We have written before here about the dangers of expectation that the BBC Sound Of list can possibly create. However throwing cynicism aside, we would rather hear the likes of Stornoway and Marina and The Diamonds, both on this years long list on the radio than Jedward or Susan Boyle thank you very much. The BBC Sound Of list may not be perfect, but ultimately it is a good way of showcasing new acts to the public.
So having been asked to cast three votes, how did Breaking More Waves cast them? Our difficulty was there was almost too much choice. We could easily pick any of the acts on our Ones To Watch list and several others beside who didn’t qualify for our own list (such as the aforementioned Marina and the Diamonds) or acts that weren’t named in our Ones To Watch but were considered (Run Toto Run and The Cordelier Club for example).
But here’s the problem. If we chose a new unsigned act that we particularly like, unless that act has a chance of being voted for by others, then the Breaking More Waves vote is effectively wasted. It’s rather like voting for a minority party in the general election. You may be sticking to your principles, but if you are the only person to vote for that person then those principles will not choose the winner. This is where exposure becomes important, again. For an artist to stand a chance of being placed onto the BBC Sound of List and gain more visibility, they already need to have had significant exposure to the 100+ so called music tastemakers.
So, to ensure our vote wasn’t wasted we first considered artists who we like who we believed had a chance of getting on the list. So artists who have been building profiles through the media, have record deals in place, have been gigging constantly to build an audience, have created a buzz in the blogosphere or have already had success in other countries are all likely contenders. Any of these methods of increasing profile could put the artist in with a shout.
From this list we then chose two of our favourite acts that we thought could possibly get on the list, but would need every vote they could get to help them on. Effectively these were the acts that we considered to be the ‘borderline’ acts in terms of possible vote numbers. Using the election analogy if a particular seat was likely to be a close run thing between two political parties we voted for the party that were running the second in the polls. It may just help tip the balance. For our third choice we decided to take a different approach and choose an act that we believe represented the blogosphere and particularly the new music blogosphere, with significant blog buzz pushing them forward. It was an easy choice, particularly as it was an act that we fully expected to be on the Sound of 2010 list. It was a case of backing a favourite that we loved and hopefully cementing what we fully expected anyway. Of the three acts we chose, one is signed to a major label, whilst the other two were as far as we were aware at the time of voting unsigned, but very close to getting deals.
And then the long list was revealed. Of our three choices, two had made it. The favourite was of course there, as to our delight was one of the other artists we had voted for. Of the fifteen acts that appear on the BBC Sound of 2010 list, four of them also feature on our own Ones To Watch List. So who did we vote for ? Ah we seem to have forgotten to mention that. Well, if you read our own Ones To Watch list, you should be able to hazard a pretty good guess ! Our choices were Ellie Goulding (the favourite), Stornoway (the dark horse who made it on) and Unicorn Kid (who didn't make it ).
Since the list has been announced Ellie Goulding has now gone on to be announced as the winner of this years Brits Critics Award as well, so expect to hear plenty of Ellie on the radio next year. Of course there's always the chance of backlash against artists such as Ellie Goulding as the UK's passion for cynicism creeps in, but as lovers of new music such cynicism is largely not part of our agenda. It takes only a few easy minutes to write some harsh negative words on the internet, but it takes artistic skill and months or years of hard work to get the exposure the artists on the BBC Sound Of 2010 list get. We celebrate this and look forward to seeing how the Sound Of 2010 develop as the year progresses. Certainly this years list is pretty diverse, and with no overarching style or obvious star leaping out unlike 2009 where Florence, La Roux, Little Boots and Lady Gaga dominated the nominations, it looks like it could be an interesting year for new music.