This week sees the publication of the BBC Sound of 2010 shortlist / top 5, with the eventual number one being revealed at the end of the week. We will be watching the shortlist with interest to see how the two acts we voted for (Stornoway and Ellie Goulding) that got on the list do. We expect Ellie Goulding to crop up there. We would be delighted but much more surprised if Stornoway made it. At the end of 2009 we posted a blog here about the BBC Sound of 2010 list and in the discussion attempted to explain our voting rationale for the artists we chose. (In essence we said there was no point for voting for an artist that very few voters had heard of as the artist would stand no chance of getting on the list and the vote would be wasted. Likewise we didn't want to vote for just bands we liked that we were sure would get on the list such as Marina and the Diamonds - we'd rather give our vote to a band who had a slight chance of getting on the list but would need every vote, such as Stornoway.) We thought it may be an interesting article for those who are interested or excited by the list, but are not involved in the voting. If you are such a person you may also like to take a look here at an article we wrote this time last year about the BBC Sound Of List and our reaction to cynics who rubbish it. Call it part of this blogs manifesto if you like.
Amongst the comments we received on our blog about the BBC list one person asked why was there no rock music featured. We have to admit in the vast array of artists that we considered voting for from indie to hip-hop, from electronic dance to folk, from pop to soul, there was not one rock band that we thought of. And it would seem that we weren’t the only voter to think this way.
So why does the BBC Sound of 2010 list feature an absence of rock bands? We would suggest that the main reason is that because currently rock music is seen by those who focus on new music as being unfashionable. Music and fashion go hand in hand. Fashion doesn’t ‘wear out’ it ‘goes out’, and arguably at this moment in time rock music has gone out for an extended lunch break. Music, rather like a mobile phone or a computer, is a luxury item that has to undergo stylistic change in order to renew itself to its market. It is reliant on a constant change and development to excite its audience through a high mass media profile. Right now rock music does not have that profile. It has, and has always had a hardcore fan base, but beyond that rock exists on the periphery. Fashion is intrinsically linked to exposure. If a genre of music is considered deeply unfashionable, the media are unlikely to provide significant coverage. If a genre of music is getting little exposure due to its lack of fashionableness it is unlikely to feature in lists such as the BBC Sound of 2010. This would also explain why sometimes an act that makes it onto the BBC Sound of list, in hindsight looks like a poor judgement. Fashion moves on, music moves on, hand in hand.
Of course to just blame fashion for the lack of exposure rock music has received from critics and so called ‘tastemakers’ is a little simplistic. There are no doubt other reasons to. Certainly the selection of persons voting influences artists chosen. There are very few, if any, rock specialists on the panel of voters, whereas other genres do have representation. For example Tim Westwood was there for a guaranteed hip hop vote on the Sound of 2010.
Another reason links back to our previous blog, where we suggested that to get a nomination in the first place an artist has to have had exposure to a significant number of the voters. Our experience is that rock bands, and particularly indie rock guitar bands are a lot less adventurous - and at the risk of being controversial - often significantly lazier, than other acts in the ways that they market and promote their music. As rock is perhaps now to a large extent based in tradition rather than experimentation, the ways that rock bands promote their music is often through old traditional methods such as playing gigs and trying to gain reviews in music magazines. There is nothing wrong with that, and it certainly helps build a profile, but these days there is a multitude of ways of gaining exposure, and by limiting themselves to such a small amount rock bands are less likely to get noticed. We believe hard work and innovation are the keys here.
Ultimately rock music probably doesn’t need to be featured on lists such as the BBC Sound Of List as much as pop or dance artists do. It has now become a classic, traditional form of music that doesn’t rely on such a high media profile. Those who like rock acts will seek out such music irrespective of what the so called 'tastemakers' think.
The beauty of this thing called music is that somewhere out there is probably an amazing rock band being put together that nobody yet knows about. Maybe four kids on the dole, blasting it out in a garage in Oldham, Cardiff or Inverness. When music fashion changes again, as it inevitably will, that band may be there ready and waiting, fully charged to come in to fashion and gain huge exposure. With the right marketing, some sort of unique selling point and a little bit of luck that rock band may then find themselves with a new willing audience, anxious for something that is once again seen as new and exciting. Maybe the BBC Sound of 2011 will be full of rock bands ? Who knows ? We have no idea. But for now, here’s some old school rock music. Phew.