Thursday, 27 December 2012

Criticisms of the 2013 BBC and Blog Sound of Polls

By now you’re probably sick of ones to watch / tip lists, December being the month that traditionally anyone and everyone who thinks they’re the Mystic Meg / Nostradamus / Mother Shipton of music pitches in with their list of artists to keep an ear out for in the forthcoming year. We went very early (partly to avoid that sickness) publishing our own Ones to Watch 2013 in November, which included the likes of Haim, Chvrches, Tom Odell and Alice Jemima.

The big daddy of the tip lists, due to its high media exposure and heavyweight of voting pundits is the BBC Sound of 2013 poll, which in previous years has chosen the likes of Adele, Ellie Goulding , Lady Gaga, Florence & the Machine, Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand amongst its most voted for acts. However despite its status it doesn’t always get things right, with the likes of Kubb, Gemma Fox, Ghosts and Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong all being previous Sound of nominees. Last year’s list was a bit of an oddity, with two of the top five (Skrillex and Azealia Banks) not even releasing an album in 2012 (if albums are still are a marker of place and time for an artist that is– but maybe that’s an old fashioned view) and another (Nikki and the Dove) bombing commercially, their record not even going top 50.

For the last two years Breaking More Waves and a number of other music blogs have also cast their votes for the Blog Sound poll, whose long list of 15 was published a week before the BBC’s. In 2011 the two respective polls were markedly different with only two of the Blog Sound list also appearing on the BBC list, but this year there was greater parity with seven of the Blog Sound long list finding their way onto the BBC’s.
The BBC List (BBC Guide presented by Huw Stephens)

AlunaGeorge, A*M*E, Angel Haze, Arlissa, Chvrches, Haim, King Krule, Kodaline, Laura Mvula, Little Green Cars, Palma Violets, Peace, Savages, The Weeknd, Tom Odell

The Blog Sound List (Playlist of all artists below)

AlunaGeorge, Curxes, Chvrches, Daughter, Haim, Laura Mvula, Mo, Palma Violets, Pins, Randolph’s Leap, Rhye, Savages, Seasfire, The Neighbourhood, Tom Odell

There’s already been plenty of opinion offered on the lists and if they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Such opinion is usually based on if the list aligns with the commentators own taste and window of the world. We’re not going to offer any further commentary on this, it’s already been done to death, except to say that three of our five votes got onto the Blog Sound Poll namely Curxes, Chvrches and Haim. From our own 15 Ones to Watch 2013 list five got on the BBC Sound of list and six on the Blog Sound list.

Instead we’ve been observing some of the criticisms of both polls (some of which get rolled out every year) and offer our thoughts below, with some of the foundation of these thoughts being as one of the two co-ordinators of this years Blog Sound poll.

Criticism: The Blog Sound poll lacks any sort of balance when it comes to ethnicity.

Like any poll, the Blog Sound 2013 represents the demographic of its voters, who in the main are white males. That’s not to say that white males are inherently racist but there was a general preference towards both guitar based music and electronic pop music and less votes to hip-hop, soul and r ‘n’ b acts on the blog list. The BBC Sound of poll is more balanced, with its voting panel carefully chosen to select a range of diversity and this is reflected in the final longlist. It’s a question that we’ll be considering next year; should the Blog Sound poll try to represent diversity, or is it actually more interesting if it’s biased, giving lesser known more niche artists more of a chance to get on the list and gain greater publicity? After all what's the point of the Blog Sound poll if it ends up just being the same as the BBC poll ?

Criticism: These ‘tip’ lists tend to be dominated by major label artists.

For artists to get on ‘Ones to Watch’ type polls they need their music not only to be good but to be heard by the people voting on the polls in the first place. The Blog Sound of 2013 poll had over 170 different artists receive votes. The vast majority of these artists were indie or D-I-Y artists and received just 1 or 2 votes – not enough to get them near the longlist. This could be because their music doesn’t meet the tastes of those involved in the poll, but we believe from some of the comments we’ve seen from voting bloggers that it’s just as likely that the voters themselves haven’t heard the artists songs. People criticise these lists as being dominated by major label artists, but that’s likely to always be a reality as the majors have more resources to get their artists heard by more people than indie or D-I-Y acts. It’s interesting to see bands like Randolph’s Leap and Pins crop up on the Blog Sound List, both of whom are on independent labels but they’ve still managed to get enough attention to get noticed and even more so Curxes who are a totally unsigned d-i-y band with no PR or money behind them at all. In a nutshell, these lists are nearly always going to be dominated by major label acts unless indie or D-I-Y labels can find a way to get more people listening or the list excludes major labels, which is neither lists intention.

Criticism: These lists become self-fulfilling prophecies with the voters supporting the artists they’ve voted for during the course of the year to prove they were right.

We’re not sure if this is really a criticism or just a statement of belief. But if it is a criticism is it really that bad in all cases? If a voter believes in an artist and the artist justifies the belief by continuing to deliver great music as the year goes on, is there really anything wrong with that voter continuing to support that artist? We’re not sure if the criticism is entirely correct either. For example the support for the previously mentioned Kubb, Gemma Fox, Ghosts and Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong soon died off when it was realised that they weren’t going to deliver on what was thought of as early promise.

Criticism: Voters vote for who they think will be big, not who they like.

We can only give a view on the poll we’ve been involved with - the Blog Sound Poll -but we saw very little evidence of this. The voters were expressly asked to vote for artists they believed represented the best in emerging music, not who would be big. As previously stated, over 170 acts were chosen by 49 bloggers. Only the top two acts received a significant number of votes, with the rest being spread far and wide. Surely if voters were just voting for artists that they thought would be successful the spread of votes would be narrower?

Criticism: Some of the voters on the poll are too close to some of the artists they nominated.

In respect of the Blog Sound poll the voting rules made it clear that you could not vote for any artist that you had any financial interest in or were directly related to. We carried out checks to ensure that this rule was applied strictly.

The rules of the BBC poll are virtually identical stating ‘pundits could not nominate any act or individual if they had either a close personal (immediate family & friends) or financial/commercial relationship with them e.g. PR, label, managing, promoting.’

Inevitably some voters will know the artists they are voting for – if you are part of the music industry / scene (even if it only is as a small scale music blog) you’re likely to come in contact with the bands you’re dealing with. However there’s a big difference between having some sort of relationship as a fan / supporter of an artist and one which is financial or family.

Criticism: Some of the bands on these long lists are too bland / mainstream.

Depending on your perspective this may be true (but really we suggest you listen to the likes of Pins and Curxes on the Blog Sound list or even Savages on both lists, they’re hardly Katy Perry are they?).  Yet any list formed out of multiple vote aggregation is likely to give this end result. For example arguably last year’s Blog Sound list was edgier but it had a smaller number of voters allowing niche artists to pick up just a few nominations and get on the list. With an increase in the size of the electorate / panel of up to nearly 50 this year it was harder for niche artists to do so.

The winner of both polls will be announced in January. Blog Sound Winner Jan 3rd BBC Winner Jan 4th. Will both be the same? Only time will tell.

No comments: