Thursday, 4 November 2010

The BBC Sound of 2011 & One Possible Future

Come December the BBC Sound of 2011 poll results will be published. (We'll also be publishing our own 10 UK acts to watch next year starting 1st December, see here) The annual poll of a hundred or so people who influence the music we listen to and consume often gives a strong clue as to some of the new artists that are going to be fashionable in 2011. We use the word fashionable purposefully here rather than successful, because music and fashion, as we have often argued on this blog, are interlinked. Both are luxury items that in order to excite the purchaser and therefore create demand to make them buy again need to constantly reinvent themselves. Not all the artists on the 2011 poll will be successful, but for a certain period of time they will probably all be in fashion whilst attempts are made to create the demand.

Last year Breaking More Waves was one of the nominated voters on the Sound of 2010 poll, our votes being cast for Ellie Goulding (who came top), Stornoway (who were long listed) and Unicorn Kid (who wasn’t). We were particularly pleased to see Stornoway climb onto the list as at the time they were still unsigned – the exposure from being on the ‘Sound of’ can be invaluable when trying to get your music heard.

However, even if your music is heard, that doesn’t guarantee success commercially. Ultimately the public decide if they are going to part with their cash to buy your singles and albums, and with new records still retailing anywhere between £7 and £10, music is still very much a luxury item.

The former boss of record label Warner Music UK, Rob Dickins, at this years In The City called for the price of music albums to be radically cut to just £1. The idea is that such a price would make using the internet to download copyrighted music illegally, for free, pointless. It was a radical headline grabbing idea, effectively reducing an album from a luxury item to a standard one.

How consumers would act if such a proposal was carried through is of course unknown. However by reducing the status of an album away from luxury it could fundamentally change the way the music industry worked – no longer would it need to constantly reinvent itself to sell new product by creating excitement. Music could suddenly become non- fashion orientated.

The knock on effect for new music would be very interesting; it could revolutionise or ruin. Would suddenly new acts become irrelevant as purchasers simply turned to updating back catalogues as everything was so cheap? Or would new acts gain greater sales numbers, the public willing to accept the risk that a particular album may not be life changing, but as it was only £1 they would give it a go? And where would music bloggers fit into this? With music so cheap would it really be worth the time reading a blog, why not just take a gamble, and if you don’t like what you’ve bought once you’ve listened, bin it. Or would blogs become increasingly respected as guides to the public, pointing them in the direction of new music that suits their tastes, if as likely the market becomes even more flooded than it is now.

Would the BBC Sound of List, with an over saturated market of £1 albums ultimately become the UK’s regular new music guide, in a revised form, being published weekly or monthly to assist and guide purchasers of new music, with a panel voting what they recommend the public should be listening to.

These of course, are just theoretical ideas, and someone has actually got to try the £1 album idea, but we’d be interested in your views on the cost of an album and if they were reduced to £1 how it would affect new music. In the meantime here’s an artist we very much hope will feature in the BBC Sound of 2011 list. James Blake.

HEK 004 A James Blake - Air and Lack Thereof by Hemlockrecordings


Skryst said...

Didn't Fanfarlo try this on the download for their album ? I don't know how many copies they sold through doing it though but there doesn't seem to have been a rush to follow them.

I could envisage download albums being reduced in price but not cd's thus killing of the cd for good.

Phil said...

(Apologies for lengthy, boring, analytical comment, you really got me thinking)

It probably goes without saying that it's unthinkable to be able to reduce the costs of production, distribution and advertising to the point where a physical album could cost £1, so I'm going to assume that this is an idea only applicable for digital music.

In which case - if artists are releasing albums for £1 digitally then those with already large followings will be able to make enormous amounts of money by funding themselves and releasing their own albums through their own web-site, removing the need for record labels. In this scenario, the need for record labels would be reduced to a physical release, which may become outdated by the £1 download. It would be hard to envisage the music industry supporting such a large number of record labels as we have today in this situation. Instead, singles labels like Moshi Moshi, Neon Gold, Young & Lost etc etc would probably benefit from a need of "filtering" through a sludge of poorly produced music.

It's foreseeable then to envisage a future where new bands are discovered by media and singles labels, build up a following through them, and then have their first album funded by a record label, before being able to go it alone and record and release cheap digital albums themselves.

The big problem with this model is - where are the record companies going to get their cash from if nobody is buying physical releases? This removes the middle step of the model and may well prevent new artists from reaching as wide an audience as they've been able to in the past.

The reality probably is that there's no one, all-encompassing solution for the music industry, and a combination of progressive steps such as this may just combine the prevent its financial collapse.

lesley said...

Phil makes a lot of sense. I mean, there are some albums I simply don't want in digital format and prefer a cd copy of, but I couldn't conceive paying so little an amount for a physical copy vs. a single track digital download.

Personally I feel digital download albums are far too high priced for what is received and I'm quite familiar with itunes/amazon. I've simply done the band/label a service by not dodging past their hard work and scouring for free files. Still, why charge me the same cost of a physical copy for doing so? Convenience fees? If you're going to do that, be certain to dispatch me something physical instead of just a digital booklet which I don't even like or tend to look at.

A few pounds (I still think £1 even in digital format is too low, honestly) perhaps for a digital album. More 2 for £10 albums (new releases) through HMV instead of just select older titles, I can live with that. No need to be absurd about it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article and comments.

Agree with the above - digital downloads are still too expensive. £2.50 for a download and £5 for a CD maybe?

Incidentally as someone who voted last year who do you think will be the top 5 this year ?

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

I thought someone would ask me that !

Well I'm not going to say here right now, but check back on the blog from the 1st December when the Breaking More Waves Ones to Watch list will be published.

I suspect that the artists that are # 1, 2 and 4 on our list of 10 have a good chance of being in the top 5 (could be very wrong though).

I would expect to see Jessie J in the Sound of 2011 list as well, and although she was recently featured on the blog we won't be putting her in our own list.

Skryst said...

Robin, high fives, your predictions for the BBC list were 100%. With Clare Maguire, James Blake, The Vaccines and Jessie J all coming in as you wrote in the comments above.

Anonymous said...

you can catch all of the artists on one mixtape at my blog