Saturday, 17 December 2011

In Defence Of... The BBC Sound of 2012

In short this is a blog post that says, yeah so the BBC Sound of List features lots of mainstream artists. Does that bother you ? If it does, get over it, go and look at your alt. blog or website that nobody except you and your indie snob friends reads. The Sound of List isn't really for you.

Still with us? Ok, read on....

Everyone has an opinion, right? And the internet is the demon tool for letting people express it, particularly if it’s negative. It’s so easy. Go on You Tube watch something you don’t like and type “This is sh*t.” Bosh, done in 5 seconds and now you can feel smug and self-satisfied that you’ve made your view known worldwide, irrespective of if anyone will value your insightful and well thought out argument. You’ve made your headline and that’s all that counts.

So it is every year with the BBC Sound of List. “The BBC Sound of 2012 list aims to highlight the most promising new music for the year ahead. The artists on the list were chosen by 184 UK-based tastemakers, who each named their favourite three new artists, with the top 15 artists making our longlist,” states the BBC website as it opens the floodgates of criticism.

This year the nominated acts are

A$AP Rocky

Azealia Banks

Dot Rotten

Dry The River

Flux Pavilion

Frank Ocean


Jamie N Commons

Lianne La Havas

Michael Kiwanuka

Niki & The Dove

Ren Harvieu




Every year, the pattern remains the same. The angry mob is unleashed as soon as the BBC list is announced. For the 2012 list, amongst the usual ‘never heard of any of them they must be rubbish’ comments that have appeared on the internet one of the main criticisms was that the BBC list features too many mainstream acts. The Association of Independent Music Chairwoman Alison Wenham featured in a lot of the music press with her quote that the list was ‘completely meaningless’ and that she didn’t think it had much to do with music.

So let’s take a step back here and consider it a little more. Is it really meaningless? Does it really have very little to do with music?

To answer this question it’s important to consider the process of how the BBC Sound of List is created. First look at the ‘tastemakers’ who vote. They are chosen to represent different sectors of the UK music industry. Included amongst them are a number of pundits who could be considered likely to vote for independent acts. Yet as anyone who is a fan of independent music will know, as people move further away from the mainstream culture their tastes and knowledge become more diverse. It’s therefore unlikely that the tastemakers who vote for independent artists (if they choose to do so) will vote for the same artists. It follows then that independent artists are less likely to get on the list.

Secondly a high proportion of the tastemakers write, broadcast or work for mainstream media and are therefore likely to choose potential mainstream acts. This is what the BBC Sound of List is – a list that may interest the mainstream public and media. It raises the profile of the artists featured, just like any other piece of press does.

Yet that’s all it does; raise the artists profile for a short time. It doesn’t as some journalists suggest every year become ‘a self-fulfilling prophecy’. If it did, why are the likes of previously nominated Gemma Fox, Air Traffic, Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong and Kubb not household names? (Actually, one member of Kubb went on to form La Roux, so that BBC selection could at least be said to be half right).

If an artist creates music and puts it out in the public domain, it’s a reasonable assumption to make that the artist wants their music to be heard. The BBC Sound of List is one way of helping this to happen. It is therefore not meaningless. It is about the music and helping artists be heard.

The Association of Independent Music, who Alison Wenham represents states that it provides a collective voice for the UK’s independent music industry and ‘promotes this exciting and diverse sector globally and provides a range of services to members, enabling member companies to grow, grasp new opportunities and break into new markets.’ Maybe rather than bleating on like a bad loser, the Association could consider how it could achieve its objective of grasping new opportunities and break into new markets by giving good advice to its members on properly promoting, with targeted marketing, on limited budgets, their artists so that in 2013 the BBC list does contain more independent artists?

“I think it's very inconsequential because, even going back years, this list has not proven to be particularly accurate," she told NME. "The independents will do what they do, and I'm not all that bothered about these sorts of polls. I don't think it has very much to do with music, to be honest with you. They say 100 tastemakers put it together, but it essentially cannot be that those tastemakers manage to avoid an entire sector.”

They may not have done so Alison, but if all those that voted for independent artists voted for different artists they are not going to be recognised on the list. It’s the way committee votes work – the most votes get on the list. Obvious huh? If those who are likely to vote for independent acts vote for the same, they get on the list. Rather like when Esben and the Witch, an independent band, surprised everyone and sneaked in on the Sound of 2011 list. Read a very interesting view from their co-manager as to the impact of the BBC list a year on at this link. As he says “the Sound of… alone will not turn ambitions, dreams and talent into pound signs, into an upgraded tour bus or a slightly higher standard of hotel room. The general public still decides – the people who buy records and gig tickets.” And it’s these people – the general public – who the BBC list targets.

So let’s not criticise the BBC list, but accept that it’s a mainstream list (as most of the general public are) and it does what it does. This years was list was incredibly predictable – but only if you spend a lot of time in the world of new music. For the majority of the public at large these are still very much new artists and its profile helps introduce those artists.

*Footnote – As part of an experiment to see if a bunch of independent bloggers (many of whom cover non mainstream music) could come up with an alternative to the BBC list, 32 UK based bloggers, including ourselves voted for their own Blog Sound of 2012. The blog list contains a number of independent artists. Breaking More Waves would love to know what the Association of Independent Music thinks of thats? The 15 acts nominated included 2 on the BBC list and 13 that are not. Breaking More Waves own Ones to Watch list, which we issued in the run up to the announcement of the BBC list contains 5 acts on the BBC list and 3 on the Blog list. (You can see that list, obviously our favourite, here) Streaming below is the one artist who appeared on all three lists - Lianne La Havas.

Lianne La Havas - Forget (Live in LA)


Nat said...

Some good points here. I've noticed a backlash against the list for the lack of independent artists but the reality is that most independent artists don't have the means to get onto the judges radars - hence it will always be a mainstream list.

Christopher McBride said...

Although I am not as keen as the list this year as in previous years (The BBC will NEVER make a list as good as 2004s), you do make some valid points about it. Still, there's just as many fantastic artists who do well despite not making the list than there is artists that do.

By the way, you can still buy Kubb's album in most good record stores. The last time I checked my local record shop, they had about 20 copies left, all for £1.

Vonpipmusicalexpress said...

"indie snobs" but aren't they just the same as pop snobs?

I just find it depressing that so many have deals with majors, like I find it depressing that to appear on Jools Holland you have to have published work...despite your explanation which makes sense...I really do think they need to shake up the "tastemaker list" Same people pop up every year and you have certain bands PR/label managers on the list is it any wonder there is a problem with perception

" ... If the public perceive it to be industry led ( and I can see why despite being on it a few years back) even if they are wrong, then that is a problem in itself . We talked about this last year. The BBC emailed me and agreed. Yet it appears they have done little to address this "perception" this year.. The BBC is a great supporter of new music and personally I dont feel the "Sound Of" list cuts the mustard anymore, it needs a massive overhaul

The list doesn't anger me, just makes me a feel a little melancholic that there is such bland music being touted as the next big thing.

But hey ho , the economy is going to hell in a handcart so there are bigger things to worry about

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Christopher – quick grab those Kubb albums now – one day they might be really collectable and you can sell them on ebay !

Von Pip – Indie snobs aren’t as bad as pop snobs actually. Pop snobs can be REALLY bitchy / blinkered. Actually I quite like a bit of snobbery in music - it makes for a great argument down the pub :) Of course there are inherent problems in any list – and no matter how it is constructed it won’t meet everyone’s tastes; imagine if the list contained 15 really alternative independent bands – it would just be laughed at by the mainstream public.

I think one important point here is that even the most hardcore music fan (and I mean that in the sense of someone who whatever type of music taste they have lives, breathes and eats music all day long – they buy it, play it, go see it live non-stop) shouldn’t get too bothered by the Sound of List. As the co-manager of Esben & The Witch says, its really just another piece of press for a band and ultimately many other factors will determine if a band puts out a good album or not and if the public like it – not if your names on the list or not.
My reason for defending the list (to a certain extent) this year was because I was getting bored of reading what effectively was the same argument written (albeit very well in the majority of cases) over and over again in various blogs / newspapers / websites, all basically saying ‘I hate the list there’s hardly any independent acts on it’. I wanted to look at this (rather obvious) statement and question why that was (which none of the articles seemed to do) and wonder if there was a solution to redress the balance, and as you say Von Pip, one of the solutions may be to shake up the 'tastemaker' list the other option would be for the independent sector to work smarter in a more unified way to promote their artists, that is if they’re bothered about getting on the list of course.

Whatever your views though it always provides a talking point, and if you're like me and like talking about music as much as listening to it (pity my girlfriend) then it aids the conversation!

Anonymous said...

I guess it's a list which started off with noble intentions and one which people now suspect is being manipulated by "big music" as another marketing tool ...

Oh I could waffle on about capitalism and such like, but it's Christmas and so I will instead pop Bjorn Again's rousing rendition of "Santa Claus is coming to town " raise a glass of sherry and wish you a very Happy Xmas !

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Indeed - and a merry Christmas to you to :)