Ridiculous gongs sound the death knell for clueless music industry
Just how awful were the Brits on Tuesday night? Well, The Spice Girls, who used to have trouble walking and lip-synching at the same time, won an award for the best performance at the Brit in the past 30 years, and the shortlist for the best British album of the past 30 years included Phil Collins’s No Jacket Required at the expense of Massive Attack’s Blue Lines and Radiohead’s OK Computer.
You wouldn’t trust the people responsible for these decisions with your fast-food order, let alone running a multi-million-euro industry.
However, all the nominations and winners don’t matter a jot. The Brits is merely a rare opportunity for certain record company types to reacquaint themselves with champagne and charlie (their staple diet of the 1990s, before those pesky illegal downloaders called a halt to the 24-hour party). The only reason the terminally clueless music industry still schleps its way to the Brits is because the “thrilling musical performances showcasing the very best of British talent” will help them flog a few more of boxes of CDs to Tesco.
With Ireland’s own thrill-aminute Meteor Music Awards, which take place tonight, you could be excused for thinking that all the music industry is good for these days is threatening young people for file-sharing and throwing increasingly demented award shows. Whether it’s a Grammy, a Brit or a Meteor, the only reason the industry still bothers (while their business collapses around them) is that gong shows are one of the few sales promotions that actually work.
Outside Christmas, awards season is the only time of the year when album sales actually increase to something like pre-download era levels. Album sales may be down year-on-year by 10 to 30 per cent, but they will suddenly go up by about 25 per cent over the next six weeks.
The big Brits winners will see their albums outperform their rivals’ by a ratio of eight to one; nominees and performers will enjoy a total sales lift of around 80 per cent. At the 2007 Brit Awards, Snow Patrol were up for three awards and won none. But they performed at the event and their album sales went up by 121 per cent the following week. This is why so many of the starlets burst into tears or start thanking God when accepting their award – they know they’ve saved themselves about six months of hard promotional graft.
That’s why these awards are always trying to invent some new category to tack on to the usual running list. Even getting a mention at a big awards show means your record company can plaster one of those appalling “Nominated for a Music Award” stickers on your album in the hope that HMV (or whoever) will give it front-of-shop rack space.
The big category these days is of the Best New Act or Best Unsigned Act variety. The Brits call it the “Critics Choice”, and this year it went to Ellie Goulding. Now, it’s true that Goulding is a fantastically promising talent, but she now has two awards (the Brit and a BBC Sound of 2010 gong) and her debut album has yet to hit the shops.
This hype has less to do with the act themselves than with record labels and industry bodies going into marketing overdrive while in some cases, the artist isn’t even halfway through recording the album.
Tonight at the Meteors, they’ll be presenting a new “Most Promising Irish New Artist” gong. The five shortlisted acts (Amasis, Ever27, Colm Lynch, Jody Has a Hitlist and Susie Soho) are all bright young things of differing musical worth who haven’t been signed by a record company and don’t yet have a publishing deal.
It’s fantastic to recognise and promote new Irish talent but, really, throwing an award at an unproved and unsigned act can cause more problems than it solves.
However, there’s only so much shoring up the labels can do. By continuing to fiddle away at awards shows while the industry burns, the music labels are not facing up to the reality of an irrevocably changed business model. Surely this is nothing short of negligent?
Jumping the gun? Ellie Goulding and her Brit