Today, March 22, 2007 is the day that you, the music consumer, has the opportunity to “reclaim the charts”; to become empowered.
Or so the organisers of Bum Rush The Charts would have you believe.
They claim that by purchasing Mine Again by Black Lab on iTunes you will have stuck one to the man; shown the radio companies who’s boss and landed a killer blow for consumer rights.
And in a way you will have, but I have some problems with this whole initiative, commendable though it is.
The thesis behind this idea is that you, the consumer, is taking back the choice of who is in the public eye and therefore, who gets bought the most. No more fancy marketing around a star; no more payola to get bands airplay — no, this time it’s all about the music.
In reality, all that’s happened is that the choice of which acts “make it” has been displaced from the record company and their A&R teams, to a small panel of bloggers with little or no accountability to the consumer.
What if you don’t like Black Lab? Will this panel lose influence? Of course not. What about the A&R guys? Well, if they put out enough dross that doesn’t do well, they could lose their jobs so they are accountable (in the medium term) for their decisions.
2. Noise vs Signal.
The whole point of a chart or league table is to provide a clear signal on what’s popular at the moment. Who is in the mainstream’s consciousness; not who six people with access to self publishing software and an audience find popular.
This sort of initiative on its own gives a good, clear signal on what is popular – after all, a huge number of people are expected to buy the chosen track. But what if this happens every week? What if every week a niche group chooses a song or act to get behind? What if various niches start competing against each other?
The result is, as Mathew Ingram said about Twitter, is an awful lot of noise and precious little signal. It becomes the tyranny of the minority.
3. Not Original
Since the outset of consumer participation there have been countless examples of this sort of protest. The most notable two that I can remember have been the Vote for Rory campaign and the Vote for Beckham campaign.
Vote for Rory tried to vote in a fan favourite, but supremely untalented, Vancouver Canucks hockey player into the 2007 NHL Allstar game. Rory was a hit with the fans but more to do with his work rate and passion than his skills and flair.
The Beckham campaign happened back in the mid to late nineties when a shy, awkward and uncomfortable Beckham was emerging as a football player. Because of his complete lack of personality in front of the media and inability to string more than a few words together if within 30 yards of a television camera, people thought it would be hilariously ironic to get together and vote for him as BBC Sports Personality of the Year through flooding the phone voting lines and postal ballots.
I believe that, in both cases, the wisdom of the crowds prevailed and neither Rory nor David got the TV time their supporters were hoping for.
The BMBY Take
I happen to like Black Lab, their song Ecstasy is one of my favourite songs to work out to. I would have probably have bought the track had my home computer not been on the blink. I like the idea of consumers redressing the balance of power between them and the musical institution in much the way that we did with the Arctic Monkeys, Sandi Thom and Lily Allen.
But I don’t like the way BRTC has been less than transparent about the way they chose this track and I worry when some very intelligent people (list below) blindly get behind an initiative such as this without asking certain questions or raising certain issues. Such as these.
For more information –
- Michael Seaton
- Bryan Person (who, see below, did ask the questions)
- Eric Eggertson
- Joseph Jaffe
- Luke Armour
- Doug Haslam
- …and many, many more.
…and for a great balanced discussion, Michael Seaton and I “adjusted the pitch” for his podcast. I’ll post a link as soon as it’s available – definitely worth your time.
**UPDATE – It seems the noise has already started to obscure the signal. Vote For The Worst has succeeded in getting quite possibly the worst “singer” in the history of tragically awful singers into the American Idol Top 10. Someone is so upset she’s going on a hunger strike. Given the choice between eating my ears and hearing this guy *ahem* sing, I’d be grabbing a knife quicker than…someone doing something very quickly.**