Sunday, 25 November 2012

Uncharted territory

This piece was originally going to be about local radio (general jist - it's dead and probably isn't worth saving bar local football coverage; but that's for another time); but in doing some brief research, I looked at the charts for the first time in years.


Stock image of lots of records acting as a metaphor for the number of copies needed to be bought before your single gets anywhere close to outselling 'Gangnam Style'.

I'll try to be as fair as I can. Four tracks were R&B, which, whilst not my taste, I'll let pass. One was Robbie, who does deserve some kind of reward for services to tabloid editors and Gary Barlows everywhere. Three of the 'Top 10' were the mundane products of the television talent trawls (on the current evidence, there appears to have been extensive overfishing), one was the current soundtrack to a certain department store's advert (only in the world of snowpeople, is knitwear an acceptable present), and one is Gangnam Style. The album chart offers little else more exciting; bar the presence of SuBo (whose album was launched with the questionable Twitter hashtag of '#SusanAlbumParty') and some Christmas albums you can tell only shift any copies due to strategic placement in branches of Asda up and down the country; enticing impulsive shoppers that with Christmas only a month away, they desperately need to buy a soundtrack to fill even the most magical of days with intense mediocrity. 

My own Spotify chart is maybe not representative of wider music tastes...

The thing is, are charts even relevant now? The singles chart is based on physical sales of CDs (although I struggle to imagine anyone who buys any of the singles featured on a CD) and downloads; but in a world of streaming, actually purchasing a track is becoming increasingly rare. There are differences between the official top 10 and the most-played charts on streaming services. Six tracks appear in the Spotify 'Top 10' recent most-played that aren't in the official 'Top 10' (on a side note, my recent most played does feature New Order topping the charts, so I might be slightly out of touch with modern culture). How would you begin to classify streamed tracks though? How many plays of a track on Youtube would be equivalent to one full purchase? This would also enable the charts to be much easily manipulated - can you imagine the droves of One Direction drones playing 'Let's have a party but not tell Mum and Dad' (or whatever their tracks are called) repeatedly to ambush the charts. However much I would love the chance for 

Are the charts even representative of the modern music landscape? With so many alternative acts managing to spread their music over the internet, music has been diversifying away from the mainstream recently. This undoubtedly leads to a dilution of music; with more artists managing to attract attention outside of the traditional channels. Does this reduce the charts' importance? Are they anymore of a relic of simpler times, reduced to showing nothing more than the purchasing whims of a small section of teens.

More popular than Joy Division? Possibly. More eco-friendly? Again, possibly. 

Maybe a more apt question is whether the charts ever mattered? Lots of acclaimed bands (e.g. The Smiths, Joy Division, Arcade Fire and many more I can't be bothered to 'Wikipedia') were never massively successful in the charts; whereas Mr Blobby (Christmas number 1), the Wombles (four top 10 singles) and Black Lace (three top 10 singles). Serious acts don't always thrive in the charts, whereas wishy washy pop and novelty singles will always do well (Crazy Frog?). So the questions about the importance of the charts might be pointless; rather like the charts themselves. They may become less important; but they never were anyway.