Where do the bright new things go from here?
Back in early 2009, I started a new weekly column for The Ticket called New Music. The plan was that New Music would profile five new or new-ish acts from Ireland or elsewhere every week. When the column started, I …
Back in early 2009, I started a new weekly column for The Ticket called New Music. The plan was that New Music would profile five new or new-ish acts from Ireland or elsewhere every week. When the column started, I was a little concerned that I’d quickly run out of acts. I’ve always kept a close eye out for new acts (I’m of the school that believes music writers should be as diligent about new talent as they are about ancient rock dinosaurs like U2) and the radio show means rounding up new acts every week. But I hadn’t really looked at the new act landscape in any sort of forensic detail since I was in A&R and that was, well, that was another time entirely.
I shouldn’t have worried. Within a month, I was swamped. Where the hell were all these new acts coming from? And, moreover, where were they going?
These days, the New Music picks are part of the weekly OTR column in the weekly print column. When I sit down to select the acts to be profiled, there’s usually a list of between 20 and 40 acts every single week to be considered. I use the excellent Breaking Tunes site for new Irish acts and, most times when I have a look at that site, there’s usually up to 10 new acts who weren’t profiled the last time I looked. The quality all round is decent (though there’s admitedly some awful shite in the mix too), but the quantity is off the scale. It is just impossible to get to or thought all these new acts. You rely on filters and tips or, every now and then, you just plunge in (that’s how I usually work with Breaking Tunes, hence why new Irish acts often get profiled here who don’t have a clue how I stumbled upon them).
But if new acts have it tough getting attention and traction, that’s nothing compared to the problems faced by a band who’ve completed the new act waltz and who’re coming back with a second or third album. When you’re brand new, everyone wants to talk about you and write about you and your music. You’re flavour of the month, the next big thing, the brighest new boys or girls (or three boys and one girl) in town. If you’re good enough, you get all the love and devotion going round and can launch your debut album with a bit of noise behind you to carry you through a few tours and festivals.
Fastforward to your next album, though, and it’s a different story. You may have some wind in your sails, but the initial impetus which launched you isn’t there. Sure, you may have an audience who’ll acquire your album (“acquire” rather than buy these days), go along to the gig and may even say ‘I think this is better than their debut’. But many others won’t even give you the time of day. They’ve moved on. There are new boys and girls (and three boys and one girl) in town to meet and greet. And what’s that, you think the media who were raving about your debut album should also be wild about your second album? Chuckle. Who said that, pal? If it’s not good enough, don’t expect any of the fourth estate to return your calls or start cheering from the sidelines.
Welcome to the newest game of the musical chairs – the churnover. Indeed, the next batch of acts who’ll be thrown your way are already waiting sidestage for the lights to go down. Yesterday, the BBC revealed its Sound of 2011 long-list. Now, to me and probably a lot of you, there’s nothing remotely new about some of these names – and do Warpaint really qualify as a new band after releasing a fine debut album in 2010? Indeed, all bar three of the acts have featured in OTR’s New Music section over the last 12 months so we already know all about these acts.
But this is the mainstream we’re talking about and these are the annointed ones. These are the acts the Beeb’s team of talent spotters believe will light up the coming year. Over the last few years, this list has become the bellwether of rock’n'roll bellwethers as dozens of music insiders ring their mates who work for record labels and management companies and ask them who they should tip. Questions which do not enter the equation: is this not some sort of self-perpetuating ritual? How many of these acts will we still be talking about when they get to their third album? Actually, how many of these will even get to a third album? And whatever happened to Ghosts?
In many cases, these are seen as the annointed ones because a major label has already invested heavily in the act and the PR department are out there doing their job and whispering in all the right ears. Indeed, many of next year’s “next big things” have already signed big-ass deals. While it’s a relief to see the awful Brother do not feature on the list (Brother are a band who already sniff of a three-quarters full Olympia and second-from-the-top billing on the third biggest Oxegen stage), they’re probably not too unhappy given, per Steve Lamacq, that they have signed a £200,000 two album firm deal. We hear Mona have also trousered a sizable advance and the bidding war for The Vaccines was won by Sony.
It remains to be seen if this is money worth spending. The attrition rate for new bands is very high and, with every week bringing new acts out of the woodwork, ensuring that your latest signings are still on the radar will take more than money and songwriting talent. It will also require luck. Lots and lots of luck. Of course, this time next year, we’ll be talking about the Sound of 2010.