Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Why “Horse Outside” probably won’t be the Christmas number one

It’s simple, really: it looks like the Rubberbandits won’t sell enough copies of their single to make the top spot their own. The other contender for the Number One slot is The X Factor TV talent show winner Matt Cardle …

Tue, Dec 21, 2010, 09:43


It’s simple, really: it looks like the Rubberbandits won’t sell enough copies of their single to make the top spot their own. The other contender for the Number One slot is The X Factor TV talent show winner Matt Cardle and, on the face of the sales tallies to date, he’s going to be the last man standing when the shops close on Thursday night.

Over a busy retail weekend (remember that the Irish chart is compiled on sales from Friday to Thursday so Friday to Monday is when the bulk of sales happen), Cardle sold over 22,000 CDs and downloads of his single (that’s 43,000 units in total). Meanwhile, the Rubberbandits flogged nearly 9,000 CDs and downloads in the same period (their cumulative total is now just over 17,000). That’s over 2 Cardle sales for every Bandit purchase and it’s a gap which is unlkely to be breached by the time the final chart is compiled and published on Christmas Eve. While the Limerick act are well ahead on the downloads side of the house, they’re just not in the race when it comes to CD sales and the chart is based on a combination of both.

Of course, very few who mine chart data and look at record releases week in and week out will be surprised by this. The Rubberbandits may have a lot of traction at the moment with over three million views for the “Horse Outside” video, a surreal Liveline episode and an interview on The Late Late Show (a show, which producer Michael Kealy tweeted, attracted an average audience of over a million), but that’s no match for Cardle and The X Factor machine, especially when you look at the demographics of their respective fanbases.

See, the Rubberbandits have encountered one of the biggest problems with the modern record business. Having loads of video views to brag about to the media is one thing; getting those people who watched the video to actually pay for a download or buy a CD is another game entirely. In fairness, the Rubberbandits aren’t the only act finding this hard to do this. Put plainly, the audience who are making all the online noise right now about the Rubberbandits (and indeed, other online hits of this ilk) are not the people who buy singles or even downloads. They’ll chant “fuck your Christmas number one, I’ve a horse outside” until they’re blue in the face. They’ll roar along to the single when they hear it on the radio or at a club. They”ll go along to one of the band’s gig for the crack with their pals. But they won’t buy the damn single. Like people who will tell opinion pollsters that they won’t vote for Fianna Fail and then actually do, these music fans will swear blind on Facebook and Twitter that they’ll buy the track on iTunes. But they won’t – and the numbers back that up. Once again, it’s a case of online commitments to a cause not translating into real life action.

The fact is that the vast majority of the Irish population are the mainstream. They’re the people who buy five albums a year, the people who watch The X Factor and the people who buy singles by lads like Cardle when they see them on the shelf in Tesco. The mainstream saw and heard the Rubberbandits last week and decided “they’re not as funny as Pat Shortt” or “they’re not as good as The Script” and moved on. They will not be buying “Horse Outside” so that’s the vast majority of the Irish population turning their noses up at the Rubberbandits. They’re in the Cardle camp.

The Rubberbandits may say that they’ve no interest in the Christmas number one but, deep down inside, they and their team probably thought it was possible to beat The X Factor (the caption on that YouTube video appeals to fans to “join the campaign to make Rubberbandits number 1 this Christmas!”) Then again, the consolation prize for being out-sold by another lad from the telly is a pretty damn good one.

In the space of a few weeks, they’ve gone from an act with a small, clued-in following to one who captured the national zeitgeist for a few days. They’re a bigger, more high profile act than they were a few months ago. Their December shows are sold out and they’re ready to move to bigger venues in 2011. Whether they can maintain this trajectory remains to be seen – another “Horse Outside” would definitely help – but, if they play their cards right, they could end up having the last laugh.

The danger, of course, is that they could end up becoming the new Crystal Swing. You do remember them, don’t you? They were the temporary toast of hipsters and irony fans everywhere a few months ago before becoming toast when that in-crowd moved on to some other joke. Crystal Swing are still as shite now as they were before anyone paid any attention to them, but no-one is betting on them to have a Christmas smash hit. Rubberbandits will argue that they’d an audience before all this attention, but so had Crystal Swing (an audience of country music fans is still an audience, especially when the bandwagon-jumpers have abandoned you). The trick for the Rubberbandits is to keep their heads when all around them are losing theirs and take the right advice. Going for the quick, easy bucks will only bite them in the arses in the long-run.