Time was when "industry experts" (aka lazy music journalists and hangers-on) would shove out the annual bore-athon that is "Ones To Watch Next Year In Music". These lists seem to appear earlier each year; already MTV has coughed up a "Brand New For 2014!" roll call, which appears to be populated by a bunch of 14 year-olds. [And you may already have read The Ticket's Ones to Watch 2014 list by Jim Carroll. Not lazy or boring, we can guarantee.–Ed]
The Brit Critic's Choice Award has just been won by 21-year-old Sam Smith, who is so undiscovered that he featured on a No 1 hit single last May. Some say that all these Best New lists are carved up by record companies, which have already allocated a promo budget for the acts in question.
The only real indicator of breaking trends or acts these days is provided by the app Shazam, which lets you know what song is playing near you. If people go so far as to search for title and artist, they’re more likely to actually buy the song.
Shazam has 400 million global users and makes more than 15 million song identifications every day. It’s such an effective forecasting tool that some 87 per cent of the tracks topping its weekly New Release Chart (as in the songs people are most Shazam-ing) go on to top the official sales charts.
These are real enquiries by real people, as opposed to hipster/trendster lists by people trying to look big and clever in print. What Shazam and its rival Soundcloud (which unlike Shazam, allows you to hum a song to identify it) do is to remove all subjectivity and external pressure and simply open up a song’s popularity ranking to those who matter most: the ones who actually buy music.
Shazam called the rise of Lana Del Rey and Haim, and was all over Daft Punk's Get Lucky and Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines, predicting they would be the "Sounds of the Summer" weeks in advance of their heat on radio and in the charts. It didn't, however, predict quite so many sales for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who had three of the most Shazam-ed songs this year.
The top Shazam-ed songs of this year may be a bit of a horror show (Thicke at No 1 and Avicii at No 2), but the predictions were scarily accurate. Now generating $300 million in music sales, mostly for new releases and breaking artists, the predictions foras to who will be doing a Blurred Lines or a Get Lucky this coming year are interesting, and, given the data analysis available to the service, should be the clearest indicator around.
The big names, then, coming up in 2014 will be ex-chef turned rapper Action Bronson, who looks a bit like the 15-second wonder that was Bubba Sparxxx but sounds more like Wu-Tang Clan.
Meanwhile, big things are expected of New Orleans rapper August Alsina and Jillian Banks (she only uses her surname). The latter specialises in a sort of dark r'n'b and comes over like an inspired cross between Beth Gibbons and Massive Attack. Other sure-fire names include Jhene Aiko, Martin Garrix and Vance Joy.
In the meantime, streaming service Spotify has also been digging deep into the data to predict next year's big names. Spotify is pretty confident that big-voiced Irish singer Hozier (Andrew Hozier-Byrne) will break through. In the pop chart world Spotify is singling out Irish-Jamaican- Puerto Rican-German singer (and that's an interesting mix) Tori Kelly.