Rock is Dead…according to Music Week. In 2010 only three, what they would class as ‘Rock’ songs were in the Top 100 sellers. A ‘massive rock band’ like the Arctic Monkeys they say has not broken ‘The Chart’ since 2006.
But exactly how relevant is “The Hit Parade” in 2011?
Gone are the days when we would gather around the portable of a Thursday evening waiting for Peter Powell and the Corny Hairflake to tell us what position China Crisis were at. Never again will we hold a Binatone Mono tape recorder next to the Grundig radio with pause button at the ready waiting for Bruno Brookes to unveil ‘the Only Chart that Counts’ and never again will we peruse the Top 40 singles in their racks at Woolies, Virgin or HMV..some of which had sold so many they had to be re-pressed without picture sleeves. Sometimes they’d sold out of the one you wanted and it would be in ‘on Wednesday’.
Enough dewey-eyed nostalgia. People still love music as much as they ever did, and they listen to more of it than ever before. Kids growing up today have access to the whole of musical history online and the stats suggest they are getting stuck in and hearing as much of it as possible. The ‘yoof’ have probably got far more well-rounded and informed tastes than previous generations, they have no excuse not to since it is laid on a plate for them, and they don’t need to wait until they’ve got enough pocket money to get it. They can get the latest Tiny Tempah track in a click, but they can also hear a Half Man Half Biscuit B-Side if they want.
The ‘charts’ reflect none of this clandestine activity, nor do they account for all the myriad ways people consume music in 2011.
The charts today are compiled by something called ‘The Official Charts Company’. It’s essentially a wing of the BPI, (the British Pop Institute or something). According to their site, the charts are based on actual sales of CDs and Vinyl records by mail order or retail, and downloads from Amazon, iTunes and so forth. They don’t currently capture any streaming services such as Spotify or plays of a track on Youtube. For obvious reasons this doesn’t include file sharing or free downloads.
Naturally then the charts will reflect only the activity of those who buy physical product or legal downloads, but at the same time it is going to be skewed by the purchase of specific tracks which are either being sold/marketed as ‘singles’ or purchased en-masse as individual tracks. No surprise then that there is a dance/teen-pop and mainstream R&B bias since that is the where the mass market and promotion of single tracks is strongest.
Today’s teenage hipsters are all downloading whatever they want for free, or just listening to it on Youtube , so I firmly believe that very little of what anyone over the age of 11 listens to is reflected in the ‘Hit Parade’. If the 16-25 year olds actually bought mp3s in any significant numbers, some Witch House band or Grime artist nobody has ever heard of would probably be in the top 10. I’d argue that a lot of what makes up the Top 40 is purchased legally on iTunes or Amazon for the under 10s, by their parents who naturally don’t want the kids roaming all over the web looking for free downloads and want to stay within the law.
The other bits of the market, the ‘Adult Orientated’ bit, the casual music fan, the big music fans and the lunatic fringe that still go to record shops (that’s YOU that is!) aren’t buying any ‘singles’ at all. When was the last time a band you liked released a single and you rushed out to buy it? Obviously crate-digging and second-hand purchases don’t count at all but was always thus. We’re all buying CDs or Vinyl albums, box-sets, maybe downloading whole albums from Amazon/iTunes but not specific ‘tracks’ in large enough numbers to make anything a ‘hit’. If you’re honest, even the most die-hard Vinyl addict is also listening on Spotify, using up eMusic credits, watching YouTube clips and doing a bit dodgy downloading too.
All this activity is so fragmented and atomised, very little it is enough to dent the charts with one specific song, so that’s a whole chunk of the music market not represented. The same goes for the casual music buyer that just buys the odd CD in Tesco or on Amazon. Where are the ‘Singles’ for them? OK they’re the same people who put Joe Dolce and Rene and Renato at the top of the charts in the 1980s but you get my point.
The result. The lowest common denominator is as low as it can get. A ‘Hit Parade’ of inane, auto-tuned earworms custom tailor made for 8 year olds, off their faces on Swizzels Matlow products. Commercial radio stations dutifully playing the whatever is in the ‘chart’ and scratching their heads wondering why listeners are deserting them in droves, and David Kid Jensen wondering where all the ‘rock’ bands have gone. The result is ‘Absolute 80s’ and BBC news claiming ‘Rock is Dead’. Meanwhile everyone of all ages is happily listening to whatever they want, when they want. That’s fine, but there is no proper chart to look back on and measure what the soundtrack of the times actually was. That in itself is a shame.
They may as well compile the charts like this: