Monday, June 15, 2009

Indie charts prepare for 1995

It's not like the BPI and the Official Charts Company don't really care about the indie charts, but they've just got round to having the first tweak of the rules for inclusion since 1978.

Yes, the BPI and the charts people are redefining indie:

The initial criteria defined an independent release as any record which was released by a label with independent distribution, in an era when major record companies were self-distributed and smaller labels used alternative routes. Today, however, with even majors outsourcing their own distribution to independent operations, this criterion has become less relevant.

Under the new rules, a download or CD will be eligible for the Official Independent Charts if it is released on a label which is 50% or more owned by an independent (or non-major) company, irrespective of the distribution channel through which it is shipped or delivered.

In other words, your record can now come out on a label fifty per cent owned by EMI, and still be magically 'independent'. It's a fair point that the criteria probably needed changing, but 'half-owned by a major' seems to be an odd compromise point.

Actually, isn't the idea of there being an "official" independent chart slightly odd anyway?

But there's more. A whole new chart:
In addition, two new charts will be launched to reflect "breaking talent". The Official Independent Breakers Charts - for singles and albums, respectively - will be open to independent releases by artists which have not previously been featured in the Top 20 of the Official Singles or Albums national charts.

This is like the old 6Music chart, only with slightly tighter entry criteria, then.

Given that the indie chart ceased to have any meaningful relevance to the average person sometime between the time The Chart Show finished and NME dropped its chart pages, it's probably not especially important that these rules are being changed - although I'd love to know where they feel the demand for an Indie Breaking Talent list is.
Julian Wall, the BPI's Director of International Events & Independent Member Services says, "The independent chart has a long and illustrious history. After 30 years, the time is right to bring it back into a world in which truly independent labels are releasing masses of music that deserves to be heard and recognized. A credible independent label chart for albums, single tracks and new 'break' acts is an important step to achieving this.

"Working alongside AIM, Iain McNay (the chairman of Cherry Red Records responsible for launching the independent chart in 1978) and the Official Charts Company, has been a great experience. The BPI is 101% committed to the re-launch of an authoritative and genuine UK Independent Chart."

Only 101%? Couldn't give it that final hyperbolic extra 9%, could you? Although since the BPI's commitment to independent members is such that Wall has a whole other job to do as well, I'd be interested to see how he manages to overdeliver that commitment on half his time.

It's instructive, though, to discover that the independent chart is vital to provide a showcase for slightly-non-mainstream music to be heard.

But hang on... what's this, in the press release sent out to promote the change?
They will be accompanied by the new Independent Breakers charts. The new Breakers Charts are designed to reflect and bolster music from the independent sector’s newer, developing acts, by remaining open only to artists which have not previously scored a Top 20 hit in the UK – in the first few months of this year, they would have benefited critical darlings including Bon Iver, Friendly Fires, Patrick Wolf and The Horrors.

So these moves mean Friendly Fires and Patrick Wolf will have a platform? But since they're already "critical darlings" (and isn't that a slightly sneery term, a put-down rather than a leg-up?) why do they need a new platform to be discovered? Wouldn't they be brining credibility to the charts rather than the charts offering visibility to them?

It does make me slightly nostalgic for the old days of working through the 94 pages of charts in the back of the Record Mirror during Wednesday night tea, though.


Anonymous said...

"Given that the indie chart ceased to have any meaningful relevance to the average person sometime between the time The Chart Show finished and NME dropped its chart pages"

Just out of interest, didn't they stop printing it because it was basically beginning to fill up with artists from labels like Jive and becoming less and less reflective of, or even a benefit to, the majority of independent labels? Surely this new 50% ruling is just going to marginalise any potential audience they have (that is presumably the small crowd who don't want to read the main chart but are still a bit interesting).

acb said...

Perhaps admission to the indie charts should work on a points system, i.e.:

- band is on an independently-owned label: 2 points
- at least 50% of the band wear skinny jeans - 2 points
- at least one band member has an asymmetrical haircut - 1 point
- 1 point for each of the following influences cited (with proof): The Clash, Joy Division, XTC, Gang Of Four, Neu! (maximum 3 points)
- band's sound has been described by music critics as "angular" - 1 point

A score of 5 or higher is required for a band to be officially "indie".

With a committee of industry, media and marketing types meeting every six months to update these rules to take into account recent trends. (For example, in light of the recent trend towards hipster-folk, the committee is debating allowing one point for band members with rustic-looking beards.)

Anonymous said...

I quite like the idea of struggling bands bribing struggling music reviewers in order to get the to drop an "angular" here and there.

James said...

Ooh, ooh, how about two points if the promo video for their single consists of a group photo, put through some sort of cheap video-effects software package to give it a billowy effect? Extra point if they also use the colour-shifting filter that turns most of it purple.

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

Three points for just doing what they do, and if anyone else likes it, it's a bonus.

Minus five for discovery that the bassist's dad is deputy head of A&R at a major.

Anonymous said...

Surely they get a bonus point for either declaring in their first interview that they "don't like genres" or for suggesting in their first press releases that they "can't be pigeonholed"?

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