Ironically, after playing in a band and working in the music industry for the last few years, I never really cared about the charts… That was unless a band I personally knew was involved. The charts, for me, was a crude way to measure the success of an artist’s creative material.
Through the invention of media platforms that enabled artists to self-release, we don’t need to be told by Top of the Pops who we should be listening to. We can find music through a simple search of related artists that we’re currently digging. Without my age showing too much, I was lucky enough to grow up in an era where Myspace saw Arctic Monkeys develop momentum without a bureaucratic industrial invasion. This phenomenon was the transition where unsigned bands could now make a success of themselves, without having to get signed to a major record label.
However, as great as this was for some ‘homegrown’ acts, it was common to see artists fail to meet the contemporary major label criteria or general popularity. And despite having great, catchy tunes, they would still only acquire small cult followings, rather than the massive chart success seen from other similar artists. Through questioning this alone, I saw the manufacturing behind the industry as we know it.
Why so much talk about major labels?
Whether you like it or not, major record labels effectively decide what music flies or flops. Through years of successes, the industry has become monopolised by a few large record corporations. Each of them having access to parts of the industry that can make an artist successful within the charts. Usually it’s through direct access to great PR companies, renowned radio pluggers and producers, touring agencies, management companies, most of which will only support the music that is given to them by a reputable source. Without writing a lecture on the music industry, it is easy to see why almost every single artist in the charts is signed to a major label or subsidiary of one.
Therefore, would I only listen to music that had been granted the go-ahead by those sat in the London label offices? Heck no! I even found myself actively avoiding artists that signed to major labels as they join the ‘manufactured machine’. I was even ‘that guy’ who condemned others for listening to anything that was in the charts. I thought that the only way to find a good artist, was to be tenacious and find it for yourself.
This was all well and good until my own band started being approached by major labels, gaining a large recognition within the ‘dreaded industry’. Rather than turning our backs on it, after years of touring, we felt it was well deserved. We began to change our opinion on the industry as a whole as we gradually conformed to it. This didn’t come without its annoyances as new issues were revealed…
Around 2013, we saw major labels and writers attempt to create a new scene in Birmingham, appropriately named the B-Town scene. Some locally known (and great) indie bands like Peace and Swim Deep began getting signed to massive labels, to create this new scene. Similar to the scenes from various other eras, the plan was to see people identifying themselves with the scene by buying a pair of dungarees from ASOS, getting an edgy haircut and watching these super independent bands. It was about the style as a whole, with rave reviews shedding a light on this new era, as if it was going to span out of Birmingham into the rest of the UK.
Unfortunately, this scene creation from ‘the majors’ failed to find the same chart successes seen from other artists on their roster. Whether it was intentional or not, the bands obtained marginally small cult followings, rather than Number 1 chart positions. This alone makes it difficult to deny the legitimacy of ‘the people’s choice’, as we see major labels fail to create a chart breaking scene.
In this internet era, we have the privilege of streaming platforms that create playlists for us based on algorithms from other people’s search patterns. If your objective is to discover, then streaming sites and local live shows are where you may find the deeper realms of artistry. This is where an unlimited range of music resides for those that want to pick and choose what they feel is the best music.
However, as you’ve seen throughout this article, we generally use the charts to measure commercial value. Despite industrial manufacturing, like the B-Town scene, from major labels and other corporations, we can still decide what artist generates commercial success. So, the initial question is subjective and it’s a matter of personal value… If our aim is to value or measure an artist through the narrow window of their commercial success, then we do care about the charts. Consequently, it is then undeniable that there is an element of importance to how good an artist is commercially and the role of the charts in helping decide this.
By Josh Taylor