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iTunes destroys the minor hit

14 Sep 09 | Re: Ever-increasing chart hegemony

Everyone thought the download era would be a democratising force for music. To have a hit, you wouldn’t need a massive record label and distribution deal to get your product into the big shops. You’d just be able to put your tracks on iTunes, and if they were good enough then your ever-growing grassroots fanbase would be able to buy the song without the endorsement of music retailers, and you could have at least a minor hit. No longer would the evil record companies and radio playlisters dictate what was in the charts! All our favourite indie bands would finally get the recognition they deserve!

Well, here’s what’s really happened.

In practice, the main effect of singles not having to be in the shops to be bought has been that the really big hits are hanging around for a lot longer - they still get downloaded in large numbers long after the shops would have stopped stocking them in the olden days. For example, there are at least 16 former number one hits still in this week’s top 75. Lady Gaga’s Poker Face has been on the chart since January - well over six months - and shows no sign of leaving. Compare that with the situation ten years ago, when to pick a random example the boyband Five were massively successful but only ever managed one single that stayed on the chart for more than 13 weeks (Keep on Moving, fact fans).

What this means is that the lower end of the chart is gunged up with big hits that are weeks and months old, loitering around and taking up valuable chart positions. Therefore, there are fewer chart positions available for other groups. Therefore, lower-profile acts who would have had a top 30 or 40 or 50 hit ten years ago are presumably failing to chart at all.

In short, the main effect of the download era is that lesser-known groups now find it even harder to have hits, while big names have even more success. So much for democratisation.

Or to look at it another way, now that the chart isn’t constrained by release schedules and is able to give a truer representation of the public’s tastes, it has become apparent that people really like the big name artists, and don’t like your favourite indie band or Uncut-endorsed singer-songwriter. That’s why they don’t have hits. People simply don’t like ’em.

Posted by BADRAGEOUS at 18:52

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