A musical interlude

A slight bit of blog business today. Now that I’m caught up with all my pre-pandemic gig reviews, I’m planning to make Wednesday ‘music day’ on the blog. I’ve not focused on music posts for a while, as I’ve not been focusing on music so much in my everyday life, for a couple of reasons. First of all, gigs are obviously on the back burner for now. Secondly, I’ve not been listening to music in a focused way during the last year – I’ve been finding I concentrate on work better when it’s quiet, and when I’m out for a walk with headphones I prefer to listen to podcasts. When I do put music on (largely at the request of Geth when he wants some background music), it’s always an old standby like ’80s pop or synthwave or videogame soundtracks – it’s been a long time since I’ve deliberately listened to an album or sought out new music.

It’s been about eighteen months since I wrote my last New Hits Friday post, because I’ve not been keeping up with the chart for the last year (most chart music is not to my taste so I was starting to find it a bit of a chore, though I will go back and catch up because I still find the chart really interesting academically). I’m a few Now! albums behind, and other than the usual Christmas shows, I can’t remember the last time I turned on the music channels. It’s just not been a focus for the last year and a bit; there have been other things going on.

However, I would like to get back into the habit of focused music listening, which is why I’m going to be setting aside Wednesday blog posts for related content. This could take many forms – reviews, features, general ramblings – as I want to keep the scope quite broad. I expect that at first, I’ll mostly be focusing on music topics I already know about, but there’s always the potential to learn something new. Sometimes on ukulele!

Ocarina
Ocarina out of time. Mum and Dad passed this on to me a couple of Christmases ago but I haven’t had much chance to pick it up yet. One day 🙂

2018 Chart of the Year

The UK Top 100 of 2018 has been confirmed! Some thoughts:

  • I at least ‘sort of like’ thirty-eight of the songs, which is more than I expected. The rest are all at least ‘fairly awful’, with a handful actually being painful to listen to.
  • I am hoping that the 2019 chart will not be similarly filled with songs from the soundtracks of film musicals.
  • I am not exactly thrilled that Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa’s One Kiss was the top song of 2018, ’cause I find it extremely dull.
  • However, I do think it’s brilliant that the Killers’ Mr Brightside, which was released in 2004, is still sitting at #80! Apparently this is because people are constantly streaming it to play in the background at things like weddings and football matches. It was probably my second favourite track out of the whole Top 100 (5 Seconds Of Summer’s Youngblood was my favourite), which says something about how much the quality of chart music has declined even in the last fourteen years!
  • I am already looking forward to the ‘Top 100 of the Decade’ chart that will be released in a year’s time…

Thoughts on the new chart rules

One of the most interesting things about the UK music charts in the 2010s – well, certainly for a chart geek like me – is the way the rules are continually tweaked in response to the evolving way that people consume music.

When I was a kid, it was a lot simpler – you went to a physical shop like Virgin or HMV and bought a single on physical media, either on vinyl (which was fading in popularity by the time I was starting to buy singles in the early ’90s), cassette (this was known as a ‘cassingle’ – I have lots of them because they were a quid cheaper than the CD versions and my pocket money didn’t stretch very far!), or CD.  One purchase of a physical piece of media equalled one sale.

In the late ’00s – after the music industry’s decade-long fight against illegal downloading that had finally been mitigated by the likes of iTunes and Amazon MP3 – download sales started counting towards the chart (who else remembers Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles’ attempt to test the new rules by getting all his listeners to download Billie Piper’s Honey To The Bee and get it back into the charts?)  This spawned the golden era of internet campaigns to get certain songs to number one, the highlight being the infamous Christmas 2009 triumph of the campaign to get Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name to Christmas number one instead of the X Factor single.

That era has been over for a few years now, because of streaming.  With downloads, it was still the case that one purchase equalled one sale.  Streams are more complicated, and this is where all the tweaking has come in.  For a while, it was set out that a hundred streams equalled one sale.  Then, after every single track on Ed Sheeran’s Divide album entered the Top 20 in early 2017, it was decided that only tracks that were expressly promoted as singles would be eligible for the charts.  This last week, there has been another change.

It’s now the case that paid streams count more than free streams (so if you have a paid Spotify account, your streams count more strongly towards the chart than if you have the free version with the homicide-inducingly irritating adverts).  It’s also now the case, more interestingly, that video streaming counts towards the charts as well.  Having listened to the latest chart from Friday 6th July, it’s not clear that this has had any immediate impact, but I’m hopeful that this new rule will encourage music artists to make more exciting videos in the hope that they’ll go viral – videos have, on the whole, been very uninspiring for a good few years now, and some artists don’t seem to bother making them at all anymore.

It’ll be interesting to see how this continues to evolve.