Archives for posts with tag: records

TP29 TOTP logoIt may be an age thing combined with the fact that I don’t have any teenage children blasting music from their rooms, but is it getting harder to figure out who is top of the pops these days?

That said, I consider myself to be musically receptive, media conversant and internet savvy, so why has it become so hard? The reality is that we live in a much more complex world when it comes to music appreciation and how it is measured. The days are gone when record sales were everything and the channels through which you could hear music and be informed of its ranking in popularity were few and far between.

Some would argue that it goes further than that and that in fact, the proliferation of media platforms and outlets actually makes the existence of such a ‘chart’ irrelevant. If you like a certain genre of music, say hip-hop or soul, why would you be interested in hearing a chart of which over 50% may not be ‘your thing’.

Such a view insinuates that we only did so before, because we had no choice. Now that we can select from thousands of stations, downloads and sources of streaming audio (some of which have been tailored to our exact specification) – why on TP29 digital musicearth would we dilute the music we like with something else? It’s a notion that I accept and indeed am often guilty of following, but one that I don’t necessarily agree with. In following such a philosophy, how do you get to hear music that is outside your usual comfort zone and just might challenge or excite you? For those of us more mature listeners, it may be we need to be introduced to new artists and styles, but similarly the younger audience might gain inspiration from those immense talents of the past that might otherwise be consigned to history.

TP29 SupremesWe seem to lack a vehicle that can do that at present. From 1963 to 2006 the UK was treated to a weekly TV dose of ‘Top of the Pops’. Millions watched this 30-minute institution. Kids and teens would not be found anywhere other than in front of the TV for that half hour and even their parents would be drawn to it even if only to utter the obligatory ‘tuts’ at the ‘infernal racket’ and administer outrage over what the performers were wearing. It’s true that it belonged to an age where it was (just) possible to keep secrets. Top of the Pops had strict rules – it never played songs that were going down the chart (no matter how famous and powerful the artist) and the only song guaranteed to be heard on the show was the number 1. Everything else was up for grabs and it was a lottery whether your favourite song appeared. I think its fair to say there is nothing like it right now that brings generations together in the living room (or indeed anywhere) to reflect on the music of the day.

So why did it end? Doubtless against fallings ratings and an acceptance of the shift to genre-based music platforms, the BBC gave up the fight. This only happened after innumerous format changes trying to modernise and update the show whilst trying to overshadow the programme’s history of artist’s miming with live performances.

TP29 BowieAs a musician myself, I totally get the backlash against miming. However, I understand why it was done. It was a 30-minute TV show on a tight BBC budget and schedule. They needed to ship artists on and off stage pronto and didn’t have time to set up and record 8-10 live acts every week. We also need to be realistic about this. Not all pop acts are hugely talented beyond the confines of the recording studio and its technology. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the record wasn’t a good one. By making those kinds of artists perform live, it was like whipping the screens away from the Wizard of Oz! I wonder how many classic zany Top of the Pops performances of the 70s and 80s might have never happened if live performance had been enforced. Maybe we needed to view it as entertainment and not as serious concert performance?

So is there an appetite for such a vehicle in today’s diverse yet compartmentalised media world? There are some indications that the answer is ‘yes’. The continued movement from CDs to downloads and ultimately to streaming has shifted the public’s musical interest from albums to individual songs. This has made many musicians despair, but it is in fact reminiscent of the old vinyl days when purchases of the 45 inch single drove the music industry in terms of establishing popularity and increasing TP29 Boy Georgepublicity. Downloads have been included in the chart for some time now and it only seems a matter of time before a means to include streaming is found and implemented. We also live in an era where time has become an important commodity not just professionally, but personally and socially. Yes, I could trawl the Internet and plunder You Tube to make my own assessment of weekly chart activity, but instead I think I would welcome a devoted 30-minute slot that would give me an overview. With ‘on demand’ television I could watch it either in real time if I was that interested or catch it at my own convenience. I’m sure there must be others out there young and old that might feel similarly.

There is also something unique about artists having to ‘perform’ their song on TV in a less controlled environment than their highly produced music video. There is scope for improvisation, the unexpected and perhaps the occasional but entertaining mistake. Just watch the occasional vintage Top of the Pops 2 repeated on BBC4 featuring some of the most famous artists of the last 50 years. It “re-humanises” our favorite pop stars and perhaps fills the void we have tried to occupy with now tiresome talent shows.

TP29 - OllyThere have been some recent changes to the official chart, which take effect from July 2015. Instead of the new UK chart being announced on a Sunday, it will now be unveiled on a Friday. This corresponds with a global music industry-wide agreement that new releases will be made on Fridays. BBC Radio 1 which is the ‘home’ of the official chart rundown has already moved its corresponding longstanding show from Sundays to drive time on Fridays to match the change. However, there are murmurs about how the new timing might work perfectly for an accompanying Friday night TV show that would bring highlights of the new chart to your widescreen or indeed iPad!

So is there hope for a resurrected Top of the Pops? The skeptics will say its time has passed, but then… isn’t that what they said about Doctor Who?

Fingers crossed ‘Pop-Pickers’.

TP

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The Music Store is close to extinct. I still like to call them ‘Record Shops’ even though many of them haven’t sold a vinyl disc in a long time. HMV in the UK have called in the Administrators and only a few weeks ago there was wailing and gnashing of teeth in Paris when Virgin Megastores filed for bankruptcy.

Music is now available at the press of a button from the comfort of your computer, phone or tablet – so why the outpouring of emotion and media attention as one by one these institutions bite the dust. Is it just about recognising the state of the economy or the plight of unfortunate high street retailers? No, there is more to it than just that. As one of the major news sites reported, the failure of HMV was not just about high street economics, but about its relevance and ability to compete in the sector where it was once a leader.

This presents an odd conflict. On one hand we mourn the loss, but on the other hand we no longer make sufficient purchases from such outlets to support their ongoing business. The digital world of downloads and streaming audio/video have tempted us away from our previous habits. For those under a certain age, there has probably been no other dominant means of obtaining music other than online. However, for those who were in their teen years during the record or CD eras, the record shop probably holds a place in our hearts and a nostalgia that we can’t shake. As another retail chain goes under, a further chunk of ice detaches itself from the iceberg of our musical heritage and flows away into the distance, only to melt in the vast, tepid pool of the internet.

I remember seeing black and white footage of record shops in the 1960s bustling with teenagers who bought mostly ‘singles’ or ‘45’s’. Way before being able to click on a screen for an audio streamed ‘snippet’ of the song, they had to instead, cram themselves into little booths like rabbit hutches to listen to records before they bought them. Knowing teenagers, I suspect there was much more ‘trying’ than ‘buying’ much to the annoyance of shopkeepers. However, these were more relaxed and less competitive times in the world of audio retail.

Those scenes looked alien to me in my teens when record stores still sold records but were divided into light, bright, colourful chain stores (some huge!) and small specialist stores where you could buy those old albums and imports that the mainstream shops wouldn’t stock. If I consider my own experience, it helps explain why we are so disappointed to see these places erased from our towns and cities.

I have long held the belief that the music you listen to in your early to mid teens is some of the most influential on you, whether or not you are ‘into music’. It forms a soundtrack to your life at that time of change and raging hormones. Listening to music, checking out the charts and talking about bands and singers seemed to occupy an inordinate amount of my day. Additionally, when you are 14 to 16 years old, you are in no-mans land. Too old for childish activities and toys, but not grown-up enough to spend weekends in pubs or clubs with your mates! Music (and I suppose, sport, for the more physically motivated) helps anchor you through those turbulent times and fills the void.

In my home town there must have been at least 5 dedicated record shops in the centre, not to mention the record sections within larger department stores. The weekly expedition to the shops with your friends on a Saturday afternoon was as regular as clockwork. I suppose that girls would split their time with clothes shops, but the boys would sometimes just roam from record shop to record shop, browsing sleeves and checking out what was new. The reality is that nothing much was new, given we were in these places all the time! However, we still managed to spend hours in these stores. The record sleeve – large, square and colourful, held much more allure than the awkward CD case which was to follow!

Whether you bought anything or not, an afternoon spent in these haunts followed by a can of Pepsi and a portion of chips, was a perfectly satisfying and constructive (so we thought) way to pass an afternoon. That is why their demise pulls at the heart strings. It’s not about recession, inconvenience or even the unemployment of the shop staff – it is about that loss of a ‘building block’ that formed part of your life and fed you the desired teenage nourishment of pop culture at the time when you needed it most. We mourn days past that will never return and what we believe will be the experiences missed by the next teenage generation.

That is where many of us miss the point. This generation of adolescents might buy all their music on line, but they have their own habits and their own meeting places. They won’t miss ours! In years to come they will reminisce about a different world, berate the changes and mourn different losses, just as we do. Worse still, how many of us will actually miss these ‘record stores’ for what they are today. My teens are a distant memory, but I am no dinosaur and I can barely remember the last time I bought a physical CD. Even when I did, its single purpose was to be ripped to my iTunes library so that I could listen to it through an iPod. Once that function was completed, the disc itself was consigned to a stack never to be touched again. The reality is that the music shop’s time and relevance is over.

Some reports have indicated that there may be hope for stores like HMV in a much reduced role. The larger music labels will not want to be solely reliant on iTunes and Amazon for their sales and may be supportive to a new owner. I hope to some extent that this is true and some vestige of high street music shops remain as memento of times past. However, the shape and services of these shops will likely not replicate the days of tangibly flicking through 12 inch glossy cardboard sleeves and striding purposely to the counter with a big fat grin on your face to make your purchase of the day!

Were the major music stores napping when the iPod crept up on them or did they see it charging towards them and just know they didn’t have anything left in their legs to give it a good race? Either way, the bookstores might want to put on their training shoes, the Kindle is bearing down on you on the inside lane!

TP

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