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(Credit: Yuri Suzuki)

Music

The underhand tactics of getting a number one album

@TomTaylorFO

All of a sudden, number one albums seem to matter again. For indie artists, they went from being a barely reported commercial stamp of approval akin to the dreaded ‘Most Improved’ trophy at a Football Presentation evening – which essentially meant you used to be appalling but now you’re just bad – to swiftly being a relevant gesture affirming you’re a band with public support and you’re ticking all the boxes. 

In some ways, this shows how social media has made a huge impact on the modern music industry. The snowball effect of a campaign trail in the age of shareability is a great engine of perpetuating promotion as was shown by ‘Killing in the Name Of’ in 2009 when dreaded rap-metal somehow became relevant again. What’s more, a quick pic with a little official chart’s plaque is a likeable post too.

The underdog element of an indie artist beating a commercial name is always going to appeal in the tribal world of music. It’s true, the chips are loaded against up-and-coming bands more so now than ever before. In fact, a number one for the little folks is a fantastic middle finger to the rigged industry. Why then, does the headline of this piece sport the word underhand

After all, the beleaguered independent music industry needs our money now more than ever and any band reaping rewards is worth celebrating. Well, aside from a pat on the back that PR’s can give themselves for running a smashing publicity crusade once the plaque is in the bank and the band can dine out on the pride of it forevermore, to some extent it comes at a disproportionate cost to fans. And it’s always the fans who recognise the problem of industry disparities who are exploited the most.

How the rapid rise of social media is affecting music

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For instance, not to name names because we don’t want to get cynical here, but a lot of artists have recently announced that their album is available for pre-order. Great, fans snap up the album and excitedly await its arrival in a few months time. Then a week or so later, a second announcement is made that a fancy limited-edition album is also available—the presentment for mega-fans at this point is whether you stick with your initial pre-order or bite the bullet and cash out on both. All of a sudden, a ‘collect ‘em all’ craze is spawned and that can prove very costly, not to mention the fact that it doesn’t always result in the finest quality pressings either. 

What’s more, this pre-order push often comes with guaranteed access to pre-sale for live shows. Thus, if you’re desperate to see a band live then you may well be roped into making an order. All well and good, the live industry has been hit even harder than the recorded realm. Prior to this tour, however, there may well be a series of smaller shows that give out free copies of the album or give them away at a negligible cost added on to ticket price. 

Each of these items shifted count for 100 streams and stands as proof of the popularity of a current act—proof that subsequently informs festival bookings, radio plays and other elements of the industry swayed by popularity (just about all of it); despite the fact that the true number of fans may well be far smaller, it’s just that yours truly has cashed out £100 on 5 copies of the same album in a range of formats. All fans would agree it’s nice to see great new bands make a name for themselves, but it would also be nice to afford dinner and have your eye’s still in place while they gear up for it. 

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