Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the madness of the music industry. To want to fix it. To put it right. To ‘reclaim‘ the territory for ‘real‘ music. Remember back in the 80s, when the charts were full of music we liked? Top Of The Pops had a point, the chart show was a way to discover music. It was good.
The problem with that idea is that it ignores the fact that the situation then was us making the best of the limitations. We learned from the charts because we didn’t know any better. Most of us moved on to specialist radio as soon as we discovered it and developed the patience or the dadaist affectation required to sit through the more extreme outlying regions of John Peel and Andy Kershaw’s record collections.
Once we got to that point, the collective meaning of watching Top Of The Pops became one of cultural nostalgia. And the music was still ‘good enough‘. I didn’t know many serious music fans who saw the charts as their main way to discover music, but there were enough music-driven scenes that crossed in the mainstream that we had something to find in chart shows.
Those days are gone. Long gone. The charts have been largely devoid of awesome music for a very long time. Yes, occasionally something good sneaks in there, but most of the best music I’ve discovered in the last 10 years has never had a sniff of mainstream chart success.
So the charts are crap. That’s now a given. What do we do?
Well one suggestion floating around the internets is that as a mass action against the Cowellification of the music mainstream, everyone who cares should buy ‘Killing In The Name’ by Rage Against The Machine, to get it to Christmas number 1.
I have to say, I love the track – the bass line is awesome, and it brings back great memories of jumping around in nightclubs as a student.
But the campaign says and does nothing. It’s clearly not an indie music thing – the track was released on Epic, a major label. The suggestion is to buy it from ‘chart eligible download sites’ – hardly bastions of indie-championing goodness.
It becomes a way to pile money into the hands of ‘the industry’ and will possibly spark a ‘buying war’ with fans of the X-Factor dross that will doubtless beat it to number one anyway (can you see there being a million people buying Killing In The Name? Those X-Factor marketing people are pretty damn clever, and a lot of people with really bad music taste are more than happy to fork out cash for appalling festive dross…)
No, the idea that in order to react to the heinous creativity-free wasteland that the charts have become we need to put ‘good songs on major labels‘ back in the charts is nonsense. That’s just not the way it works. Buying digital copies of back catalogue hits in massive numbers does nothing for the sustainability of the new music economy. You just end up trying to play the machine at its own game, on a court that it owns and has gamed in its own favour.
The magic of the internets is that we can ignore the whole notion of ‘mainstream‘. I honestly, hand on heart, couldn’t name you one song that has been at number one in the singles chart this year. Not one. I have no idea if the new Bon Jovi single sold by the bucket-load or flopped. I just don’t care about the music that the faceless millions buy or listen to anymore. It doesn’t affect me. Crapping on their nostalgic party achieves nothing.
The only thing that changes the balance of power is to consistently support independent musicians.
- Buy music that you love
- Buy it from a source as close to the artist as you can
- Talk to them
- Share the great things you find
- Blog about it
- Go to gigs and become part of the solution.
…The solution that sees charts as a nostalgic throw-back to a time when Jimmy Saville presented Top Of The Pops and Mark Goodier told us who was at Number One on a Sunday evening, while we taped the songs we liked off the radio onto Radio Shack cassettes.
By all means, buy Rage Against The Machine songs and albums. But do it cos you love it, not because it ‘means’ anything. It doesn’t.