Comment: (In Defence Of) The BBC Sound Of 2011 Poll

on Friday, January 07, 2011
Words: Saam Das

Today saw the announcement of Jessie J as the BBC Sound Of 2011. I rarely engage in the debates that rage regarding these type of polls but having been kindly offered to take part in last year's edition, I feel a bit more qualified to talk about the BBC poll so I thought I'd throw some of my thoughts into the mix.

Firstly though, some brief notes on the process seeing as it might illuminate certain things. In November, the BBC contacts over a hundred people they deem as "tastemakers" in the music industry. Or apparently "pundits" this year. These chosen few are sent to a special form where they must enter their three choices for the Sound Of poll. Now, there are strict rules - the artists must not have had a UK top 20 single or album, been involved in another popular group/reality TV shows, and you can't vote for an artist you've worked with or intend to work with.

I chose The Joy Formidable, Two Door Cinema Club and The Drums for the 2010 poll. The latter two actually managed to make it onto the 15-strong longlist. The Drums even made the top 5 shortlist. Considering 218 acts were voted for, I was quite pleased. Alternatively, I guess you could see me as being a bit of a "sheep" in the industry.

STREAM: TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB - Something Good Can Work

I know almost everyone who reads about the Sound Of polls is cynical of the artists that appear and the reasons behind their elevation but I genuinely hoped that each of my choices would achieve success in 2010. I believe that the vast majority of tastemakers/pundits/whatever you want to call them also vote for artists because they want them to succeed for personal reasons - rather than the poll being a collective conspiracy and simply a marketing tool for major labels. Especially as the rules prohibit voting for artists you work with. Perhaps I'm being naive.

Looking back at the 2010 poll, we saw quite a few leftfield choices, including Gold Panda, Joy Orbison, and Stornoway. The final five, however, compromised of Ellie Goulding as the Sound Of 2010, followed by Marina & The Diamonds, Delphic, Hurts and The Drums. All fairly mainstream choices, although far removed from the likes of Daisy Dares You, the pop"star" who inexplicably made it into the longlist.

DOWNLOAD: Marina & The Diamonds - I Am Not A Robot (Clock Opera Remix)

The problem with the Sound Of 2010, as with any of the previous polls, is that its "success" rate was low. I think that's perhaps one of the few legitimate criticisms of the poll and perhaps why the tastemakers are now called pundits. Ellie Goulding managed the sole UK #1 album from the list, although both Marina & The Diamonds and Hurts sold plentiful records. Unfortunately, The Drums didn't quite do so well and even lost a guitarist along the way.

As for my other two choices - Two Door Cinema Club seem to have achieved more success stateside than in the UK, while The Joy Formidable raised their profile in a steady but far from spectacular manner. But 2011 will hopefully be The Joy Formidable's proper breakthrough year.

And onto 2011, and this year's Sound Of poll. The final list of five feels somewhat predictable: 1) Jessie J. 2) James Blake. 3) The Vaccines. 4) Jamie Woon. 5) Claire Maguire. But as ever there was always some pleasant surprises in the longlist, with the haunting Esben & The Witch and promising electronica artist Jai Paul appearing.

Maybe none of the fifteen artists to appear in the Sound Of 2011 will go onto any great success. Maybe they all will. Either way, I see the poll as an inherently positive thing - if an artist is featured then that's great, and if another artist isn't then no biggie. Sure, you can argue that there's a burden on the featured artists to succeed in a grand way but then others argue that the Sound Of polls are a self-fulfilling marketing prophecy. You can't have it both ways.

At the end of the day, great new music is always out there just waiting to be discovered. If these polls or "tips for 2011" lists help connect listeners with under-appreciated bands (which I believe they do) then that's a good thing. Right?

DOWNLOAD: Clare Maguire - Hope There's Someone (Antony & The Johnsons Cover)


Is the BBC poll a load of cobblers? Are all "tips" lists rubbish? Propel your thoughts into the comments box below.

msn spaces tracker