Despite its horrific mismanagement and tremendous fall from grace as the preferred social networking site of the world wide web, MySpace still manages to retain some degree of control over the internet’s cornucopia of unsigned bands. Despite efforts by websites such as SoundCloud and Band Camp, there’s been nothing that’s truly caught the imagination of the masses of artists since Tom Anderson and friends boomed a few years back, and the first act of many new bands is to set up an account, often even before recording material.
If the NME has its way, this shouldn’t be the case for long. Yesterday (May 4), the magazine announced arm of its online operations that will act as a ‘community for new bands and fans’. With the backing of Blackberry, ‘Breakthrough’ promises to offer otherwise unheard bands a chance of democratically gaining themselves a name, with songs being given ratings by members and the supposed cream of the crop being given opportunities by the magazine itself.
In theory it sounds wonderful, and the idea of great new bands getting the recognition that they deserve is something that nobody could oppose. Putting that into practice is another thing altogether, and the early signs are far from good. The main page champions the day’s most popular songs and artists, with an act called Audio Karma dominating both, taking all top 3 slots on the songs section and being almost 700 points clear of their nearest rival in the band stakes. Far from being a new Summer Camp, the band represent sound like a cumulative dredge of every ‘battle of the bands’ winner since Britpop, whilst second place Arcadian Days sound eerily similar.
The level of authenticity in the results is probably so minimal that it barely even matters what the songs sound like – the chance to be top of an NME run website is enough to drive any frightened band to begging their friends to sign up and vote for them. There’s a lot more than pride at stake, though, with the magazine dangling the carrot of mentions in the magazine, potential shows under its banner and, tantalisingly, a gig at this summer’s LoveBox festival for one lucky act.
The idea of fighting for the chance to appear alongside acts that have organically earned their place upon the bill is probably something that most bands with a shred of dignity would like to avoid at all costs – just as contests such as ‘Road to V’ are invariably won by bands that never make a dent on the industry, this is likely to be the same. For all its bluster about offering bands a new home on the internet and giving a chance for artists and fans to connect, the result might matter even less to the magazine itself. From the very moment you click on the website, it’s clear that this is equally an exercise in marketing as it is a chance for musicians – the increasingly omnipresent blackberry logo is plastered upon each page, partnered with adverts evoking memories of festivals gone by and thoughts of ones to come.
As everyone is aware, the print edition of the magazine is slowly dying after years of steady decline, and moving to more digital output is one that will have to be made at some point. The current Radar blog on the NME website is one of the bright spots of the current incarnation of the site, giving away MP3s and tips without talking down to a readership desperate to listen to good new music. Whilst Breakthrough offers bands a shortcut to being promoted by one of the biggest brands in the music business, it also puts Radar editor Jamie Hodgson in a rather tricky position.
Whilst the bands he promotes are generally always bang up to date and ahead of the trend, those that dominate the Breakthrough chart are the polar opposite – conservative, regressive and representative of a culture that the old guard at the NME help to foster, of lads with guitars belting out faux-anthems. Placing them alongside the likes of Yuck, Darwin Deez and Hurts will not only expose the dearth in quality, but illustrate just how bolted on this concept really is. The other options are to scour through hundreds of artists in hope of a bright light that may not be there or possibly even ignoring it altogether.
Whether this proves to be a one off event to bring in some more much needed cash through advertisers or is a part of a much greater trend of diversification remains to be seen. The idea behind it is one that is grounded in common sense and a belief in new music, but the execution is one that has the air of cynicism. With MySpace being ridiculously outdated and clunky, it would be almost ideal for all parties if this were to work, but it looks as if going to take a lot of ironing to get the creases out.