Play your guitar on the MTV? Not any more...
Pop music on television is vanishing. It’s time for a renaissance
Wednesday 30 November 2011
It is hard to believe that it has been five years since the BBC announced the end of Top of the Pops, the chart show that had, in its heyday, been one of the most successful shows in UK television history, attracting over seven million pop fans and helping to launch the careers of numerous pop stars and presenters.
Viewing figures fell dramatically to around one million when the BBC moved it from its home on BBC1 to BBC2 in 2005, and it no longer held the same cultural significance as it had in the 1980s when John Peel was at the helm and Morrissey's first gladioli-festooned camp appearance baffled audiences.
While Top of the Pops may have lost its place as the touchstone of popular music, and the mourning over its passing is borne more of nostalgia than its loss to the music industry, its demise did seem to mark the start of a tangible decline in both output and quality of music on television. Musicians are forced to pitch their wares in the "and finally" slot on chat shows and game shows, a nice accompaniment to the end credits, but very little more than that. Save for Jools Holland, music performance on television is a vanishing act, relegated down the pecking order to the point where musicians are booked as guests to chat about their latest album rather than get on and play it.
The decline of interest in broadcasting music performance has been nowhere more marked than at MTV, which has all but eliminated its music output. The channel's decision to broadcast fewer music videos began in the mid-2000s; by 2008 it was showing less than 3 hours of music videos per day. Their flagship music show, Total Request Live, which had aired four times per week, aired its last episode in November 2008.
This year has been the year of the great music performer: Katy Perry and her firework bra, the exploding confetti canons of Coldplay's latest concerts and the extraordinary spectacle of Lady Gaga. Performance should be at the forefront of what it means to be a musician. It is a sorry state of affairs that there are so few credible outlets on television to showcase these enormously exciting acts.
You need only look at the proliferation of the music festival market to see the length and expense that people are willing to go to to see real performances. More than 500 festivals took place this summer, but with such popularity comes the problem of an oversaturated market. As the economic downturn started to bite, the festivals, while in the main still selling out, also sold slower than ever before, with many people complaining that the ticket prices were simply prohibitive. Surely, now more than ever, television needs to recognise this appetite for performance, step in and help to bring the best musicians to the viewer. There is no doubt that some are playing their part: Sky Arts covered the broadest spectrum, broadcasting from 13 festivals across the UK; the BBC produced brilliant coverage of Glastonbury; and Channel 4 continued its commitment to V Festival. It's a brilliant start, as without a commitment from television, it's tough for up-and-coming bands to showcase their talents. It's increasingly difficult for acts to make money from selling their music, but the exposure that television can bring is invaluable.
On my new Sky Arts show, I was keen to have a mixture of the established and the new and I have been gratified at the response, especially from the music industry, who are so keen to get their acts on, and grateful with the boost they are seeing as a result. Hopefully this will be the spur to other channels: a revival of Top of the Pops may no longer be the answer, but its legacy deserves to be continued, for fans, for artists and for the music industry as a whole.
The Jo Whiley Music Show is on Sky Arts 1 at 10pm every Friday night. See sky.com/arts
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