Why January is the time to launch a pop career (it only takes 30,000 album sales to get to No 1)
Adam Sherwin is Media Correspondent at The Independent and an award-winning writer who specialises in covering the entertainment, broadcasting, music and popular culture industries. Previously Media writer and diarist at The Times, he was a co-founder of the Beehive City media and entertainment website. As regular contributor to BBC London 94.9 Radio station, he was named Music Business writer of the year at the awards of influential music industry site Record of the Day in 2006.
Saturday 14 January 2012
There are few certainties in hit-making but one motto used to ring true – January is a dead month for music.
However the new year has now become the most fertile period to create new stars as artists who might never have earned a coveted No 1 discover a shortcut to pop's summit.
The Maccabees, a cult indie band from London, are heading for their first chart-topper tomorrow with their third album, Given To The Wild.
The critically acclaimed group are fending off superstars Bruno Mars and Adele in a tight battle for the No 1 slot.
Their route to the top has previously been travelled by the Arctic Monkeys and Adele herself: defy conventional expectations by launching an album in the January dead-zone when music fans, radio programmers and the media are actually desperate to hear something new.
The exposure generated by a chart-topper itself produces more sales and the upward momentum can establish the right artist as a major star.
Adele's record company, XL, timed the launch of her 2008 debut album, 19, for the last week of January, after releasing two singles and a series of new year critics' polls had whetted the public's appetite for the London singer.
19 debuted at No 1 and has sold nearly seven million copies. Its 2011 sequel, 21, was also released in January, selling 200,000 copies in its first week.
This year, Lana Del Rey, the US singer who has been the subject of much online hype, is hoping to follow Adele's example by unleashing her highly anticipated debut album in the last week of January.
Meanwhile, for bands like The Maccabees, January presents a real opportunity in that sales of just 30,000 albums can typically secure a No 1 – one third of the normal total in other months.
Exploiting January has become particularly important for record companies trying to promote guitar bands, which have seen a decline in popularity compared with pop acts and singer-songwriters. Only one debut album from a guitar band was in the Top 35 last year: The Vaccines' What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
John Hirst from HMV, said: "Traditionally you would have a six-week barren period after Christmas with nothing going on. But when no one's released a record for two months the public's appetite is for something new. It's easier to get media attention and positive reviews so an album can over-perform."
Being able to place "No 1 album" on television adverts can be life-changing for a band. But the music has to be good, too. Jim Chancellor, managing director of Fiction, The Maccabees' record label, said: "It's a reward for six years of hard graft by a band who keep making better records.
"There is a natural momentum from a No 1 and it sets you up for the rest of the year. Festival bookers say, 'That band is bigger than we thought they were'."
New Year revolution: January Stars
Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (No 1)
After they'd had two No 1 singles, the world was ready for the long-playing debut by the Sheffield band, below. Record sales of 360,000 electrified a snoozing music industry early in 2006.
The View – Hats Off to the Buskers (No 1)
Dundee indie rockers, top, sneaked an early-year No 1 with their unpretentious debut. The success pushed the band up festival bills and guaranteed valuable radio and television exposure.
Adele – 19 (No 1)
After she won the BBC's Sound of 2008 poll and a critics' Brit Award, the swiftly released debut album from Adele, right, exceeded expectations. Her follow-up album, 21, was also a January release, last year.
White Lies – To Lose My Life... (No 1)
Anthemic if gloomy rock act, right, capitalised on growing momentum with early-year chart-topper. Nearly repeated trick with follow-up Ritual, which made No 3 in January 2011.
Delphic – Acolyte (No 8)
Manchester dance-rock act, left, tipped for big things released debut album on 11 January after featuring in critics'-choice polls. The band scored a Top 10 hit but have been quiet since their breakthrough.
The Maccabees – Given to the Wild (No 1 in midweek chart)
London "indie guitar" quintet, top, achieve chart breakthrough with acclaimed third album timed to maximise interest in the traditional post-Christmas lull. Only Adele stands in their way.
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