The art of picking music's Next big Thing

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The Independent Online

In the period before Christmas when the flow of new music slows and our attentions seem to turn to compilations of songs by dead people, the industry and music press fills its time by furiously making lists. There is no shortage of albums of the year tables but the next big thing has become predicting who will be the Next Big Thing – and then patting ourselves on the back when their LP shows up on the albums of the year list.

Yesterday the BBC revealed the 15 names vying for its Sound of... prize, now in its 10th year. It is voted on by music journalists, editors, bloggers and broadcasters, as well as DJs and producers, labelled by the BBC as "tastemakers" (a loathsome phrase, if you ask me). Next month the artist who received the most votes will be named the Sound of 2012.

If you haven't heard of these names, chances are you soon will – the longlist has produced a string of artists who have gone on to achieve fame and riches, including Adele and Keane – but a win is no guarantee. "In the first few years the top five artists would go on to very big promotional success," says Paul Williams, an industry analyst for Music Week. "Three or four years ago, the top five would virtually all end up selling in the hundreds of thousands. But in the past two years; the winner does well but no one else."

As one of the 184 so-called tastemakers (my credentials are that I have written a music column for The Independent for three years), I was asked to name up to three artists who have not had a UK top 20 single or album by this November.

I chose US indie pop group Friends and genre-bending singer-songwriter Frank Ocean, who made the list, and Grimes who did not. Whether they'll have commercial success is far from assured.

Essentially the list is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: those who voted will also be those playing them on the radio or writing about them.

"Something else comes through that hasn't been on the list at all," says Paul Williams. "Ed Sheeran wasn't on the last list and – aside from Jessie J – his album has done better than any other new British act this year."

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