A new way to be top of the pops

The debut of two music charts will provide more exposure for Britain's emerging talent, says Alison Wenham

Tuesday 23 June 2009 00:00

The British independent music sector could be said to have been born in the late Seventies. It was a period in which DIY was the new ethos of the day, as tiny labels looked to ship their vinyl releases to independent record shops across the country, through a new network of distribution companies. It was also an era when the independent charts were born, devised to provide small, owner-run labels right across the country with their own window of exposure.

Previously, it had been impossible to release a record unless you were signed to a major record company. But all that changed, as the music world heralded the arrival of new labels such as Cherry Red, Beggars Banquet, Rough Trade and Mute.

Fast forward 30 years and times are exciting again. But just because there are a vast number of new labels doesn't mean that there are a vast number of new independent breakthrough hits. While lowering the barriers of entry for labels and artists looking to make their music available for fans, the digital revolution has also multiplied the amount of music that is available. And the routes to market for small labels has been desperately affected by the collapse of so many independent record shops and the disappearance of one of the two specialist chains left – the demise of Zavvi (formerly Virgin Retail) has left HMV and stalwart indie store as the only game in town.

As a result, independent labels face a tougher and tougher task in making sure their releases stand out from the crowd, which makes the arrival of an all-new Official Independent Charts all the more important.

After 30 years in existence, the Independent Charts are being reformatted and relaunched. The previous definition of independence – one which dates back to the days when an indie was an indie because it was independently distributed – has been changedto reflect ownership of the labels in question.

When the Independent Singles and Albums Charts are relaunched at the end of this month, they will be open to any record released through a record company which is at least 50 per cent independently owned.

In addition to this relaunch, the independent sector will also benefit from the launch of a brand-new pair of charts, designed to support the new talent for which Britain's independent labels are renowned. The Independent Singles Breakers and Albums Breakers will be open only to independent releases by artists who haven't previously scored a Top 20 hit.

Independent labels have always been renowned for nurturing many of the UK's most creative and exciting talent, acts which in many cases have gone on to become the biggest acts in the world, including U2, Oasis, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Depeche Mode, and many many others.

And today, Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Adele, Dizzee Rascal and MIA have made their breakthroughs through independent labels. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to get noticed.

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If the Independent Breakers Charts had been running through the first half of this year, they would have provided exposure for Friendly Fires, Patrick Wolf, Bon Iver, Lisa Hannigan and Grizzly Bear.

The new Official Independent and Independent Breakers Charts are designed to make a difference for new music. It will be great for Britain's brightest musical talent if they do.

Alison Wenham is chairman and chief executive of The Association for Independent Music ( www.musicindie.com )

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