It is that time of the year. New music is upon us, and it feels incumbent on us to listen.
But what should we listen to? We are nearing the end of the second decade of the 21st century and we are surrounded by music like never before. We can’t go out without taking music with us and it’s virtually impossible to spend time on social media without being enticed to listen to tracks by artists we love, like a bit, liked a bit in the past, or, if we’re honest, feel totally indifferent about.
Fortunately, there are tastemakers (some of them self-appointed) to survey the field and give us a taste of what we may or may not find tasteful in the months ahead.
The BBC Sound of 2017 top five is one of the strongest in many years – dominated, perhaps inevitably, by London-based R&B from female singer-songwriters. The odd man out (literally) is Rag’n’Bone Man, who seems to have been around for years but no doubt will be happy to be regarded as new if it means that he can continue the commercial success he enjoyed last year.
The price of success
But what about the lesser-known artists who did not feature in the BBC poll (or any other poll for that matter) and are relying on tweets and Facebook posts to bring their music to our attention?
In many ways, it is easier than ever for singers and bands to promote their own music. Yet that in itself has drawbacks as the field is ever more crowded and nobody possibly has time to listen to everything that is waved in front of their ears.
It can take ages for an artist to release their first material, gain a reasonable following to fill smaller venues and then fund and record a debut album. There will, in most cases, be years of playing support slots for free in front of five or ten people and then hoping to sell enough merch afterwards to pay for the petrol.
In political speak, most musicians are just about managing. True, social media can cut out the need for managers and publicists, but how many jobs are sacrificed, or relationships screwed up, so that artists can spend more time with those that they love most – their Twitter followers and Instagram admirers?
Last month, I was followed (for the second or third time) by American singer songwriter Samantha Preis. The Twitter alert showing her as a new follower, albeit a returning one, was enough to make me listen to her single Lost for Me, released in August. It’s good, though not exactly ground breaking. I will probably stream it a few times on Spotify, but that will hardly make Samantha rich.
Speaking from the heart
Elsewhere, new(ish) artists appear to be sharing their lives with us somewhat intimately in an effort to make sure we don’t forget who they are. I was taken by a Facebook post, on New Year’s Eve, by singer Kimberly Anne confessing to a lack of achievement in 2016 and alluding to mental health problems. Too much information? Check it out for yourself if you want, but also wish Kimberly all the best for 2017.
This is my first music blog. There will be more, looking not just at how and why we listen to music, but the culture of festival going and the power of music to change (or at least influence) politics.
Before that, as we slip into the second week of 2017, I’ll sign off by predicting world domination this year for Loyle Carner, and hopefully success for Temples of Youth, Pumarosa, Kojey Radical, Bibi Bourelly and The Tuts. I am bound to be right. Possibly.