Geoff Taylor is Chief Executive of the BPI (British Phonographic Industry). Here, one year on, he shares his thoughts on London 2012’s impact on the fortunes of British music.
The London 2012 Olympics was not just a special moment for the nation but for British music also. Coming off the back of the festivities around the Diamond Jubilee in which music also featured prominently, the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies showcased the very best that we have to offer The World. Our country’s rich musical heritage proved one of the key themes, alongside British film, that ran through Danny Boyle’s brilliant Isles of Wonder narrative. If the Games generated a palpable feel-good factor amongst the public as well as fostering even more goodwill internationally, then music certainly helped to play a key part in shaping this sentiment. The two ceremonies in particular helped to project our incredibly vibrant and diverse music scene to a huge global audience, introducing the likes of Frank Turner and other great new talent alongside our more established icons. This all served to reinforce the idea of ‘Brand Britain’ that helps to encourage so many visitors to our shores and to promote our artists and music abroad.
Many of the artists who took part or whose music was featured benefited to varying degrees from the exposure they received from the opening ceremony. Undoubtedly, however, the Games helped to make a huge star of Emeli Sandé, who emerged as one of the faces of London 2012 and cemented her arrival as a truly exciting new talent. Partly off the back of this momentum ‘Our Version Of Events’ ended up being the biggest selling album of the year. During the opening ceremony itself, more than 50 British songs, which provided the soundtrack to that unforgettable summer evening, averaged a total sales uplift of 185%. Many of these came as digital purchases, with downloads and streamed content noticeably coming into their own as fans, almost with a sense of awe, reacted instantly to what they were seeing and hearing. Among the big winners were The Chemical Brothers, whose ‘Galvanize’ accompanied the Athlete’s Parade and saw a huge 1708% surge in sales, while Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ chimed with fans to see a 1000% lift over the weekend. Other artists to enjoy big rises included Underworld, Arctic Monkeys and Tinie Tempah, while, of course, David Bowie’s catalogue saw a big lift, setting the scene, perhaps, for his spectacular return this year.
On the flip side of the coin, it also became clear that a large number of people decided to shop less and stay indoors for much of the duration of the Games in order to savour as much of the coverage as possible. So, overall, music sales took a bit of a dip over the summer – a quiet time for major releases at the best of times. And let’s not forget that some major festivals, such as Glastonbury, didn’t take part to provide the usual stimulus to artist sales. In general terms, however, it’s hard to argue that the Games didn’t provide a massive boost to British music – giving it a high profile platform that we’ll hopefully all benefit from for many years to come. In this respect London 2012 was probably the most significant moment since Live Aid back in 1985 in terms of galvanising public and media interest and shining the spotlight firmly on British music. If UK artists currently enjoy incredible profile and success in the US and other parts of the world, then it’s only fair to acknowledge the role the Games may have played in this, at least on a highly symbolic level.
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Finally, to my mind one of the great things about the opening and closing ceremonies, which we might not have thought about at the time but which I feel was significant, is that all this was achieved using the very latest cutting edge technology and special effects. This demonstrated how the UK is at the very heart of the new tech revolution, and that we now arguably lead the world when it comes to digital innovation. I think much of this resonated with Government and our political leaders who, perhaps, came to fully understand the true value of British music – its importance culturally and economically around the World – and it may not be a coincidence that over the past 12 months they genuinely appear to be that bit more engaged and more open to the music community. In fact their Music is GREAT (Britain) campaign, which ran across 2012, underlined this. I also think the public now kind of gets this too, appreciating that all this great music and the cultural heritage that goes with it, hasn’t happened by accident or by itself. Of course, much of this success has to be attributed to our wonderful artists – the songwriters and performers who have helped to make Britain one of the centres of world culture – but labels have more than played their part as well, investing hugely in British music and new talent while also embracing digital technology in every way imaginable to reach an ever wider audience.