When daft Facebook groups on behalf of sausage rolls and pickles can rack up over 1 million members each, it’s tempting to conclude that the whole notion of the Facebook campaign has become a bit of a joke.
But they’re not all like that. There’s one group, Storm The Charts, that’s not only enormously ambitious; it also posits a radical alternative model for the music industry.
The goal? Nothing less than a chart revolution, replacing the Cheryl Coles and Alexandra Burkes of this world with new, unsigned bands.
Spearheaded by Wes White, Storm The Charts, and its more modest sister group Let’s Get A Genuine Unsigned Band Into the Charts, are hoping to tap into the same disillusionment with pop – and the same collective urge to cause corporate-bothering mischief – that saw RATM make Christmas Number One.
The idea is to collect and then whittle down a diverse list of unknown artists who have put themselves forward or been put forward by fans, and throw them all at the charts in the same week.
Unlike the RATM4Xmas campaign, however, these groups want to take truly independent and previously unknown artists – ie those with no major label support – and buy them into the Top 40.
I’m fully supportive of the campaign, partly through curiosity, partly through mischief and partly because Middleman are in the running, but it does raise some testing questions about how the charts ‘should’ work, and whether they matter, as well as whether supporting independent bands in protest makes the charts more political than musical.
But at the heart of Storm The Charts’ intentions is simply a cheeky reminder that as consumers we’re now far less resigned to sitting at the end of the conveyor belt with our mouths and wallets open. The campaign aims to find and re-engage those very dedicated music fans who seek out new music all the time, yet who feel helpless and disconnected from the charts, as well as the artists they’ve found.
I’d argue, too, that Storm The Charts is symptomatic of a broader shift in our attitudes to music. Social networking is coming into its own for music lovers, and has handed back to us the power to send a band viral, to directly influence their success, and maybe even make a bit of money from it.
Take Scars On 45, a Bradford band whose fans awarded them a total of £15,000 via Slice The Pie, ultimately putting them into a position where they were picked up by Atlantic Records after being played on US TV.
OK, they’re on a major now, but arguably that wouldn’t have happened had we – music fans, web 2.0ers, the general public – not put them there. And all those who invested in Scars On 45 pre-deal are about to cash in on their support.
Slice The Pie offers fans the chance to invest in a band, and they will receive a return on their investment if the band do well. This makes a lot of sense. We want to take ownership over the artists we support, because it’s a deeply personal thing. Songs are not units to us.
Where will this fan-funded revolution take us? Excitingly, we could be heading towards a future where, rather than labels investing in music they think they can sell, we could instead invest in music we like, and then tell labels where we think they should put their money.
It also means, of course, that major labels may be out of a job altogether. Then there’s the potential for artists to keep more of their money, avoid restrictive contracts, and share profits with their fans in some sort of Utopian paradise… or an overcrowded post-apocalyptic wasteland in which The Saturdays are cloned many times over. We’ll see.