Published by Reuters
In 1989, the British music industry gambled on a tactic to rev up its annual BPI Awards ceremony. With a new, snappier name — the BRIT Awards — the country’s version of the Grammys was televised live for the first time.
But what rolled out that fateful night became the stuff of legend, with co-hosts Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood and glamour model-turned-pop signer Samantha Fox stranded haplessly at the podium as the show turned into “car crash” TV, replete with technical failures, botched lines, miscued presenters and late-arriving guests. Unsurprisingly, the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) has since opted for a delayed feed.
This year, though, the February 14 show will be televised live. The BRITs have gone from laughing stock to blue-chip stock, acknowledged as the jewel in the crown of the U.K. awards calendar — despite the arrival of a plethora of new honors in recent years.
Of all the U.K. awards shows, the BRITs have had the most notable regular effect on sales. In the first Official U.K. Charts Co. (OCC) album listing published after the broadcast of the 2006 show, for example, double award-winner KT Tunstall’s “Eye to the Telescope” leapt 15 places to No. 4. Other award winners showing dramatic sales rises that week included Coldplay (up 13 places to No. 8 with “X&Y”) and Kanye West (up 17 to No. 23 with “Late Registration”).
Tunstall and West had both performed on the show, as did outstanding contribution award winner Paul Weller. The latter saw a reissued version of his old band the Jam’s hits set “Snap!” enter the chart at No. 10 the following week — an entry much higher than would have been anticipated.
Mercury Prize effects have been quantifiable as well. The 2005 winner, Antony & the Johnsons’ “I Am a Bird Now” leapt from No. 135 to No. 16 on OCC’s sales chart, while retailers reporting a 20-fold week-on-week sales increase.
London now hosts at least 30 music award ceremonies annually, catering to virtually every sector. Take in the Live Music Awards, dance music’s DJ Awards, the U.K. Music Hall of Fame, the Digital Music Awards and the events hosted by rock weekly Kerrang or music magazines NME or Q — and you’re only scratching the surface.
“At the moment,” suggests Kim Bayley, secretary general of trade body the Entertainment Retailers Assn., “(the ceremonies) all work. If anything, there are gaps within the year.”
But others argue that the calendar is already overcrowded. “Some of the magazine awards have pushed their luck,” says music critic David Sinclair, a regular contributor to The Times newspaper. “(They’ve) created vague categories and fanciful ‘inspiration’-type trophies which are doled out to whoever they can persuade to show up. The ones that matter to the artists are the Mercury Music Prize, for credibility, and the BRITs, for sales.”
The U.K. business has to “be very aware that it can overcook the goose by having too many awards ceremonies,” cautions Bernard Doherty, CEO of British PR firm LD Publicity, which has handled the BRIT Awards, MTV Europe Music Awards and the Sony Radio Academy Awards, among others.
For the U.K. mass-market tabloid press, it’s the BRITs that rule, veteran tabloid showbiz correspondent Rick Sky says. However, Sky adds, “They also care about the Q and NME Awards. The tabloids are just interested in what ceremony brings in the biggest stars. They have a nod at the Mercury Prize, but it’s not really their market.”
For market-leading music merchant HMV, the three most important ceremonies are “the BRITs, the Mercury Prize and the NME awards,” head of music Gary Rolfe says. The BRIT Awards in particular increase in-store traffic, he notes.
HMV is a sponsor of the NME Awards, which Rolfe describes as “a very proactive/interactive event for us. We organize a lot of in-store shows featuring nominees, particularly newer acts. A couple of years ago, we had the likes of the Killers and Kaiser Chiefs playing in HMV stores ahead of the NME Awards.”
From a radio perspective, Parlophone Records head of radio Kevin McCabe says, “The most important ones are the BRITs and Q Awards. There’s kudos attached to Q, and it’s one that gets some leverage (across the media). It’s become quite global.”
Insiders recognize the tangible effect the BRITs and a handful of other U.K. awards shows can have on record sales. But “the ones artists like to win,” says Kaiser Chiefs manager James Sandom, are “the Ivor Novellos, the Silver Clefs and other songwriting-focused awards.” Unlike the BRITs, however, these key music-publishing galas are not televised.
Sandom added that when the Kasier Chiefs won three BRIT Awards last year, “it meant something in Europe, but globally, it really just didn’t matter.”
Among the acts hoping to benefit from BRITs exposure in 2007 are multiple nominees Lily Allen, Gnarls Barkley, James Morrison, Corinne Bailey Rae and Snow Patrol.