This is a project that I have only just become aware of, all thanks to The Joe Public. Storm the Charts is a grassroots group that works towards getting as many unsigned/independent artists into the singles charts, in the same week, as possible. The group is currently looking to select forty new bands and artists whom they can help enter the mainstream charts in the UK. The only criteria to be met are that the band/artist not be signed to any major label, that they have not previously charted and that their tracks are available from chart-eligible download retailers such as iTunes.
Storm the Charts is the brainchild of Wes White, who is based in Glastonbury, UK, but who opens his services to all genres and all countries of origin. Here is what Wes had to say about the project (he also happens to have been a part of the team responsible for selecting bands to play at the famed Glastonbury Festival):
Q: I’m impressed with your method of selecting the top forty: half from fan votes and half from panel votes – why that scheme?
A: With Glastonbury, the whole thing was panel-driven and while I was working for the festival we deliberately avoided public vote because the prize there is so simple: if you play on a big stage at Glastonbury; people will hear you. We didn’t want it to depend to any degree on the size of an artist’s existing fan base because the most exciting thing of all is to find someone nobody knows about and show people how good they are. The Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition does now have a (limited) element of public vote, but that’s come in since I left.
With Storm the Charts, the prize is only a possibility: even if artists are picked for our final forty, we can’t be sure that anyone outside of the group will care. So, the public vote is, I think, necessary here to make sure people are engaged with it. We also are going to need huge numbers if we’re going to make an impact on the charts and those artists who aren’t signed, but do have followings already, can help with that.
The difference between us and so many other opportunities for bands that we might otherwise be compared to is that the public vote really is that: the public get to hear every
single band that’s eligible and cast a vote if they want to.
Meanwhile, the panel is still there, making a separate selection, specifically in order that the odd genius off in a village somewhere, with fewer than twenty MySpace friends, also has an even playing field. They won’t be swayed either way by the size of a crowd a band has played to or how many MySpace plays they have. If anything, they’ll tend to favor the ones noone’s picked up on before.
Q: Verifying eligibility of entrants has to be a tedious and time-consuming task: do you have a team for this?
A: No, except that I’m making the list available publicly and, as yet, there’s been no challenge in terms of suitability to anyone I’ve put on the list (either from other artists, members of the group or anyone else.) It is a bit time-consuming sometimes, when I’m not sure about certain artists and have to check what information there is about record labels. I think I’ve only turned down three submissions so far on grounds of eligibility. I know there’s a risk that there could be bands and artists there who haven’t told me about things that others might think should rule them out. Our main guidelines are pretty clear though: no deal with Sony, Warner, Universal or EMI and no prior chart history. If anyone’s put themselves forward and clearly breaches those things, and I’ve not caught it, then we’ll have to seriously consider what happens later on.
Q: What was your inspiration for this project?
A: When the big campaign happened for the Rage Against the Machine single at Christmas time, there were people (including some of my friends) commenting that they’d much rather do something for a new band. A lot of people also felt it was a bit strange to take a ‘stick-it-to-the-man’ stance with a record owned by Sony. Neither of these things were really a problem for me. I like old music as well as new music and I don’t boycott Sony the rest of the year, so I don’t see why I should at Christmas time, but I still sort of thought there was a point to what they were saying. So, when the Rage campaign was done with and Jon Morter said, “Let’s do something else” to the group: this was what I thought should be that something else.
Unfortunately, Jon didn’t feel inspired to ask his million group members to do it so, I thought I’d better set it up myself! But that was definitely the biggest factor; it seemed to me that people were motivated by the general idea of doing something for some otherwise unknown artists, but that just telling them to go for this or that unknown artist was a non-starter.
By involving people in choosing the artists right from the start, and by having a large number of winners so that (hopefully) just about everyone will be able to find some tracks in the list that they really like, we can get people engaged here in a way we might never otherwise be able to with a group of musicians without traditional marketing clout.
Q: Assuming that all goes well with this: do you have any plans to expand or improve for the coming years?
A: One of the biggest problems I’ve had this time is that in order for it to work at all; the tracks are going to have to be available from chart-eligible retailers. As many retailers as possible, but we’ve specified at least iTunes because they’re so dominant in the market.
Many artists and musicians who might otherwise want to be considered aren’t ready yet, organizationally, to do this and that means they’re excluded from the process […] This time around, we also want as short a period as possible between the last artists being chosen and the download week so that we carry the momentum forward from the end of voting.
If we can do something this time around, and then next year we’ve got a track record, I think that next year we’ll be able to have a much longer gap between the two and help bands and musicians get set up between the end of voting and the purchasing week. It would mean we were effectively acting as a record label for those who didn’t want to
do that for themselves on a DIY basis or didn’t already have independent labels doing it for them. We’d possibly take a cut if we did this because, right now, I’m not taking any money at all out of the project and it takes many hours to sort through and I do need to eat! But it would only be for those artists who we worked for directly and this would expand massively the number of artists who could apply.
Also, I wouldn’t put a limit on the numbers for a future year and I will probably start collecting, at least names of, artists and bands who are interested in the 2011campaign as soon as the deadline for this one is up.
Q: How have you found all the support to help you along the way?
A: People just seem to really like the idea! I will admit, there are a few people who think what we’re doing is bad and that we’re going to stick some band at number 37 in the charts and that all anyone will remember them for is some desperate novelty chart effort. I can picture the kind of thing they’re fearful of and I hope we don’t end up being seen like that.
I know it can turn, but all the media I’ve been in touch with has been just simply positive and seemed to want to publicize an interesting project, rather than my having to really hassle anyone or defend our ambition. When I started this up, I expected a lot more people challenging it than we’ve actually had: I’m pleasantly surprised by how people have reacted. I know there could be a backlash round the corner though!
Q: You are using MySpace and Facebook for this: how have they been working?
A: Well, both have the drawback that if you say you’re centering something on Facebook, for example, that people who aren’t on Facebook, or don’t use it much, worry that the whole project must not be for them. I’ve registered some Storm the Charts domains now and so, hopefully, we can make a website that’s a way in for people who aren’t on Facebook, but are on the internet.
It would be good to get as many people as possible, who aren’t big internet users, involved as well, which would probably involve much more help from print media, but we can only do so much. Especially in the first year. There’s a Twitter feed, a last.fm group and Spotify and YouTube playlists too: I tried to set up as many presences as I felt I could keep a reasonable degree of oversight on!
One final point: Storm the Charts has set up a “Just Giving” page where you can make a contribution to the EDGE program for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered animals. I’m really proud that people have given over £500 already and we hope to raise more for these overlooked animals (that also happen to mirror the overlooked artists Storm the Charts has been trying to help!) Visit the page at: http://justgiving.com/chartstorm
For more info: http://www.myspace.com/stormthecharts