There is a reason why the Brits happen in February: it is to jumpstart a sluggish recorded music market, at a time when buyers are staying away from music after the retail gluttony in the weeks running up to Christmas, when 20% of albums in the UK are sold. Just the sight of all those stars is meant to be enough to start shifiting their music all over again.
This year’s Brits drew 5.8m viewers, up 1.2m from 2014 – an oasis for an industry thirsting for TV coverage the rest of the year. Awards might pamper artists’ egos but record labels know that playing at the show is what really drives sales.
A decade ago, labels would have had to wait a few days and cross their fingers that impressed viewers would remember to go to the shops at the weekend and buy the CDs by the toothy, twinkling singers on their TV screen. Now the sales uplift, driven mainly by iTunes, is instantaneous.
Sony Music might have been triumphant on the night, with its acts collecting five of the dozen available awards, but Universal was the true winner because its acts took five of the night’s nine performance slots, with Sony and Warner gettin two each. And the independent labels who account for around 25% of UK album sales? Like the fourth little piggy, they got nothing – no awards and no air time. Not unless you count, mid-show, Ant and Dec chatting to two of Alt-J for 10 seconds. Wee wee wee, they went, all the way home.
The BPI and the Official Charts company are not publishing exact sales figures yet and are instead using “week-to-date sales” meaning they compare sales in the opening half of this week (Sunday to Wednesday) to the same period last week and tabulate the percentage increases. But the trends are clear.
Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith dominated the Brits, not just by picking up two awards each but also by getting to perform. So it won’t come as a surprise to see that sales of their albums, coincidentally the two biggest sellers of 2014, shot up 73% and 83% respectively. Sheeran also saw sales of +, his debut album, increase by 59%. The two biggest gainers on the night, however, were Paloma Faith, whose A Perfect Contradiction album grew by 130%, andR oyal Blood whose self-titled debut saw sales shoot up 209%, arguably because they were put in front of a mainstream ITV audience for the first time. Faith can comfort herself knowing that her album, as of last week, had sold over 602,000 copies whereas Royal Blood’s had sold just under 280,000.
Going beyond the BPI/OCC numbers, I tracked the iTunes chart, which accounts for the lion’s share of UK downloads, at 5pm on Wednesday and compared the placing of the performed tracks 24 hour later. Every performing artist saw an increase in their chart position with the exception of one – Madonna’s Living For Love actually dropped from No 2 to No 3. It’s probably best that you make your own “tumble” jokes here. The biggest gainer was Royal Blood’s Figure It Out – the song they performed on the night. It wasn’t even in the iTunes top 200 before the Brits but by Thursday afternoon it had reached No 28. Take That’s Let In the Sun also leaped from outside the top 200, but only got as far as No 82. The next biggest gainer was Only Love Can Hurt Like This by Paloma Faith, which went from No 128 to 23 overnight.
Take That might be paying the price for their decision toperform looking like the Nutcracker busking on the set of Mad Max. As well as Let in the Sun only reachng No 82 on the iTunes chart, sales of their album III only went up by 45%, which in Brits terms is tiny – it was the third lowest gainer among the winners the third lowest percentage gain after Mark Ronson (42%) and One Direction (37%).
If you don’t show up on the night, then don’t expect to feel the greatest sales benefit. Echoing that, Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways went up 48% and Pharrell Williams’s G I R L went up 58%. All three acts were “otherwise engaged” and the two US acts sent short video acceptance messages while 1D sent Simon Cowell in their steads – all of which are like sales hemlock at awards shows. When artists phone in their appearances, consumers react accordingly and don’t feel any compulsion to buy the music. It’s like they were all given a shop window and decided to hang up the “gone for lunch” sign.
With the Brits, it’s not a case of having to be in it to win it; you’ve got to sing in it to win it.