By way of follow-up, I thought I’d talk to Midas’s manager about the band’s expulsion from the charts. Here’s what he had to say…
David Kuczora runs Midlands-based Melting Ice Management, and is responsible for pop/rock band Midas who were kicked out of the UK charts last week for ‘hyping’.
We can argue the ins and outs of the charts and how valuable they are to the acts who appear on them — but while we do that, I thought it’d also be interesting to get David’s take on what happened.
How did Midas get into the charts?
Midas got into the charts the same way anyone else does Ã¢â‚¬â€œ by selling enough chart eligible CDs and digital tracks. The band also made extensive use of pre-ordering, which allows fans to pay for a copy of the song before itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s available on general release.
What’s the relationship between mobile delivery of music and live performance?
Midas have been touring a lot of big gigs recently with the Shiny Toy Guns from LA, and whenever Midas play a show with them they are always sold out. They found they could generate about 100 SMS sales a night at a good gig.
This really worked for a lot of fans who were under 18 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ more than often they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have credit or debit songs, but all 14 year olds have a mobile phone. In this respect, the live performance became a great place for people to buy the music. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an impulse purchase thing, the same way that a fan might buy a t-shirt, badge or pen off the merch stand.
How did the prepaid SIM cards work?
Early in the campaign 7digital contacted us to tell us that about 200 of the people who had pre-ordered via SMS didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually have enough credit on their mobile phone to complete the transaction.
We came up with the idea of taking some mobile phone SIM cards to gigs, pre-loaded with credit, so that fans who wanted buy the track but didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have enough credit on their phone could snap in a SIM card with enough credit on to purchase the tracks available.
It took out all the hassle of fans being able to order the tracks Ã¢â‚¬â€œ they wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to worry about topping up their phone to make the purchase, or whether theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d have enough credit left to call their parents to pick them up after gig. They could hand over a fiver, text the various codes depending on what tracks they wanted, and not worry about the credit on their phone.
What other strategies have you used?
Sales strategies have only been one part of the campaign, and a good way to make some money for the band. The campaign as a whole was much broader, and has been a combination of traditional promotional activity and new media promotion.
WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been working to plug the single to radio, TV and magazines in the same way any other label would do and have been picking up more reviews and airplay than when we did the first single.
We had a great support team of professionals who took our records to DJs, journalists, producers and so on. Can a new band get a face-to-face meeting with Zane Lowe to talk up their record? No, they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. One of the most important things for a new band who are trying to get exposure is feedback from Ã¢â‚¬Å“tastemakersÃ¢â‚¬Â in the industry.
There are times when a record may not get played on air or reviewed in a magazine, but someone might give some really constructive comments that the band can take on board. You just donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get that if you stick a CD in an envelope to someone and hope it might get listened to.
A key benefit of having a team doing some of the more specialist jobs like radio promotion is that the band then have a lot of time to concentrate on talking to the people who really matter, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the fans. They can spend far more time on Myspace, Facebook, Bebo et al actually interacting directly with people.
I know a lot of bands think that sending out bulk comments or messages using automated tools will make people take notice. Well, it wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t.
The individual band members from Midas have spent a lot of time actually talking to people, and striking up a genuine friendship with them. This is the only way that you will persuade people to get off their computers and actually come to gigs and support the band in real life. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the acid test for me.
But itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s essential itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the band doing it themselves, and Midas have worked hard on that.
How many people paid money for the single?
The honest answer is that we have no way of knowing. We are provided with sales reports from the retailers which give us a cumulative figure, but we never know actually who has bought it. We donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get to see any of the customer data as it would be against the Data Protection Act 1998.
Digital retailers like 7digital run automated checks on their data before submitting it to the charts to verify that all sales that go into the data for the chart come from unique customers. This is based on payment information, which means they check the sales come from different credit cards, Paypal accounts or mobile phone numbers and ensures there are no instances where, say, somebody has tried to order from the same phone 20 times.
In that respect, we know that 2,415 sales were recorded in the midweek chart data issued by the OCC on Tuesday 21st August, which included CD sales and digital sales. 7digital have confirmed the sales submitted by them passed all their automated checks to ensure that they were purchases from individual customers.
Why were you kicked out of the charts?
Millward Brown, who are the market research company who compile the charts on behalf of the OCC, requested a manual breakdown of all our sales data. They spotted that a number of the sales came from consecutive phone numbers, because of our strategy of selling the SIM cards at gigs.
There is nothing specific against this in the chart rules, and the sales were still made through a chart-eligible retailer.
What shocked us most was their decision to discount all our sales from the chart, not just the sales they were concerned about. There were still a large number of purchases which werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t made on SIM cards supplied by us, which should have been carried through to the chart. In that respect, their decision lacked any sense of proportionality.
What is hyping?
To quote the chart rules verbatim, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s any activity Ã¢â‚¬Å“designed to distort, or which has the effect of distorting the Chart by achieving a higher or lower Chart position for a record than it would otherwise achieveÃ¢â‚¬Â.
That sounds very strict, but is it really? LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s go back to 1995, when Blur and Oasis were competing to get to number one with their new singles. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s suggested that Blur won because they offered two versions of the CD single with alternative B-sides and live versions, whereas Oasis only had one CD format available.
Ultimately, Blur fans could buy two different products, both of which counted towards the chart as the same song.
Exactly the same thing happens now Ã¢â‚¬â€œ record labels discount their products to retailers so they can offer deals like Ã¢â‚¬Å“3 formats for Ã‚Â£3Ã¢â‚¬Â, so in essence youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re offering an incentive for the consumer to buy a record three times rather than once. Why on earth would you buy a CD single for Ã‚Â£1.99 when you could get two pretty coloured 7Ã¢â‚¬Â vinylÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s with it for an extra quid?
Will this vinyl ever get played, or do people see them as collectables? Who knows? The main thing is, the record label are succeeding in getting one consumer to buy it 3 times, so youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re tripling your sales effectively.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s probably Ã¢â‚¬Å“distorting the Chart by achieving a higher Chart position for a record than it would otherwise achieveÃ¢â‚¬Â, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still allowed.
Why do you think that stacking up the prepaid downloads in advance is NOT hyping?
It probably is hyping, but at the moment itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s allowed by the chart rules, and weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be crazy not to take advantage of it.
The rules are probably far more relevant where customers are ordering a physical product, and the label needs to know how many CDs to press. The OCC are constantly refining the rules on digital sales as new technologies come into existence, but by the very nature of technology theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll always be one step behind new developments.
Why is it important to you to be in the charts?
For us itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s another way to show that we can co-ordinate a release with the operational efficiency of labels much bigger and with much more clout because of their market position or reputation.
Now that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have much impact on the end customer, but the music business is an industry where you need a lot of help from professionals inside constantly have to prioritise what artists and projects they support. Charting is just one more way for Midas to demonstrate that they are a professional act who have a good understanding of how the industry fits together as a whole.
What are you going to do about this?
ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s very little we can do! We were notified very late in the chart week of the OCCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s decision, and they made it very clear that they were exercising their Ã¢â‚¬Å“discretionalÃ¢â‚¬Â power to exclude our release from the charts.
We asked the OCC to disclose the raw data they based their decision on, and so far theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve ignored that request.
We asked the BPI (who co-own the OCC) to convene the Chart Supervisory Committee to review the OCCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s decision, but were told it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t possible. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not interested in an open system of natural justice Ã¢â‚¬â€œ basically if the OCC makes a decision then thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final and you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t question it or have anyone review it independently.
What advice do you have for independent artists who want to be famous and get in the charts?
DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t put the carriage before the horse! Fundamentally, you have to be able to write great songs, and Midas do that. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve also worked very hard for 4 years to get themselves to the position they are now, and are working harder than ever.
If you want to be famous, then go on Big Brother or date a supermodel. If you want a career in music, get the basics right and work hard for literally years and you may stand a chance of getting there eventually.
As for the charts, they should be a small part of your overall strategy, and certainly not your primary focus.