The ‘BBC Sound of…’ award: Prophetic Genius or Plain Formality?

Ollie Smith 21 January 2016

Inexorably, the winner of the 'BBC Sound of…' Award will be reverberating from radios everywhere to your eardrums for the foreseeable future. And sure, there is no doubt that this award is a credible method for predicting the critical success of the winning article.

However, calling this award a magical vatic utterance is about the same as calling the guy in the corner of your pre-drinks a clairvoyant for sermonizing the fact you will be on the floor after nine consecutive double vodka and cokes. The methodology is legitimate: a board of critics and taste-making connoisseurs use their combined musical experience to select a list of talented melodic bands or solo artists. But unlike the various awards that see the year out with a congratulation to the big-dog performers of the last twelve months, this award will itself be scrutinized.  In order to safeguard the ego of the BBC and their panel of selectors, the winning artist will be deified and receive an extraordinary amount of airtime – solidifying themselves as a staple of popular taste. But not once has a shortlisted act become more successful than the winner, and for a start they would never be able to secure anywhere near an equal amount of public exposure. The award also guards itself further by selecting a victor who has already experienced a considerable amount of exposure to the limelight – a sort of formality, a guarantee in writing that the act will go on to see fame.

I don’t know whether you’ll have heard of this guy Sam Smith, but he had already featured and collaborated with Disclosure (who’s album Settle was preached as best dance album of the year) and Naughty Boy before winning the Sound of 2014. Some tragedy lays with all of the insanely talented other nominations who have now slipped under the radar: Chlöe Howl, Peace, Niki & The Dove to name a few. Yet, many of the other shortlisted artists have gone on to substantial distinction anyway: George Ezra, Skrillex, Lianne La Havas, Ella Eyre etc…

So what does the award actually do? It allows many people to diverge from the UK Top 40 – spoon-fed to thousands every week. This year’s Jack Garratt is a one-man sound machine, an unbelievably talented contender with a voice that seesaws between growl and balladic harmony: a deserved win. But, one who has been noticeable on the scene since 2014. The 'Sound of…' Award is credible in its aptitude for foreseeing success, sure. Nonetheless I believe, now in its fourth year, that it can do much much more for artists yet to break the surface of the music industry.