Monday 28 October 2013

The Northern Ireland Music Prize

Over the past few months, an academy of individuals involved in music within Northern Ireland (including this very blog) were tasked with nominating their favourite albums from here to for the inaugural Northern Ireland Music Prize, which will be presented to the winning artist during Belfast Music Week in November. The prize seems to have been modeled after the Mercury Prize, where the albums are (in principle) nominated based on their quality and originality rather than just sales, which means that an album by an unknown quantity should stand as good a chance of winning overall than album by global superstars.

Two weeks ago, the 14 albums that made the shortlist were announced:

A Plastic Rose - Camera Shutter Life
And So I Watch You From Afar - All Hail Bright Futures
Anthony Toner - Sing Under the Bridges
Axis Of - Finding St Kilda
The Bonnevilles - Folk Art & the Death of Electric Jesus
Fighting With Wire - Colonel Blood
Foy Vance - Joy of Nothing
Girls Names - The New Life
Jetplane Landing - Don't Try
Le Carousel - Le Carousel
Space Dimension Controller - Welcome to Mikrosector-50
Tired Pony - The Ghost fo the Mountain
Trucker Diablo - Songs of Iron
Two Door Cinema Club - Beacon

Looking at the shortlist, it's great to see a wide range of different music genres recognised, ranging from alt-rock, punk and country, through to singer-songwriters, and even a few dance albums as well. It's also great to see albums signed to major labels, minor labels, and no labels at all being able to compete against each other on a level playing field. 

Of course, there are people who question the point of having a Northern Irish music like this. After all, there's already so many music awards already out there, so why should there by another one? Indeed, it appears that there has been a growth in region-specific album prizes in recent years seemingly modeled after the Mercury Prize.

In Scotland, they have the SAY Award, which was won this year by RM Hubbert (beating off Calvin Harris and Emeli Sandé in the process). There is the Welsh Music Prize, which had Georgia Ruth proclaimed the victor, whilst the Choice Music Prize, which has been running since 2005, is awarded to the best album from the island of Ireland, both north and south. 

Overall, it is my opinion that the Northern Ireland Music Prize is a good thing in celebrating the best music that Northern Ireland has to offer. However, it is imperative that the prize does not become an exercise in self-congratulatory back-slapping. It should not be insular exercise, rather it should act as a signpost to the world, telling it "This is what Northern Ireland has to offer. This is what we are made of. This is how we want the world to see us." Whilst the aforementioned regional music prizes do have an element of back-slapping to them, crucially they tend to get quite a bit of press outside of their respective areas. To date, I am yet to see much ink spilled (if any) about the Northern Ireland Music Prize outside of the usual local music sources. It is my hope however that over the next couple of weeks, there will be an enhanced chatter about the Prize, and it's eventual winner. Although I haven't read it in months, wouldn't it be fabulous to hear about the winner printed in the NME?

Given my interest in seeing the NI Prize reaching as big an audience as possible, I decided to do a quick bit of number crunching to see just how popular the 14 artists nominated for the Northern Ireland Music Prize really are. Using data which I gleamed from the popular website, which records just how often artists are listened to digitally, I looked at how many individuals listened to each of them over a 4-week period, from Sunday 29th September to Sunday 27th October. This is roughly two weeks before the nominees were announced, and two weeks after the nominees were announced. I then took this figure and divided it by four, to give an average number of listeners who listened to each artist on a weekly basis.

Ranked in order of popularity, from most to least, the 14 artists had this many listeners on

  1. Two Door Cinema Club - 174,493 (43623.25 weekly average)
  2. And So I Watch You From Afar - 11,944 (2986 w/a)
  3. Tired Pony - 7,917 (1979.25 w/a)
  4. Girls Names - 4,558 (1139.5 w/a)
  5. Foy Vance - 3,559 (889.75 w/a)
  6. Space Dimension Controller - 1,486 (371.5 w/a)
  7. Fighting With Wire - 416 (104 w/a)
  8. Jetplane Landing - 395 (98.75 w/a)
  9. Le Carousel - 277 (69.25 w/a)
  10. Axis of - 95 (23.75 w/a)
  11. A Plastic Rose - 88 (22 w/a)
  12. Trucker Diablo - 82 (20.5 w/a)
  13. The Bonnevilles - 80 (20 w/a)
  14. Anthony Toner - 16 (4 w/a)

There's a lot of interesting findings to come out of this data. Of course, there should be no surprise about TDCC topping the rankings by a country mile, but what is surprising is seeing post-rockers ASIWYFA having a greater listenership than Gary Lighbody's side-project Tired Pony, who have two top 20 albums to their name. I might have also expected Girls Names and Foy Vance to have traded positions (I guess it goes to show the power of being Belfast's most blogosphere-friendly band), whilst I had no idea Space Dimension Controller had so many fans. I guess that's genre bias for you. In the bottom half, it's surprising to see APR so far down the pecking order, whilst spare a thought for Anthony Toner, who finds himself as the least popular of the fourteen artists nominated.

Whilst this all makes for interesting reading, I should stress that the data is not exactly scientific, and a few caveats should be noted. The data is based on users from, so unless the listener is a member of and listens to one of the artists' songs digitally, it wouldn't have been recorded. Therefore, artists who listeners prefer CDs or vinyl would not have the date collated. Also, the data is based on if someone has listened to an artist over a 7 day period or not, and therefore a person listening to one track by an artist or a person listening to an entire album is treated equally. Still, I still think the list is quite interesting.

The Northern Ireland Music Prize will be awarded at a ceremony at the Mandela Hall, Belfast on Tuesday 12th November. Whilst I do have a favourite among the nominations, I will be diplomatic and say that any of the 14 albums nominated would make a worthy winner.

And here's a few of the nominees for you to enjoy:

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