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Brit Awards Tuesday, 16 February, 1999, 11:50 GMT
Keeping music alive
the corrs
The Corrs: Had 1998's biggest-selling album
Reports of the British music industry's death are greatly exaggerated according to the record companies - with record album sales in the UK last year.

Figures for 1998 show 210 million albums were sold during the year - the highest ever figure recorded in the UK.

The Brit Awards
The year's biggest-selling album was The Corrs' Talk On Corners, with George Michael's Ladies & Gentlemen greatest hits compilation the biggest seller in the final three months of the year.

But while album sales are booming, single sales have dropped by 14%. With the sales of Elton John's Candle In the Wind '97 tribute to Princess Diana taken out of the equation, the singles market in Britain is relatively stable, according to the British Phonographic Industry, which represents the country's record companies.

Fast-moving charts

Debbie Harry: Blondie had just one week at number one
But Lenny Kravitz's sudden debut at number one on Sunday highlights the current trend in the singles chart of singles coming straight into the chart at number one and dropping out of the chart altogether within a few weeks.

Until the mid-1990s, it was almost unheard of for acts to have new entries at number one. Now in 1999 alone, Fatboy Slim, Blondie and Lenny Kravitz have managed this once-rare feat, helped by advance radio play and cheap pricing in the first week of release.

Music weekly NME last year ran a special issue to rail against what it saw as the industry's poor treatment of the new bands it championed - with guitar bands joining pop and club records in shooting into the charts at number one, only to drop out again.

Deputy editor John Mulvey thinks the state of the charts are indicative of a sick industry as a whole.

"Most guitar bands were getting stuck in a boom-bust cycle. Since then, just about every form of music has crashed - except for pre-teen pop, which is the only style of music which has done well over the past years," he said.

He believes the fast-moving singles chart is a result of the "arrogance and conservatism" of a music industry more interested in sales than music.

'We can showcase more new acts'

george michael
George Michael: Strong seller at Christmas
But the BPI's Sarah Roberts feels it is a sign of a healthy industry.

"Now the charts move faster we can showcase more new acts in the charts - it's a hugely competitive market. "It's down to factors like the growth of commercial radio. More records are now being played in advance of their release day. But we now have a bigger variety of acts in the charts."

But the BPI's critics are unimpressed, and maintain new talent needs to be nurtured - not packaged for a rocky ride up and down the singles charts.

John Mulvey said: "People don't necessarily have to conform to do well - if I hear Radiohead or another second rate band who sound like them again I'll scream."

At the BPI, Sarah Roberts insists the old-style singles chart is not dead - if a single is good enough, it will stay at number one, even if it costs twice as much to buy eight days after it is released.

"Look at the success of Cher's single Believe last year - there will always be songs that have staying power."

John Mulvey adds plenty of new music will break through - though he says this is despite the workings of the music industry, not because of it.

"The American band Mercury Rev's album has sold 60,000 copies and their gigs sell out fast. They were dropped by their last label, but people's taste and trust has seen them through.

"Belle and Sebastian - who have been nominated for a best newcomer Brit - have also done it their way. The good will out, eventually."

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