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Digital music awards honours MySpace influence

Record industry: 'Will you be our friend?'

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Reg goes ligging Trendy Camden venue...check. Silly haircuts and spectacles...check, check. Suspiciously long queue for the disabled toilets...check. Lots of bellowing about how great everything is...MASSIVE CHECK.

The BT Digital Music Awards last night had every hallmark of a self-congratulatory wonkfest, but something wasn't quite right; there's something spooky about an Establishment celebrating the fact it's not in charge anymore.

Despite it being the fifth year of the ceremony last night, and 20 gongs covering everthing from communities, through artists, mobile, promotion, download stores, magazines and blogging, the music business showed it is still wrestling with its place in the digital age.

A host of statistics from the BPI trumpeted the progress made; this year legal downloads have beaten last year's sales total already.

One of many aspects of the show which seemed at odds with the digital music scene as we at The Reg know it, was the performance of Lil' Chris, a rock and roll infant "discovered" on the Channel 4 Gene Simmons reality vehicle Rock School. Backed by a pouting gang of hired hairdos, the impression was the antithesis of grassroots online music; contrived, objectively rubbish - and damningly - pushy.

There was a whiff of an old industry trying too hard to explain to the new technology-centric firms claiming territory how it's useful. Witness the puzzling pats on the back for failing companies; there were nominations for the increasingly irrelevant-looking loss maker Napster. Most people we spoke to were blissfully ignorant of the outfit's problems.

The 2006 BT Digital Music Awards didn't showcase an industry "coming of age" as The Guardian has it. Digital music's pubescence is long behind it as far as the public is concerned. It's more like a confused late-20 something now, torn between settling down, getting fat, and going to dinner parties with rich buddies, and its heritage as an agitator, grinding the cutting edge. A sharpness was detectable at times last night, thankfully.

Accepting an award for pioneering online music, Peter Gabriel alluded to the continuing conciousness struggle. He said there was still ample opportunity for artists to assume control of their own careers, which is precisely what the music business is scrambling to stymie. The biggest cheers from the assembled crowd of record company and marketing suits went up whenever an artist or campaign was mentioned which had pulled a fast one on the public. Ex-Bedales public schoolgirl Lily Allen's internet-spearheaded coronation as an "edgy" yet ubiquitous pop princess amused them immensely.

They might have missed the point. One of the night's live performers, Sandi Thom, has suffered a sharp backlash in the mainstream and music press. It was revealed her "basement gigs" from her home in Tooting - which supposedly landed her record deal - were a pre-launch promotional ruse by her management.

MySpace was anointed "Best Innovation" as it netted a clutch of baubles. Tom Anderson founded MySpace in July 2003; the innovation in the last year has been its purchase by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, and the launch of an official UK site, meaning record company marketeers save money on international calls.

Some acknowledgment of MySpace's achievements was appropriate though. It has been instrumental in changing how this reporter's generation approaches new music; it's the first port of call if someone raves about a new band.

It's a much bigger accomplishment for a website than scoring a thousand ponderous mainstream editorials on the dangers/genius/revolutionary possibilities of social networking. The first "social networking phenomenon" - at a time when social networking as an overground "phenomenon" was still a glint in web utopians' eye - was Friends Reunited. Granted, it was given the ol' reverse Midas touch by ITV, but how much press does it get these days?

The BT Digital Music Awards will be broadcast on Channel 4 on 21 October. None of the more popular artists like Muse, Lily Allen, Thom Yorke handed the highest profile awards bothered to show up. There's always next year. ®

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