In Retrograde: How to win the Mercury Prize

Since its curation in 1992, the Mercury Music Prize has stood as the pinnacle award for all British music. Devised and elected by a handful of industry professionals and tastemakers, the award aims to celebrate the best in British music and does not base its decision on the album's sales figures or an artist's popularity. But just like any award's ceremony, picking the winner comes with a range of political influences that can affect the judges' decision when it comes to honouring the artist. Here are just a few of the patterns we have seen in the selection process over the years to determine who we think will be the 2016 winner.

Be obscure

Clearly the easiest of missions for any new band but obscurity does play a major part in gaining a Mercury nomination. At the end of the day, the panel of judges are just like any self-assured music nerd when it comes to new music. They want to be the first person to introduce others to this great new band they've heard, who otherwise would have just disappeared into the abyss. This is why you can expect a small selection of complete unknowns making their way onto the nominee list every year.

Be original

Every new act is looking for that special something that sets them apart from the others. Not only does it attract attention, it also gives the Mercury panel exactly what they are looking for. The Mercury Prize isn't just about honouring the best British album of the last twelve months, it is also about finding that new sound that got them talking around the office. Bands such as Alt-J, The xx and Franz Ferdinand have found themselves taking to the podium at the end of the night for delivering a release unlike anything we have heard before, and therefore becoming the quint-essential sound that summed up that year.

Be part of an emerging new genre

While it may seem very corporate and straight on the outside, the Mercury Prize has done more than its fair share in breaking new genres into the mainstream. While drum n bass had enjoyed huge success as an underground movement throughout the 90s, it was Roni Size's win in 1997 that brought the genre to a whole new audience. The same happened again in 2003 when Dizzee Rascal cleaned up for his debut 'Boy In The Corner', making way for grime to take a hold on British youth that still maintains a strong following to this day.

Show up to the award ceremony

It may seem fickle but showing up to collect your possible award has proven to be more than an essential move. When an artist wins, people are going to expect an acceptance speech and maybe even a quick rendition of your work after you have won. So to shun the awards all together may not be in your best interest. There were rumours circulating at the 2008 ceremony that dubstep innovator Burial was due to win that year, but being someone who never showed his face, he of course never went to the ceremony, which many now believe cost him that year. It may also explain why Aphex Twin has never walked away with a trophy either.

DON'T become the bookies' favourite

Since the beginning of the Mercury Prize, the bookies have got it wrong every time except once when Arctic Monkeys won in 2006. This is plainly because the judges don't like to seem predictable. The bookies will normally name the most famous artist on the list as the favourite, as this is where most people are willing to place their money. But of course, the judges all understand what winning the prize can mean for an artist. Aside from the £20,000 cash prize, every winner sees their album sales skyrocket astronomically. This can turn an unappreciated artist into a household name overnight, something that the judges would rather see happen to a struggling act than an established one.

So who will win this year?

While it does go against my final point, I'm betting on David Bowie to be awarded this year's Mercury Prize. Not just as a posthumous honour, but because he has produced the best British album of the year so far. But if I were to follow all my points to the letter, I can see Michael Kiwanuka cleaning up later tonight. Both of these acts produced astounding works this year and both deserve their place on the winner's trophy.