This is the time of year when everyone who writes about culture doesn’t know which way to look. We spend December (and half of November by this stage) looking back on the year that was. We then spend the opening period of the next year looking ahead to the months to come. Janus knew what he was doing with those two faces on him for looking back and forward.

When it comes to the music business, the tradition is now firmly established that January is for the next big things. You get initiatives like 2fm Rising or the BBC Sound of 2018 or the brilliant Eurosonic Festival in Groningen which aim to predict the acts who’ll make the most noise in the next 12 months. Every music business observer rows in with a list of acts to watch which more or less resembles every other list in circulation. There is security in numbers in wintertime.

While it’s marvellous that new acts get such a blast of publicity, there are several issues with this annual flurry of futurescoping. Going back to our friend Janus in the first paragraph, Rome was not built in a day and many of the acts who get the vote of the next-big-thing jury in January are very often still in the starting blocks a year on. Talent development does not really pay much heed to the 12 months of the Gregorian calendar.

There are many reasons why an act make it to the next level, but one of the most important considerations of all is time. I was reminded of this last week when all eyes were on east Limerick for the funeral of Dolores O’Riordan. Many years ago in what now seems like a different lifetime, I was one of those A&R people who spent a lot of time in Limerick in pursuit of The Cranberries.

I remember seeing them at several gigs in the city in 1991 and wowing at the potential which was there for all to see. But it must be stressed that it was just potential at that point. You weren’t seeing world-beaters on the stage of the Jetland Centre; you were seeing potential.

There are many reasons why an act make it to the next level, but one of the most important considerations of all is time.

This is something which is well worth emphasising. It took several years, a couple of releases, some mis-steps, a shuffle of the decks behind the scenes and some astonishing, astounding, audacious strokes of luck for the band to turn that potential into success. The youngsters who played to a few dozen people in The Stables booze barn in the University of Limerick in early 1991 may have been the same people who later had huge hits in the United States but much had changed in the interim – and those changes didn’t happen overnight.

This is something which applies to the current next big thing steeplechase. When you look at the list of acts vying for your attention in 2018, it’s worth remembering the acts who were in the same space in 2017, 2015 or 2011 (I know, 2011, a lifetime ago, right?). Where are those acts now? Are they still in the game? Does their A&R man return their calls? Is their agent still talking about them when he phones your man in Live Nation or Aiken Promotions? Are they on the main stage of the upcoming summer festivals or have they slipped down the bill to the third stage where the font size gets really small? What does their third album sound like? Did they get a third album? Actually, hang on, is the act even still together?

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Finding a new act is easy – there’s a couple of them playing within a few miles of your front door tonight and every night this week – but developing a new act is much more difficult. It requires patience, developmental moxie, expertise, largesse and, yes, luck.

Most of all, though, it requires time. The time for the act to grow, to cop themselves on, to find their feet, to find a new bassist, to find a sound, to find some decent songs, to find a cockiness, to find a spark. Acts need that time because very few of them comes fully locked and loaded and ready to go.

But we live in an age where most acts never get that kind of time or assistance. If something fails to click, we’re onto the next one, the next act with the next sound with the next haircut. The Cranberries were lucky that they had some good people in their corner, people like Geoff Travis and Barney and Denny Cordell, who went the extra mile.

They were lucky that they were writing Dreams and Linger at a time when record labels were about development rather than data and metrics. It’s always easy when a band are motoring and the big momentum is in full swing to push onwards and upwards, but it’s much more difficult to get that momentum going in the first place.

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By all means, check out the bands of 2018. Listen to them and go to see them and work out if Sigrid is going to be the new Robyn, Lykke Li and/or Lorde. But remember that your favourite band of 2018 may well turn out to have been the sound of 2016.