It’s never been easy for up-and-coming musicians to get heard. Record companies can only sign a fraction of the available talent, and radio stations can only play a fraction of the records they release. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day – at BBC 6 Music we get sent hundreds of CDs every week – more than anyone could possibly listen to, let alone play. And many are from record company pluggers whose sole job is to get their product played on the radio. The competition is ferocious.
Since the odds are stacked against independent artists to start with, packaging up hundreds of silver disks and mailing them out to radio stations is an expensive and inefficient way to promote their music. Not to mention an appalling waste of resources.
Of course their most precious resource of all is new songs. So how come – at a time when the police have been cracking down on music-sharing websites – many performers are nevertheless choosing to make their best tunes available on social networking sites for all the world to hear on demand?
With over half a million plays on MySpace, the award-winning hip-hop artist Akala has an interesting answer. Fans, he says, are using his page “as a radio station”. Akala’s relaxed attitude to people hearing his music online isn’t any kind of attempt to screw his record company. As an own-label independent artist, he is his record company. For him those 600,000 clicks represent airplay rather than lost income, a proposition which his continuing succcess seems to bear out.
Sites like LastFM, Bebo and MySpace are a great leveller. Everyone, rich or poor, has to start with the same basic page – all you have to be is good. All of which suggested a potential new twist to the “BBC Introducing” strand. We could level the playing field for unsigned or own-label artists by simply ignoring the daily deluge of CDs from pluggers and record companies. Why not focus exclusively on new tunes by unknown artists that can be heard on their own online pages. The sound quality wouldn’t be the same as compact disc, but so what? Even the nation’s premier pop station Radio One went out in mono on medium wave till 1994. If sound quality had been a consideration, punk rock would never have happened.
What actually matters is the quality of the songwriting. Much as I like the idea of new music fresh from the net, there’s an awful lot of dross out there in cyberspace. So for quality control we’d need to depend heavily on tips from discerning listeners to find the best available tracks to choose from. Then after every show our tracklisting could link back to the pages where each song came from: listeners would find bands, bands would find listeners.
Well, that’s the theory – and this weekend we’re having a go at putting it into practice. My new showcase for online music BBC Introducing: Fresh On The Net starts at midnight this Saturday night on 6 Music. And if you can help by recommending any amazing music by own-label artists you’ve discovered online, do please post the URL where we can hear it. The more startling, the better.