From Dusk Till Dawn

The following comment posted by Alastair Gunn from Crewe four-piece The Dusk raised an interesting point which deserves more than a cursory answer.

Hi Tom, as much as I applaud the general ethos of BBC Introducing and your (and others) support for it, I am increasingly concerned that personal preference is diluting it’s effectiveness. I will not be specific about which regional centre we’re talking about here, but my experience is that those DJs/producers who select uploaded material are often genre-specific and do not give as broad a choice of new music as is warranted by the many, many excellent bands out there. Are there any safeguards in place to prevent this? What are your thoughts on this?

Hi Alastair – the first thing you need to remember is that the BBC’s currently going through major budget cuts, especially in local radio. Many areas of the corporation have been asked to find 15-20% reductions across the board. Locally, BBC Introducing was already being run on a shoestring – most local shows are staffed by freelancers as a labour of love. Even in times of plenty nothing’s ever perfect, and in the current climate the fact that BBC Introducing is still there and continuing to help unknown artists get heard, however imperfectly, is a f*cking miracle.

I scratched a living as a musician in a corrupt and hostile music industry for 3 decades and there was nothing – literally nothing – like BBC Introducing available to any of us in that time. However talented you were, unless you had big bucks, insider contacts and some seriously lucky breaks, then the chances were that nobody would ever get to hear your music.

In fact, the entire music industry has always been one big unfair jungle, ruled right across the board by personal preferences. The preferences of the managers, publishers, promoters, record company A&R scouts, the preferences of the Radio One playlist committee, of the individual radio producers, of the DJs, of the MTV schedulers. Not to mention the personal preferences of the record buying public.

Since The Dusk are based in Cheshire I’m guessing that particular show you’re talking about is BBC Introducing In Manchester but it’s hard to see what safeguards could be put in place. There are a great many musical genres – Folk, Rock, Prog, Jazz, Americana, Reggae, Latin-American and World Music to name but a few – that are scandalously under-represented on British radio in general. It’s one of my long-term goals to help get UK acoustic roots music better represented at radio – given that there are 600 flourishing folk festivals across the British Isles every year. But that’s another story.

Manchester is awash with talent from a wild and bewildering variety of musical backgrounds and influences and producer Chris Long is swamped every week with a tidal wave of new music from the uploader, emailed mp3s and CDs sent in the post. Every one of those tracks is the result of someone’s long hours of hard work, inspiration, dedication and dreams. How can Chris make the difficult choice every week as to which 30 tracks will get played, and the heartbreaking decision of which 70 won’t?

Maybe he should hold the other 70 over and consider them the following week? But seven days later he’d then have 170 tracks to choose from. The only possible way ANY radio producer or DJ can choose which music to play each week is to pick the 30 songs that make you personally most excited. Even then, you’ll probably have to agonise over another 20 that you really liked but had to leave out, just because there isn’t enough time.

In our own small way here at FOTN we try to offer open access to all artists – and to let the public give honest feedback on their music. But then we receive hundreds of tracks a month as well –  far more than the public could possibly listen to. So every week we have to pick just 30 to go on our public Listening Post. And how do we do that? You guessed it, personal preference.

Thank God these days there are avenues by which gifted musicians can bypass the whole damn pack of us middlemen and get heard direct by the public. You only have to shoot a gobsmackingly outstanding song on a mobile phone and people will eventually flock to your YouTube Channel in their millions. It happens all the time. Not for many people, because not that many people write gobsmackingly outstanding songs. But it does happen. All the time.

So I’m sorry your experience of BBC Introducing has been disappointing – but as musicians we all choose what kind of noise we want to make and the world doesn’t automatically owe any of us an audience. Or BBC Introducing airplay. You’re already building a fanbase without it – with your upcoming show at Gullivers, Manchester on August 11th, 400 likes on Facebook and nearly 1900 followers on Twitter.

My best suggestion would be to focus for now on tripling that audience via gigs and by making better use of social media. At the moment your timeline on Twitter and FB is just a series of advertising messages. If you want people to look forward to your posts and tweets and share them with their friends, you need have a conversation with them. Be funny and interesting about life and the world in general: only about one tweet in 20 should be about promoting your music. Fix the out of date info on your official biog page; add links to your Twitter – plus a full proper email address – on your contact page and Facebook. Make it easier, not harder, for fans and music professionals to get in touch.

Finally make your music more accessible – in 2012 you shouldn’t just be relying on MySpace and Reverbnation. Get your music on Bandcamp and Soundcloud where it’ll be 200% easier for people to hear your tunes and link to them. Most importantly of all, devote as much time as possible to writing new material (here’s why). Once you’ve got a couple of world-class killer songs under your belt, everything else – including radio airplay – will take care of itself.

 

Tom Robinson

London-based broadcaster & songwriter, born 1950. His best known songs are 2-4-6-8 Motorway, Glad To Be Gay and War Baby; he has also co-written songs with Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Dan Hartman and Manu Katché. Read More...

8 Comments

  1. In defence of BBC Introducing, as a recent exile from the potteries (stoke on trent) I know that the Rob & Lee at BBC Radio Stoke Introducing, Morelands FM & Stoke Sounds are supportive of bands & new music, Crewe & Stoke have a really good music scene. The Box,Sugarmill & Underground are great venues and you just have to work it its a great proving ground and not everything happens in Manchester (or London). We got our first play on BBC Introducing and it spurred us to write more tunes, good luck guys!

  2. I understand where both of you are coming from with regards to this issue, on one hand there are literally thousands of bands looking to up their game from the same old run of the mill gigs week in week out and constantly feeling that they are bubbling under the radar of bigger stations/producers and maybe labels, so something like the introducing slots seems like a great opportunity to take another step in the right direction above and beyond local or community radio stations. With regards to the submissions and going through endless submissions per week, I can only imagine how hard of a job that must be and then to find the gems hidden within must be massively time consuming and enthusiasm sapping. Maybe something like a new releases charts with a voting system in might help? if every track submitted were able to be streamed by the listeners/public and they gave a thumbs up or thumbs down, similar to the charts run by sites such as reverbnation, that might help narrow the field down with regards to wheat/chaff. I know it’s probably a logistical nightmare to implement something like this but it could help the producers and artists alike, after all, we’re all trying to bring the new music to the people and success is achieved by enough of them liking/buying/attending your shows and music. Just a thought

    I was also lucky enough to have a song played by yourself Tom on the introducing show under the name Sole, a donwtempo track called coming home with a female vocal, It’s a massive shame that the re is a constant threat hanging over such needed shows but, like you said more effort on bands parts and taking advantage of all available marketing, revenue and exploitable streams is the way to improve your chances of success

  3. Al

    Thanks Tom. A very thoughtful and in depth answer, especially given the time you spent researching the band when your time is short. Helpful to us all.

    In my experience of taking records to regional stations, other than the record being great, the story is very important. I have even managed to get classical records on to rock shows with a combination of story and record.

    So The Dusk, on facebook:

    The Dusk are a four-piece indie rock band based in Cheshire, North-west England. The Dusk consists of James Grierson (vocals, acoustic guitar), Alastair Gunn (guitars, keyboards), Dave Jones (bass guitar) and Janssen Bostock (drums and percussion). More information can be found on The Dusk’s official website at http://www.the-dusk.net

    Description
    The Dusk continue in the tradition of well-crafted indie music from the north-west, drawing comparisons with stalwarts such as Doves, The Charlatans, The Verve and Happy Mondays. Although redolent of the best years of the madchester and brit-pop scenes, The Dusk’s sound is, however, fresh and contemporary. They have created a sub-genre all of their own, confidently fusing alternative rock with electro and effortlessly throwing in influences as diverse as classical, grunge and trance. Although laced with samples, piano and orchestral pads, The Dusk’s music remains heavily guitar-driven, providing an ideal backdrop for Grierson’s poetic and emotionally-charged vocals. Their huge and captivating sound has drawn obvious comparisons with Muse, Elbow and Radiohead.

    I get the idea, (and really this is not intended to be negative, more helpful) but this sounds like every other band doing the same thing. Where’s the story? When I review, I look for interesting things to write and there’s some stuff here but really I know all that by listening to the record. So music first but if your music isn’t really that different from everybody else your story is crucial. Faced with the hundreds of bands we listen to EVERY week and month the diversity of the reviewers on this blog lends itself to a diversity of tracks on the listening post. This in turn helps to diversify what is then put in the limelight for potential Introducing play (Don’t forget the BBC Introducing uploader). This only happens because of the drive of Tom and the hours of listening time we all put in, not for money or reward I may add, but because we believe in new music and Tom is a truly inspiring man that I for one support. This is an unusual situation though. Maybe you could try and support your local introducing DJs yourselves? I can assure you, their jobs will be no picnic in the park. I don’t know you guys so this is not directed at you but so many bands are just TAKE TAKE TAKE and no give. All me me me and then they wonder why nobody could give two shits about them. It’s a no brainer really, either you’ve got to spend a stupid amount of money or roll your sleeves up and get stuck in. Build those foundations, not just for yourselves but for others too.

    As for personal preference, of course it is. That’s how we, the public, choose what we want to listen to. It has never been and will never be any other way. If I don’t like what’s on the radio, I turn it off. So as Tom says and as I have said in my new band posts on this site concentrate on your fans. Build fan by fan, look after your audience, interact and you will put yourself in a position where radio has to play your music because it is quite simply put, popular.

  4. Hi Tom and Al, thanks for your helpful comments on this post. I have replied separately to Tom on my original post about personal preference. I agree with everything you’ve both said. I applaud the thankless efforts of both yourselves and all the Introducing DJs/producers around the country. If it wasn’t for them, and people like you, new bands would have very little fora on which to present their work. So, my post was in no way a criticism of the ethos of Introducing nor of the work people like you and Tom do for free.

    I take the point of being proactive and supporting local DJs, and we would happily do so. We try to support the local scene as much as we can but as you’re no doubt aware, it is hard finding the time to do all this as well as being creative. Although I guess that’s no excuse; we, like most struggling bands, can always do more! I would, however, like to think we aren’t in the TAKE TAKE TAKE bracket!

    Your comment on ‘story’ is interesting. Much of the advice we’ve gathered over the years amounts to ‘let the music speak for itself’. Another common tip is not to use superlatives to describe yourself, be honest, up-front, and talk in terms the music-listening public will understand. As much as I don’t like to, this usually means comparing ourselves to established bands. We have a back-story which many would find interesting, but have not plugged it because to us it feels gimmicky and needy! So, I’d be interested to know what you mean by ‘story’ – what sort of things turn you on to a band without having heard them first? How can bands make themselves stand out for you?

    again, thanks for your helpful comments…

  5. Tom

    Fair question Alastair and I’ve done my best to answer it at http://freshonthenet.co.uk/biogs/

  6. Al

    Hi Alastair, thanks for the reply. When I say ‘story’ I am trying to think from a journalist’s point of view. What makes good copy? What makes their life easier? What do they need to fill the 20 seconds of chat before your record is played on radio or the 100 word review? Like you say, we all have to manage our time carefully and making sure you have a story that is interesting is one way to help those who’d like to talk about you manage theirs if you get my drift. And now to read Tom’s post…

    Al

  7. Alastair Gunn

    Tom and Al, thanks for those responses and the very illuminating (and funny) post on biogs. That’s very helpful. Yep, it’s about time I stopped trying to describe my music and just tell people a bit of the back story! I’ll let you know how I get on…
    Cheers, Alastair

  8. John Edwards

    Hi Tom and all readers.
    Given that there is sooo much good unsigned talent out there – anybody who is even remotely connected with the business is deluged with mail from artists on a daily basis – why can’t the BBC just play endless new talent mixed with established acts 24/7. There is enough unheard music out there, no radio station need ever repeat anything more than a few times. The rise of the internet streaming platform, is challenging traditional broadcasting platforms. Perhaps these old methods outta freshen-up and start playing a thicker mix of unsigned and established artists. Back in the 1960’s, auntie Beeb got a kicking from the pirates because the BBC had become stale and uninteresting.

    John Edwards
    (K A Morton – Manager)

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