Listening To The Inbox

A number of musicians have asked what it is that bloggers, DJs and radio producers are looking for in the tunes that people send them. Which is another way of asking “why hasn’t MY latest masterpiece been given the attention it deserves” and the short answer is that the competition out there is f***ing ferocious. Most musicians have no concept of just how much other music those bloggers, DJs and radio producers are being bombarded with every week.

Fresh On The Net – a relatively small music blog – receives 150-200 tracks every Monday to Thursday. Another hundred CDs arrive by post for me at the 6 Music offices each week – far more than I could possibly listen to – and dozens more come in via the BBC Uploader from other Introducing shows. So just imagine what the volume of incoming music is like for high-profile DJs like Steve Lamacq, Huw Stephens and John Kennedy on a daily basis.

Tom Robinson

So back to those 175-odd tracks that arrive here in our inbox – what kind of music do people send us? Well, a surprising number of radio friendly singles, honed over long hours and weeks into something that sounds expensive, modern and just like everything else on the airwaves. Every rough edge has been smoothed, every quirk ironed out. We hear a lot of arrangements that set off on musical tramlines so predictable you can guess – within seconds – exactly where they’ll end up in three and a half minutes’ time, and every calling point they’ll make along the way.

There’s a lot of bands that sound like Interpol. Or Editors. Or Joy Division/Echo & The Bunnymen. Or Blink 182 or The Buzzcocks. Or Mumford & Sons. Or Gogol Bordello. Or Arctic Monkeys.

There’s a lot of tracks by singer-songwriters noodling at a piano – or fingerpicking triads on an acoustic guitar – while lifelessly warbling cliched rhymes about their love lives for five minutes at a time. A lot of homegrown singers emoting up and down the blues scale in fake american accents, and belting out threadbare rockabilly or bogstandard Americana. And that’s before you get to the absolute beginners – and deluded ex musos old enough to know better – mumbling lofi nonsense into an elderly cassette recorder.

What Are We Not Looking For?

And all this is exactly as it should be. From sports to sciences, learning a language to playing an instrument – the only way to get good at something is to start out bad and keep going. It took the Beatles four years of playing Chuck Berry covers in Hamburg before they even began to write songs that took over the world. Unless you’re bloody Mozart, any serious artist has to write and complete a huge amount of truly awful music on their way to greatness. And if you don’t have enough selfbelief to be certain your latest awful track is quite wonderful, then you aren’t a serious artist.

Which is why we welcome those 150-200 tracks every week here at Fresh On The Net – because what we offer artists is a chance to find out objectively how far they’ve got along that road. Each week’s FOTN moderators (“Freshmods”) will listen to every single track and approve their three favourites for the Listening Post that weekend. You can be certain that at least half a dozen of us – including me – will listen to your song, and if even one of us adores it then we’ll pass it on for our readers to have a listen.

Sometimes artists moan about their regional BBC Introducing show only playing “their own personal taste” in music. Although you can see why this is frustrating for local bands working in other genres, in the end instinctive taste and blind prejudice are all that any blogger or DJ can ever go on. It’s what they DON’T play that makes Stuart Maconie, Tom Ravenscroft and Jarvis Cocker such essential listening on 6 Music each week.

Tom Robinson

Nonetheless we do our best to be scruplously fair when sifting through our inbox here at FOTN, and every moderator on our team has their own way of doing it. Mine is to make a list, and mark each track as YES, NO or MAYBE with a brief note for my own reference. I then go painstakingly back through the list, pick my own three finalists for the Listening Post, and a further dozen for my BBC Introducing Mixtape.

What kind of track gets a YES from me? Something exceptional. Something surprising. Something that jumps out of the speakers and grabs me by the ears. Freshness. Focus. Energy – or maybe a better word is Intensity – because slow quiet songs can have it in spades just as much as fast, rowdy ones. Daring. Risk. Truth. Eloquence. Originality. Or maybe something well-worn that we’ve heard before, but reimagined in a new and unique way. Or a track so daft and off the wall it’s completely irresistible. though, it’s beyond words – something that within ten seconds makes you go “YES – this is the real deal!!!” without even thinking about any of the above.

36 short songs = less than an hour of musicAside from musical quality, the only other consideration when choosing tunes specifically for radio is arithmetic. My BBC Introducing Mixtape is one hour long, and we always have more great submissions each week than we can possibly fit into the show. So if all the tracks are equally good, the decision comes down to brutal arithmetic:
* 30 x two minute tunes
* 20 x three minute tunes
* 15 x four minute tunes
* 12 x five minute tunes
Although we do play long tracks if they’re genuinely exceptional, generally our aim is to help as many artists as possible within the airtime available. Which means that a two minute song has literally twice the chance of getting airplay as a four minute one… Not just on my show either: see doubling your chances of airplay.

12 long songs = over an hour of music

All that aside, it’s always going to be painful trying to whittle down 175 songs to less than twenty, so I have to rely on my private one-line reviews to remember all the contenders. Those comments – good or bad – are never passed on to the artists. But for what it’s worth here’s a fictional set worth of notes about non-existent acts to convey the sheer amount of listening involved on a weekly basis.

YES – in bold. POSSIBLES in italic. Everything else in plain type. (F) = female vocalist.

1) COMPETENT BUT JUST DULL RETREAD
2) YAWN – JUST WASHED OVER ME
3) (F?) HAS SOMETHING DESPITE DREARY TEMPO, BUT NO INFO & HEAVILY HYPED BY INDUSTRY
4) NICELY PECULIAR BUT OVERLONG – WAIT & SEE IF THEY UPLOAD THE NEW SINGLE
5) OKAY ROCKABILLY, USEABLE 3 MINS
6) NO – FAST ENERGETIC RETRO TRAD AMERICANA-TINGED ROCK. DULL
7) OK LANDFILL INDIE
8) DULL, AND TEDIOUS RETREAD – NO
9) OKAY NEIL YOUNG – QUITE SHORT – 2.18 MAYBE
10) JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH AGAINST TODAY’S COMPETITION
11) QUITE NICE BEATS, GETS ON WITH IT, DECENT LYRIC/VOCAL – BUT OVERLONG 4.47
12) YES – DECENT THOUGHTFUL PROG INDIE 3.50
13) YES – ACOUSTIC DECENT FOCUS/ENERGY, 2.30
14) DREARY MIDTEMPO NONSENSE
15) YES – GREAT BEATZ, ODD VOCAL SAMPLES 3 MINS
16) NO, WASHED OVER ME
17) DULL SWEET SOUL R&B
18) NO, WASHED OVER ME
19) NO, PEDESTRIAN
20) MAYBE – COMPETENT TIGHT ROCK BAND, DIFFERENT ENOUGH (JUST) – BUT 4.35
21) (F-M) NO, AMATEUR HOUR
22) A BIT DULL & REPETITIVE
23) YES – BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT – ALL OVER THE PLACE BUT ORIGINAL & ONLY 1.55
24) DECENT ELECTRO RAP RINGING THE CHANGES – ITS DIFFERENT -3.39
25) JUST WASHED OVER ME
26) (F) RAWK GROOVE HORRIBLE MANNERED VOCAL
27) MAYBE – PREFAB SPROUT WITH BEATZ
28) YES – ACCEPTABLE TOWNSHIP POP – 4 MINS
29) DANCE/TRANCE NONSENSE
30) YES – ACOUSTIC ORIGINAL LYRIC ABOUT CHEESE, NICE HARMONIES 3.07
31) MIDTEMPO NONSENSE
32) DEFINITE NO
33) NONSENSE WITH BEATZ
34) (F) ACOUSTIC AMY WINEHOUSE
35) BOGSTANDARD SYNTHPOP BACKBEAT
36) (F) YES SEMI ACOUSTIC EPIC – 4.40 BUT BUILDS & SUSTAINS
37) ACCEPTABLE INDIE DREAM GTR PSYCHEDELIA – BUT NEARLY 6 MINS
38) YES ODD TIME SIGNATURE, UNEXPECTED/MEMORABLE GTR RIFFS
39) NO – ELECTROSWING AGAINST SQUARE BACKBEAT – AAAGH
40) FINGERPICK ELECTRIC CLICHE
41) BRONSKI FALSETTO, A BIT INSIPID
42) LONGISH, MIDTEMPO, POSS ENDER – 5.20
43) WONKY POP FROM GRAVESEND – 2.15
44) VERY PLEASANT SHUFFLING ELIOT SMITH
45) R1 STYLE SONGWRITING DONE REALLY WELL
46) YES – SPARSE SCOTS ELEC FINGERPICKING SWING. PROPER SONGWRITING
47) YES – SLOW LONG DRAMATIC EPIC ELECTRO 4.57
48) SUPERB, THOUGHTFUL RAP, TOP BEATZ – A WINNER
49) WORTHY CAUSE, GOOD NAME. RHYTMLESS REVERBY DRONING AND CHANTING.
50) INDUSTRIAL LOOP, SEMI PENGUIN CAFE PASTORAL WITH SFX, POSSIBLE ENDER
51) COMMERCIAL BUT LIKEABLE ACCESSIBLE ELO POP VOCALS, DAFT LYRIC
52) NICE FAST ELEC PICKING W BEATZ. RATHER DREARY VOC BUT POSS OK ON BALANCE?
53) NOT UPLOADED TO BBC INTRODUCING – CAN’T PLAY
54) STRINGS AND NAIVE VOC BIG PRODN. WIDESCREEN REPETITIVE BUT HYPNOTIC. USEABLE
55) DULL CLICHED RIFFING AND RAWK VOC
56) (F) INSUBSTANTIAL ELECTRO REPETITIVE NOODLING AND WITTERING. NO REAL SONG
57) FAST BOGSTANDARD C-F-G COUNTRY BACKBEAT. COMPETENT, UTTERLY DERIVATIVE. FUCK OFF.
58) DARK JOY DIV INTERPOL DOORS PRETENTIOUS DECLAIMING VOCAL. FUCK OFF
59) PROTO MARC BOLAN SNEERY NASAL VOCAL. MERCIFULLY SHORT
60) FAST GREENDAY GTR BACKBEAT SUPERGRASS/BLUEBELLS. DULL DULL DULL
61) (F )PIANO BOTHERER. WIMPY WARBLING. LIFELESS AND DREADFUL
62) MORE INTERPOL LITE/A LOT OF HARD WORK. GTRS LESS CLICHED BUT STILL NO REAL SONG
63) (F) TRAD RETREAD, SOUL – RHYMES ZERO WITH HERO. PROFESSIONAL BUT UNINTERESTING
64) YES – OSCILLATOR NOISE OVER FALL BACKBEAT. STRANGE SCOTS DECLAIMING
65) YES (F) SPACEY DX7 80S PRODN, QUITE ARRESTING, UNLIKE EVERYTHING ELSE
66) GUYS THAT THINK THEY’RE V.U. OR J.DIVISION. JUST DRONES ON & ON – DREARY.
67) HOT CLUB VIOLIN UNUSUAL SUBJECT MATTER. USEABLE, THOUGH MUCH TOO LONG.
68) (F) DOORS BASSLINE. VOCAL MELODY UP+DOWN THE BLUES SCALE. NO.
69) NORTHERN RAPPER – NICE LYRICAL CONTENT BUT HIS TIMING IS ALL OVER THE PLACE
70) MIDTEMPO SONGWRITER: ENUF SURPRISES/TEXTURE TO SUSTAIN INTEREST BUT NO INFO
71) YES FAST REVERBY JAMC – DECENT SHOEGAZE POP 4.10
72) NO – HAMFISTED ELECTRO DEXYS
73) DIFFUSE SELFINDULGENT LOW ENERGY NONSENSE
74) INDISTINCT AND DULL ONE-NOTE DRONE GROOVE WITH KITCHEN SINK THROWN IN
75) GOOD MOTOTRING GROOVE, BUT 4:45 LONG, AFTER 1 MIN IN IT’S HARD TO GIVE A TOSS
76) LIKED HIS SOLO STUFF BUT THIS IS ALL OVER THE PLACE
77) TWEE ACOUSTIC SWING, NAÏVE PREACHY LYRICS, JUST GRATES AFTER A COUPLE OF MINUTES
78) ENERGETIC LOFI 2 MINS LONG, KINDA CHARMING BUT TOO MUCH OTHER, BETTER MUSIC
79) AUTHENTIC CONVINCING MOTORING ROCK
80) WARM LIKEABLE, UK SOUL – LIKE A NICER LEWIS TAYLOR
81) VOCAL & BACKING GENERIC AND NOT IN A PRETTY WAY
82) NOT INTERESTING ENOUGH TO WAIT FOR IT TO GET BETTER
83) GOOD START, DIDN’T DELIVER ON PROMISE
84) HORRID HARMONICA ACROSS SLOW TREMOLO GUITAR, THEY SEEM TO HAVE LOST THE PLOT
85) PORTENTOUS NEO-PROFOUND BOLLOCKS, TURGID AND TEDIOUS. FUCK OFF
86) NO, AMATEUR NONSENSE.
87) VERY LONG 6 MINUTE INSTRUMENTAL THAT DID NOTHING FOR ME
88) NO, BUT WROTE HIM AN ENCOURAGING MESSAGE ON HIS SOUNDCLOUD
89) (F) SPARSE DEMO, DECENT SINGER, BIT OF A NOTHING SONG
90) WELLMADE COMMERCIAL POP WITH COMPETENT MARVIN GAYE STYLE VOCAL
91) YES – PSB STYLE VOICEOVER AND MEMORABLE ELECTRO BACKING
92) (F) PERFECTLY GOOD U2ISH ROCK PLAYED WITH CONVICTION, BIIIG SOUND, MAYBE..
93) EXPENSIVE SOUNDING PRODUCTION. R1 POP VOCAL MANNERISMS. NO
94) SOMEBODY MIGHT WELL LOVE THIS, BUT IT AINT ME
95) ZERO INFO, NOT EVEN A URL. FUCK EM.
96) SELFCONSCIOUSLY WEIRD. AFTER 3 MINS IT WEARS THIN AND GETS DULL
97) FECKIN GREAT PIANIOEY AMBIENT SOUNDSCAPES, BUT WE CAN’T KEEP ON PLAYING HER
98) PRETTY GOOD, BUT WE PLAY EM LOADS AND CANT DO EVERYTHING FOR EM. NEED TO LEAVE ROOM FOR NEW ARTISTS WHO HAVENT HAD A CHANCE YET
99) NO
100) LONG & DREARY RETRO PSYCHEDELIA
101) JUST WASHED OVER ME. PERFECTLY PLEASANT NOISE. NOTHING TO HOLD ONTO.
102) INTERESTING SHORT RAP – OFF KEY (F) BACKING VOC SAMPLE
103) PLEASANT VOCALS, HARMONIC SURPRISE IN CHORUS, BUT AT 4:21 ITS JUST TOO DIFFUSE
104) NICE CONVINCING MOTORING GROOVE, LOVELY PRODN, UTTERLY UNORIGINAL, DOESN’T SUSTAIN 5 MINS IN LENGTH
105) UNUSUAL, GREAT ENERGY, BUT GRATING SOUND. SONGWRITING DOESN’T MAKE UP FOR IT
106) AMAZING ROGER CHAPMAN LIKE VOICE, CONVINCING PERFORMANCE, WEAK SONG
107) (F) COMPETENT BUT NOT GREAT. THE SONGWRITING JUST DOESN’T ENGAGE
108) COMPETENT PEDESTRIAN SONGWRITING. CLUNKY CLICHÉ LYRIC STANDARD MELODY. NO.
109) NORWICH/NASHVILLE CONNECTED SONGWRITER. SEND TO BOB HARRIS AT R2
110) CLUNKY PUNK ROCK RECYCLING SAME OLD SAME OLD.
111) NICKED OFF STONE ROSES, PERFECTLY TIGHT BAND, BUT DULL & DERIVATIVE
112) GOOD TIGHT RIFF, CONVINCING RAWK VOCAL, SONG ITSELF QUICKLY GOES OFF BOIL
113) 28 SECS OF CLICHED RIFFING BEFORE CLICHED VOCAL. NO DISCERNIBLE MERIT
114) OK BAND, UNMEMORABLE LOW ENERGY SONG
115) DULL
116) WORTHY BUT A A BIT DULL, LACKS HER NORMAL ENERGY & SPONTANAEITY
117) CONVINCING GOSPEL PIANO 6/8 – FORWARD TO BOB HARRIS
118) MUNDANE LITERAL ACCOUNT OF 90S OVER STRUMMED GUITAR
119) EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD PROG
120) GOOD SOUND, BUT WEAK SONG & VOCS. MAYBE
121) LIKEABLE SKA
122) YES – ANOTHER KILLER GROOVE: WHY DONT OTHERS DON’T LIKE AS MUCH AS ME?
123) NOT UPLOADED TO BBC INTRODUCING, CAN’T PLAY
124) DECENT RIFFAGE & LIKEABLE UPFRONT VOCAL. WEAKENED BY “COMMERCIAL” CHORUS
125) ERSATZ JOHNNY CASH, LONDON AMERICANA – NOT BAD
126) (F) PRETTY GOOD, HAVE WE PLAYED EM ALREADY?
127) EXCEPTIONAL LYRICS AND CHORDS, RECORD OF THE WEEK
128) COULDNT REMOTELY IMAGINE HEARING THIS ON THE RADIO
129) 2.22 (F) DREAMY SHORT SOLO ACOUSTICA
130) LOOPED ACOUSTIC GTR, ERSATZ LEONARD COHEN
131) DECENT RAP WITH GREAT 80S FUNK BACKING – 3.43
132) AMAZING RICH DEEP MASIVE WIDESCREEN EPIC. A BIT RADIOHEAD 4.42
133) ENCOURAGE EM WITH S/CLOUD MESSAGE: INTERESTING. BUT NOT THERE YET
134) OUTA TIME OUTA TUNE YET IT HANGS TOGETHER IN A LOOSE ZITA SWOON KINDA WAY
135) DONE WELL IN AN EDDIE VEDDER KIND OF WAY, BUT NOT QUITE PERSUADED
136) EXCEPTIONAL – YES YES YES 2.35
137) CLUNKY EXECUTION 50S PASTICHE, BUT OK WRITING
138) A BIT DULL BUT WORTHY – BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT? BUT 5 MINS
139) YES – EXHUBERANT ENERGY & MOMENTUM MAKES UP FOR LACK OF ORIGINALITY, AND JUST OVER 2 MINS
140) FUCKING GREAT, UNUSUAL. NOT UPLOADED TO BBC INTRODUCING, CAN’T PLAY

Needless to say, all the above are a) fictional and b) snap judgements made by one man. I could easily be wrong and frequently am. At the end of the day, the BBC pays me to choose tracks I happen to like, but just because a track doesn’t appeal to me doesn’t mean it won’t go viral and become a massive hit. There are load of other music blogs radio shows out there you can send your music to.

The biggest shame is that our blog can only fit 25 tracks onto each Listening Post and the BBC only gives me an hour for each Introducing Mixtape. Spare a thought for all those MAYBE tracks – the many good tunes by worthwhile artists that we simply don’t have room to include each week. In the end though, a really good song will always stand an artist in good stead – regardless of whether it elbows its way to the front on this particular blog.

Most of all we hope that when your track does get picked for the Listening Post, the Fresh Faves and/or the Introducing Mixtape it’ll confirm that you’re doing something right – and your songwriting has begun to stand out from the pack. What you do with that information is up to you: we can’t make you famous – only you can achieve that, if that’s what you want. But we can certainly cheer you on your way.

Tom Robinson
Tom Robinson

1 Comments

  1. Thanks for the honesty Tom, you and your teams offer at least a chance of some airplay, exposure and progress, with a channel for music that is DIY, passionate, hopeful, quirky, different, not always on the mark, as your comment above are testament to. but has its place and needs a voice. “Without, new, or unsigned bands, shouting from the sidelines, the music industry would cease to exist”. Thank You – Paul Travis A1M records (DIY indie label helping unsigned bands since 2005)

Write a Comment

site by alaricking.co.uk