Once again, Monday finds me sitting down to build next week’s BBC Introducing Mixtape, and as usual it’s a case of trying to cram a quart into a pint pot.
That’s the expression we used in the old days before decimalisation: somehow trying to cram a litre into a half-litre pot doesn’t quite have the same ring. But you get the idea.
Each week I listen to somewhere between 100-200 tunes here at Fresh On The Net: see Listening To The Inbox for how the process works. I also hear several dozen tunes a week fowarded by radio colleagues via the BBC Introducing Uploader.
So on the one hand BBC Radio 6 Music gives me one hour of airtime a week to play these tunes. And on the other hand there are always quite a few hoursworth of interesting tunes that I’ve discovered over the previous few weeks.
So Monday is crunch time, when 400-500 minutes of music has to compressed into a 60 minute radio show. It’s actually more like 57 minutes – to allow for programme idents, trails and spoken links between the songs.
The first thing to do is to import all that week’s contenders into iTunes like this:
The next job is to start pulling tracks into a new playlist to hear how the songs will sound next to each other.
When doing this I assign each song a star rating in terms of musical energy. Full-on rock and electro tracks get five stars ***** while solo songwriters are given one *. One isn’t better than the other – you just need to keep note of light and shade in the playlist.
All the contending tracks tend to be pretty good, but you inevitably end up with favourites. These key tracks automatically form the basic bare bones of the show, which gets fleshed out around them.
Once we have about 50 minutes’ worth of music, the jostling begins. Tracks start getting pulled out and replaced, others get moved around, trying to fit in as many great tunes as possible into the final ten minutes. Since all the remaining tracks are equally great, the ones that get included is usually a question of simple arithmetic.
The shorter the track, the better its chances.
The playlist below managed to squeeze eighteen tracks into just 57 minutes – and that was only possible because ten of them are under 3 minutes long.
If everyone had sent us 5 minute tracks, we could only have played eleven of them.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with longform music, and you should never compromise your art just in the hope of chasing airplay. Artists such as Deadmau5 or Mogwai have built their careers on alternative ways of reaching an audience that don’t depend on national radio support.
Actually we occasionally do play tracks on the Introducing Mixtape that are 7 minutes long or more. But the standard with these tracks has to be higher, to justify dropping three other artsts to make room for them.
So here’s the bottom line:
If somebody at radio adores your record, they’ll play it regardless of how long it is. But if you’re just one of several great artists competing for the last slot on a busy show, then a 3 minute song gives you a big advantage over a 5 or 6 minute epic.
In radio promotion as so often in life: less is more.