What Happens Now?

BBC Sounds display

I’ve been playing independent music artists on my BBC Introducing shows in the middle of the night on BBC Radio 6 Music since late 2007. In that time we’ve given well over 10,000 bands and artists their first national airplay. But after the excitement has died down, finally getting played on the radio can also result in a sense of anticlimax. As one singer-songwriter plaintively put it “What happens now?”

Of course we all hope that long-awaited airplay will suddenly, magically make everything different. We naturally feel that if only we can get the right manager/plugger/record company on board to keep the momentum going, then Success is bound to follow…

Here’s how one artist summed it up in a friendly Twitter message:

Hi Tom, thank you for another play last night, loved the show! I was just wondering if I could get some advice? How can I now take this a bit further? I’ve got the EP to follow the single coming out in a month and really wanna continue the push. I’m thinking more airplay/live sessions/interviews/radio 1 etc etc – I don’t suppose you could help? Thank you in advance! :-)

In case it’s helpful for anyone who’s ever been in a similar position, here’s my reply:

“Hey James – have you by any chance heard or seen this video? It may or may not be of any help, but it does pretty much sum up my best current advice about all this stuff…

To save you wading through it, it basically says that most of the traditional Music Industry goals of “more airplay / live sessions / interviews / Radio 1 etc etc” are overrated. Live sessions and radio interviews are not only eyewateringly difficult/expensive to achieve, but in many ways a distraction from other stuff that matters a lot more…

Obviously by all means do have a go at achieving those radio goals, but the competition is f*cking insane. Huge multinational giants – plus many hundreds of independent artists & labels – are all chasing the same small number of airplay and session slots every week. Some are regularly spending many thousands of pounds to try and elbow their way to the front. My BBC Introducing Mixtape may have a minuscule audience compared to Jack Saunders on Radio 1, yet even my inbox has over 4,000 unread emails from pluggers, all desperate for airplay.

Worse, those sessions and daytime radio plays – even if you manage to achieve them – won’t make as much difference to your future career as you may think. Over the years I’ve come across many brilliant acts whose music I adored – and managed to get 6 Music sessions and even slots on the Glastonbury Introducing Stage for some of them. And all those wonderful bands and charismatic artists have since pretty much disappeared without trace. But why?

BBC Introducing Stage

Well, although a sudden burst of radio plays and festival slots does provide a brief splash of visibility, that stuff tends to come… and then go. You give it your best shot, and a year later you’re pretty much back where you started. Except that instead of being This Year’s New Thing you’re now Last Year’s New Thing.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I did also give Calvin Harris and Lily Allen sessions early on in their careers. But doing a session for me wasn’t what made them successful. Their spiralling fame and record sales were down to the fact that they both had huge, fast-growing fanbases, thanks to MySpace. Playing the odd BBC Introducing radio session may have helped them on their way but Lily and Calvin were always going to make it, without any help from the likes of us.

So yes, once someone’s career is already moving, then radio is great for putting a foot on the accelerator. The bigger your momentum, the bigger the difference radio will make. But what airplay can’t do is kickstart your career from scratch. For an unknown artist, sudden media exposure makes almost no difference to the longterm size of your fanbase.

Right now you have under 700 followers on Facebook and less than 80 subscribers on YouTube. If I was your manager, my advice would be to focus your artistic energies on writing new songs – and your promotional energies on building up those numbers to nurture up a proper community of interest around you and your music. The specific numbers don’t actually matter that much since they’re easy to cheat & manipulate. But having a community growing up around your music matters very much indeed.

Genuinely achieving 1000 new subscribers on YouTube would be way more use to your career right now than a whole week of plays on Radio 1. Unlike the radio, it’s completely within your own power to achieve, and costs nothing. A year on, almost nobody will remember the airplay. But 12 months later those thousand YT followers will still be there, engaging with every new song and video you share.

I wouldn’t even be bothering to write all this if I didn’t believe you have what it takes to achieve a serious audience for your music: talent, drive and a great attitude. My best advice right now – although it’s only one man’s opinion – would be to pay more attention to your followers, figure out what is is they like about you, and do a lot more of it.

In addition, of course, to writing a lot more of those clever, memorable songs :-)


Strat and amp


  1. Matt Thompson

    I’m most grateful to Tom for this brutally frank but extremely useful advice. I’ve just released my 2nd album ‘Songs for a Northern Monk’ and there is a huge temptation to worry about airplay. I’ve actually enjoyed this time just getting amazing, detailed feedback on the quality of the songs and trying to build my fan base steadily. Hopefully airplay will follow but fan base is king. I’ve just uploaded ‘Moonlight’ today.

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