I was having a conversation about the music industry with a friend who PRs several big acts, and we came to the conclusion that more than ever before, it’s TV and radio that breaks acts. The mainstream media’s role has largely diminished to a fringe (NME regular circulation down from 250,000 in John peel’s heyday to sub-40,000 now) and no digital player has grown quite big enough to ‘break’ an artist (although iTunes is now recognised as hugely valuable.)
During the election campaign, I was struck by how many people in my own party were quite aggressive in supporting the closure of 6Music. Yes, it caters for niche audiences, but equally offering a platform to break new bands that was unrivalled anywhere else.
There is something absolutely true about the cultural vibrancy of a country and progress. Innovation comes from unexpected places, not least the creative industries.
Yes – the BBC, like the rest of the economy, needs to reduce spending. I for one would certainly oppose any increase in the license fee, and support the top-slicing proposed to increase the roll out of digital and broadband services.
But equally, the BBC has a role to fulfil. Many people feel simply that we should abolish the license fee – why should taxpayers be forced to pay for a service with no opt-out? And I do sympathise with that viewpoint. But then again, the BBC does lots of great things for a relatively small amount of money that would just disappear – not profitable enough for the commercial broadcasters to take up.
In my view, part of the BBC’s role is offer a ‘sandpit’ for up and coming artists, be they comedians/musicians/writers – and that comes with a cost. In the same way the easiest cut to make in a business is to stop R&D and training, it’s also the best way to guarantee you go out of business in a few years.
6music offered this function, along with playing a great mix of older music. It’s also worth noting 6music also plays a role within the BBC – scouting out talent and sharing it around the wider organisation. That’s a function that on a cost basis is much cheaper than having the function duplicated in every department.
Yes, in part the rigidity of the Radio 1 playlist contributes to the problem which 6 music is solving, but John Peel never had a peak slot, so to think that a rough demo from an unsigned band could be broken on lunchtime shows is pretty naive. You can almost hear the complaints of ‘I refuse to listen to Radio 1 because it doesn’t play anything I know’ now.
Many of the people who wanted 6music closed simply did so because of either a lack of understanding about the role it played in the industry, or because they’d support any part of the BBC being shut.
Perhaps the greatest irony of all this is hearing many of the people who so vocally championed 6music closing talking about how much they enjoyed seeing an artist who a few years ago was given their first major broadcast exposure by 6Music.
I for one am glad the BBC trust listened and stopped this short-sighted decision. I just hope they don’t stop here and actually go on to tackle the massively bloated salaries of some of the BBC’s top stars. Working for the BBC is a privilege because they have things like 6music – if stars want mega salaries they can go elsewhere. It’s the same process by which Glastonbury book headliners, avoiding the massive fees of V and Reading/Leeds and they never seem to have any problem booking people.
I know I’m probably in a minority of Conservatives who think this, but I was also in a minority at a gig many years back at a pub in Sheffield watching some student band plugging away. It cost me £4 and the singer brought me a cup of tea because I looked cold in the que outside. At the time I struggled to give away my spare ticket to friends. Had I gone to Conservative conference and asked people to come with me, I imagine I would have got a similar response to this blog post.
The point? Well, that band was Coldplay.
Sometimes bigger things start from minorities. So let’s not stamp on them to save a few quid.
(Yes I also appreciate some readers would be quite happy for Coldplay to never have happened but the wider point is still true!)
Disclosure – in the interests of openness, I should add I work for the BBC as a photographer a few times a year, but with the interactive team, and do not work directly for 6music.