Save our BBC Introducing

BBC Introducing is on a knife’s edge and it needs saving.

Crucial to the development of the UK music scene is BBC Introducing. Operating initially at local level, this platform allows upcoming bands and artists - often on a shoestring budget - to upload their music to a local database and a dedicated team of enthusiasts provide interviews and in-house sessions, local gigs, festival stages and outside broadcasts when possible. Should an exciting discovery prick the presenters ears your music may be shared with sister shows on the national BBC stations for further airplay. Previous success stories include Florence and the Machine, Ed Sheeran & Little Simz.

In the past, my band Hardwicke Circus have been involved with presenters Tom Salmon and Emma Linton (BBC Radio Cumbria) who have secured us airtime on BBC Radio 1 & 2, a feature on the 6 Music Round Table, and performances on the BBC stages at Kendal Calling and Reading & Leeds Festivals. It is this level of support that allow an independent band like ourselves to hit the road, confident our hometown is behind us.

Recent BBC cuts however, have signalled the end of local radio stations as self-standing channels. Financial obstacles such as the licence fee freeze has regional stations juggling already small budgets, with many presenters facing the axe (some have already been given the ultimatum between joint producer-presenter roles or redundancy). In the absence of strong public support, it would not be immoderate to suggest that local stations will be forced to abandon the ‘peripheral’, non-drive-time shows such as BBC Introducing to make way for nationwide formatted programmes in a bid to save on the coffers. Already the BBC has announced further savage cuts to its World Service output, resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs, regrettably halting radio output in 10 languages, including Chinese, Hindi, and Arabic.

Rolled out under the guise of restructuring the BBC to ‘fulfil greater programme sharing between the 39 BBC local radio stations in England’, this act of cultural self-flagellation is nothing more than another wave of artistic austerity, negatively impacting the arc of upcoming artists, often from low-income households who rely on this outlet for exposure. Today, if you wish to hear your music on the alternative or commercial radio stations (Radio X, Capital FM etc), nine times out of ten you will need to hire a ‘plugger’ - an independent body with connections to radio that pitches your music to producers with the aim of securing airplay. Costs for this service can be anywhere between £300 and £1000 (& upwards), and for many artists this is an unfathomable fee. Even if you can afford this opportunity your song is not guaranteed airplay.

The uniqueness of the BBC Introducing uploader is that it is free to use. It has democratised music and put everybody on an even playing field for judgement on creativity alone. Abandoning this crucial service would be striking a limb on the ambition of the next generation.

One of the best feelings as a musician is being told ‘I heard your song on the radio’. It will always be a slightly mind-altering compliment that doesn’t ever escape you. I don’t know if it’s because of the old BBC compressors which your high-quality track is inevitably squashed through, but radio creates a tone that makes your music sound richer, like it’s the perfect vessel for creative output. It has a very specific sound that reminds me of long car journeys as a kid, going on some freezing camping trip listening to ‘The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes’ on some obscure Cornwall radio station with my parents. There is a super direct quality to soaking up music in this medium. All you get is the music, no long-winded description of the artist to cloud your mind, just pure music. Personally, I am always eager to know if the DJ will react to the song, or will they move on immediately? Will they fade prematurely? Will they speak over the final chorus or mis-pronounce the band’s name? All these moving factors make hearing your song on our nation’s frequencies a totally unique, on-edge experience, no matter how many times it may happen. I worry that should BBC Introducing relocate online to a robotised formula, these very human elements will be replaced by generic programming, endless repeat plays, and make for a smooth segue into allowing major record companies to dominate playlists through financial (or other) means. If you want to witness this level of legal payola in drag look no further than the Spotify playlist ‘New Music Friday’.

The Introducing shows which go out live every Saturday night, demonstrate the rich diversity our musical landscape possesses and displays the significant role regional identity plays in shaping the country’s art and music scenes. The diverse cultures and traditions of different regions throughout the UK have given rise to unique forms of expression: the North of England’s roots in the industrial revolution and strong working-class culture gave way for artists such as the Arctic Monkeys and Pulp to capture the stoic urban character of their Sheffield hometown in sharp tongue local dialect; Grime music is unquestionably London with tales of social disparity and longstanding injustice in their respective boroughs; L.S Lowry’s matchstick men and women in their surrounding smokestack red-bricked buildings and factories is uniquely Manchester; the debut Hardwicke Circus album is called ‘The Borderland’ featuring songs written about growing up in a town practically extinguished from the Ordinance Survey maps. Sterilising art to a broader palette and refusing local presenter-led BBC Introducing shows would be to ignore the beauty of our regional differences and refuse artistic individualism. Its result would be too many flies around the same turd.

The systematic stripping of musical opportunity extends beyond radio all the way to the stage. The previous Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries, instructed that £24m a year is to be taken out of the Arts Council England budget. If it were not for the ACE, Hardwicke Circus would not have been able to complete their UK Prison tour in winter 2021, offering performances, Q&A’s and workshops with inmates housed in men’s, women’s and young offender’s institutes. The squashing of grants has also put original live music on borrowed time. Grassroots venues such as The Leadmill in Sheffield and Night & Day Cafe in Manchester are at risk of closure, and as a result of this increasingly anxious industry, artists are beginning to forgo the possibility of live performance, waiving opportunities to earn their stripes on the road in exchange for a lukewarm dopamine injection on Tik Tok and Instagram. For bands and singers who rely on BBC Introducing’s showcases to test their sound in front of an audience, the end of Introducing will almost certainly be the end of them.

The big question to ask yourself: is local music worth saving? If we are to believe our governments five-point plan to reduce inflation and grow the economy, we can expect to see any remnants of respect for music funnelled into the blind teacher-less teaching of maths. But we have been here before and we can bite back again. The resurrection of BBC Radio 6 in 2010 is proof that BBC Introducing - with the right public support - can hold onto its regional teams and continue to push out incredible new music with clear editorial vision and control to an even bigger listenership, supporting local venues to nurture the most exciting upcoming talent on the stage. Ultimately though, our cultural support must range beyond desperate ploys and petitions to keep smaller stations and venues open - it is essential that we as punters support the weekly BBC shows to grow their audiences and make the London-centric bosses pay attention. We must buy tickets for gigs in advance and show up on the night. We must take a punt on the unknown. Otherwise, all facets of our musical framework will be stripped away slowly, and then all at once.

Jonny Foster

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