Ever wondered how BBC Introducing really works? Chris Barrett chats to those in the know to find out what it can do for you.
It’s hard to ignore the force of Jake Bugg, Florence + the Machine (left) and Michael Kiwanuka at the moment. All have shown enormous chart bothering potential, unleashing huge hits to radio and scooping sackfuls of awards in the process. But what else do they have in common?
All three are graduates of BBC Introducing, a programme that champions undiscovered talent and offers a vital hand up to emerging acts. Initially seen as a way to unite the Corporation’s once disparate array of new music radio shows under one banner, it has evolved into a multi-platform initiative with international reach.
It’s a heartfelt endeavour by music lovers.
BBC Head Of Popular Music, Live Events and BBC Introducing Jason Carter helped launch the initiative back in 2007. The past six years have seen him broaden its reach across BBC networks to incorporate a wider array of genres and ultimately appeal to a bigger audience.
So how does it work? Every week, new music discovered via the BBC Introducing Uploader website is broadcast on dedicated shows on Radio 1, Radio 2, 6 Music, 1Xtra and the BBC Asian Network, together with more than 30 local shows that air simultaneously at 8pm on Saturdays.
The teams on local BBC Introducing shows recommend the best tracks from their area to specialist and daytime DJs on the national stations and every week one of the tracks is added to the daytime playlist on Radio 1.
The online Uploader was launched three years ago and has since seen 140,000 artists submit tracks. Currently around 1,500 artists upload their music each week.
Such a bold initiative could well have been a victim of its own success, but Jason says every effort is made to listen to as much music as possible and of those 140,000 artists 82 percent have been listened to.
‘Via the Uploader we can monitor listening across different local radio shows and, if they are getting flooded or not enough music is being heard, we can prompt them or offer to help them,’ says Jason.
With so much new music on the radar, the BBC Introducing team is in a great position to track musical and geographical trends. The Uploader presents the team with a pie chart that splits the daily percentage of music being listened to by genre. Jason says that Bob Harris’ on air enthusiasm for Introducing led to a notable rise in folk acts submitting their music while the introduction of a weekly daytime playlist slot for an Introducing act on 1Xtra saw the amount of urban music soar.
Judging by the flow of music coming into the Uploader, Jason says it is a great time for alternative guitar bands and singer-songwriters. ‘Recently the quality level seems to have really shot up,’ he says. Jason has also noticed that Leeds and Nottingham are proving regional hotspots.
‘Jake Bugg is a perfect example of what BBC Introducing is all about. Jake uploaded music one evening and got an email back from BBC Nottingham the next morning. They called him in to do an acoustic performance and he was referred to the central Introducing team. We put him on stage at Glastonbury and invited him to a masterclass. Jake claims he got his record deal with Mercury as a result.’
BBC Introducing first started showcasing undiscovered artists at festivals back in 2007 with a branded stage at Glastonbury featuring a performance by The Ting Tings among others.
Since then it has established a presence at festivals around the UK including T in the Park, Reading and Leeds. Indie folk trio Daughter are among the many bands to benefit from the exposure.
In 2011 Daughter uploaded Landfill, the lead track from their debut EP His Young Heart to Introducing. BBC DJs including 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne and Radio 1’s Huw Stephens greeted Daughter’s music warmly and their tracks were playlisted across the BBC.
Stephens curates many of the Introducing festival stages and was instrumental in organising Daughter’s first ever festival performance, which took place at Reading Festival in 2011.
‘It was great, we were really surprised how many people stopped to listen to us,’ says singer Elena Tonra. It was at Reading that Elena met Jen Long, co-presenter of the flagship BBC Introducing show on Radio1, who has proved hugely supportive ever since.
Daughter signed to 4AD and released their acclaimed debut album If You Leave in March this year. A few months later they were back on a BBC Introducing stage, this time as headliners at Glastonbury.
‘We have a “returner” slot at festivals with surprise performances from artists that started their journey with BBC Introducing – it is one of the things that has made the stages so popular,’ explains Jason.
Elena is hugely appreciative of the help and support she has received via BBC Introducing and credits it as being integral to the band being snapped up by 4AD.
Huw believes the support was well deserved: ‘They were a great example of a band that were totally confident in what they were doing, they have masses of charisma and the lyrics are intense and beautiful. It is great to see them become headliners and an album come out on 4AD; it should be nominated for the Mercury Prize.’
A fledgling act currently receiving a major boost from Introducing is To Be Frank, aka Frank Pescod. The Suffolk-based singer and multi-instrumentalist uploaded the track If You Love Her, which was swiftly picked up by Ally McCrae and played on his Radio 1 show alongside Jen Long. To Be Frank was then selected to play the Reading and Leeds festival Introducing stages this year.
‘I went to see [BBC Introducing presenters] Graeme Mac and Richard Haugh at Radio Suffolk and they kindly invited me in to do a session. A week later they said I had been selected to play Latitude Festival. It has really snowballed, I’m slightly overwhelmed,’ says Frank.
As part of Jason’s remit to broaden the scope of the initiative, this year has seen BBC Introducing stages at Manchester Jazz Festival and The Great Escape for the first time. He is now looking to work more closely with organisations such as the Association of Independent Festivals and the PRS for Music Foundation to further the initiative’s impact.
‘We worked with the PRS for Music Foundation in 2011 to take four artists to LA and put on a showcase at MuseExpo. It was fantastic, there were lots of industry people there and we made a Radio 1 documentary about the unknown artists and their journey. We want to develop much broader partnerships, and PRS for Music is at the top the list,’ he explains.
Four years ago BBC Introducing took three unsigned artists, including Florence + the Machine, to South by South West (SXSW) in Texas where they staged a showcase. Jason is looking to make a return visit to SXSW in 2014, meanwhile September will see BBC Introducing make a debut appearance at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville.
‘We are doing a showcase at the Americana Festival with Bob Harris; it is the same principle as SXSW. We will bring unsigned artists to Nashville and broadcast content from that when we get back. We are trying to do things unique to the BBC,’ says Jason.
Another key aspect of Introducing is the annual masterclass sessions, which initially took place at Abbey Road Studios and Maida Vale in 2011 but this year were held simultaneously in five locations around the UK.
Masterclasses in London, Salford, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast collectively gave 1,000 musicians and songwriters the opportunity to meet presenters, successful artists and industry personnel. The events were live-streamed and made available on the BBC red button interactive TV service.
‘It is a really intense day of music information, with label, production and media people attending and loads of invaluable advise dished out on the day. If you are a young musician and want to break through in the music world you need to get out there and meet as many people as possible. The masterclasses make it easy for people to get that experience,’ says Huw.
You have to get it right first time.
Another key way for artists to make their mark via Introducing is to ensure that the music they upload is up to scratch. Jason says that not only must the music be produced to broadcast quality but artists need to be accomplished live performers. ‘Like any part of the music industry, once an artist’s name is out there they are judged and coming back a second time is tougher. You have to get it right first time,’ he says.
Jen Long has been involved in BBC Introducing since the outset and has listened to her fair share of new music. ‘It is a lot of fun. One of the greatest things about working in music is finding the artists at the very start,’ she says. So what does she look for?
‘A good song, something that catches your attention, that has a great riff or there are sounds in there that you haven’t heard before. You can tell within about 20 seconds whether it is worth persevering with a track,’ Jen says.
Like Jen, Huw is genuinely delighted to be involved in BBC Introducing and believes it is a genuinely important initiative. ‘What I love about BBC Introducing the most is that it is run by dedicated passionate music lovers across the BBC network that are looking for this talent week in week out. Together we can really give great new artists a bigger platform and an audience than they would not otherwise have,’ he says. ‘It is not a talent contest, it is a heartfelt endeavour by music lovers.’