Why the BBC is essential for the UK music industry

By Roger Tichborne – Save London Music Campaign

What industries does the UK lead the world in? There is only one I can think of only one (but then I work in it). That is the music industry. Have you ever wondered why this is? There are several major reasons for this.

* Our Multi Ethnic society has proven to be a fertile breeding ground for musical crossover and innovation.

* The English Language being the worlds favourite second language means people globally can enjoy UK music

* The size of the UK means that it is easier for new talent to emerge than in geographically larger countries, giving sustainable careers to tier 2, 3 and 4 artists.

* A public sector broadcaster that does not need to take account of commercial pressures to help  break new artists.

Whilst the first three of these reasons are likely to remain, the BBC is currently under threat in a way that has not been the case previously. Critics of the BBC never mention the cost/benefit ratio of what the BBC does for the UK economy. Every time a global sensation such as The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, George Michael, Amy Winehouse, etc emerges, this gives a huge global boost  to the UK music industry. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things at the BBC that could be better and no organisation must be beyond criticism, but this has to be fair and reasonable. The current attacks on the BBC are based on the fact that one part of the political spectrum has decided that the BBC is outdated and people should be given choice in what they spend their money on. But does that really mean that it is wise to spend taxpayers money on things we get a direct, visible benefit from?  When the BBC helps an artist such as Amy Winehouse to build an international profile, this brings  huge revenues into the UK. It is hard to quantify this, but the UK Music industry generated revenues of £5.2 billion last year. The tax revenues off that are huge. Then there is the tourism to the UK, where people select this cold, wet island off the shores of mainland Europe for a holiday, because of the great music and musical heritage.

Back on the 8th March 1962, The Beatles made their first appearance on BBC Radio, performing on “The Teenagers Turn”. It had been recorded the previous day at the Playhouse Theatre in Cheadle. Two months later, on 2nd May, they had their first no 1 single, Love Me Do. Building a career in music is a series of steps, but it is clear that a major radio show was a signifcant landmark and the first of many. I can remember sitting with my sister and her friend, eagerly awaiting the much  trailed first play of Penny Lane on Radio 1.

In the 1970’s, there were several highly influential BBC shows. Perhaps the most important of all was The John Peel show, which was broadcast nightly between 10pm and midnight. Peel almost singlehandedly popularised punk and reggae music. This revolutionised the music scene, creating the Independent sector, which help break ever more boundaries down.

Top of The Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test were shows that cemented artists and ensured that they had an audience. Bowie’s appearance on TOTP singing Starman was an iconic moment, one of many on Top of The Pops, that transformed him from an also ran into an icon. The Old Grey Whistle Test brought artists to life that would never normally be heard on the radio, let alone get a national TV slot. That investment is still bringing cash into the UK and bring joy to people globally.

I will hear the critics say “But things have changed, now things are different”. Generally these critics are not people who actually understand the UK music industry. The BBC continues to shape and establish artists. BBC Introducing  has proven to be a major plank of the UK industry. It has helped establish many new artists. Local radio shows such as Robert Elms and Gary Crowley on BBC Radio London have given thousands of artists their first exposure and helped build the careers of dozens of artists that we now know as household names, in recent years Amy Winehouse being one of the most significant. Another show that has elevated many artists is the Later with Jools Holland show. Just about every mainstream UK artist to emerge over the last couple of decades has appeared on the show on the way. Holland is vastly respected and an appearance on his show is gold dust to your career.

Another element that has added to the amazing work the BBC does for the UK music industry is the coverage of Glastonbury, which has elevated the festival to have the status as possible the worlds no 1 festival.

Quite simply, without a public sector broadcaster, who doesn’t have advertisers to satisfy, the UK’s music scene would have a major issue getting new artists and new music into the public consciousness. The UK music industry is in rude good health. We lead the world in the field. To do anything that damages it would be a huge act of self harm for our economy.

I have seen just what a play on The Gary Crowley show can do for an artist. Back in 2010, an amazing Sudanese singer Connie Abbe was singing with my band, The False Dots. We made a video for a song of ours, Spotlight. Gary played the song and within about three hours, we got over 1,000 views. The song got picked up by Manchester City FC and used for their goal of the month video program on their website, getting tens of millions of plays. Connie got a gig as the backing singer for Rapper Emmanual Jal and a world tour ensued.

There is a great video of Connie appearing with Emmanual Jal on Capitol Hill here later in 2010.

That is how careers are built. It is just a shame that we didn’t get a playlist. If one play can do that, just imagine what a regular playlisting can do for an emerging artist.

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