On Thursday 18th November 2010, at 7pm, I was a happy man, if slightly apprehensive. That’s when the Pilot Project website went live. Before then it was an idea and a holding screen. Now, it’s something else altogether. Over a thirty month spell of planning, cajoling and nagging, The Pilot Project has gone from a rough concept to a really solid website, packed with good stuff. It’s done so with considerable help from some truly great people, and a very welcome grant from Digital Content Development at the Arts Council. And it’s given me craft satisfaction, the likes of which I haven’t felt for ten years. Then it was a huge classical database, built from scratch for lovely RTE lyric fm. That was great fun and very worthwhile.
This is too, and it could turn out to be even better.
So – what exactly is the Pilot Project? Well, it’s a local music site, which feeds into the national British Library Archive, as part of their New Music Network. The Pilot Project covers new and contemporary music from across the West Midlands. It is the first very experimental step towards the establishment of a national archive of new independent music. It’s a range-finding exercise, hence the name. It’s there to answer questions both technical and methodological. It was planned to stay up only for six months of web-streaming experimentation, but we've kept it online to show what sort of rich talent ther is in our region you can find if you go looking.
The contents of the site have been curated. This is important. The music has been chosen by local experts. Who are these experts? Well, they’re all people who work at the local West Midlands music coalface. They represent a body of knowledge and expertise that money can’t buy. Read on: the core members are listed below.
This is a big deal. Really. On the one hand, it is a new site with hot new music, in a fresh interface (a very sexy interface, courtesy of the great web designers at Carousel Digital), which hopefully will have the right impact.
And on the other hand, it is a prototype for something which could grow and develop across the country. We’ve taken this first step, in the West Midlands, in a spirit of optimism and co-operation. Now... look at this as the template for a whole set of sites, all covering their local scenes, all curated with the same love and passion I’ve seen in my colleagues while developing this pilot.
Still with me? Then consider this: imagine all these sites, running for, say, five years. Let’s say these sites each find, on average, maybe 300 tracks each year - notable at worst, absolutely killers at best. And let’s say we have 20 groups delivering 20 local sites from Cornwall to Caithness.
That’s at least 6000 pieces of new music each year, from across the country. Collected. Archived. Permanently. The best new music, vital parts of the very fabric of this country’s culture, on record, stored for ever. I wonder what we’d find in our archive after those five years? Actually, you’re probably ahead of me by now. It’s head-spinning.
Chances are, we would have the early work of a whole host of artists who by then had gone on to get some sort of recognition. Maybe a 21st century Quincy Jones? A new Ravi Shankar who mixes his chops with grooves and jazz beats? The next John Lennon? Asian Metal?
I’m reckoning on getting just that, and of course, lots more. And we’d have all that fantastic flowering of new music talent that the web has already fostered. Now, in the West Midlands, we have an explosion in new forms and hybrid developments touching on Urban, Reggae, Asian, Folk of all Shades, Rap, Jazz, seriously indescribable new styles… and, of course, Rock and Pop. All this deserves to be recorded for posterity. The blind alleys and mistakes, along with the successes.
I blogged recently about how one of my old stations (that’s you I’m talking about, BRMB), blithely wiped the reel to reel masters of the very first session UB40 ever recorded; I had commissioned it. In retrospect, it was incredibly unfortunate: no less than the destruction of what would have been a priceless piece of Birmingham Rock history. It should never have happened, but I know there were examples of this kind of destruction all over the country. It was a stupid management decision at BRMB, but, in fariness BRMB were by no means the only guilty ones.
Now, things have changed: different times, different ways, different storage media, different distribution. But it’s the same creativity, and the same mainstream media indifference to local and national treasures and resources. We need to tap into that creativity, permanently, to develop and to cherish it. If the Pilot Project blossoms into the fully developed British Library New Music Archive, then we’ve got a fighting chance that those UB40-style catastrophic losses will never happen again.
And the core members of the Pilot Project team? A big hand, please, for…
Chris Brumcast Downing
Richard Elms (Godiva Festival and Herbert Media)
Louisa Davies at mac
Tony Dudley-Evans of Birmingham Jazz
The Friday Night Gerbil team at BBC Shropshire
Andy Linehan, British Library
Thanks, of course, are also due to all the bands and musicians who enthusiastically endorsed the project with their participation.
Who are these bands? Well the best way to find out is to explore the site. It's here.