Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Pilot Project

In 2010, we took a first step to curating a national archive of new independent music. There's a long way to ago...

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
Marc Reck
Shelley Atkinson  

Clare Edwards
Apache Indian
Richard Elms (Godiva Festival and Herbert Media)
Kate Southall
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.
.

7 comments:

Sir Real said...

Looking good Robin...only one criticism...the locations thing seems a bit odd. For myself, being in Church Stretton, I don't appear on the front page under Shropshire, even though Church Stretton is in Shropshire. Similarly Malvern doesn't appear on the front page under West Midlands. Just means that people have to delve a bit more to find things, when presumably it would be nice if all artists could be accessed by location directly from the front page? Small thing though, basically site looks and works great :-)

Emma said...

Hi Robin. I just heard of the WM Pilot Project site this week and was pretty excited since I have been a part of the brilliant WM music scene that has really been bursting out over the past few years - as a musician, gig-goer and gig-organiser. This is a really valuable site for capturing the great music coming out of the region. Just a couple of things - were the selections made based purely on the choices of the individual advisors? From looking at the list of artists (most of which I recognise) I'm not quite sure how final selections and omissions were decided. If "significant new music from the region that has emerged over the past two years" was the aim of the project some obvious gaps jump out at me - 1)Shady Bard http://www.shadybard.co.uk/ 2)The Lazy Lizards (my band) http://www.myspace.com/thelazylizards 3)Lewis Garland and the Kett Rebellion 4) The Toy Hearts http://www.thetoyhearts.com/ These are just off the top of my head but as you point out on the site, there was always room for error so I'll give you a shout when I think of more. Will the site be continuosly updated with additions? - how will this work? Thanks, Emma

Emma said...

PS! I'd also add Smart Soutane (recently undergoing reform under 'Sylvia' - all the more important that their work from the past couple of years be captured!) http://www.smartsoutane.com/ and the amazing KTB http://www.ktb.org.uk/ They just keep coming to me! Emma

Emma said...

Oh and by the way - the site itself mentions a forum - ideal for posting views / discussing the music. However this is nowhere to be seen - would be really useful to have a forum section on the actual site rather than people like me having to hunt down your personal blogspot. But I'm guessing this is in development already... Presumably this could then incorporate some sort of band suggestion tool so that the site could expand as new (or old) gems are discovered?

Robin Valk said...

Hi Sir Real and Eamma - forgive the delay in coming back. Things have been, er, hectic, as I haven't stopped emailing since we launched.

Locations - interesting and tricky. Bands use multiple locations. We put up what they put up. This does mean inconsistencies. If a band is, for example, primarily from Redditch, but has a member in Great Malvern, both towns go up. If a band is mainly from Brum with a Bristol member... haven't had that one yet.

Emma, thank you for your comments. Selections were made on the basis of the best judgement of the advisors listed. But as I explained on the About section, the site is a first tentative step. There is no such thing as a perfect selection, and the very fact of putting this site up has thrown an awful lot of things into a new perspective. In fact I've brought myself up short on looking at the final list :-)

But that is part of why it is there. This is a first trial run, to see how the idea works. You make some fine suggestions, by the way. However, haven't the Lazy Lizards (great band) split up? Correct me if I am wrong.

The site will be updated, yes, and the next step is to work out exactly how we are going to do this - what gets presented, what gets archived, timing and display issues. Oh yes, and how we will fund the next steps, which will involve more software work as the site develops. That's a very big question.

There is a lot to draw on from the reactions we have had so far. One of those is probably to work on a more precise set of criteria; we deliberately didn't do that at the start so see what happened with a looser starting set of criteria. As you can imagine, there are a lot of gray areas.

The forum is being wired in right now, by the way - one of the things we hadn't gotten to in the test phase. As well as a lot of other possible ideas, direct emailing, and so on. I kind of fancy a couple of tag clouds - one for played material, and another for new nominations. What do you think?

Robin Valk said...

Hi Sir Real and Eamma - forgive the delay in coming back. Things have been, er, hectic, as I haven't stopped emailing since we launched.

Locations - interesting and tricky. Bands use multiple locations. We put up what they put up. This does mean inconsistencies. If a band is, for example, primarily from Redditch, but has a member in Great Malvern, both towns go up. If a band is mainly from Brum with a Bristol member... haven't had that one yet.

Emma, thank you for your comments. Selections were made on the basis of the best judgement of the advisors listed. But as I explained on the About section, the site is a first tentative step. There is no such thing as a perfect selection, and the very fact of putting this site up has thrown an awful lot of things into a new perspective. In fact I've brought myself up short on looking at the final list :-)

But that is part of why it is there. This is a first trial run, to see how the idea works. You make some fine suggestions, by the way. However, haven't the Lazy Lizards (great band) split up? Correct me if I am wrong.

The site will be updated, yes, and the next step is to work out exactly how we are going to do this - what gets presented, what gets archived, timing and display issues. Oh yes, and how we will fund the next steps, which will involve more software work as the site develops. That's a very big question.

Robin Valk said...

There's more :-)

There is a lot to draw on from the reactions we have had so far. One of those is to work on a more precise set of criteria; we deliberately didn't do that at the start so see what happened with a looser starting set of criteria. As you can imagine, there are a lot of gray areas.

The forum is being wired in right now, by the way - one of the things we hadn't gotten to in the test phase. As well as a lot of other possible ideas, direct emailing, and so on. I kind of fancy a couple of tag clouds - one for played material, and another for new nominations. What do you think?