Sunday, 22 December 2013

5 lessons learned this year: Musos are more interesting than Jocks...

Do it for the love of it. You won't let anyone down, even if you get let down.

As last year, here's five lessons I learned in 2013. But before I get to those, a word about this blog. 

I am really, really happy, to report that Radio To Go’s readership has grown quite nicely: from ten thousand total page views at 2011 year-end, it chalked up forty thousand total views a year later. And now, it's over one hundred and twenty seven thousand

That's more than trebling total views two years in a row. Thank you! Bashing out 1500 words each week is a great discipline. Recently I’ve tried out tiny one-topic midweek posts too. They are easier to spark debate with, because they are one-topic issues. 

So that's the good news. After the jump, here's five things I learned - or maybe finally admitted  to myself - in writing this blog this year.

1: Musicians are much more interesting than DJs 

I started this blog seven years ago, and spent a lot of time talking radio, to big up my radio consultancy business. But there were problems.
I had to stay polite to avoid pissing clients off. I couldn’t say what I really thought. This got harder and harder as I went on. Eventually I cut loose, and it was a huge relief.
The market I served changed: stations disappeared and networks went risk-averse. You don’t need specialised skills to handle a library of 150 songs. It’s the equivalent of flipping burgers.
Critically, people who love music largely fell out of love with radio, and in love with Spotify and YouTube.
Along the way, I wound up writing a few review pieces covering local bands. They got a good response. Two years ago, I decided to switch emphasis after a particularly great local gig: Local music and musicians first, radio second. 

It seems to have worked. I’ve met people I’d have never met, done things I’d never have done (weirdly and wonderfully, I sang in a terrific choir this year. Didn't expect that...). I've had posts regularly reprinted locally and re-posted nationally; sometimes (not very often) I've even been paid. I've spent time in the Palace Of Westminster bending MP's ears about broadcasting problems. I've had some amazing conversations locally about the business of music in the Midlands with a huge range of inspiring and brilliant people. 

It was worth making the jump. I love radio and I always will. Put me in a radio studio, sit me down in front of editing software, kick about some programme planning ideas and I'm a happy man. 

But, in general, musicians are much more interesting than DJs. 

That doesn't mean there aren't spectacularly creative and entertaining DJs, nor does it mean there aren't mind-blowingly dull, vain and tedious musos. But on balance, that's how it works out for me. And I speak as someone who started out as a DJ. 

2: It’s got to be about the music, because, sadly, the business is stacked against you

The established music business wants surefire bland international pop hits. Everything else can go hang. I don’t know anyone who is making any money, but I’m hearing better and better music. It's ironic, but it's a good thing, at least creatively. I've got a very interesting interview piece with a seasoned local manager coming your way on this blog in January. And check these blog posts:
I would also encourage you to check this piece from the excellent Bob Lefsetz.

3: People love bad news. Here's the all-time top 5 stories on this blog

I try to write positive stuff - there's a lot of good stories to tell. But people love sad stuff. The five most-viewed and shared stories in the history of the blog are, in descending order
Of those five, three are pretty much unremitting doom and gloom, one sits on the fence, albeit with a lot of regret for the departing BRMB, and one is a positive how-to post, developed with Kris Halpin and some others. So, what does that tell you? Misery loves company, especially at Radio. And lots of people like to sit on the sidelines wringing their hands when it goes pear-shaped. Oy.

4: The web may be great... but it's also screwing everybody 

It's one thing to be able to put your music out in a way that you can control; it's quite another to be able to successfully make any money out of it. For a decade or more, there's been a culture of encouraging people to just give their stuff away to get ahead. But have you noticed that the people who encourage this commercially iffy practice aren't the people who actually create anything?

It's accepted business practice, of course; in the old analog days, record companies showered people like me at radio with freebies... which, ultimately, were paid for by the artist. Now, the web, as in so many other areas, has simply cut out the middleman. Now, the artist still pays, but takes all the commercial risk, not a part of it.

Because we're so used to getting stuff for free - Facebook, Email, Twitter, Bandcamp, Garageband and Audacity, all those tools we take for granted - the music you make is expected to be given away too. And if you won't give your stuff away, someone else will.

The trouble is that once music is seen as a commodity, it's devalued. This doesn't just happen with music, either - the 'open' marketplace is now so crowded that people have no choice but to accept far less pay than they previously were able to command. 


A couple of months ago, I had a chat with someone who worked in radio up to five years ago, when his station was sold and his gig 'consolidated' out of existence. He was now pitching in the voiceover market. It took him half an hour to record a pitch for a lousy £10 voicer gig: a 15 minute voice job. That can mean two hours work: script mark-up and prep, recording, editing, sending it up to the client for approval, re-recording or correcting, and finally invoicing. So he was already accepting less than the hourly minimum wage. Someone undercut him and got the gig for a fiver. 

5: Now more than ever we should be proud of, and ready to support and cherish, our new talent and our local musicians.

I never cease to be amazed and encouraged by the brave, creative and inspiring new musicians who emerge, constantly, to enrich our local music scene. That’s one of the reasons I lean this blog in that direction as often as I can. The new talent is fresh and untainted by the music industry. It is what it is: uncompromising and inventive, new and from the heart. Despite the appalling financial conditions offered to new musicians, there is a thriving and wide-open buzz of creativity. Ideas are shared; existing music styles are embroidered and/or deconstructed with reckless abandon. I adore it all. I wish more people felt this way; more people, that is, who could actually do something to make things move forward. There are the faintest signs of stirrings at institutional level, but I'm not going to hold my breath. This may be a good thing, or (yet) another false dawn. I'll go into this in more detail next week. 

Next week - the 2013 Radio To Go review, part 2. 

Have a great Christmas.
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5 comments:

Mark Sampson said...

Brilliant Robin. At last someone can say it and back it up. And you wonder why I'm so depressed when people ask what I think?! Good work. You've Done a great post and a good job so far.

Will Twigg said...

"Now more than ever we should be proud of, and ready to support and cherish, our new talent and our local musicians"
And never rule out the best is yet to come at this time ?

Robin Valk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin Valk said...

Absolutely - what's next is always a pleasure to discover!

Steve Wright said...

This year, as an Open Mic host, I've had something of a renaissance in the arena of live music. I've had the privilege of listening to, and getting to know, some extremely talented local musicians.

One of the highlights was being in a postion to give a new band its first gig at an All-Dayer I organised. The band, 'Never Been Less', has since gone on to play several more venues and will return to The Road House, at the end of February, for its first gig of 2014.

Headlining at the All-Dayer was established Stourbridge band 'The Dark Eyes'. The band had not previously played The Road House, so I was delighted to give the guys that opportunity. TDE will be back headlining the February gig.

I don't think locals appreciate just how many local music venues there are which give local artists exposure. I'm really looking forward to delving more into the local music scene in 2014, and I encourage readers to do the same.