Sunday, 29 November 2015

Break on through to the other side: when the stars align and things happen

I'd call this a stonking great home run for BBC Introducing. Result! And not before time.  

Will that damn door ever open? 
Webby thinking is that all you need to succeed is to just do it: put it out there, get the recognition you deserve. Why, look at this vlogger, or that musician, or that podcast. They did it, so can you.

But that's a crock, and even the dreamiest of fantasists know that. For the few who go stratospheric using clickbait, provocation, or every weapon that heavyweight old-school marketing can devise (Hi, Adele!), there are thousands of people with something to say who don't get heard.

There's a doorway to go through, a barrier to recognition. Whether the door swings open is down to luck and circumstance. Of course, talent is still essential - unless you go down the X factor route - but nothing is guaranteed, and it gets harder every day.

The door swung open, just a tiny bit, for a few people this past week.

Hannah Brown

Once in a blue moon, someone catches a break. If the planets align, if the conditions are right, if suddenly your work is needed somewhere, the lock grinds and turns, and the door swings miraculously open. What you do when the door opens is another thing altogether.

Hannah Brown's first single, above, came out a month ago - a beautiful production job from Rob Derbyshire. Now, the week after next, Hannah Brown will step on stage with one of the best rhythm sections in town to do a set for a national broadcaster. It's a mouthwatering line-up, too, with Chris Tye and Tom Aspaul. It's a bit of a change from her first stage gig.
Hannah: I was onstage with a drummer. It was at school. Maybe I was 15. I think I did a cover of K T Tunstall's 'Miniature Disasters'. Really enjoyed it too.
I first saw Hannah four or five years back at a college gig. Early days. Since then, there's been regular sightings. She's put out a few CDs, the most recent being he lovely new single. I was at the launch gig, a riotous and enthusiastic affair at Ort Cafe.
Hannah: I started writing after my school debut. I gave it a go when I was about sixteen. I hated it, I thought I was terrible. But I went back to it, carried on, and kept at it.

I think that's one of the ways people fall into live work. Get on stage, die, hate your songs, go back, rework, rewrite, listen, try again... Suffer a thousand agonies maybe, but keep on going. Make people react.
Hannah: I guess it's not been a hugely conscious thing. There's always the pressure and the worry of playing to a crowd that really don't want to listen at all. Of course that's happened.

Stagecraft and the business of performing

Somewhere down the line, I think perspectives change. Hopefully a sense of stagecraft arrives, and degree of self-awareness as a performer. And then, realisation that there are steps to take to make some kind of progress. Barriers to overcome, people to convince. And that can be very very difficult, I think, for those people who are who are already pouring their hearts and souls into their work. It's usually some distance from the early days.
Hannah: My first paid gig was in Long Eaton. I played at the Carnival – they do this every year – and I got a cheque!

Things have picked up a notch or two in the past couple of years: recordings, sessions, a lot more development...
It's been a very conscious step. I've now got a lot more knowledge about the Birmingham music scene and the music scene in general. I'm assessing where I'm at, and where the songs are at. 
And the fact that you now have your own crowd is a thing in itself. 
It's bizarre. I have people who are always there. People who have supported me for a long time. That means a lot. 

The unforeseen circumstance: the BBC

You never know when the door is going to crack open. It's different each time. But now, Hannah's been picked by Radio 2's Jo Whiley for a BBC Introducing showcase as part of activities around the BBC Music Awards.

The Awards are the main event. It's about big established acts: a flamboyant piece of hoopla with national and international names you already know. I could care less about this. Mega acts in a soulless hangar filmed for TV can be done anywhere. I'm happy it's in Brum, but in truth it really contributes very little.

For me, the local workshops and showcases are where it's at. Leading up to the day itself, the BBC is hosting showcase gigs fronted by major presenters from Radios 1 and 2, 6music and 1Xtra. Hannah plays at the Hare and Hounds on December 9th. There's a quite a few local acts getting the thumbs-up; of course, a lot more aren't.

For Hannah and the others, this is a lovely feather in their cap. I could not be more pleased for everyone, and credit is due to the BBC local Introducing teams for feeding recommendations up the line to their network colleagues, and for the Network teams for showing a genuine interest in the music they've been introduced to. 

It just goes to show what can happen when information flows properly around an organisation.

Great start, Auntie. How about a follow-up?

But this is a one-off. BBC Music Day in Birmingham is hugely welcome. But the fact that this city effortlessly met every music request made of it by the national networks is the kicker. That deserves attention.

So, well done auntie. And let's hear it for Ekkah, Boat To Row, Call Me Unique, God Damn, Tom Aspaul, Lawrence Taylor, Vital, Hoopla Blue, Lady Sanity, Hansu-Tori as well as Hannah. I hope I didn't miss anyone.

The showcases and workshops are great. Really, just great. The bands and acts will be recorded for later broadcast. A lot of people will get much needed and richly deserved exposure.

But why stick to one day a year? If all this talent is exploding out of our city, the case to go deeper is absolutely unarguable.

We should have daily network shows, produced out of Birmingham, to go with those from London and Manchester. At the very least these should be shows running on 1Xtra and 6music. I'm not saying these should carry just music from the region – that role can be, and in fact is, delivered online on a wide range of platforms already.

But consider the benefits. If the local Introducing teams can so easily feed information up the line when asked, how much better for an entire region – from Shrewsbury and Stoke and on to Nottingham, Worcester, Leamington and more – to be able to have creative links to network producers, should the network shows be in place.

That's how the doors are opened. That's how the magic happens. That's how careers are built – and not just for musicians. 


The full list of free gigs and workshops
Hannah Brown


Chris Tye, Hannah Brown and Tom Aspaul play the Hare and Hounds on December 9th. Tickets available through the link above. 

More music business posts on Radio To Go


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