The Pilot Project was a project I passionately believed in. Part of the British Library New Music Network, its goal was to create a national archive of new music, curated regionally, by people from the local music industry. Why? Because we live in a golden age of new music creativity. Musicians have the tools to create their own material, and to collaborate and experiment more freely than ever before. Some of the results are stunning. We owe it to ourselves to document this.
The music would be housed, permanently, at the British Library, and available online through their website, with regional options a distinct possibility.
We made a start. The Pilot Project website, showcasing new West Midlands music, launched as a test-bed in November 2010. Funded by the Arts Council, it was seen as a huge success and a boost to the local music economy. That wasn't the plan - those results were a welcome side-effect. And thanks to the generosity of Carousel Media, who designed the gorgeous website to house the music, you can still access it here. And as a matter of historical record, you can read the November 2010 post-launch blog post about the project here.
Now, just think: if we did this for five years, what treasures would go permanently into the British Library? Is there a new Duke Ellington, a new Mozart or a new Prince out there? Very probably. Would it be good to be able to trace their early steps, and to have them on record for future generations? Do I even need to ask?
For the project to be work, it needs to update yearly. I've chased funds to move forward. Despite my best efforts, I've drawn a blank. Sadly, the Arts Council is under extreme financial pressure, as is the British Library. And an awful lot of Arts funders don't seem to consider that a site dealing with a broad range of contemporary grassroots music is worthy of their attention.
A project like this does not make money. That's not the plan. So if it is to progress, it has to be funded purely philanthropically, in the same idealistic spirit as the project itself. That's a very tall order.
And why do we need funds? Well, my curators spent a whole year sifting music for this project, using their professional expertise. The web team has coding to deliver; research, archival work and co-ordination have to be paid for. No matter how much I slice it, the figure can't be cut down to better than a low five figure sum for a year's regional project.
I'd have loved to take this project forward. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen. And that's a crying shame.
So if you have an idea... I would love to hear from you.
Robin Valk at Radio To Go 2018.