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Monday, October 25, 2021

BBC radio must not abandon new music

Heard anything good lately? It’s a serious question. For music lovers, there has never been a greater premium on a decent recommendation. I am part of a monthly ‘Album Club’ in which a group of – ok, balding, middle-aged – men get together and listen to a record. The problem is not choosing classics from the past, it’s finding something for the future.

Yet there has never been more new music at our fingertips. Services like Spotify and Apple Music mean that your new favourite band is likely to be already sitting there on your phone, just waiting to dazzle. In the 80s and 90s the Billboard 200, America’s singles chart, featured around 500 different artists a year; 30,000 new albums would be released every 12 months.

By 2015 both of those numbers had doubled. Now, in an age when anyone with an internet connection can ‘release’ a song or an album, new music spumes like a gusher. In February this year, as part of Spotify’s ‘Stream On’ event, the company announced with pride that more than 60,000 new tracks are now being ingested by its platform every single day. That’s 22 million tracks a year or a new single every 1.4 seconds.

There are more than 8 million of what Spotify calls ‘Creators’ on its system, up from 5 million in 2018. “I believe that by 2025, we could have as many as 50 million creators on our platform, whose art is enjoyed by a billion users around the world,” said Spotify’s founder Daniel Ek. “That’s not a prediction or a goal: it’s really both a challenge, and a great opportunity.”

To me this sounds like a threat. If the amount of music being uploaded to Spotify grows at the same rate as the number of ‘creators’ on Spotify then by 2025 around 375,000 new tracks will be being disgorged every day. That’s approximately 137 million new tracks every year. Sidenote: there are around 38 million minutes in the average human life, including sleep. The spiralling numbers are the sort of thing that could make you want to give up on ever finding that great new band altogether – with a haystack that large, who’d be a needle finder? Music lovers need help.

Thirty years ago help came from friends, but mostly it came from the radio. When I was a teenager, John Peel was Britain’s ultimate music curator, with his live sessions and late night meanderings, but there were plenty of other crate-diggers out there to help separate wheat from chaff. I had shoeboxes full of C90 cassettes of Pete Tong’s Essential Selection (note the title) and Tim Westwood’s Rap Show. Jo Whiley, Steve Lamacq, Mark Radcliffe and later Annie Mac all served as filters and champions, and the moment when they started publishing Radio 1 playlists in dance magazines was seminal for me. Hear track, identify track, buy track. Then impress friends with depth and diversity of music knowledge and capacious record collection. There was a cache to being the person who introduced so-and-so to what would become their next obsession, as if you’d hooked them up with a keeper.

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