How Do I Get a Radio Station to Take a Risk on my Music? | Sam Bonham of BBC Introducing


The mainstream music industry has changed and is changing.

Anyone who knows anything about music has probably studied these recent revolutions carefully — technology, celebrity and content. I’m not really one for over-analysing any of this to be honest, and in any case, it’s almost impossible to talk about music without sounding like a complete idiot. But I do get asked a fair amount about what I think is going on in the music industry…

Honestly, I don’t really know — no one does. It’s very difficult to talk about the music industry as though it is one cohesive and homogenous beast (mainly because it’s not a homogenous beast). But one of the (many) things I think is going on right now, is that fewer and fewer people are taking risks.

Labels, publishers, lawyers, pluggers and agents — none of these guys are inclined to dance with the devil and take a risk on someone’s music, no matter how good it is. Even musicians themselves are taking fewer risks. Why? Probably money, it usually is. With tighter budgets and fewer opportunities for mainstream success, professionals are less inclined to plough their time and money into an artist if there is even the remotest chance of failure.

A musician cannot make a success of their art without taking a risk or two. It’s a right of passage for a musician with a sustainable career ahead of them. Somewhere along the line in their development, an artist needs a music industry professional to put faith into what they do.

Of course, one of the trickiest things for a musician (and a music professional) is knowing which risk to take, and knowing when to take that risk. One of the questions I was asked by a musician recently was: “How do I get a radio station to take a risk on my music?”

At this point it’s probably appropriate to state my occupation. Amongst other things I present and produce BBC Introducing in the West; a new music programme broadcast on BBC Radio Bristol, BBC Radio Gloucestershire, BBC Somerset and BBC Wiltshire every Saturday night at 8pm.

So from here on I’m not going to talk generically about music, I’m going to be specific. I’m going to talk about radio. In fact, I’m going to talk about BBC Radio 1, the station that sits at the epicentre of the mainstream music industry in the UK.

I think the best way of getting BBC Radio 1 to take a risk on your music is to get BBC Radio 2 to take a risk on your music. If Radio 1 thinks that Radio 2 might be interested in playing your music then Radio 1 will probably be more likely to play your music. And vice versa – if Radio 2 thinks that you have the potential to be a Radio 1 darling, there is more chance that they will spin your tunes. Right now I think 80% of the artists on the BBC Radio 1 playlist would not look out of place on the BBC Radio 2 playlist, including these guys:

  • Bombay Bicycle Club
  • Jake Bugg
  • Lily Allen
  • Pharrell
  • Rita Ora
  • Sam Smith
  • Alicia Keys
  • Ed Sheeran
  • Katy Perry

It is no surprise that this month’s cover artist, George Ezra, has managed to coax the mainstream music industry into taking a risk on his music. He is exactly the sort of thing that both Radio 1 and Radio 2 are looking for. George and his #petan-infused folkabilly is loved by the old guard (Chris Evans, Simon Mayo and Dermot O’Leary) as well as the cool kids at Radio 1 (Nick Grimshaw, Fearne Cotton and Zane Lowe). George Ezra has universal appeal and the mainstream music industry is more than happy to take a risk on him. I did!

As ever, I’m being slightly tongue and cheek here — but the point I’m trying to make is simple: radio stations take risks on artists that other radio stations are taking (or may take) risks on. Radio stations take risks on bands that have a wide breadth of appeal and have a potential audience beyond their current audience.

Of course, if an artist has “universal appeal” (jeeze, what a dreadful term — see what I mean, it’s impossible to talk about music without sounding like a complete idiot) then they might fall between the gaps. Become everything and nothing at the same time. Force themselves to be something they’re not. “Sell out”. Stop having fun etc…

… But then maybe that’s a risk the artist has to take.