The history of marketing in the UK music industry has been, up until the last ten years, brutally simple. When Radio Caroline emerged in the 60s to dominate the airwaves from a ship off the coast of Suffolk no one could have imagined that these pioneering DJs would become the focal point of all marketing for the next 40 years. Radio Caroline and a string of other pirate radio stations were created to play the music that the BBC, who had a legal monopoly on radio at the time, refused to play. It only took three years for the BBC to realise that what you can’t beat, you should join, and by the 70s the BBC had re-established its dominant position as the source of contemporary music with the creation of Radio 1. One time pirate radio heroes like Tony Blackburn jumped ship to the newly-formulated Radio 1, capturing the nation’s ear, and it was these DJs whose playlists became a sort of golden ticket for chart success, the dream of every record company and artist. If you look at any successful artist from the late 60s until the 21st century, each has been based on or at least contingent with a spot on a Radio 1 playlist. So it goes on to this day, to Clean Bandit and beyond.
As much as we might shower our wonderful corporate executives in this country with acclaim, sheer exposure rather than creativity has been the name of the game, And remarkably, in 2015, they still think the same way. From their ivory towers they may toy with marketing ideas, but when push comes to shove they set their sights on a spot on a Radio 1 playlist. Yet for the first time, 40% of artists with a Radio 1 spot have failed. And oh my how the ivory towers shudder with the news that the government, already in talks about scrapping the BBC license fee, have even nurtured discussion of getting rid of Radio 1. This is great news, if only for the fact that it will stop producers and DJs brainwashing the public by playing the most heavily plugged songs and giving executives an open lane to chart success. For all their own shortcomings, competition from smaller outlets and especially online platforms can bring back the lost art of creative marketing in music. Indeed, the most exciting bands around now don’t want or need radio spots to succeed. Thank god for bands like The Orwells, who just don’t give a fuck, who pack out venues filled with die-hard fans despite little radio play. Thank god they can survive without radio, and thank god the ivory towers are falling.