Live music and BBC radio - welcome to the Radio Blog
Welcome to the new BBC Radio Blog where I and others will be making regular posts on a wide range of topics affecting the national radio stations and music programmes across the BBC. It is a chance to hear directly from myself and the team, and, like the best speech radio, we hope to provoke debate and reaction. Please do leave comments and suggest topics that we should cover.
September in the BBC Broadcasting House HQ is a time when we reflect on the BBC Proms season as well as on our coverage of a host of other festivals and outside broadcasts such as coverage of the Mercury Awards. For many of our teams, it is a momentary pause as they move into a busy autumn of live music featuring such delights as the London Jazz Festival and the Radio 2 Electric Proms, both of which announced their 2010 line-ups last week.
The global boom in live music is a well-documented phenomenon that has continued to buck recessionary trends. The latest PRS for Music Economics report (PDF) showed that after passing recorded music sales in the UK in 2008, live music receipts grew to £1.537bn in 2009, up 9.4%. Recorded music revenues were flat at £1.357bn in the same period. Of course, much has been written about the unique power of communal live events in an increasingly virtual world. Certainly, while I would naturally champion BBC radio and TV as an outstanding way to enjoy live performance, of course there is something special about hearing and seeing the drama unfold live at the event itself. That is why our commitment to supporting an incredibly wide range of live music across multiple genres and sustaining our hours of coverage will be central to my time in this job.
The success of the BBC Proms in achieving record ticket sales in 2010 was reported recently and the festival is perhaps benefitting from the overall trend, although it is dominated by pop music statistics. But I suspect that something deeper is at play. Indeed within the live music numbers there is some evidence that receipts are moving to the biggest pop superstars, while overall sales may be softening. The FT reported a 17% fall in ticket sales in the top 100 tours in the US in the first half of 2010. With this in mind, it makes our spirits soar when we hear that the Proms sold 92% of tickets to over 70 concerts in a venue of over 5000 people.
Personally I think two factors may be at play beyond a general trend towards live. Both of them could suggest that a sustained resurgence beyond pop music may be symbolic of deeper changes:
Firstly, the relative calm of a classical concert is something that I sense that people are beginning to yearn for. To be forced to switch off the smart phone and just absorb something of long lasting resonance, be it of beauty or powerful impact, is curiously precious in an age when instantaneous reaction (tweet, text or instant message) is the norm. Taking it slow is becoming a fast growth sector.
Secondly, I sense a growing but quiet rebellion against the desire to be confined to a fixed playlist or automated recommendations. Of course brilliant algorithms can work wonders for a web service, but when it comes to live performance, or indeed radio stations or museums, we put our trust in great curators and controllers and simply let them take us on a journey. It is this trust in an audience that marks out the great editorial leaders. I think that audiences trust BBC Proms Director Roger Wright and the Proms team. They are hungry to be taken beyond the familiar, to learn and be inspired. I know that by going to see something familiar, I may also make a memorable discovery. Personally, I remember arriving to see Prom 23 looking forward to The Lark Ascending and then getting bowled over by a inspirational work by the little known early 20th century composer John Foulds.
I hope that if you are not a regular fan of classical music or jazz, you may take the chance this autumn of putting your trust in those who are blessed with an innate ability to take us away from the addictive small screen and into a world of more profound discoveries: just click one of the links below and enjoy a concert from a BBC Performing Group or a jazz concert in the next few weeks. Of course, if you can't get to one, BBC radio will be there to broadcast much of what you miss.
Tim Davie is Director of Audio & Music at the BBC
- There is still plenty to listen to and watch on the Proms web site, including clips of Dame Judi Dench, Simon Rattle and the Last Night. You can also browse the Proms archive for details of what was played at every Prom back to the festival's founding in 1895.
- The London Jazz Festival web site has a full programme of performances (Friday 12 - Sunday 21 November).
- The photograph shows Paul Lewis, star of the 2010 Proms. (c) Simon Jay Price.