Music radio’s all tension and release. Building anticipation – highs and lows strung together to keep things moving and bring listeners along with you. Mary Anne Hobbs’ breakfast show on 6 Music this morning was built around a classic music radio high – the long-awaited record release.
My Bloody Valentine have a new record out (seasoned hacks are getting emotional) but things have changed. The band released their new record online, direct to fans, with no build-up and no radio station exclusives. So Hobbs, in the studio for the station’s first live programme since the release, had no advantage over listeners, no head start at all. But it’s OK. It turns out you can still do exciting radio around a new record, even without an exclusive.
@bowbrick we bought it this morning from the band’s website
Hobbs and her producer downloaded the track with the hordes of MBV nuts doing the same thing (enough to crash the MBV web site, natch) – and played it out with all the excitement of fans. The buzz came from the shared excitement of that moment. The reactions of fans who’d already heard the track became part of the build-up. It was a shared moment. A post-social radio moment. Lovely.
I love a bed. I should leave it to a radio production expert to explain what I mean by a bed, but since I don’t have one to hand, a ‘bed’ is the radio term for sound (usually music) played under the presenter’s voice during a link. In music radio it stops things going dead, keeps the pace up and provides a bridge between tracks. Sometimes it’s specially-recorded – and then it’s usually the kind of super-bland library music that’s designed to be unobtrusive, secondary to the presenter’s message.
But that’s old hat. Current practice (at least in pop radio) is to use a real track (an intro or outro) and to play it pretty loud. I think Zane Lowe‘s beds are the loudest in the business (go on, contradict me). He plays his bed so loud he has to shout to be heard over it. And that’s the point.
He sets up a competition with the music. It’s as if he’s challenging the music to a fight. It’s exciting. An adrenaline rush. Check your pulse after a really noisy Zane Lowe link – your heart will be racing.
You need to be confident to do this, though – a rookie DJ couldn’t set up that fight for fear they’d actually lose. So as Zane gains experience and stature I think his beds are actually getting louder. Pretty soon you won’t be able to hear him at all:
6 Music‘s new boy, Gilles Peterson, likes a fairly loud bed and in his new show I’m pretty sure they’re louder than they were when he was on Radio 1 (although I’ve only got one week’s output to go on, so don’t quote me). Is he trying to tell us something? Is he starting as he means to go on? Kicking things up a gear to make an impression in his new job?
I’m going to be listening. If his beds get quieter from now on it might be because he misjudged and overshot to begin with. If they get louder or stay the same it’ll be because the show is a hit and he can take more chances, push things a bit – especially in his more forgiving new home on the digital station:
This week’s best bed wasn’t really a bed at all. It was the lush and frankly rather disorienting background noise during John Humphrys’ links from Liberia on Wednesday’s Today Programme on Radio 4. It’s a marvellous idea: Humphrys is going to present the programme from Liberia several times over the next year.
The programme is exploring the idea that Africa is on the verge of a boom, that things are about to change for the better – and quickly. And they’ve chosen Liberia because, although the country’s struggling in all sorts of ways, it’s not a hot-spot. There’s no war, no famine. It’s ‘Middle Africa’.
So, unless someone in Liberia builds a sound-proofed studio soon, we’re going to get used to the lovely bed of crickets, birdsong and passing traffic that brightened Wednesday’s programme substantially.
And in radio terms, it’s a hard-working bed. It’s providing information about the context (“hey, we’re in Africa”) and a useful contrast with the programme’s acoustically-sterile home-base back in London. And it provides authenticity – the kind of auditory cues that prove the programme’s on location and make the output more vivid. I’m really looking forward to the evolution of Today’s Liberia bed. Will it be eliminated? Or will it evolve to represent the programme’s location in interesting ways? Will the sound vary? Will it remain the same across the whole year?
6 Music ran a lovely series of programmes about this year’s Mercury nominees. They did a simple thing and recorded the artists introducing the tracks, describing the inspiration and the creative process for each song. It’s like watching a movie with the director’s commentary switched on. Superb night-time radio (and unimpeachable public service output – could a commercial network play out a whole album in this way?).
If you can lay your hands on a copy (it’s gone from the 6 Music site) listen to the episode featuring the XX. And not just because you’ll hear the quiet and entirely unjaded voices of THE FUTURE but also because you’ll learn something about the creative process that you’d have missed if you’d listened to the unglossed album a dozen times.
Many completely disarming glimpses of the teenage creative process – a keyboard bought for £3 on eBay, at least one song composed when Romy and Oliver were sixteen, the kind of completely obsessive attention to detail that must have had their parents typing ‘OCD’ into Google. And something about the epic luck of finding someone you can work with when young, and just clicking. They’re a quietly inspiring pair: I hear the kind of generosity and trust that makes a collaboration bulletproof.
And there’s also something here about A&R and a supportive, courageous creative context. I don’t know much about Young Turk/XL but to have given these rather unprepossessing kids the keys to the studio while barely out of school was a fantastically smart and open-minded thing to do. There’s the value of the whole, creaking, benighted music business in a nutshell, if you ask me.
Now watch them split up just after I click ‘publish.’