Amazing Radio – an interview with Trevor Dann

[You might want to know: when I wrote this I worked at BBC Radio (and still do!) but these are the opinions of a civilian radio nut and not those of the BBC. Also, Amazing still exists but the ‘unsigned music only’ policy described here does not]

I’ve developed a bit of a radio crush on a new station called Amazing Radio. Amazing‘s a national digital station mounting a head-on challenge to the music radio status quo. Unless you’re a radiohead like me you’ve probably never heard of it, though. And it’s worth a listen because it’s very different. For a start, there are no stars, no record labels and no ads. The station plays only music by unsigned artists, uploaded by those artists to the amazingtunes web site where it’s sold for 79p per track. The station even carries an ‘ethical’ label, presumably because artists keep 70% of online sales.

Listening is a fascinating, slightly disorienting experience. What you hear sounds like a conventional music station – music grouped into recognisable genres and linked in the usual, slick way by DJs (apart from the off-peak hours when the robots are in charge). The music goes out in familiar slots – there’s a breakfast show, a rock show and a chart show… But listen for twenty minutes and it’ll dawn on you that there’s something odd here: you haven’t heard any of this stuff before. It’s all new.

And listening to a radio station without the elemental familiarity of even the most ‘challenging’ conventional stations is a bracing experience. Tracks flow by without the contextual cues you’re used to: no history, no celebrity, no personal memories. And none of the credibility that comes with a play from a name DJ. Amazing DJs sometimes help by defining a track in terms of an established artist: “here’s a Crystal Castles-style track from…” or “if you like Florence…”

I’m a convert. I like the DJs and I enjoy the unanchored listening experience. There’s something compulsive about this stream of new stuff and you get a sense of the ocean of talent that’s out there waiting to be discovered – but I can’t listen for too long. It turns out that providing your own context is quite hard work.

And the experience highlights just how dependent we are on DJs and stations for their judgements and their stories and their categories. In fact, listening to Amazing helps to explain the function of mainstream radio’s unfashionable props – the cosy playlists and charts and the guiding hand of the DJ.

Amazing must be doing something right. The station has just tempted Trevor Dann, grizzled radio veteran and outgoing Director of The Radio Academy, to join as Director of Programmes (he’s been presenting a show for a while now). So I asked Trevor if he’d answer a few questions about Amazing:

Does Amazing represent an alternative to the mainstream, label-based music biz? A kind of parallel music economy?

Yes. We think of it as a music-based social network which takes the power out of the hands of the playlist committee and the A&R men and gives it back to the artists and their fans. In the digital world we need tastemakers and trusted guides but we don’t need gatekeepers.

Do you aim to break artists?


If an Amazing artist crosses over and becomes a big star will you participate in their ongoing income – will you become a kind of label?

In tune with our ethical stance, we don’t seek to control or exploit anyone but we are here to help artists on their musical journey. First, they upload their material to Then, if it’s popular on the website, it’ll be featured on Amazing Radio. If they get in the Amazing Chart and there’s a real buzz about them, Amazing Music may offer to help with everything from management and gig promotion to publishing and even record manufacture and distribution. But none of these services are compulsory.

If Amazing’s a hit, do you expect record labels to join in and upload tracks to amazingtunes? the way they came to trust iTunes and later Spotify? Will you encourage them to do so? Will you support a more conventional royalty scheme, for instance?

We don’t have any plans to broadcast music by artists signed major record labels. That model is in decline. Ours is the future.

It’s fascinating to hear a playlist assembled entirely from unplayed music with not a label in sight. How does the process differ from playlisting at a conventional station?

The playlist is chosen by the consumers of There is some human intervention to prevent too much of one genre dominating the sound of the station and to take account of the time of day. But broadly speaking the playlist is ‘crowd-sourced’.

Will you build domain expertise? Hire DJs who have deep regional or genre knowledge? Will you give them freeplays? Will they become curators?

The ‘specialist’ presenters – Jim Gellatly (winner of the Radio Academy John Peel Award in 2008), Mark Ryan etc. pick their own music from the wealth of material on amazingtunes. I wouldn’t want to put words in his mouth but I think Jim in particular would be happy with the word ‘curator’. Part of his mission (and everyone’s at Amazing) is to encourage more bands to upload music so they can get airtime.

What does your research tell you about listeners? Who are they?

We are not part of RAJAR and we don’t publish any audience data.

What’s the natural audience for unsigned artists? Do you think that younger listeners are more open to unfamiliar sounds?

Feedback shows that our audience is very varied. It’s certainly not exclusively young or old, male or female. Rather like 6Music I think we have a very varied audience which encompasses old fogeys like me (and dare I say you Steve!), teenagers with an appetite for emerging music and everyone in between. I think the traditional radio obsession with demographics is rendered obsolete by a service like ours.

How about live shows? Will you add a few hours of live output so that DJs can interact with listeners?

We launch our first live daily show in January. Details shortly.

Is there enough good stuff out there to fill a radio station? Are you surfacing artists overlooked by the labels? Is an Amazing artist different from one with a record deal?

I’m constantly amazed by the quality of music uploaded. The radio station could fill its playlist many times over with really brilliant stuff from all over the world. The weekly review show I present has music from 7 different countries this week.

What do the labels and the collection societies think about the Amazing model?

We don’t know about the majors and don’t really care. We are licenced by PRS who have been very encouraging of our effort to give exposure to more talent.

Thank you Trevor!

  • Listen to Amazing on DAB (“just to the left of the BBC”, as they say on the station) and online.

This is fun…

iTunes playlists are becoming an obsession. Here’s my “sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers” list – every track that features one of those words in its ID3 tags. For some reason, these lists make for a much more provocative listen that just randomising the whole library.

A Mother's Love, The Meters
All Your Sisters, Mazzy Star
Big Bayou, The Flying Burrito Brothers
Broken Little Sister, Death In Vegas
Brother Can You Spare A Dime, George Michael
Brother John, Cannonball Adderley
Christine's Tune, The Flying Burrito Brothers
Come To Daddy,  Mummy Mix
Divine Mother, Jah Wobble
Endless Grey Ribbon, The Corn Sisters
Every Day Is Christmas, The Webb Brothers
Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand, Williamson Brothers And Curry
Good Mornin',  Brother
Graveside Song, Stevens Sisters
He Ain't Heavy... He's My Brother, Keith Barrow
He Meets His Mother, Richard Robbins
He's The Greatest Dancer, Sister Sledge
I Believe In Father Christmas, Six By Seven
I Need Someone, Wallace Brothers
Jackie Brown Soundtrack.mp3, Brothers Johnson
Jungle Brothers - Because I Got It Like That (Ultimate Mix), Jungle Brothers
Just a Little Talk With Jesus, Statler Brothers
King Of The Road, Statler Brothers
Lacassine Special, Balfa Brothers
Last Song for Mother, Nanci Griffith
Legacy (Show Me Love) (Mash Up Matt Mix), Space Brothers
Little Sister/Get Back, Elvis Presley
Little Sister/Get Back, Elvis Presley
Look At That Old Grizzly Bear, Mark Mothersbaugh
Make It Easy On Yourself, Scott Walker & The Walker Brothers
Mother (very rare), Blind Melon
Mother And Child Reunion, Paul Simon
Mother Nature's Son, The Beatles
My Baby's Gone, Wallace Brothers
My Dad's Gone Crazy, Eminem
My Sister, Tindersticks
Nebraska, The Cash Brothers
New Genious (Brother), Gorillaz
Oh Lori, Alessi brothers
Oh,  Sister
One For Daddy-O, Cannonball Adderley
One Too Many Mornings, Chemical Brothers
Our Mother The Mountain, Townes Van Zandt
Piece of my Heart, Big Brother & the Holding Company
Ras Dub, Sister Carol
Sal Got A Meatskin, Carlisle Brothers
Sister Ray, Joy Division
Sisters & Brothers, The Fire This Time
Slapshot, Brothers In Raw
Star Catching  Girl [Soulside Mix], Brother Brown Feat. Frank'ee
Transition Theme For Minor Blues (Or Little Malcolm Loves His Dad), Sonny Rollins
Tunji's Song - Tunji Oyelana, Brotherhood of Breath
Will the Circle Be Unbroken, The Neville Brothers
Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Statler Brothers
Will the Circle be Unbroken, Mother Maybelle Carter
Will the Circle be Unbroken (live), The Allman Brothers Band
You Can't Hold On To A Love That's Gone, The Holmes Brothers
Your Heart And Mine, Nicholas Brothers
Your Winter, Sister Hazel

Miss, Mr and Mrs

I Don’t Want Your Millions Mister, Pete Seeger
Miss Chatelaine, kd lang
Miss Lucifer, Primal Scream
Miss Punta Blanca, Jane Siberry
Miss Sadie Mae, John Lee Hooker
Miss Sarajevo, George Michael
Mr E’s Beautiful Remix (Butch ‘n’ Joey Remix), Eels
Mr Gold and Mr Mud, Townes Van Zandt
Mr Jones, Counting Crows
Mr Soul (very rare live), Neil Young with Booker T and the MGs
Mr Big, Free
Mr Clean, Frank Zappa
Mr Follow Follow, Fela Anikulapo Kuti
That Green Jesus, Mr Natural
Mr President, The Heptones & Jah Lion
Mr Ray, Suicide
Mr Spaceman, The Flying Burrito Brothers
Mr Wheeler, Pere Ubu
Mr Writer, Stereophonics
Mrs Robinson, Simon & Garfunkel
The Memphis Blues (Or Mister Crump), Louis Armstrong

Down by the River

Fall in a River, Badly Drawn Boy
River Theme, Bob Dylan
The River Hymn, The Band
African River, Abdullah Ibrahim
Dam That River, Alice In Chains
Down By The River, Neil Young
Find The River, REM
Harlem River Drive Theme, NuYorica
Jet Black River, Frank Black and the Catholics
Big River, Johnny Cash
Let the River Run, Carly Simon
Medley: The Loner/Cinnamon Girl/Down By The River, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Misery Is The River Of The World, Tom Waits
Peace Like a River, Paul Simon
Picnic On A Frozen River, Deuxieme…, Faust
Red River Valley, Woody Guthrie
River, Joni Mitchell
River Euphrates, The Pixies
River Man, Nick Drake
River, Sea, Ocean, Badly Drawn Boy
Rivers of Babylon, Martin Carthy
Riverside Opportunities, Iain Sinclair
Sweet Rivers, Allison’s Sacred Harp Singers
The Riverboat Song, Ocean Colour Scene


Bagatelles, Op. 6 – Waltz, Béla Bartók
Last Tango In Paris: Jazz Waltz, Gato Barbieri
Pueblo Waltz, Townes van Zandt
Sad Song Waltzes, Cake
Shadow Waltz, Zoot Sims
Tennessee Waltz, Hank Williams
Tennessee Waltz, Ella Fitzgerald
The Waltz Of The Angels, Lefty Frizzell
The Waltz Variation, Uri Caine
Waltz, Toru Takemitsu
Waltz For Koop, Koop
Zulema Waltz, Santiago Jimenez, Jr.
Valse Hot, Sonny Rollins
Medication Valse (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), Jack Nitzsche
La Valse à Mille Temps, Jacques Brel
Musica Ricercata per pianoforte: Tempo di valse (poco animato), György Ligeti