Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Don't tune into the BBC

I hum along merrily to a jaunty tune, tap my feet at a pleasing rhythm and occasionally inflict My Way on drunken friends who are too polite to object to the use of notes unknown to musical science. That aside, I really don't do music. Others seem to take a different view, their ears permanently full of pea pods or whatever they're called. Fair enough. I don't like cauliflower but love runner beans, and others have opposite tastes. That's all part of the fun of life. If you want music constantly blaring in the background while you try to do things, be my guest, it's none of my business provided you don't either force it on me or expect me to pay for it.

Time was, not so long ago, that radio choice in music was between poppy stuff on Radio 1, slushy stuff on Radio 2 and pretentious stuff on Radio 3 with the occasional independent broadcaster trying to muscle into the Radio 1 audience. Now there seems to be an endless choice for your listening pleasure care of commercial stations catering for particular demands. Not all commercial stations pay their way and the occasional one drops off the airways because it can't attract enough advertising. No one ever seems to object because everyone knows the rules of the game - they broadcast for so long as they have enough money coming in and they stop when the money runs out. Anyone launching a petition to keep alive a loss making commercial station would be met with a simple response - "OK, you pay for it then".

It has been confirmed that last week's rumours about the BBC planning to close two of its radio stations are true, the BBC Asian Network and BBC 6 Music are for the chopping block. The BBC needs to save some money so it is cutting back on the services it offers. All very sensible, one might think. Unless you are one of the people employed on those stations or an avid listener, in which case you seem to feel obliged to howl with outrage. I know nothing about the BBC Asian Network and little more about 6 Music, although my understanding is that the latter plays music that is liked by some young people.

Why is it a loss to national culture for radio stations run by the BBC to close when it is just business reality for unfunded stations to go off the air? Of course it isn't anything of the sort. Life existed before those stations were started just a few years ago and it will continue once they are silent. This evening I heard a multi-millionaire singer bleating about the unfairness of 6Music disappearing. It was the usual guff we get from the vacuous world of pop music ... "damaging to modern culture" ... "no other way for new bands to break into the market" ... "loss of talent" ... blah blah blah. What utter tosh.

Let's get one thing straight here. The vast majority of pop music is simplistic pap. It might be nice sounding simplistic pap that will get my foot tapping, but it is still simplistic pap. The music itself requires no great musical skill to compose or play however jolly it might be on the ear. And the lyrics are fourth or fifth rate poetry if they have any meaning at all. Indeed almost all lyrics are just noise, you don't need to hear the words because they add nothing to the sound produced by the singer - which is why recordings of songs sell regularly to those who don't speak the language allegedly used by the singer and when you can't make out the words at all.

One can test this theory quite easily. How many lyrics would command attention if written as poems? What level of musical skill is required to play the tunes? Perhaps one only needs to know that a lot of it is produced by barely pubescent bands to understand that it has no sophistication. If one group of spotty youths doesn't find an audience another will and there won't be a fag-paper's thickness to distinguish between the noises they make.

If 6 Music really provides a valuable service, let someone buy the brand and see if they can get enough advertisers to make a go of it. If they can, fine; if they can't, equally fine. But it really doesn't matter one way or the other. The world will no more stop turning when 6 Music closes than it did when Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Tich broke up.

The real question is not whether BBC 6 Music should close but why the BBC spends money on music stations at all. Commercial radio covers every genre the BBC covers today and there is no reason to believe that that would cease to be the case if BBC music radio simply shut up shop tomorrow. In fact the opposite is likely to happen because it would free up further audiences for commercial radio and would increase their chances of securing advertising revenue.

There is nothing in the "it launches new talent" guff. Leaving aside the debatable use of "talent", if people make noises the gullible want to buy we can be sure as eggs is ova that the record companies will find a way to promote them. You don't need "free" advertising at the taxpayers' expense to sell a saleable product. At the moment the BBC is providing unknown millions of pounds worth of free advertising to a business that is perfectly capable of standing on its own feet.

What we are seeing in the absurd reaction to 6 Music's closure is the same belief in the tooth fairy that imbues all public-sector spending with magical powers in the view of the brainless. An "official" body is doing something, therefore it must need doing, therefore it would be harmful to stop doing it. Rubbish on stilts. Pop music is a commercial enterprise. It makes its successful exponents hugely wealthy regardless of their talent. It extorts money from the young by falsely claiming to be important, in much the same way that football does for middle aged men and cosmetics for middle aged women. Fine, let them pay if they think it's important. Let them believe it's important if that makes them happy. But don't claim it is anything other than what it is - a branch of commercial entertainment just like any other.


Pogo said...

Picked up that you were back at "Leg Iron"'s gaff a few minutes ago.

Good to see you back and I hope that the blood pressure is improving!

Norman said...

I've always thought that the spoken radio stations (4,5,7 & Radio Scotland for me) are worth spending money on but never really seen the point in the music ones.

Blognor Regis said...

which is why recordings of songs sell regularly to those who don't speak the language allegedly used by the singer and when you can't make out the words at all.

I like listening to The Marriage of Figaro despite only understanding the numbers at the beginning. "Cinque!" Did Mozart create simplistic pap?

How many lyrics would command attention if written as poems?

But that's not comparing like for like. Lyrics are specifically written for accompaniment which makes a different.

Otherwise I agree with everything else you've said.

Old Holborn said...

fantastic to see you back.

I will let my readers know

Uncle Marvo said...

You clearly know shit about music, but I like the blog. Wv:feelly

David Cantrell said...

I work for the BBC, and agree with just about all you said. The two places I'll take exception are that radio 3 does *not* have a commercial equivalent, and nor does radio 4. The closest equivalent to radio 3 is Classic FM, but it has a rather narrower playlist. Back when I listened to it, it was almost exclusively composers with German names from the 18th and 19th centuries, whereas radio 3 covered a wider range of nationalities, eras, and also had far more live concerts of brand new music.

And I betcha that once all the pointless petitions are in, they'll have more signatures than Radio 6 has ever had listeners.

TheFatBigot said...

Thank you Mr Pogo and Mr Holborn.

I stopped because I had nothing new to say. I still have nothing new to say, but I'm going to say it anyway.