What Will BBC Cuts Mean for Local Music?

10/01/2012 22:52 GMT | Updated 11/03/2012 09:12 GMT

How should the BBC achieve cuts of 20% across the board? Maybe a cut in executive pay, sacking Chris Moyles or taking fewer taxis would be a start. Instead, they're proposing cutting BBC Introducing - a network of local radio shows playing new music from the area, and feeding into a national Radio 1 show. The Introducing show is the very definition of public service (and something a commercial operator wouldn't touch), and life for musicians outside London will be much tougher without it.

Of course, the internet was meant to decentralise and fragment the media, but instead, Radio 1 is more totemic than ever. You can have all the 'likes' and streams and tweets you want, but making the Radio 1 playlist or not is often the difference between ubiquity and obscurity. And to get there, with few exceptions, you'll need the brand of a major label or the heft of an expensive radio plugger behind you.

Even then, you're still subject to the whims of the very few people with all the power - people frantically trying to work out what teenagers want so they can fulfil their remit. (Teenagers, of course, want to find their music through Rinse FM and play it off YouTube through their phones, which means the battle is lost anyway.)

BBC Introducing is a way for bands to bypass all this nonsense. You can upload your music to your local Introducing show's website, and have it played out by your local DJ, who can also submit it to Radio 1 for the main Introducing show. And every week, one track which came through this route is selected to be played once a day on high-profile shows.

So as a 17-year-old kid sitting in Swindon with no major machinery behind you, you can upload a track one evening and end up playlisted on national radio. Which is exactly what happened to Jess Hall, whose track Play Shy was played seven times on Radio 1 in November. "It's still hard to believe it happened," says Jess, "but I've had so much interest so quickly afterwards it's just changed everything."

Artists like Jess rely on the enthusiasm of their local BBC DJ to champion them and get them heard higher up the chain. Without this local aspect, the music industry could become more London-centric than ever. In Belfast, geographic isolation makes it hard for musicians to make connections in London, and prominent local musicians say that Introducing is the only way they can come to wider attention. In Scotland (where Introducing has given a leg-up to the likes of Paolo Nutini and Biffy Clyro) a local blogger organised a mass busking protest outside BBC Scotland. They know that without this support it'll be harder to avoid moving to London, playing the game, being part of the bunfight.

But busk all you like - the proposal to cut Introducing will never get the weight of popular opinion behind it in the way the 6Music campaign did. Because the casual listener won't notice its impact until it's too late. When we're listening to the radio in three years' time and never hearing a regional accent, we'll be wishing BBC execs could have just taken a few fewer cabs and left Introducing well alone.