The biz's brightest new talents tell their stories. This week, we meet Kali Bradford, label manager at Distiller Records...
How did you break into the industry?
Music has always been what I wanted to do, I just wasn’t sure what ...
Joe Lenzie: We’d signed with 3Beat about six months before and put out a single called Rudeboy, which got a bit of traction on specialist radio and went on the BBC Radio 1 playlist. That was a feat because it was quite an underground, raw-sounding jungle track.
That was our biggest moment and we felt we would at least get some bookings off the back of it, but our agent couldn’t get us any gigs. We were pretty skint and were almost at a point where we were going to call it a day and start looking at other career options.
We were sitting in the studio one day trying to come up with ideas for the next single, but it felt like we were banging our heads against a brick wall so we decided to make some music to play in our DJ sets. One of the ways we like to do that is to through remixes. Cam came up with the idea of potentially using the Bound 2 track and we just threw it together.
Cameron Edwards: We sat on it for ages because, when you don’t get traction, you lose a bit of motivation. But when we came back to it about a month later we thought, ‘This actually sounds like it could turn into a good tune.’ Joe finished it off and, on a punt, we sent it to Annie Mac, who messaged us back saying: ‘I’m dancing around listening to this, can I play it on the show tonight?’ And the reaction was so good that she gave it to Nick Grimshaw, who played it on his Breakfast Show the following morning. That was a completely organic, natural way of getting a tune to radio, which is obviously hard to do. But we were thinking, ‘It’s never going to come out, it’s a bootleg’ and we didn’t know the ins and outs of how you go about clearing samples, so we just put it up on our website to get some data capture. We got about 20,000 downloads in a couple of days and 3Beat got in touch with us and said, ‘You guys are morons! Why didn’t you send us this tune? It’s the biggest one you’ve ever done.’
JL: Sample clearance proved impossible, so we started the process of recreation. We demoed eight vocalists but settled on Daniel Pearce as he was the best and sounded most like Charlie Wilson [on Bound 2]. To this day, many still think we used the Charlie Wilson sample.
CE: We ended pipping The Vamps to the No.1 spot, which is pretty mad. The pre-sale was 23,000 or something and in the first week it had sales of 120,000 units, which is unheard of for an underground drum and bass act. It was pretty insane, we didn’t expect anything, it just happened.
JL: Nobody To Love was a moment for us to show we could have chart success. It opened up doors for us to a whole new avenue of writers and singers.
CE: It’s quite hard to put your finger on what makes a tune so successful, because we’ve released others since then that we had similar feelings about but didn’t do as well. We got a lot of support from radio: Nick Grimshaw, Annie Mac and MistaJam were all key to breaking us. Sometimes things just align and work out for you. We very much believe that if you work hard at something then everyone has their time and it just happened to be ours.
Publishers BMG Sapphire Songs/ BMG Rights Management (UK) Limited/Gambi Music Inc Writers Charles K Wilson, Lester Allen McKenzie, Bobby Massey, Bobby Dukes, Release Date 06.04.14 Record label 3Beat/All Around The World Total UK sales (OCC) 996,130
How do you like your eggs in the morning? Well, however you take them, chances are it’s about to change, as there is a selection of fresh choices ready to ease you into the day.
Radio 1 Breakfast Show presenters change about as regularly as Prime Ministers, so will the Nick Grimshaw-Greg James handover be an era-defining Major-to-Blair transition or a more-of-the-same Cameron-May fudge? And how will Absolute Radio cope with the departure of the presenter who’s defined their station over its 10-year history, Christian O’Connell, as Dave Berry takes over?
Meanwhile, BBC 6 Music has just announced that Lauren Laverne will take over from Shaun Keaveny, giving the start to the day a volatility it’s not enjoyed since the crazy ‘90s, when Zoe Ball (BBC Radio 1) and Chris Evans (on what was then Virgin Radio) started new breakfast shows on the same day. Evans – back then the young gun shaking things up – is now, of course, the éminence grise of breakfast radio, having been at the helm of BBC Radio 2’s flagship for over eight years now.
So, times change, but breakfast remains the most important meal of the day in radioland. At the moment, Evans is first in the queue for bacon and eggs, with 9.038 million listeners in Q2, up from 9.007m this time last year. Grimshaw averaged 5.291m, down on last year but up almost 200,000 listeners on Q1.
In national commercial stations, Absolute was No.1 in Q2 with 2.151m, wrestling the title from Kiss FM’s Rickie, Melvin & Charlie (2.079m), with Classic FM (1.66m), Magic (1.24m) and Radio X, driven by another former Radio 1 Breakfast Show stalwart, Chris Moyles (859,000) following behind.
With Moyles’ old sparring partner “Comedy” Dave Vitty on the new Hits Radio breakfast alongside Gethin Jones and Gemma Atkinson (making a respectable RAJAR debut), former producer Aled Haydn Jones – now head of programmes at BBC Radio 1 – quips about “an old Moyles takeover” during the slot. But breakfast is a deadly serious business for Radio 1.
“Over the past 10 years, with competitors getting better at what they do and young people having more choices, whether that’s podcasts, streaming or YouTube, we have had to focus on what the audience wants,” he says. “It has been brilliant for Radio 1, for presenters, for production and for the listeners that the competition is so strong, because it’s meant we’ve had to understand our audience really well, otherwise our numbers are just going to fade in the market.”
Changing flagship shows often makes that fade happen and Haydn Jones admits there could be some “churn” in future RAJAR results.
“Radio habits are essential,” he says. “So building routines around radio is key to listening. We’ll have new Breakfast and new Drive [presenters], so there’s going we’ve got and when we’ve got it. If your favourite presenter has moved to another slot that’s going to make you look at your routine again.”
Over at Absolute, content director Paul Sylvester is hoping that Berry will pull in new listeners without alienating O’Connell’s long-term fans.
“In some sectors of the radio industry there’s this thought that, if somebody decides they’re going to leave, they get ripped off the radio immediately,” he says. “But we ask our listeners to build this bond with our shows and presenters [so it would have been] disrespectful to do that.
“We allowed Christian to go out with great grace and style and actually make it a thing,” he adds. “The listeners enjoyed that celebration. But we then launched Dave in great style. Dave’s first guest was Liam Gallagher and we did some really clever stuff on socials with Liam. That gave the new breakfast show a really important new feel.”
And Sylvester himself relishes the competition.
“Change is good for the radio industry because it freshens things up,” he says. “People will sample and trial and find their own thing. What we’re all having to do as radio stations is work harder for the share of ears at breakfast. Everyone’s working harder, everyone’s trying to find their mojo and that thing that’s going to hook listeners in. And the people who are benefitting from that are the listeners. There is this freshness and newness and talkability about breakfast shows, where perhaps we’d slipped into this thing where everyone knew what they were getting and it felt a little bit mundane. The more we can freshen things up, the better.”
And even over at BBC Radio 2, where Breakfast remains serenely unaffected by such turmoil, network head Lewis Carnie is watching the contest closely.
“It’s hugely competitive,” he says. “Moyles obviously has got an audience which he’s taken to X, you can see that. So we keep a lot of focus and attention on Breakfast, to try and keep our position in the market.
“Fortunately, Breakfast is in a really good place – there’s a lot of great content, really distinct things that Chris does, it’s a rich, rich programme,” he adds. “Particularly on Friday mornings when he has a cast of thousands. A-list talent does Graham Norton on TV on Thursday night, then they do Chris Evans on Friday morning. So it’s really flying.”
Evans, of course, is the man who plays the “How do you like your eggs in the morning?” song on air every day. Sounds like his answer would still be: sunny side up…
A good breakfast is important, of course, but the RAJAR figures always portray a more balanced diet. And it was a mixed quarter for the BBC across the board.
Radio 1 dropped 3.7% year-on-year and 2.4% q-o-q to 9.236m, but Haydn Jones is quick to pick up controller Ben Cooper’s mantra that the nation’s leading youth station is about much more than just traditional radio listening.
“When I left Moyles six years ago, Radio 1 had just started its YouTube channel,” he notes. “Socials had only just begun, Spotify was not a thing that people spoke about that much, let alone Beats and Apple Music. To hold the numbers that we’re at while the market is tightening around us is such an achievement, especially when you think about the fact that it’s youth audiences.
“Heritage hasn’t got currency for the 15-20-year-olds who only know the last few years of consumption, so you’re constantly having to prove yourself,” he adds. “So to be number one for 15-24-year-olds in the UK is a genuine honour. Every now and then you just remind yourself that a third of 15-24-year-olds are listening – that kind of level for a youth brand is immense and we’re very proud of that.”
Haydn Jones points to strong figures across Radio 1's new, extended weekend line-up that make him confident listeners will embrace the Grimshaw-James job swap, although he admits commercial radio’s performance is also a threat to the nation’s one-time favourite.
“Hats off to commercial, who have done a great job,” he says. “They seem to be finding new listeners, bringing them into the radio bubble with their brand extensions. I’m really glad for the radio industry that it remains healthy and we’re increasing the choice available. We’re in a healthy place at the moment.”
Pretty much always in a healthy place is BBC Radio 2, which nudged up 0.3% year-on-year to 14.935m, although that was 3.1% down on last quarter. But Lewis Carnie happily flags up what he says is a record Q2 share of 17.9% and the station’s huge 35% share of all BBC Radio listening hours.
Even the Drivetime slot, where there’s a new show from Simon Mayo and Jo Whiley that has attracted plenty of online criticism from listeners, grew its audience across the quarter.
“It’s going very well,” Carnie insists. “Obviously a lot of listeners were unhappy when it started – but it just takes things a while to find their feet. When Chris Evans took over from Terry Wogan it was the same. People tend to be very loyal to us and like what we’ve got.
“From our point of view, we have to think about how we can refresh things, get new listeners, keep programmes current. We wanted to extend Drivetime, we wanted to have a whole new presentation style, and that’s where we went with it. It seems to now be finding its feet and doing quite well. It’s a hard thing because, in television, people are used to it all the time, but with radio it’s such a big part of people’s lives and they really are very change-resistant – or a certain part of the audience is very change-resistant.”
Carnie also flags the success of its new specialist shows and Radio 2’s first foray to Ibiza, proof that the veterans of the second Summer Of Love are now entering the autumn of their lives.
“Our average audience age is 53, and there will always be people listening who grew up listening to a lot of dance, and soul,” says Carnie. “Our audience connect to this sort of music so we can’t ignore that – the days of Mantovani are long gone.”
Elsewhere, Radio 3 dropped 7.5% year-on-year to 1.908m, while 6 Music posted another hefty year-on-year leap, up 9.4% to 2.444m, although that was down 3.4% on the previous quarter. Radio 1Xtra continues to thrive, now seemingly a permanent member of the one million-plus club, as it edged up 0.2% year-on-year and 1.6% quarter-on-quarter to 1.033m. Proof that beats, as well as beating eggs, can work for breakfast and beyond.
Presiding over a suite of brands means it’s rare that everyone’s happy at the same time, but Bauer bosses must have run out of gold stars during its latest RAJAR session as pretty much everyone was on the up.
The Kiss Network rose 4.4% year-on-year to 5.629m, while spin-off Kisstory spiked 16.7% to 2.024m to become the first commercial digital-only station to pass two million. The Magic Network also flew up 6.8% to 3.876m, while Kerrang! posted a monster 31.6% rise to hit 692,000.
Absolute Radio content director Paul Sylvester talks merrily of everyone having “ a great week”, adding: “We are gifted with lots of freedom from Bauer, who understand that we know what we want to do, and give us the freedom and resources to be able to go away and do that.”
And Sylvester’s own network was an absolute (ha!) star performer. The main Absolute Radio station was up a stonking great 20.9% year-on-year to 2.544m, while most of the spin-offs were also up, most notably Absolute Radio ‘90s, which rose 26.3% to 822,000.
“The ‘90s are the new ‘80s,” Sylvester declares. “You see that everywhere, in terms of the albums people are playing, the vinyl people are buying, the gigs people are going to see. You’re only going to see even more love for the ‘90s and, fingers crossed for us, you’re only going to see more growth for us in Absolute Radio ‘90s.”
The concept of ‘90s nostalgia being a thing remains alarming to some of us so, thankfully, Sylvester puts the success of the wider brand down to radio perennials such as its live festival coverage and specialist music shows from Danielle Perry and Claire Sturgess, which Sylvester reckons gave some people “an antidote to the World Cup”.
Yet the station rarely seems top of the agenda for the business. After 10 years, does Absolute get enough respect?
“From when we launched to where we are now there's a lot of love in the industry for us,” he says. “We are credible, people understand what Absolute Radio is and what it can do. We’re still doing specialist music, playing some stuff you just wouldn’t hear elsewhere on commercial radio.”
And, oddly, despite rock’s perennial struggles at streaming services, the genre continues to grow at radio.
“We are the place for those people, maybe because they’re not being catered for elsewhere,” he suggests. “Radio is providing a home for those people. Maybe it is the demographic that actually like that kind of music that love radio more than others. Maybe they’re more loyal and radio is the place where those music fans discover or rediscover the artists they really like. Other stations aren’t tapping into what’s making people tick in the same way.”
Whatever monumental changes happen in radio, you can be sure one thing will remain reassuringly constant: Global won’t put anyone up to talk about their RAJAR figures.
The Capital Network dropped 7.9% year-on-year to 7.416m, while Heart was down 0.6% year-on-year to 8.661m, although up 2.8% on the quarter.
But Capital Xtra continued its surge, flying up another phenomenal 47.3% to 1.759m. And Radio X carried on its quiet resurgence – well, as quiet as anything can be when Chris Moyles is on Breakfast – by upping its listenership another 20.7% year-on-year to a new high of 1.679m.
Elsewhere, Virgin Radio was down a tad to 413,000 but Union Jack continued its slightly baffling rise, up a huge 45% year-on-year to 116,000.
Watch out everyone: they might have you for breakfast…