Link to home page

Amazing Radio

a remarkable broadcaster (itm? with amazingradio founder Paul Campbell)

By • Nov 30th, 2010 • Category: features

Amazing Radio, is, despite the obvious comment, just that – a truly remarkable broadcaster.
What makes it distinctive is that it’s set aside from the ‘norm’ of the BBC, Xfm and in fact all the commercial stations – playing purely ”unsigned’ music, across pretty much all genres. It also provides a home for broadcasters as diverse as former Radio One producer Trevor Dann, and itm?’s own former columnist, Jim Gellatly.
Of course, phrases like ‘unsigned’ can be tossed around like ‘indie’ or ‘alternative’ – and even the station’s original policy of operating outside the PRS has recently changed. But what is for certain is that on amazingradio, and on DAB, you’ll hear music that you’d not hear anywhere else.

itm? spoke to the station’s founder, Paul Campbell.

What’s driven amazingradio’s founding? Obviously there’ll be the personal desire to promote good music to a wider audience (I’m putting words in your mouth here) but we have 6music, Xfm (ok, stop sniggering at the back there). Amazing is resolutely about unsigned music, so would a mix of signed and unsigned have been a possibility – or was this stymied by the costs?

We started Amazing Radio to promote amazingtunes.com and to give the fantastic artists on that site more exposure. We love the range and quality of the music in amazingtunes.com and wanted more people to have access to it. So yeah, it was about promoting ‘good music to a wider audience’ – words we’re very happy to have you put in our mouth!

We’ve never considered mixing emerging and signed artists. We think there’s enough outlets for signed musicians on other radio stations, and we wanted to be totally focused on new music from new, emerging artists on Amazing Radio. How would you decide the balance? You can’t be half pregnant. Either you’re here to help emerging artists, or you’re not. Either you’re focused, or you’re all over the place. We’re trying to do the one, very focused thing we do in music, as well as we possibly can.

Has that been a problem for you – a lot of radio is about some sort of ‘familiarity’, even if it’s a new release by a ‘name’ act; even the Peel show, while exploring new music, would have a good smattering of bands from the ‘majors’, and since many bands make money from airplay, signing up to MCPS would be vital so ensure they made some cash, and rendered them ‘unavailable’ for broadcast.

It’s never been a problem. Quite the opposite, the feedback from listeners to Amazing Radio is that they like being constantly surprised by the music – not just the fact that all of it is new, but also the range and diversity of it.

Of course when you listen for any length of time, you start to get familiar with some of the songs, and then the kind of familiarity you mention does emerge. This is what happens with new releases on any radio station, of course: but we deliberately play a big and diverse mix of tracks, avoiding that dreary familiarity of those crap radio stations with tiny, boringly repetitive playlists (which is one of the things our listeners say they hate about them). As a result, anyone listening to Amazing Radio over the course of a week will indeed find ‘familiar’ songs, but mixed into a much wider range of fresh songs than they’ll find on any other radio station, anywhere in the world.

So, there’s no perception of the quality of the playlist suffering from being all-unsigned? You must get in stuff that’s not good enough to air, are there weeks when you’re scrabbling around for new music but aware that you can’t just play last week’s stuff as that’d go against the general philosophy of ‘freshness’?

Let me put it this way. There’s something like 30,000 tracks in the amazingtunes.com database now. It grows literally by the hour – yesterday was the third biggest day for uploads since we started four years ago (and the other three days were all in the past few months – it’s growing and accelerating all the time). So every hour of every day, more music is being uploaded. Now I’m not going to pretend that every single one of those tracks is stunningly brilliant, a potential global Number One – that would be ridiculous – but what’s really astonishing is how high the overall quality is. The reality is, there’s an astonishing number of talented people writing and recording music to an incredible standard. And the way our systems work – the way they remember the most popular music, as chosen by users – the cream rises to the top, and becomes more visible. That’s what gets on the air. If, er, some of it is not necessarily of the highest musical standard, it never gets onto Amazing Radio, and nobody ever gets to hear it on amazingtunes.com Except perhaps the longsuffering girlfriend of the person who wrote it. Always assuming they have a girlfriend.

So no, we’ve never, ever, for any hour of any day since we launched in June 2009, found ourselves worrying about the standard of music. We have an embarrassment of riches. And as time’s gone on and word has started to spread, the quality keeps on rising.

Actually, it’s been funny to hear some people’s reactions to the concept of Amazing Radio before they’ve actually listened to it. Some approach it with a poncey, arrogant attitude – “oh, these bands are all unsigned, they probably can’t be any good, the music must all be crap”. When they say that, we just smile politely and ask them to take a listen and judge for themselves. Then you get reactions like “er, do you know, there’s actually some great music there”. Then after a while those very people tend to become converts (or they do if they have open minds and open ears) and they get really passionate about it.

So the playlist doesn’t suffer by being unsigned: that’s what makes it great.

Amazing's founder, Paul Campbell
An aside here: if a ‘signed’ band wanted to help out because they liked the ethos of the station, could they designate a track to air by yourselves by them waiving royalties – or does the contract nature with MCPS and indeed with yourselves prevent this being possible?

This is a big topic, but in a nutshell: we’d never play anything because we were bribed; no artist who is registered with PRS For Music has the legal right to waive royalties under the terms of that agreement (they assign those rights to PRS when they register), so they couldn’t do it anyway; and although we’ve been rude about PRS in the past, they’ve now changed their policies and we’re now accepting music from PRS-registered artists. We’re really glad about this: our interests and theirs are the same, to work in the interests of musicians.

So does that mean you acknowledge that they do some good work for their members? (One might even term them ‘customers’ 😉 )

See previous answer. We’ve always wanted to be friends with them. Now, we are. Their contracts used to be out of the ark and would have required us to take money out of the pockets of non-PRS-registered artists to give to them. They’ve changed, so we now accept music from PRS-registered artists. Yay.

PRS/MCPS has recently gained something of a reputation as a mere debt collection agency -which is a shame, as the local reps are fantastic in advising young bands. The main offence is their hassling of anyone who listens to an ‘unlicenced’ radio in the workplace. Are you going to make a push in the sense that amazingradio is free-to-listen to anyone who wants the radio on at work?

I’ve heard those stories about aggressive salesmen, which strikes me as totally counter-productive, making it less likely, not more, that PRS succeeds in its aim of helping musicians. It turns people off, when their role should be to switch them on to music.

When we launched, it was clear that some people loved the fact that they could listen to Amazing Radio at work without a PRS or PPL licence. That’s no longer the case – since we will start playing PRS-registered artists on Amazing Radio, it’ll no longer be possible to listen to Amazing Radio licence-free. To accommodate the desire, we’ve therefore launched a new service called Amazing Instore which supplies non-registered music direct to shops and business premises. It’s dead good. It also allows people to ensure they get a feed of what they specifically like, not what’s been chosen by the global audience of amazingtunes.com to play on the air at Amazing Radio. Some people want more dance and less pop, or more indie and less dubstep. We can do that. Our techies have very large brains.

It’s cool commercially too. We pay non-registered artists way more than they would receive if they were PRS-registered, but the customers pay less than they would do with PRS/PPL music. It’s a real win-win: a service appealing to anyone who wants music at work, which reduces their costs but also benefits the musicians financially in a fair and ethical way.

So how do you feel about bands who go on, and leave the fold – and any ‘success’ stories? (this is maybe the chance to plug your current favourites!) I’m assuming the contract between you and bands at amazingmusic prevents any retrospective and potentially crippling royalty payments?

When we started, I thought it was essential that we didn’t try and land all those nasty restrictive deals on artists that the old-fashioned music industry used to specialise in – the kind designed to tie them in knots. So we have always had a non-exclusive deal. It keeps us on our toes. If we don’t do what we promise, deliver the best deal and the best mix of services, they should be allowed to leave us. If we do, why would they want to leave? I can honestly say that I can’t think of any bands who have ‘left the fold’. Some have got signed – good luck to them, if that’s what they want. We’re not stupid enough to imagine we could ever completely replace the industry: we just want to add a new complexion to it, another way for artists to find an audience and make some money. Nor do we suppose that everyone who uploads to amazingtunes.com will want to become a global megastar. For many, they just want to make some cash, or find a new audience, or hear themselves on the radio.

By the way – another strict policy from the start was that I would never say what my favourite bands are – I’m a middle-aged drummer, who cares what I like? What YOU like is what really matters. So here’s a smarmy answer to your ‘success story’ question: every band that ever uploads to amazingtunes.com and makes some money from it, gets some constructive feedback from the community, gets played on the radio, gets into The Amazing Chart – they’re all a success story. They don’t have to get signed by a Major, move to LA, and have copious amounts of sex in luxury bedrooms carpeted with money. Cheesy, but true. It’s about music, not money.


Could you be used as a listening post for the majors? – who should they be listening to? And, would you then be prevented from playing that band’s previous material if they took The Man’s shilling?

Yeah, the Majors do listen to us. It’s no surprise: they’re cutting back their in-house A&R activities, they need some way to find out what’s going on 🙂

Usually in the past, if a band got signed we took them off amazingtunes.com and stopped playing them on the radio, mainly because they then got registered to PRS, so we couldn’t play them. Strictly speaking, now we could keep them on the air. Our general approach though is just to do what we think is best for the band. We wouldn’t do something that hampered their career growth out of our own selfish interest. It’s not like there’s any shortage of fantastic music on amazingtunes.com.

There was a case a while ago of an artist who got to be famous on X Factor (have you heard of that? Apparently it’s some kind of TV show) who had previously uploaded some original songs to amazingtunes.com. I spoke to her and, although legally we could have played the tracks, and this wouldn’t have been stopped by the X Factor contract, we chose not to – not because we were scared of Mr Cowell’s lawyers (they couldn’t stop us, or hurt her), but we didn’t want to do anything to jeopardise her career.

So the answer is: we could still play the tracks …. but we probably wouldn’t.

So, what’s the long-term plan? Obviously there’s amazingtunes, could this expand into, say, a physical label? Or anything else planned – podcasts, iPhone apps to listen to live or streams, or the Sky/Virgin radio channels – or again, does the licencing present problems with any of these? Could you get too big or successful (from bandwidth issues, to a situation where you’re getting in too much music to listen to!

How long have you got?! Our overall long-term ambition is huge, global, and isn’t confined to music. You could describe it in a nutshell as ‘the new Virgin’ – a challenging, ethical, innovative brand. But with more focus. We won’t do Amazing Cola.

We’d like to be seen as the natural and ethical route for creative people to make money from their talent; and as the obvious place for people to find what’s new, innovative and great. So next year we hope to launch a second radio station, concentrating on speech. We’ll add video and do some telly. But we’re also going to follow the logic of amazingtunes.com and launch a physical label – we’ll make announcements about this pretty soon: it’ll surprise people, and we think/hope it’ll be more proof of our determination to help people, as the old model of the music industry falls to bits, putting in place an ethical alternative that really works in the digital age. We’re also just starting to do things internationally, launching amazingtunes.com and Amazing Radio in localised versions in other countries, and finding other ways to make money for amazing artists.

I love the idea that someone who wrote some music in their bedroom starts to receive royalty payments from all over the world because they’re involved in amazing, without having to lift a finger. In a few years, hopefully those royalty cheques will go to comedians, film-makers and writers too – all kinds of amazing people.

Yeah, this is ambitious, and it’s deliberately very idealistic too. But one of the great joys about the last year has been to see the incredibly positive reactions to what we’re doing, the way that so many smart people have offered to help, and the incredible speed with which it’s been growing. They recognise we’re doing something different, we’re ambitious, and we’re honest when we say we’ll do it ethically. Wish us luck.

Good luck to amazing radio! They deserve it, and hopefully, with their sound and well-intentioned ideas, they’ll not really need it.

(main image pinched from james.cridland.net – read his own piece on the station there)

Comments are closed.