Is BBC radio playing enough independent music?

Ten of BBC Radio 1’s most-played 100 tracks last year were ‘independent’ releases, MBW has discovered – the same percentage that the indies claimed in 2015.

However, there’s good reason for those inverted commas above.

Three of 2016’s tracks – performed by Christine & The Queens (Because), Twin Atlantic (Red Bull) and Glass Animals (Wolftone) – were distributed by major labels.

Meanwhile, five of them were released by Ministry Of Sound – now fully owned by Sony following its £67m acquisition in August last year.

Subtracting these titles, a less than-impressive two tracks (2%) from 2016’s R1 Top 100 playlist could be categorised as ‘pure’ independent releases:

  • Send My Love (To Your New Lover) by Adele on XL/Beggars – distributed in the UK via [PIAS]
  • Francis & The Lights’ Friends (KTTF Music) – distributed by Tunecore

(Tracks from UMG joint venture 3Beat are counted under UMG’s share here – as are The 1975; signed to indie Dirty Hit but a frontline Universal artist via Polydor.)

Radio 2’s Top 100 fared better for the independent labels, where they claimed a whopping 31%. (However, there are more caveats coming…)

MBW has analysed data from leading broadcast monitoring service RadioMonitor across both of the Beeb’s leading stations in 2016 – Radio 1 and Radio 2 – to capture the UK market share of each network.

Here we go.


BBC Radio 1

Across Radio 1’s Top 100 most-played tracks last year, 41% fell under the ownership of Universal – with 28% by Sony and 21% by Warner.

Sony’s share would increase to 33% if Ministry’s releases were included in its figures.

As for Radio 1’s favourite ‘independent’ tracks, UMG distributed Glass Animals’ Life Itself (Wolftone through indie arm Caroline) while Sony Music distributed Twin Atlantic’s No Sleep (Red Bull) following a January 2015 international deal.

Christine & The Queens’ Tilted, meanwhile, was released by independent Because – but distributed by Warner.

The 10 indie releases, in order, with number of plays are:

  • No.17 Christine & The Queens, Tilted: Because Music (291 plays)
  • No.26 Kideko & George Kwali feat. Nadia Rose & Sweetie Irie, Crank It (Woah!): Ministry of Sound (260 plays)
  • No.32 Riton feat. Kah-Lo, Rinse & Repeat: Ministry of Sound (248 plays)
  • No.57 Francis & The Lights feat. Bon Iver and Kanye West, Friends: KTTF Music (214 plays)
  • No.60 TIEKS feat. Dan Harkna Sunshine: Ministry of Sound (213 plays)
  • No.75 Adele, Send My Love (To Your New Lover): XL (192 plays)
  • No.75 Sigala, Sweet Lovin’: Ministry of Sound (192 plays)
  • No.91 Twin Atlantic, No Sleep: Red Bull (181 plays)
  • No.92 Sigala feat. Imani & DJ Fresh, Say You Do: Ministry of Sound (180 plays)
  • No.100 Glass Animals, Life Itself: Wolftone (175 plays)

Radio 1’s Top 100 was led by Drake’s One Dance (Island/UMG) with 432 plays, followed by Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop The Feeling (RCA/Sony) and Twenty One Pilots’ Stressed Out (Atlantic/WMG) with 348.

Just one British act made the Top 10 – AlunaGeorge feat Popcaan’s I’m In Control at No.7.

[UPDATE: The original release of Radio 1’s sixth most-played track, Protoje feat Chronixx’s Who Knows, was released by independent label Mr. Bongo in the UK in 2015.  A remix by Shy FX was released in 2016 by Warner/Warner Bros.]

The BBC Radio 1 Top 10 most-played tracks of 2016, according to Radiomonitor, were:

  1. Drake feat. Wizkid & Kyla, One Dance (Island/UMG) (432 plays)
  2. Justin Timberlake, Can’t Stop The Feeling (RCA/SME) (360 plays)
  3. Twenty One Pilots, Stressed Out (Atlantic/WMG) (348 plays)
  4. Zara Larsson, Lush Life (Black Butter/SME) (344 plays)
  5. Kungs vs. Cookin’ on 3 Burners, This Girl (3beat/UMG) (335 plays)
  6. Protoje feat. Chronixx, Who Knows (Warner Bros/WMG) (324 plays)
  7. AlunaGeorge feat. Popcaan, I’m In Control (Island.UMG) (323 plays)
  8. Alan Walker, Faded (Relentless/SME) (314 plays)
  9. DNCE, Cake By The Ocean (Island/UMG) (314 plays)
  10. Offaiah, Trouble (Virgin EMI/UMG (307 plays)

You’ll find the full BBC Radio 1 Top 100 chart here.


BBC Radio 2

By contrast, 31% of BBC Radio 2’s most-played 100 tracks of last year were independent releases.

Again, there are some (arguable) quirks to consider here: MBW once again counts 3Beat under UMG.

Meanwhile, no less than eight tracks came through UMG’s Caroline, with at least five (including four from Cooking Vinyl) releases via Sony’s Red Essential/Essential.

Ministry Of Sound had one release in Radio 2’s Top 100 with Jodie Abacus’s She’s In Love With The Weekend.

Taking all of that into account, Universal was again top of the major leaderboard with a 31% share (not including Caroline). Sony (not including Ministry or Red Essential) took 24%, while Warner (not including BMG etc.) ended up with 14%.

It’s fair to say that Radio 2’s much bigger ‘independent’ playlist portion was boosted by well-established artists ‘self-releasing’ following major label careers; a position of personal power, some may argue, which Radio 1’s typically younger artists do not yet find themselves in.

2016’s most-played indie releases on Radio 2 in order:

  • No.6 – Travis, Three Miles High (Red Telephone Box/Caroline) (103 plays)
  • = No.12 – Shaun Escoffery, When The Love Is Gone (Dome/MVKA) (94 plays)
  • No.18 – Travis, Animals (Red Telephone Box/Caroline) (92 plays)
  • = No.22 – Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Come With Us (EBGB/Red Essential) (90 plays)
  • = No.22 – Travis, Magnificent Time (Red Telephone Box/Caroline) (90 plays)
  • =No.26 – Adele, When We Were Young (XL) (89 plays)
  • =No.26 – Reef, How I Got Over (Reef Band) (89 plays)
  • = No.31 – Van Morrison, Too Late (Exile Productions/Caroline) (82 plays)
  • =No.33 – Rick Astley, Keep Singing (BMG) (89 plays)
  • =No.45 – Lissie, Don’t You Give Up On Me (Cooking Vinyl) (77 plays)
  • =No.45 – Rick Astley, Dance (God Says) (BMG) (77 plays)
  • =No.48 – Adele, Water Under The Bridge (XL) (76 plays)
  • =No.48 – Pet Shop Boys, The Pop Kids (Kobalt) (76 plays)
  • =No.52 – Lemar feat. Joss Stone, Someday We’ll Be Together (BMG) (75 plays)
  • =No.56 – Adele, Send My Love (To Your New Lover) (XL) (73 plays)
  • =No.61 – Jodie Abacus, She’s In Love With The Weekend (Ministry) (72 plays)
  • =No.65 – Richard Ashcroft, Hold On (Cooking Vinyl) (71 plays)
  • =No.67 – Melanie C, Anymore (Red Girl) (70 plays)
  • =No.74 – Turin Brakes, Keep Me Around (Cooking Vinyl) (67 plays)
  • =No.78 – Kaiser Chiefs, Parachute (Kaiser Chiefs/Caroline) (66 plays)
  • =No.78 – Richard Ashcroft, They Don’t Own Me (Cooking Vinyl) (66 plays)
  • =No.78 – Santana, Anywhere You Want To Go (Santana) (66 plays)
  • =No.78 – Shaun Escoffery, Love Shine Down (Dome/MVKA) (66 plays)
  • =No.84 – Van Morrison, Every Time I See A River (Exile Prod/Caroline) (65 plays)
  • =No.86 – New Order, People On The High Line (Mute) (64 plays)
  • =No.86 – Simple Minds ft KT Tunstall, Promised You A Miracle (Simple Minds/Caroline) (64 plays)
  • =No.86 – Travis, Idlewild (Red Telephone Box/Caroline) (64 plays)
  • =No.86 – Pet Shop Boys, Twenty-Something (Kobalt Records) (64 plays)
  • No.93 – Gilbert O’Sullivan, No Way (USM/BMG) (63 plays)
  • =No.95 – Deacon Blue, The Believers (Ear Music) (61 plays)
  • =No.95 – Jack Savoretti, When We Were Lovers (BMG) (61 plays)

Radio 2’s Top 100 was led by Justin Timberlake with Can’t Stop The Feeling (RCA/SME) with 155 plays, then Lukas Graham with 7 Years (Warner Bros/WMG) and 140 plays and DNCE’s Cake By The Ocean (Island/UMG) third with 131 plays.

The BBC Radio 2 Top 10 most-played tracks of 2016 were:

  1. Justin Timberlake, Can’t Stop The Feeling (RCA/SME) (155 plays)
  2. Lukas Graham, 7 Years (Warner Bros/WMG) (140 plays)
  3. DNCE, Cake By The Ocean (Island/UMG) (131 plays)
  4. Coldplay, Hymn For The Weekend (Parlophone/WME) (108 plays)
  5. The Shadows, Foot Tapper (Columbia/SME) (106 plays)
  6. Travis, 3 Miles High (Caroline/UMG) (103 plays)
  7. ABC, Viva Love (Virgin EMI/UMG) (98 plays)
  8. Sigma feat. Take That, Cry (3beat/UMG) (97 plays)
  9. Emeli Sande, Breathing Underwater (Virgin EMI/UMG) (95 plays)
  10. Gwen Stefani, Make Me Like You (Interscope/UMG) (95 plays)

BBC Radio 2’s most-played playlist included five acts in the Top 10 (Coldplay, The Shadows, Travis, ABC, Sigma and Emeli Sande) hailing from the UK.

You’ll find the BBC Radio 2 Top 100 chart here.


According to Q3 2016’s Rajar figures, BBC Radio 2 has a far higher share of the British radio-listening audience than BBC Radio 1.

In the three months to September 2016, BBC Radio 1 attracted 9.8m weekly listeners, or an 18% audience share.

BBC Radio 2, meanwhile, attracted 15.1m, and a 28% audience share.


BBC Radio 1 has been under scrutiny recently within the BBC’s 10-yearly Royal Charter review, the recommendations of which will be implemented this year.

Amongst those were calls for the youth station to play more music from British acts.

In July, BBC Radio 1 dedicated 10 hours to playing independent music exclusively, coinciding with the US Independence Day.

The move was part of the commitment to support new British music.

Said playlist boss Chris Price at the time: “The UK’s independent label community is one of the most vibrant in the world.

“We want to celebrate the part it plays in making Britain one of the most creative and respected music hubs on the planet.”


Last year, the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN) issued a report suggesting that independent labels claimed a 37.6% market share in 2015, generating $5.6 billion in revenue in the year.

According to recent BuzzAngle stats, independent labels – both those distributed by fellow indies and by major labels – claimed a 35.1% US market share of total music consumption in 2016.

Music Business Worldwide

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