The BBC’s 2018 definition of ‘New Music’ is a brilliantly British mess

BBC Radio 1, one of the most influential radio stations in the world, is going to have to ensure that at least 50% of tracks played during its daytime broadcasts are ‘New Music’, according to fresh regulations.

However, this ‘New Music’ can actually be up to 12 months old.

Let us just run that by you again.

BBC Radio 1, one of the most influential radio stations in the world, is going to have to ensure that at least 50% of tracks played during its daytime broadcasts are ‘New Music’, according to fresh regulations. But this ‘New Music’ does not actually have to be music that is new.

Confused? You don’t know the half of it yet.

Welcome to the intertwining of two maddening facets of the modern UK music industry: (i) Radio broadcasters, previously used to ‘breaking’ music, grappling with an age when almost everything they play is already available on streaming services; (ii) The idea that the historic UK weekly Official Singles Chart can be relied upon as the sole yardstick of what is hip and happening in the globalized world of modern pop music.

Oh, one last thing: these new regulations kick in – wait for it, wait for it – on April 1.

You literally couldn’t make it up.

Without descending too far down into a surrealistic/linguistic rabbit hole, here’s what’s roughly going on.

The BBC – a publicly-funded institution – has to abide by rules laid down by the UK’s media watchdog, Ofcom.

Ofcom’s rules come as part of an operating licence containing a set of regulatory conditions with which the BBC must comply.

The aim of this licence is to ensure that the BBC’s music selection is distinctive enough to justify the public money it receives through the licence fee. (In the BBC’s 2016/2017 year, this money amounted to £3.8bn – of which £480m was spent on radio.)

An update of the operating licence has just been announced, containing the crazy aforementioned ‘New Music’ (though not actually new music) diktat.

This is, in itself, a reaction to the fact that Ofcom’s previous definition of ‘New Music’ is completely broken.

Here is that previous definition: “New Music means music which is either unreleased or [for which] it has been less than one month since release date (physical release, not download release).”

The conundrum: these days, entire albums land on streaming services months before some of their tracks – chosen by labels as ‘singles’ – are pushed at radio.

For this archaic promotional system to have a chance of working, the industry somehow needs to convince itself that these tracks are ‘new’ – even when they’re very much not.

And that’s where the Orwellian fun begins.

So here, in all its non-sensical glory, is Ofcom’s freshly-defined definition of ‘New Music’ at the BBC:

‘A song is to be considered ‘New Music’ for a period of either (a) 12 months from first release; or (b) six weeks from the date it first enters the Top 20 – whichever is sooner.’

Sorry. Let’s just look at it one more time. In bold, just to see if it makes a difference.

‘A song is to be considered ‘New Music’ for a period…12 months from first release.’


That’s literally nonsense.

Anyway, according to the newly-updated rules, 50% of BBC Radio 1’s daytime tracks must meet this criteria from April 1, and 20% of BBC Radio 2’s daytime tracks must do the same.

Both stations were actually already exceeding these figures.

One of the key voices during Ofcom’s consultation process was that of the commercial radio industry, which argued for the definition of ‘New Music’ to be this: tracks which were either up to six months old, or which had been on the Top 40 of the UK chart for no more than four weeks.

Not that it matters. This is literally a debate about ‘New Music’ which – by virtue of the fact it’s already been released – cannot ever actually be new music.

Somehow, we’re going to have to draw this madness to a close. Here goes.

In its submission to the consultation, Global – one of the biggest commercial radio networks in the world – said the following.

“We accept that tracks can still be ‘new’ to the audience even if they were released some time ago, but we do not accept that a track can still be ‘new’ to the audience months after the station first started playing it.

“This would clearly make no sense.”

Finally. Somebody said it.Music Business Worldwide

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