BBC Album Reviews – why we cover what we cover when we cover it

May 8, 2012

Since I became album reviews editor for BBC Online in the summer of 2009, I’ve operated a fairly strict system for ‘qualifying’ new releases for review on the site. With a limited budget and 13 genres to cover, it’s essential that I don’t commission a stack of indie/rock releases just because they’re there (and we all know there are lots there, every single week) at the expense of covering one vitally important jazz album, or a reggae LP of significance. The simplest way I have found of ‘qualifying’ reviews is by questioning the teams at the shows playing music on the BBC – the recommenders.

Here, you can find all of the BBC Album Reviews’ current recommenders. Note that some are seasonal, and that some are for now defunct shows. Most regularly tick over, though.

I think (I hope!) this is fairly visible on the site. The vast majority of reviews (over 90% of them in the last three-month period I assessed) will carry a recommendation stamp, linking to other recommended releases by the recommender in question. Here is an example of how this appears on a review page (under ‘Featured On…’).

It’s not a perfect system. Sometimes a recommendation will be withdrawn – this is most common with the 6 Music Album of the Day, when events in the industry necessitate the reassessing of the schedule. Sometimes I will assume a forthcoming album will receive a recommendation, but then – due to poor/non-existent radio plugging, or purely because the album turns out to be a shocker – it falls between the network cracks and runs without a stamp. Just occasionally I’ll have an album covered that I know won’t connect with radio, but that I feel really warrants coverage, but in these situations I tend to write the piece(s) so as not to spend any of my freelancer budget.

But, mostly, the system works. And many a PR (those who I communicate with regularly) is on board with this set-up, and appreciates that for their current release to get covered on the BBC Music pages, it’s going to need somebody on radio liking it enough to put their name to it. This also promotes synergy between online and on-air coverage, and I hope that those who land on a review via a search might click through to see what else that recommender is playing on their show(s).

If you’re a PR and this had never quite clicked with you, I hope I’ve managed to clear things up. I know, I know: this album has got great reviews from The Fly, Rock Sound and NME. I know: Absolute Radio is going nuts for it. And I know: I owe it to myself to give it the coverage it deserves. But if World Routes isn’t saying yes to a review stamp, and it’s the only show playing the artist in question, we’re not going to get anywhere fast.

It should be stressed that this is my system. Another album reviews editor, he or she that fills my boots when I move along, may think differently. But right now this ensures we cover what the BBC music radio networks are promoting, expanding this enthusiasm from FM sounds to wi-fi receivers. I think it works quite splendidly, and (touch wood) there’s not really been a ‘big’ release we’ve missed in nearly three years. Jason Mraz? Yeah yeah, it’s on my desk…