Pop Controller Lorna Clarke explains how the BBC can increase impact for artists | Media
BBC Pop Controller Lorna Clarke has opened up to Music Week in a rare interview about her key role in the music industry.
Clarke was appointed in 2019 and her catchy job title immediately got everyone talking.
Speaking in the latest issue of music weekshe said, “It marries everything I love: audio, radio, pop music, TV, it’s just awesome.”
Clarke will not be distracted by the debate over the freezing of BBC license fees and its potential replacement by a new funding model, recently announced by the government.
“The license fee debate will be part of the upcoming Charter renewal process and will be led by others,” she said. “For now, I will continue to provide as much pop music content as possible.”
Under Clarke’s watch, recent BBC music television production has included the MOBOs, Coldplay and Duran Duran on Radio 2 and iPlayer, the festive Top Of The Pops, Freddie Mercury: The Final Act, Jools’ Annual Hootenanny, The Big New Years & Years Eve Party, and Madonna at the BBC as part of “Madonna night”.
BBC Two premiered the Amy Winehouse documentary Reclaiming Amy last July, a decade after the singer’s death, and will air Joni Mitchell: 50 Years Of Blue this year.
BBC Radio 2 has just held its piano room month. The network won the Station of the Year category at the Music Week Awards in 2021, and it is nominated again alongside Radio 6 Music and Radio 1. 6 Music celebrates its 20th anniversary this week.
Here, Lorna Clarke talks about her work and her contribution to shaping the future of the music industry as the country emerges from the pandemic…
How does it feel to play a role at a time like this?
“It’s been amazing, but we’re here to support artists and the music industry and bring the best to the public. Because in all of this, people are listening. And they’re consuming music – from Many statistics show that music has become more important and music consumption has increased – even if we take something like BBC Introducing We looked at the amount of music downloaded since 2020 and it has increased by 30%. [on 2019], which is amazing. We have 250,000 artists registered now.
“There was a moment where it was like, ‘Wow, this is a scary thing, how are you going to keep five radio stations live?’ And the reason I had to keep them is because 41% of the adult population listens to them. We realized that even if people weren’t moving, they needed a soundtrack. were so moving – it was a true outpouring of ‘I need a distraction from the madness over there.’
Recent years have brought racism and discrimination into the spotlight in music. What is your opinion, based on your experience?
“For me personally – because of my appearance and where I’m from – it’s not something you can stay silent about, absolutely not. And it’s always about action. It’s not about not what you say, but what you do, and it has to be genuine. Black Lives Matter after George Floyd was a real wake-up call for everyone. It struck a chord and sparked a series of conversations around the world among young people, people of color, literally everyone. This was a global conversation, so that’s a good question, but it’s a question you absolutely have to ask everyone – not just people who look like me.
“We had conversations on all five radio stations around the Black Lives Matter movement and I said to them, ‘All of you, not just 1Xtra, need to have an answer. Brands and organizations that didn’t do anything – or just talked and jumped on something – were called out. We had Clara Amfo doing a fantastic piece of radio on Radio 1; we had 1Xtra Black Power playlists; we had a moving and insightful talk show with Seani B and DJ Ace about what it’s like to be a black man in this country. Radio 2, a major mainstream radio station, also had a voice. Radio 6 Music celebrated Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. I’m also a trustee of the PRS Foundation, and thanks to that, we created Power Up, a panel of super awesome black executives. It’s not about people who are just starting out, it’s very specifically about talking to people who might feel a bit stuck. It’s everyone’s business: if you run or are responsible for a company, you have to think about diversity.
And how do you think the industry is faring in that regard?
“There can always be more. But from my point of view, the industry has the same objectives as me, that is to say that we must be more diversified. And not [just] at the lower entry level, but at the top where you can shake things up, where you can make a difference. Some of the changes underway are quite interesting. I mean, people like Alec Boateng and his twin brother Alex at 0207 Def Jam, it’s super exciting. And it’s not exclusive, it’s inclusive. So it’s not just about, “How do we react in an immediate moment? It is a permanent challenge. And it cannot be symbolic, because you will be discovered.
We are open for business as we are now organized to create truly impactful moments
What does the music industry expect from the BBC?
“The simplicity, in a way – the simplicity of how they get their product to us. ‘How do I access playlists? How do I send my music to specialized distributors? What conversations can I have about artists? It helps to know that there are things like BBC Introducing; the British list; playlist and non-playlist support; television debut; Glastonbury; Radio 1 Great Weekend; Radio 1 Piano Sessions; The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show… It’s about all of these opportunities and being able to say in a simple way, if you’re ready to have a proper relationship, then we can create something that’s not just a hit.
And what do you expect from the industry?
“I want more! We’re open for business because we’re now set up to create some truly impactful moments. Come talk to us about how you build an artist from unknown to known. Come talk to us about returning artists who are established, but have new music. Tell us about the catalog. Tell us about scoring important stories. Let’s talk about getting in the right shape for what you want. There are so many British artists I’m with. would absolutely love to make films – and that’s important because more and more artists today are much more than musicians.
“Years ago it was considered pretty weird for someone like Kylie Minogue as an actor to want to be a pop star. Now it doesn’t matter. You have Kano – an actor and incredible, award-winning musician. You have Little Simz, an incredible and unique director and musician. You have people with something to say like Billie Eilish. And as the role of artists changes, an organization like the BBC is perfectly placed to be able to offer more. We are growing artists; we love doing this and there are so many examples, even during the pandemic. But I can’t wait for it to be over because there is so much more that we want There will be at least four key moments each year where we can increase the impact around their artists, so they should come and talk to us.
Is there room for another regular music show on TV, or are one-off specials the way to go?
“We have a show coming back, Later…, but it can’t do it all and it was never meant to do that. So it’s a combination of Later…, Glastonbury, documentaries, Saturday night compilations around the catalog and key anniversaries, BBC Four. But also, most of the things that we create on the radio, we visualize them. We recognize [people] want more choice, but also more control. My ambition is that when you enter iPlayer there will be more music there for it to dominate and for us to crowd out other genres. And if I had the choice, yes, I would have another regular program, but it would probably be around new and emerging music. There have been titles on BBC Three that have done well, such as The Rap Game UK and Tonight With Target, which are collaborations with 1Xtra. So, there are cuter ways to do that than going, ‘Can I have another regular program that’s just a different version of Later…?’ Later… is unique, we just need other things to complete it.
TikTok’s influence continues to grow; is it a threat to the radio, or can you coexist?
“It’s a question of coexistence. It’s kind of like when streaming came along and everyone was like, ‘Woah, you don’t need music radio, it’s all gonna die. And what has actually happened is that audio consumption has increased, they just don’t call it radio. You have a group of young people who didn’t grow up with radio, but they love audio. And that’s why BBC Sounds is hugely important, because we know they’re going to take a phone with them.
How do you see your rivals in commercial radio?
“Sometimes it’s painted as ‘us and them’, but we all know each other and it’s not so obvious. As someone who comes from commercial radio, I know how it works. You can start at the BBC, but you end up in commercial radio. There’s a lot of movement, and quite a few people from Radio 1, for example, are now doing great things in commercial radio. What commercial radio has done brilliantly, this what I don’t want to do is expand around their main titles If you think that if you go from 2015 there would have been 14 national commercial radio stations and now that’s some thing like 44, the expansion is amazing. I’m extremely impressed with what commercial radio has done in terms of brand extensions for decades. But we’re not going to do that, it’s not working for us. I don’t wanna be like Netflix on tv and i don’t wanna be like radio co commercial, on the radio.
Subscribers can read the full interview in the latest issue of Music Week.