As one of our newer influencers, we wanted to get to know radio all-rounder Alex Rogers, who feeds a passion for new music into his roles at BBC Introducing Kent, Roundhouse Radio and BBC Radio 1. He’s been an active part of the HumanHuman community for just three months, but he’s already used the music discovery platform to find some of the most promising new artists for radio play.
We caught up on the last day of The Great Escape under to bright lights of Komedia’s impressive entrance to talk about how radio is changing, why he loves HumanHuman so much and the key piece of advice he has for anyone thinking of entering the music industry.
For the HumanHuman community, tell me who are you and what do you do?
I'm Alex Rogers and I work in radio: I do social media for BBC Introducing in Kent, every Saturday with Abbie McCarthy and Harrison Stock. I also present on Roundhouse Radio and work at BBC Radio 1. For Radio 1, I work predominantly on the weekend shows, so Alice Levine, Dev, Matt Edmondson, Danny Howard. A few of the evening shows as well, like Friction and a little bit of Phil Taggart. I also do stuff for Annie Mac as well, so on Wednesday we did New Names, which was Weirdo! From my point of view, HumanHuman has been so big in Weirdo’s rise to Radio 1.
Yeah, because I spotted him on HumanHuman and thought “this is really good!” The tip from Going Solo for Weirdo on HumanHuman was why he got played on Radio 1. To see “Armanio” being played on New Names was really cool. I thought I would tell you that!
“The tip from Going Solo for Weirdo on HumanHuman was why he got played on Radio 1.”
That’s amazing! You certainly have a lot going on, but what was your very first job in music?
My very first job was… does student radio count?!
[laughs] Yeah, it counts!
Well, I live in a really tiny place outside London, so when I moved to university, I was really keen to get into music and go to lots of gigs, because I’d been listening to radio and looking at blogs. My first job would technically be as a radio producer and Head of Music at the student radio in Southampton. Let me think of some highlights… oh, interviewed Pixie Lott, which was well weird! I also interviewed Lucy Rose, she’s really cool. Student radio is a really nice way to enter the industry and you get to find so much new music, because university students listen to much more of a variety of music. Southampton was also really good for having Bestival nearby on the Isle of Wight, and I cannot express how grateful I was for having a festival where I could be home in my own bed and with my own shower.
This is me with Dot to Dot in Manchester!
Oh, it’s so good!
You’ve been in radio for a whole then, so what do you think is the most significant change to radio in recent years?
I was actually thinking about this on the way over, that in the last few months to a year the music industry seems to have so got much better at making good music and putting it out there. It seems like we’re in a time now where years of work trying to make the music industry more appealing is now coming to the surface. There’s loads of developments, like streaming. It’s really kept everyone on their toes. Apple Music is competing with Spotify, and that’s keeping iTunes on its toes. Radio 1 is just getting stronger and stronger, because it’s really working on schedule changes and playlists at the moment, but really, that’s thematic rather than wanting a change. Since last year we’ve seen all these digital platforms get so much better and the listening experience has gotten better too. Radio 1 also does album listening parties, which are really cool. The Radiohead one was good and the Beyoncé’s Lemonade one with Sam Wolfson from Noisey was really, really good.
“It seems like we’re in a time now where years of work trying to make the music industry more appealing is now coming to the surface.”
That’s the first time I’m hearing of these parties, but that’s really cool!
Yeah, but the reason I’m saying that this is my favourite change is because I just love the fact that a couple of weeks ago we had all these albums dropping! It just feels like the industry has been revitalized. We had all these deservedly big releases - Radiohead, James Blake, Drake, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Kanye.
Speaking of revitalization, there’s recently been a huge influx of internet radio stations, what do you think about the music industry’s move to the online world?
I guess online radio has always been around, it’s always done great stuff, it’s just never had a big audience. It almost goes hand-in-hand with the rise of podcasts. It’s cool because they offer different stuff and it’s nice being able to listen to someone talking on the internet from their bedroom in Spain for example. You can always discover new music that way.
And a station like Radio 1 has made strides into the online world, is that to make everything more available and to compete?
Yeah, I guess the move to the Internet was always going to happen. There’s always been an evolution with format, so cassettes were taken over by CDs and they were taken over by MP3s. I personally think that it’s okay as long as radio stations are chill about it and recognise that the days are gone when people used to tune in to hear individual songs. When I was nine, I used to tune in to Chris Moyles and try to rip Jamiroquai songs from the radio - no idea why! [laughs] That doesn’t happen anymore. There’s nothing really dangerous about the move, and radio is still getting the interviews, the personalities, the passion, the curation that comes from experts. Then on the other side, there’s nothing more irritating than not being able to get a track if you really want to, so it’s a nice balance now. I know lots of people who like exclusivity on air, but for me, if you hear Annie Mac on Radio 1 play a song, then you can go buy it and stream it, but you’ll come back to radio when you’re bored of that song. Radio drives people to go and find songs elsewhere, but they come back for more. The Head of Music at Radio 1, Chris Price, did a presentation (Listomania: Justin Bieber and the Self-Perpetuating Upward Spiral) recently on streams vs. radio and he had a nice analogy with some graphics of Justin Bieber and one of his songs showing that when it went on Spotify on the first day it got 100,000 streams, then on the second day it’s on radio and that creates ten million impacts. It bubbles up and up on radio, but the streams only go up to two to five thousand, so he called it “mountains versus streams” and the two go hand-in-hand.
That’s really interesting to hear that radio and digital platforms are working together now. Of course, HumanHuman is an online community, so when did you first hear about it?
I’d seen it pop up quite a lot with artists, and suddenly towards the end of last year it was coming up all the time! There were all these people getting involved and finding these bands that were really good. This comes back to what I was saying about radio, when you hear something that you really like, you try to find something else about the artist - where are they playing? who they are? what are they doing? and HumanHuman was there. The first article I read ‘Women in the Music Industry’ really drew me in and I signed up straight away! Then I looked through the top ten Promising Artist when I was on a music binge and it was like Lupa J, IDER, Weirdo. Then I did some digging and found people that I was really new to, like Elle Watson was huge on HumanHuman even though she only had one song out. I saw that and was like “hang on, this is a really cool site to be on!” I even have notifications set for when you tweet, so I can see when something is Promising.
You’re obviously getting really excited about these small bands and artists, so are there any artists that you wished you had been the first to discover on HumanHuman?
I saw Tom Misch yesterday, did you?
Yeah, he was so good!
He was bringing everyone out last night, like here’s Carmody, here’s Loyle Carner, here’s my sister!
Yeah! I always like to think of music in terms of little ecospheres where one person comes through and brings others with them. For example, Bombay Bicycle Club brought through Lucy Rose, Rae Morris, Liz Lawrence, Toothless, whatever Jack Steadman is doing, The Half Earth, Cash + David. Then there’s the Tom Misch ecosphere coming through. In the last few months, Bayonne’s “Spectrolite” and the new D.D Dumbo song have been the two biggest songs in my brain, so to discoverer one of those two would have been cool. Hopefully, both of those artists will go really far, because those songs are really emotive and fire off the joy chemicals!
I was about to ask you why people love discovering new talents so much, but maybe it is the joy chemicals?
I think that one half of it is that you want to show off to your mates, but the other half is that there is something interesting in joining the journey of artists. It’s just really cool finding someone when they’ve only got one song and watching them grow with EPs and albums until they’re at a stage where they’re really, really big. That’s why new music is great, because you can watch Ed Sheeran play Wembley, but everyone knows that it would have been cooler to watch him play in Norwich or wherever. For example, I’ve seen Lucy Rose play festival stages and big gigs, but I saw her play The Bandstand at Bestival one week after “Middle of the Bed” came out, and that was really special.
Oh, wow! You’ve mentioned festivals already and clearly we’re at The Great Escape, but do you think that festivals still have the prominence in the music industry that they used to have?
It’s a tricky one, because I think I’m not in the best position to answer that because I’m not the people booking the festivals. However, I think that on the journey that artists take they’re always looking for names to attribute themselves to, so they’ll go on tour with a bigger band for example. I think festivals are great for artists, especially if they can get on the bigger ones. The BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury is quite cool for getting artists that would never have dreamed that they’d be able to play there. It depends what type of festival it is, because there might be people going with their mates to watch one person and get drunk or people who say “why would I go to Glastonbury when I could watch it on TV?” or “why would I got see The Killers at Bestival when I can watch them on YouTube?” That goes against everything we said earlier about streaming! I think festivals are great, but we have to encourage more people to go to them.
Is there a festival that’s always on your calendar?
Ever since I crossed the threshold between going to places like Reading Festival and going to festivals to scout stuff out, the big ones have been The Great Escape, LeeFest and Bestival. I know I mentioned that one quite a lot, but I’ve managed to convince myself that it’s a really good festival, you get really nice vibes and the last sunny weekend of the year. There’s also a costume day on the Saturday, and one year it was band themed and some people went as Noah and the Whale. There was ten of them inside this cardboard whale with water guns firing out and some guy dressed as Noah! Friendly Fire were also DJing the Wagamama stage, which was like a pop-up restaurant so people were sat around tables eating noodles and listening to a Friendly Fires DJ set. I think experiences like that are what make festivals so great. The festivals that stand out for me are the ones that have these weird things on the side, because you can’t keep throwing money at headliners.
Well, since we’re at The Great Escape, I have to ask do you have a must-see act?
Formation were great yesterday actually! I really want to see Estrons, Day Wave and Ekkah, they’re like my guilty pleasure because they’re so poppy and disco-y. Fenne Lily, Tusks, Amber Arcades and Skies were all great. I was at a Spotlight Show on Thursday for Oh Wonder, Mura Masa and Shura where I heard Shura’s album, which was really good. If I had to choose a highlight though, that would be Formation! Although I think the industry highlight for this festival would be Nimmo, the whole of Komedia were talking about Nimmo and Years and Years in the same sentence.
Awesome! So, I have one last question for you and it’s a return to radio, for anyone who is considering getting into radio, what piece of advice would you have for them?
The key piece of advice I’d give to anyone across the radio and music industry is that the difference between you and your heroes is so insignificant. If you’re in a band and you’re watching Temper Trap, for example, the difference between you and them is so small but looks massive. If you put the hard work in, you could be in the same place as them. In terms of radio, the difference between a friend being on a student station and Annie Mac is just hard work! We keep talking about the digital age that we live in, and it’s really easy to make your own podcasts or to try out student radio, community radio, hospital radio. For example, Greg James and Scott Mills both got their first break with hospital radio. The whole of radio and writing is just about communicating ideas and passion, and there’s nothing to stop you from starting your own blog or podcasts. If you’re the person in your school that talks about music and tips it to other people, then the difference between what you’re doing and what Annie Mac is doing on Radio 1 isn’t all that much. When you boil it down to basics - you’re out there, you’re passionate about music, you’re finding stuff and you’re reporting back to your mates, the difference is that Annie Mac’s mates are ten million people and yours might be four people. If you keep at it and it’s what you really want then you’ll get there. Yeah, it’s difficult, but if it was really easy then you probably wouldn’t want to do it.
“The key piece of advice I’d give to anyone across the radio and music industry is that the difference between you and your heroes is so insignificant.”