BBC Radio 1’s Chris Price has stressed that the station has no expectations for emerging artists to “fit a certain sound” in order to gain the station’s support.
Our interview with Radio 1’s head of music comes as we exclusively reveal that Cat Burns and Venbee are the latest acts to be added to the station’s Brit List programme, which was set up by Price in 2017 to support emerging artists.
Stormzy, Anne-Marie and Sampha were among acts selected for the inaugural Brit List, while a raft of emerging names including Mahalia, Freya Ridings, Aitch, Young T & Bugsey, Celeste, Arlo Parks, Central Cee and PinkPantheress have also featured.
Welcoming singer/songwriter Cat Burns and Venbee's dance bangers, Price emphasised the importance of support from presenters across the station when it comes to winning a place on the list.
“Crucially, both Cat Burns and Venbee have had major buy-in from our presenters across specialist and daytime, which is essential to help us put the full weight of the station behind them,” he said.
Venbee starred as one of four acts in Music Week’s own new music special at the start of this year.
“I’m both honoured and excited to be part of Radio 1 Brit List,” said the Columbia-signed act. “I really appreciate the support that all the different shows across the network have given me right from my first release and it means a lot to be included.”
Cat Burns, who recently told the story of her hit Go in our Hitmakers feature, said: “I’m so excited to be chosen for BBC Radio 1’s Brit List! I’m super appreciative for the support, they’ve really championed me and my music so far.”
Go has 1,280,996 sales to date, according to the Official Charts Company, while Venbee’s biggest hit, Messy In Heaven featuring producer Goddard, has 683,360.
Here, we quiz Price (pictured above at last year's Music Week Awards) on the new additions to the Brit List and get the latest on the station’s role in boosting new music in the UK.
What makes now the right time for Cat Burns and Venbee to be added to the Brit List?
“Cat obviously had a great 2022 with the success of Go, and subsequently landed at No.4 on BBC Radio 1’s Sound Of 2023. She turned a lot of heads at our Sound Of Live event at Maida Vale, proving that she’s way more than just one song. We’re super excited about what’s to come from her. Venbee has had a No.3 single with Messy In Heaven, and when we heard what’s coming down the line from her we were similarly impressed.”
Radio 1 is supporting artists across the genre spectrum
How 'radio-friendly' are Cat and Venbee? Do you think there's pressure on new acts to make music with mainstream radio in mind? Or will you support anything that your team like?
“I really hope that new artists don’t feel pressure in that way. There’s certainly no expectation from Radio 1 to fit a certain sound. We playlisted 323 different tracks from more than 200 artists across dozens of different genres last year – more than any other comparable station – so there’s room for exceptional music wherever it comes from, and whatever form it takes. We’re here to help elevate and support the artist’s creativity, not shape it.”
Cat Burns recently told Music Week she wants to inspire the next generation of young Black women to make the music they want to. How important is it that the wider industry supports such a strong message?
“It’s vital, and while I think we can always do better, I also feel that some progress is being made. It’s not that long ago that a solo female artist of colour might have been pigeonholed by descriptors like ‘soul’, but I’ve seen no evidence of that with Cat, who is a singer-songwriter of tremendous quality, plain and simple. Radio 1 is playing a part in that conversation by supporting artists across the genre spectrum, whether that’s Nova Twins making heavy rock, or Nia Archives making D&B. If it’s great, we’re agnostic about who’s making it.”
Both Cat and Venbee are Sony acts, does where acts are signed affect the decision process for Brit List? What would you say to other labels wondering why two acts from the same major are going on at the same time?
“We never think about which label an artist is signed to, or even if they have a label to be honest – other than to check ourselves on whether we’re supporting the independent artist and label community. We’re just looking for exceptional, emerging artists at the right inflection point in their career to be able to capitalise on a massive vote of confidence from Radio 1. We’ve added about 40 artists to Brit List since 2017, and looking at the label split over that time it’s broadly in line with the market.”
Finally, how can emerging artists and their managers who want Radio 1's support put themselves in the best place to get it?
“Start by building relationships with our DJs – whoever is most appropriate to your genre of music and your career stage. We work hard to build platforms and schedules that open doors directly to presenters who can help elevate you, from Introducing all the way up to daytime Radio 1. If you’re a brand new act honing your craft at venues in your hometown, upload to Introducing and seek out your local show. If you’re further along, making a name for yourself regionally in say, UK rap, seek out DJ Target or Kenny Allstar. All those roads build – for the most exciting new acts – towards our playlists and the Brit List.”