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10 Questions for Internet Broadcaster Jamal Edwards | reviews, news & interviews

10 Questions for Internet Broadcaster Jamal Edwards

10 Questions for Internet Broadcaster Jamal Edwards

A word to the wise with the SBTV supremo and pioneer of 21st century music television

Jamal Edwards demonstrating branding expertise

In six and a half years of existence, SBTV has redefined what youth culture broadcasting can be. It began as nothing more than a YouTube channel where Jamal Edwards would put up videos he had filmed of his favourite grime MCs – but his natural ambition and charm ensured it kept expanding from that base.

Covering sounds that were just starting to form the basis of a new British pop music, Edwards not only built an admirable contact book, but demonstrated an understanding of branding which turned SBTV into the viewing destination for “urban” music fans – more so than any terrestrial or cable channel could manage – and put him on the radar of Simon Cowell, Richard Branson and even political leaders, as well as getting over 100,000,000 views of the site to date.

Everyone watching something at the same time gives them something extra

SBTV has expanded to include acoustic performances by pop artists like Jessie J and Pixie Lott, and in particular has been instrumental in the rise to mega success of Ed Sheeran – but it remains dedicated to the presentation of live grime and rap at heart. Its new season of more tightly scheduled shows, which feature performances with pyrotechnics and string quartets as well as copious rhymes from grime's heartland rappers, continue to show that breadth, while amply demonstrating that Edwards's ambition is still as fierce as ever and that he is intent on taking the music to yet bigger audiences.

JOE MUGGS: Clearly the important thing for you at the moment is this new season which has just started – what prompted this?

JAMAL EDWARDS: Well, I looked at the internet, I looked at how I was doing it and how everyone else was doing it, and the pattern was: you'd upload videos sporadically, so it might be one up now at lunchtime, then tomorrow some totally different time of day. But I remember back in the day when I was at school I'd always rush home to watch whatever programme it was we were into then. Top of the Pops or something, I really did not want to miss it. And even though we didn't have Twitter or Facebook, I might still phone my friends if something happened, knowing that we'd be watching it at the same time. So I just wanted to get into the system where – now that we do have Twitter and Facebook – if I release a video at three o'clock, loads of people are gonna be watching it at three o'clock, so they can join in the conversation.

Max MilnerIt's like Eastenders, I remember the last two Christmas episodes, everyone was saying it was the best time for watching and tweeting it, loads of people I know said how they picked up loads of extra followers because they were tweeting so-and-so about it. And that's something I miss if I'm watching Eastenders late, I can't tweet about it because nobody will get what I'm on about or they'll have already have seen it. There's still that point of collaborative watching, there's a term that TV people use that I can't remember, but basically everyone watching something at the same time gives them something extra, so that's what prompted me. Also, people like organisation in their lives, I like organisation – if I know a video I'm interested in is coming out at a certain time, I'll arrange my time around it, which you can't do if the things you're into are uploaded here, there and everywhere.

What's the connecting thread between the new series you've started in this season?

One thing that I've done for these series is upped the quality of production and added a different sound that'll make them stand out. So for the Strings one, I managed to get a quartet and make some music that hasn't been made before and put our own edge on it, that's very different from the acoustic sessions or anything else I've done in the past. It commercialises the sound, because I could get my gran to listen to it because she likes quartets or whatnot – it's still got an MC on it, but it opens it to... [pause] other walks of life. We'll do a grime tune, and get the quartet and piano player on it, and it sounds totally different and it opens it up to a whole other market. I've already had people come up to me in the street and say, “Yes, we loved that first episode, can't wait to hear some more” - so that's a different kind of view that I've taken on it. The other thing I've done is getting Max Milner (pictured above right), the singer who was on The Voice, and this up and coming beatboxer Reeps One, and letting them mash up songs in their own way. Max mashes loads of tunes into one, and Reeps One gets guest artists in and creates new versions of their songs.

SBTV has been a bridge between urban music and the mainstream at times when other media didn't seem able to get over that gap – but do you think things are changing in that respect?

Wretch 32I dunno. I see it as: when Tinie and Tinchy and Chipmunk and all these kind of artists get put into the mainstream, that is breaking down the doors to get through that gap. For example, back in the day when I used to try and do videos of really well-known artists, labels didn't necessarily like their artist being on something that was predominantly a grime channel. I had to keep on attacking that, keep on hassling, keep on saying things to people at events, keep on it to break down those barriers – and those barriers are broken down now. When I went to interview John Legend a couple of weeks ago, I saw [people from] loads of platforms that are kind of similar to me, lesser known maybe, but still getting interview time, so those doors are broken down now. They were very hard doors to break down though, no one was listening, I was emailing everyone – I went through a stage of emailing every singer under the sun, every PR, every manager, trying to get time with them.

But I think now that every time an artist comes through who's from the grime scene, from an urban background or whatever, it breaks open the doors a little more. What's changed now is that all the top PR companies, whether that be Lucid or Purple or whoever, they'll have someone on their books that we know – so when I go and do an A64, an acoustic session, with Wretch 32 (pictured above), he's looked after by Purple PR, and the same lady looks after Jessie J and Sam Smith and all these other kind of names, so the names are mixing together. Before I would be emailing the PR saying I want this person or this person, but now they are telling me, “We've got this artist and this artist...”, and to me that's a good progression, to see people from that scene mixing around with other names and understanding the culture as well. Plus the artists like the Jessie Js will like the Tinies, the Chipmunks, the Wretches – they'll actually be friends, and that helps a lot too.

What about the gap between specialist music broadcasting and mainstream TV? I met the head of a BBC channel recently and he flatly said “we don't do music” because they can't get the numbers they need. Is the future inevitably on the web?

I guess the right idea just hasn't come to that channel... I guess. I have ideas for a music show that hopefully one day can possibly get put on air. There's some new slots in T4 [on Channel 4] where they're trying out some music ideas to see which is the best show. Loads of production companies were trying to pitch for that, there was a real buzz on that. And I do think there's still room for a major music show on mainstream TV, I do.

Ed Miliband and Jamal EdwardsSo is that a door you're going to keep pushing at too?

Yeah. But it's different. If I have a good music format, I can't take that directly to TV – I mean I'd have to co-pro with a production company and they'd take it to TV, cos then they trust where they're coming from. One day hopefully... this year, in fact, I'm looking at working with a few production companies, I've got a few ideas that with their infrastructure and connectivity we can partner up and make something. The thing that you have to work your way around is that people don't have to wait for music now, they can go on YouTube and find whatever kind of music they want, and that means you've got to produce something special.

Do you see what you do as essentially entertainment, or is there more to your mission?

It is music entertainment yes. But there's definitely a self-belief inspiration thing to it, where I've taken it from the streets to a point where I can travel all around the world – and a lot of people have grown on my story and know the story enough to be aspiring to do their own thing or at the very least to stop and think about what they can do. And I do feel I've got that certain responsibility because I've got a large youth audience and the videos I do go direct to them, and sometimes I think that like when I've interviewed David Cameron and Ed Miliband (interview pictured above right), it's helped me to understand about voting and what the point of it is, because up until recently I didn't really know anything about it. So knowing I can promote music, it makes me realise that I can also promote ideas, and that's why I've got involved with Virgin Music Pioneers and the Spirit of London Awards and whatnot.

And do you think the music you play has a political or socially important side to it too?

One hundred percent. I think it's the most strongest, most powerful thing that anyone can get involved in. If someone makes a track about voting or a political issue, and some kid listens to it and that's their favourite artist, that kid will take it in 100 times more than if it was a teacher or anyone else who's telling you what to do. And on a basic level music is a way to vent people's thoughts in a creative way. It's like youth club, we used to just go there to get off the streets, we'd mess about a lot but it was still something that was ours and we were off the streets.

Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed, or even jaded, by the sheer amount of music available?

Nah. Because there's always something new that excites me. There's always new music to get into, always people out there creating a new kind of stuff. I get emailed so many things ever day, and there'll always be something good in it. I listen to a lot of different stuff too, I feature people like Morning Parade, OK Go, Funeral Party – just good music – indie rock, soul, pop, anything with talent.

Any new names you want to mention that are floating your boat right now?

CeezlinThere's a girl called Anna Ottridge, she's sick, Kyan who's a singer, and Ceezlin (pictured left) who's an MC from Brighton. Really strong artists.

Finally, the rise of SBTV has come in parallel with a wave of distinctively British music; can you characterise what makes British urban music culture what it is in the 2010s?

It's hard for me to say. If I go over to the US, I see people just listen to a load of rappers, I see them dominating – but if I'm over here I see such a diverse range of talent of all kinds, but maybe that's because I'm in the middle of it. But from the up-and-comers to the really well known people it's diverse. I definitely think that people collaborate in an easier way here, a really obvious example is Ed [Sheeran]'s EP where he's got Wretch, Ghetts and all them on it, P Money and people. That fusion I don't think you'd see anywhere else, but he's just a really big fan of grime and rap music, and that opened up a lot of audience to the artists he worked with and vice versa, their fans got to know about Ed at that point in time. And that's a really important thing to keep happening.

The artists like the Jessie Js will like the Tinies, the Chipmunks, the Wretches – they'll actually be friends, and that helps a lot too

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