With our music listening habits now largely dictated by the almighty algorithms of streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, there is the feeling on occasions that what is closer to home is all too easily missed. Compounded by additional factors such as the immediacy many modern listeners demand, directing attention to local music is becoming increasingly problematic. A problem actioned-on by Aucklander Caine Rotherham, the founder of New Zealand’s own local music streaming platform, B4 Radio. Ben Lynch talked with the Krakow, Poland-based apptrepreneur.
“I started working on the whole project about three years ago,” Caine Rotherham explains. “Basically, I found a problem personally which was that I couldn’t find local music in my area. I was living in Auckland and I followed the metal scene because I grew up in high school with a lot of metal bands.”
Part of the issue, as Caine quickly realised, was the difficulties lesser artists had in converting casual local interest into listeners.
“You walk through town and you see posters of these bands you’ve never heard of – unless you hear them on the radio because they’ve made it big time. I think it’s a real shame because you’re missing out on all this great music that’s all around you, but because there’s no particular medium to share the music you’re just never going to hear it.”
In fact, setting up an online music streaming platform wasn’t his first attempt to bridge the gap between potential fans and local artists. B4 Radio began life as an online directory called Bands for Bars. Intended to provide information on venues and acts in different areas, it was Caine’s first step to try and encourage locals to invest more time and money into their scene. It didn’t take long however for him to realise that simply having a repository online wasn’t enough, and the platform needed additional content for users that wanted to learn more about the acts listed. It was this that kickstarted the evolution from Bands for Bars into its current existence as B4 Radio.
“The way to solve this is to consider how we listen to music nowadays. For most people, it’s listening through radio, watching music videos on TV, or modern applications such as Spotify. So I took this and wanted to make something where it was no effort for people to listen to music, whether it’s rock music in Auckland or Wellington, or jazz music or whatever you wanted to listen to.”
Caine expands on the above later in our conversation.
“It will do more than just play the music of the band. In the future, I also want to go and interview bands and include other types of media, so when people are listening to B4 Radio they also have the option to read these other interviews or podcasts, creating more of a relationship between the artists and the fans.”
The present iteration of the platform allows acts to upload their own music, bio and links, and for users to then listen to music depending on their noted location and preferred styles. So far there are over 100 tracks on the platform, with acts from obvious hubs such as Wellington and Auckland, as well as more provincial locations.
“We get a lot of random signups from different locations. A lot of rural towns, which often have a local bar or an RSA and a lot of bands go to them, so it’s cool to be able to hear them.”
A software programmer by trade, Caine unsurprisingly came across few bumps along the road to B4 Radio. Regular business pitches have however provided useful feedback, informing each iteration of the platform and making the process as a whole without much in the way of difficulties. One of the more obvious questions relates to the rights musicians have when uploading their music onto B4 Radio, a fair concern for an audience wary of being ripped off by online streaming services.
“When people are putting up the content a few are asking about ownership and what I’m going to do with their music, which is fair enough. We don’t own anything that people upload, which is why we make sure in the agreement that people’s content is theirs, and we try to be very clear what we’re doing with it.”
Given some clear deficiencies to the major streaming apps and acknowledging Caine’s modest success so far with B4 Radio, the question still begs why exactly this new platform might be the answer to connecting people with their local music scene? Bandcamp, for example, allows users to search dependent on location and genre, and there are multiple other ways of refining results on the other key music streaming platforms. So what, specifically, makes B4 Radio different?
“Spotify is pretty great, but it lacks the whole regional and cultural aspect which B4 Radio is trying to cover. The royalties are minimal, so it isn’t a platform musicians go to make money. For discovery, there’s also Soundcloud, and I was going through looking for Auckland artists and Wellington artists, though the search isn’t that effective for finding them that way. Bandcamp is pretty good, but you still have to actively know who you’re looking for. When I was in Auckland I wanted to go to Auckland gigs and listen to Auckland bands and I never could, which is where B4 Radio would come in.”
Combining this regional focus with the appreciated need to deliver quality content on demand, the hope is that B4 Radio can become a convenient hub for both hungry music aficionados and casual listeners alike. More than just a radio platform, Caine’s aim is to build it into something fans can satisfy fans’ curiosity in one fell swoop, while pushing them to attend more shows and buy more records. At the heart of it all is a profound desire to help give acts the attention they deserve, something which has the potential to resonate with communities far from any Kiwi shores.
“We’re trying to get artists bigger in general and to do that we can’t contain them to B4 Radio. We’re trying to get them out there. Ideally, we’d love to be the place where people go to hear local music. Eventually, the rest of the world, though starting in New Zealand.”