Digital radio station PlayIrish looks to create a community for Irish music 4 months ago

Digital radio station PlayIrish looks to create a community for Irish music

"This is the music industry getting its shit together."

The quest for Irish artists to win the still very-much-coveted spotlight of radio is both ongoing and tricky.

A mix of good marketing, having the right contacts, impressing a small group of influential people with a platform, and creating a legitimate buzz via whatever means necessary offer potential pathways.

Having something genuinely strong to offer is of crucial importance, too.

Even then, many Irish artists find themselves left out in the cold, ultimately feeling snubbed for one reason or another.

There's likely no great conspiracy in place, more a case of a limited amount of tastemakers with specific tastes of their own and a certain identity to uphold for their respective terrain.

Then you have the idea of a set quota of Irish music that 'should' be played, a precarious arrangement that can breed resentment, apathy and selective, sometimes deliberately unhelpful, placement.

It's also worth pointing out that just because a piece of music is created in Ireland, it doesn't achieve an instantly designated mark of quality. We're a small island, but there's plenty of rough in which the diamonds manifest.

Generally speaking, the Irish music scene is shining brightly as the decade draws to a close.

The rise of hip-hop, R&B and rap in recent years has given the country a challenging new identity full of attitude, ability, and social commentary.

Guitar-fronted music and old school aesthetic bands, despite never actually perishing, are enjoying a defiant rebirth in the capital and beyond.

The pendulum swings across genres that often don't tell the full story, past individuals who determinedly eschew or are overlooked by the major label route while working day jobs to get by.

The idea of exclusively Irish-focused media isn't necessarily a new one - plenty of radio outlets have specialist programming to accommodate artists from home, while Eirewave, an online offering that emerged in 2018, concentrates entirely on the Emerald Isle.

Despite that, there exists the feeling of a gap in the market, as evidenced by the latest green-tinted player in the game.

Having officially launched at the end of March, PlayIrish aims to become an essential platform for Irish music, and a genuine community for all involved.

Available through the Irish Radioplayer app, the station favours curation over algorithm, employing industry figures with years of experience to champion the very best in new Irish tunes.

Their mission statement is peppered with words like "brave", "sexy", "rare", "unique" and "evolution". All quite big, bold, and ambitious, but let's ask a straightforward question:

Why should you or I care about it?

"We set PlayIrish up to provide a solution to a problem," says Sinéad Troy, PlayIrish co-founder and director of the Irish Association of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (IASCA).

Sinéad Troy PlayIrish

"I think you would be astounded at the sheer volume of Irish music out there that isn't getting to your ears. That's the reality.

"There's no particular entry point into Irish radio for Irish artists," Troy continues.

"You have JOE's Song of the Day and Nialler9 is great and NO ENCORE is great, but there's no actual BBC Music Introducing equivalent here. That's what is missing."

Troy notes that she's become something of an emissary between Irish acts and radio, regularly conversing on where and how to meet in the middle.

For now, PlayIrish marks a way forward. Is it fair to say, point blank, that domestic radio just hasn't been properly looking after its own?

"That's why we're doing this," nods Troy.

"You can put the blame on another industry, but the Irish music industry is very disjointed. We don't have a lot of managers, we don't have a lot of labels, and therefore we don't have a lot of experience.

"A band from Kerry contacting Tracy Clifford on 2FM to get their song played is really not the way it should work. If 2FM are overloaded with emails and there isn't a structured pipeline; is it radio's fault? Some of it is and some of it isn't.

"This is the music industry getting its shit together. Two or three people shouldn't be able to dictate what flourishes. This is the music industry taking the power back."

PlayIrish is currently in pilot stage, and thus teething issues are present.

Dipping in for a couple of hours during the week, I was met with the latest from Hozier, God Knows, Laoise, Dermot Kennedy, Fontaines D.C., Jafaris, and SOAK, as well as a vintage number from Snow Patrol.

There were other artists in the mix, though identifying and following up on them in the traditional sense can prove mildly irksome.

With no DJ in place, there's nobody to tell you what you're listening to, while the interface could do a cleaner job of screening the information, particularly when your phone is in lock mode.

Having to check your device may be par for the course with Spotify and Apple Music, but conventional structures of radio, digital or otherwise, bring certain expectations.

PlayIrish has sharp, succinct idents with enthusiastic voices, but as of now and at least during my time tuning in, they merely shout out the service you've already engaged with. You imagine such setbacks will be sorted in time.

Back to those on it. Troy mentions the folk singer Daoirí Farrell, who has won prestigious genre-focused awards and racked up impressive streaming numbers, but "can't get arrested" in his home country.

"Part of that is Daoirí's fault, and part of that is radio's fault," she considers.

"We can only control our area, but this is music and radio finally sitting down at the same table going, 'Okay, we see what you're talking about - what are we going to do about it?'."

Describing a "bottleneck" of artists that are earning while creating jobs, Troy suggests that the onus is on everyone, listeners included, to help expand the musical map.

"The industry has to pull together and the artists have to tune in," she says.

"If the artists aren't going to, why should anybody else? If you're asking Today FM to consider your music for airplay, you want to know what the station is like, and what they play and don't play.

"It's about putting the work in. This is the time for the artist to put the work in and to tune in and listen and to support each other.

"It's a difficult thing for Irish people to do, except for Repeal and the marriage referendum," Troy muses.

"I hope that this will bring people together. It's about the music community standing up for itself."

PlayIrish is available via the Irish Radioplayer app, which can be downloaded from the Apple Store and Google Play.