Interview: NTS Radio’s Sean McAuliffe and Lizzy King on the Work In Progress Program

How the online radio platform can award six artists with equipment, mentors, showtime, and more each year

In London, NTS (which was founded in 2011) has grown from a digital radio station into a far-reaching, charitable organization with goals of ushering a new generation of artists from fledgling to internationally acclaimed. Alongside the shows—which broadcast live from Manchester, London and Los Angeles—and their Infinite Mixtapes (themed radio stations comprised of tracks from NTS resident and guest shows), they also actively work to promote music and programs by emerging talent. NTS believes musical talent is best fostered in individualized circumstances, wherein artists have access to premiere talent, tools and opportunities, but are free to create as they wish. Thus came their year-long Work In Progress program, which was founded in collaboration with Carhartt. The ongoing development program accepts applications from all over, but the list of winners is limited to six artists or bands each round.

The selected winners receive audio equipment from Audio Technica, Native Instruments, and Pioneer DJ, access to three different studios, paid performance opportunities, a guest NTS radio show, press photos, mentoring sessions from industry experts, support and promotion from NTS, and their fair share of Carhartt clothing. We spoke with Sean McAuliffe (co-CEO) and Lizzy King (director of funded programs) to discuss WIP’s intentions, what selected artists can expect to gain, and more.

When did the idea of NTS WIP first surface?

Sean McAuliffe : NTS is not only a global radio station, but it also serves as a platform for artists, helping them to promote their work and develop their craft. We have been helping young artists progress in their careers since NTS began in 2011. Lots of this work has been part funded by the Arts Council England, and about three years ago we suggested to the Arts Council that we should formalize our development program partnership with them—so WIP was born.

Was pitching it to Arts Council a longterm goal?

SM: The program is very much part of a longterm goal to continuously push emerging artists to the forefront of music media and beyond. We believe in longterm development, not firecracker crash-courses—hence the year-long bespoke program for each artist.

How did Carhartt get involved then?

SM: Carhartt Work In Progress is NTS’ longest standing partner, and they have a similar ideology of nurturing and developing young emerging artists, so it was a no brainer for us to bring them on board for the project.

What sort of talent do you see in the application inbox? Are all of the submissions newcomers or are some more established artists?

Lizzy King: The diversity of talent is one of the best things about NTS WIP. We get everyone come through; from artists with major label co-signs through to total newcomers who have only just downloaded Ableton or picked up a guitar.

What’s been most satisfying about running NTS WIP?

LK: With year one of WIP just wrapping up, we’re getting some really lovely moments happening. Seeing artists who we first met a year ago release projects that we’ve heard grow from little sketches to fully formed pieces is very satisfying. One of the most amazing moments was sitting in the Barbican main hall seeing AYA totally own the space when she opened for Holly Herndon in October. AYA’s always been destined for huge things, but we’re proud to have jump-started it. On a more holistic level, it’s really validating to see WIP artists grow in confidence; navigating the industry with a greater awareness of what’s out there and a strong sense of trust in themselves.

Who are some of the mentors that artists work with?

LK: Mentors are selected in collaboration with each of the artists, so watch this space for 2020 mentors. But in 2019, we were lucky enough to have Sega Bodega, Floating Points, Mount Kimbie and Beatrice Dillon on board to support our artists.

Are there specific types of artists you’re looking for? How do you decide who gets picked? Any advice you can share, since so many artists are wondering how they can stand out in such a crowded industry?

LK: We always get thousands of applications, so the selection process is intense. We have a selection panel of music lovers from the NTS and Carhartt teams who listen to each artist or band that applies, then we basically have a series of really big discussions about who we love and why. There are quite a few rounds of the selection process, but in the end, the ones who make the final cut have something extra special about them. There are no set criteria for selection—so it’s not like applicants can follow a formula and increase their chances of selection. The WIP selection process is naturally music-led, but it’s as much about potential as an artist’s current output. We also make sure that we’re covering as much ground as possible in terms of genre, geography and other important characteristics. It’s impossible to reflect the diversity of NTS in just six to eight artists, but we hope that in a few years, we’ll be able to look back on NTS WIP artists over the years and start to feel like we’re getting there.

What’s the goal for NTS WIP in the next few years then? 

LK: We’ve got funding from Arts Council England until 2022, and alongside the invaluable support of Carhartt and our audio partners, we’re going to be able to keep awarding spaces on NTS WIP to a handful of artists each year. We’d love to broaden the program—with smaller support programs for really green talent, more events and, if we had more resources, we could support more artists each year.

What’s the best possible outcome for NTS WIP alumni?

LK: It depends which artists you ask. For some, it would be headlining a festival, whilst others have dreams of scoring a Palme d’Or winning film. We want each WIP artist to leave the program with a stronger sense of themselves as artists, a more developed set of technical skills to allow them to push their music making to the next level, and a bigger support network around them to help them keep growing.

The next class of NTS WIP artists will be announced in January 2020.

Images courtesy of NTS