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Blighty Beat

Merck Mercuriadis has splashed out again with his Hipgnosis Songs Fund acquiring the catalog of British hitmakers, TMS. The deal includes 10 Top 5 U.K. singles and five #1s performed by the likes of Jess GlynneLittle MixEmeli Sandé and Paloma Faith.

Hipgnosis has acquired a 100% interest in 121 songs, except for the writers’ share of performance income. TMS is the songwriter and production trio of Thomas “Froe” BarnesBenjamin Kohn and Peter “Merf” Keller

 “Having watched what Merck, Nile [Rodgers] and Hipgnosis have been building, we’re extremely impressed by all they’ve achieved in a very short space of time,” TMS said. “The catalogs already acquired speak volumes about their ambition and it’s nice to know that our songs will be sitting in some very esteemed company.”

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Drake and Dua Lipa are the most streamed artists in the U.K. in 2018 to date, according to Spotify, while Ed Sheeran is the top British act globally. Over at Apple Music, The Greatest Showman is the best-selling album. At both services, Universal and Warner rule.

The streaming companies have issued best sellers lists in the U.K. for 2018, which naturally crossover. However, while The Greatest Showman (Atlantic) rules Apple Music’s album chart, it doesn’t appear in Spotify’s Top 5.

In Spotify’s top 5 most streamed artists, tracks and albums for the U.K., Universal and Warner have eight entries apiece and Sony has four. In Apple’s list of best-selling albums, there are five British entries, and three in songs.

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The 1975 are heading for their third Official Albums #1 with A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (Dirty Hit/Polydor) leading the midweek race with 18k combined sales. Over on singles, Ariana Grande is holding on at #1 for a fifth week.

Behind The 1975, the second highest new albums entry is Katherine Jenkins with Guiding Light (Decca) starting out at #9.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra new recordings with Buddy Holly’s vocals, True Love Ways (Decca), rises six places to #6, while Michael Buble’s Christmas (Reprise) is currently up five to #11.

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Co-President, International Marketing, UMUK

Nickie Owen, who was promoted to Co-President of International Marketing at Universal Music U.K. in February, started her career in artist management. She then spent seven years in international at EMI, where she worked on global campaigns for Laura Marling, Robbie Williams, Bryan Ferry, Blur, Babyshambles and The Kooks. Since joining Universal in 2014, Owen has played a key role in campaigns for Florence + the Machine, Mumford & Sons, Take That, Liam Payne and Sam Smith.

During her time in the business, the growth and global nature of streaming has had a huge impact on the industry at large. How has the transition changed the work Owen does in raising the profile of U.K. talent worldwide? “The speed in which we do it has changed. We are now setting up artists and campaigns internationally at the same time as the U.K. But we have to be mindful of the fact that, although the world is deemed more global than ever before, we still need to create strategies that allow a local connection to an artist, whether that’s with playlists, radio, press or live.”

According to Owen, a plus side of the global nature of streaming is increased opportunities for discovery. “It has allowed us opportunities for discovery that may not have been there before,” she points out, “with tracks being given exposure on playlists and local playlist editors discovering new music ahead of the consumer.” However, there’s also downside in the dominance of local repertoire. “The biggest playlists in the world are dominated by domestic repertoire, especially in non-Anglo markets,” she says. “Our challenge is to understand where these opportunities are and deliver on them.”

Is she hopeful for the future of British music on the global map? “British music always has been culturally important on the global stage, and its heritage influences so many artists across the world,” Owen asserts. “This will never change, and its influences will continue to touch new artists as catalogue dominates discovery across streaming platforms. The most exciting thing about British music right now to me still remains its diversity; you only need to look at the dynamic nature of the charts to see its real depth.”


VP Digital, 4th Floor Creative, Sony Music U.K.

When Jason Iley moved over from Roc Nation to take the helm of Sony Music U.K., he brought digital whiz Dorothy Hui with him as VP Digital Business. She has a wealth of experience in marketing, retail, direct-to-consumer and social media, and has worked on campaigns for a host of top artists including Jay Z, Rihanna, Shakira, Rita Ora, J. Cole, Tom Grennan and George Michael. Today, she’s VP Digital for Sony’s newly launched 4th Floor Creative, where she leads the teams responsible for driving digital and audience marketing strategy companywide.

Currently, her main focus is managing the impact of the industry’s shift to an attention-based economy. “We’re constantly evaluating and adapting our marketing strategies and how we work with our artists to respond to evolving consumer behaviours,” Hui explains. “Day-to-day, my team works with our labels to get the most from the digital platforms, to grow our owned properties and audiences so our artists can speak directly with their fans, and to leverage insights and analytics to drive our business forward. I ensure we connect the dots between platform developments, evolving audience habits, the content we produce and the strategic services we offer our labels and artists.”

According to Hui, the most exciting digital development happening right now is “the continued rise of voice activation,” adding, “It will transform our business and create new ways for fans to interact with our artists and repertoire. As natural language processing improves, the conversational interface will increasingly allow people more seamless and ubiquitous ways to find and integrate music into their day-to-day—at home, on their devices, in their cars.”

From a creative standpoint, she’s got her eye on augmented reality, which “allows artists and brands to offer new immersive experiences and entertaining ways for people to portray themselves on social media via products like Snapchat lenses and Instagram AR filters.” And while it’s still early days for virtual reality, the tech has “enormous potential for creating extraordinary experiences. Attention is the music industry’s new currency, and VR has the potential to create an environment for high-quality attention.”

Musically, a trend she sees having a big impact is cross-cultural collaboration, which will “continue to keep the U.K. market vibrant as part of the global stage,” says Hui. “On a tactical level, a catalyst can now come from any outlet, platform, playlist, or market and have the potential to create a global ripple effect. So it’s important the teams remain nimble and primed to take advantage of streaming spikes and to leverage analytics to build out the artist story.”


Head of Creative U.K., Kobalt

Respected A&R exec Alison Donald has recently returned to the independent world at Kobalt as Head of Creative, U.K., where she’s working with a host of exciting new and established acts. She joined the company in 2017 after spending six years as co-President of Columbia U.K., where, alongside Mark Terry, she had success with a number of breakout acts including George Ezra, Tom Odell, Rag’n’Bone Man and The Vaccines. That followed a stint in publishing at Warner/Chappell as Head of A&R, and roles at the Capitol Tower in L.A. and EMI Capitol back home in Blighty. Her career started at famed British labels Chrysalis and Stiff Records. In her current role, Donald leads A&R activities in London across AWAL, Kobalt Music Recordings and Kobalt Publishing, whilst driving business growth across all divisions.

On the publishing side, Donald and team have recently been setting up co-writing sessions for Atlantic developing act Mahalia and London singer/songwriter Delilah Montagu, who was recently featured on a David Guetta track. Artists and writers she’s excited to work on in 2019 include Sam Fender, Jade Bird, Idles, Slowthai, Gerry Cinnamon, The Howl & the Hum (who are also signed to AWAL) and Apre. Donald adds: “At AWAL, we are loving working with the iconic Neneh Cherry, whose album is just out, and finishing a Jordan Mackampa record for release next year. We just took delivery of a fantastic second Blaenavon record and continue working Rex Orange County, Little Simz, FKJ, Tom Misch and The Night Café.”

What does she find challenging about working in today’s music business? “The biggest challenge,” says Donald, “is getting the music heard in the first place, then having a compelling artist story so that people not only listen but actually care. It’s a very crowded and competitive marketplace and will only get busier as content/music consumption becomes more ubiquitous.”

However, while things change, much stays the same, and Donald says the key to cutting through the noise remains in “investing and developing world-class artists,” adding, “It takes patience and belief as well as hard work to continue to reach for the stars. At AWAL, we are at an advantage as we can be global from day one with our artists.”

According to Donald, the most exciting thing about British music and the industry right now is the potential that streaming brings. “There’s the potential to find all kinds of new talent of any genre from every corner of the globe, thanks to the digital platforms artists can use now and that we have access to as an A&R resource,” she points out. “And there’s the potential for all artists and us to make significant income as streaming grows, and hopefully as a business we can consistently break more U.K. artists worldwide. We Brits have always been excellent at navigating global trends and exploiting new opportunities. With everything changing, British artists will continue to take advantage of this.”


MD, Abbey Road

Digital-media expert Isabel Garvey, who joined the famed Abbey Road Studios as MD in 2014, has been responsible for implementing the largest investment in the space—backed by parent UMG—since it opened in 1931. That has seen the arrival of three new studio spaces, a retail store and digital production services, and the Abbey Road Institute, as well as Europe’s first music-technology incubator, Abbey Road Red.

Prior to joining Abbey Road, Garvey ran her own digital-media consultancy and previously spent five years as SVP Commercial Channels and Consumer Marketing at Warner Music. Before that she was VP Global Digital at 
EMI Music.

Those who’ve recorded music at Abbey Road this year include Nile Rodgers, The 1975, Noel Gallagher, George Ezra, Brockhampton, Jess Glynne, Lang Lang, and Sir Paul McCartney. Blockbuster film scores have been created at the space for Solo: A Star Wars Story, Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, the multi-award-winning The Shape of Water and the latest Fantastic Beasts film. “We’ve also been adding businesses to our music-tech incubator, Abbey Road Red, doing more research experiments with spatial audio and adding new remote studio services for the at-home music producer,” says Garvey. “Our aim is to stay innovative and relevant to music makers and artists today, so plenty more to come.”

From where she sits, what are the biggest challenges in today’s music business? “In my mind, the biggest challenge is learning to engage in growth again after years of disruption,” Garvey answers. “From our vantage point, in proximity to the creative process and technology, we see the next wave of technology coming, and it promises to enhance the creative process with exciting artist tools. We need to embrace this technology and help these businesses, and our artists, flourish.”

The most exciting thing about the music industry and its return to growth is the “renewed energy and investment in the creative 
process of young talent,” says Garvey. “I’m excited about the impact this will have on British music at home and abroad.”


Decca Records in the U.K. has expanded its team with the promotion of Tom Lewis to Vice President, A&R and Artist Strategy. In addition, Rachel Holmberg has joined from BBC as Head of A&R and Sam Mumford, formerly of Imagem, is now A&R Manager.

The new hires arrive after Decca’s recent success with Andrea Bocelli, Michael Ball & Alfie Boe and Royal Wedding cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason.

Lewis has worked at Universal for 15 years, first joining Universal Classics & Jazz as Label Manager for the jazz division after working at EMI. He was later promoted to Head of Consumer Marketing before moving into A&R as Head of A&R and then Senior Director of A&R and Artist Strategy.

When UCJ and Decca merged in 2009, Lewis established an A&R team that oversaw the signings of The Lumineers, Aurora, The Shires, Jeff Goldblum, Seal and the million-selling Michael Ball & Alfie Boe.

…Read more