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DAVID JOSEPH: SHREWDLY TWEAKING THE HITMAKING MACHINE

David Joseph’s proudest moments at UMG U.K. over the last year involve the promotions of two top female executives—Rebecca Allen to President of Decca and Jo Charrington to co-President of Capitol. “They are both extraordinary executives who just happen to be the only two women at the top of labels in the U.K.,” he tells us.

Allen was honored as Business Woman of the Year at the Women in Music Awards earlier in November—during a week when Decca had two albums in the Top 5 with Ball & Boe at #1 and Gregory Porter at #3.

“Decca has its own lane. Pretty much any genre goes for Becky and her team, but the one thing that is predictable is that when they get behind a project, there would have to be a very good reason for it not to be a success,” says Joseph.

Charrington and co-President Nick Raphael have recently enjoyed a successful second album launch with star signing Sam Smith. While Joseph notes the duo might have the smallest team and roster of his British major by far, “That doesn’t stop them being real world-beaters. When they sign their next artist, we’re all going to have to sit up and take notice.”

Over at Island, the “passion and vision” of long-serving President Darcus Beese continues to sit the label at the cutting edge of music. In March, Island launched the first dedicated urban division at a U.K. major label with A&R Alex Boateng in the driver’s seat. Early successes have come from London rapper Giggs, whom Beese signed to a JV just days before his latest mixtape hit #2 on the Official Albums Chart.  The deal was secured thanks to a long-standing relationship with the artist’s managers, Michael “Buck” Maris and Trenton Harrison-Lewis, who hailed Beese for his progressive dealmaking skills when accepting the Pioneer Award at the Artist and Manager Awards in London earlier this month.

Another act set to launch out of Island’s urban division is “an intriguing character called Michael Dapaah, aka Big Shaq, who is already up to 38m global streams,” Joseph points out.

Elsewhere, Virgin EMI continues to hit the top of the marketshare leaderboard thanks to “all-round excellence” and Ted Cockle’s savvy with superstar releases. Highlights for the label in 2017 include awarding Taylor Swift her first U.K. #1 single with “Look What You Made Me Do,” and garnering two nods in the highbrow Mercury Music Prize nominees list with hip-hop talent Loyle Carner and indie pop band Blossoms.

 Over at Polydor, Presidents Tom March and Ben Mortimer have been in the job for just over a year and “are bringing great creativity and energy,” says Joseph. “I’m incredibly proud of what they are doing and confident they will make an even bigger mark in 2018 with signings like Stefflon Don and Mabel.”

As the music business continues to strengthen global ties, Joseph is looking closely at how streaming is developing in markets like China and Africa. With big U.S. acts dominating streaming playlists, is he concerned about how the British music industry can cut through the noise while maintaining its eclectic identity?

“We’ll do that by doing what we’ve always done—I feel strongly we should be creative leaders, not followers, however tempting it might be to be led by the deluge of data we all now have access to,” he explains.

“Hitmaking is elusive and unpredictable—no one asked for punk. It’s exciting that the democratization of streaming means global hits can come from anywhere in the world, but the U.K. is still a special place for music, a melting pot of cultures, and that’s going to continue producing the eclectic and unexpected.”

Another area that Joseph points to as holding opportunity is the visual A&R sector. Grammy-nominated exec Stefan Demetriou, who was this year tapped as MD of Globe Productions, will lead efforts in that area. He brings 20 years of experience working on visual output for artists including Ed Sheeran, Muse, Gorillaz, Blur, Robbie Williams and Coldplay.

“The synergy between the worlds of music and visuals is more important than ever before,” Joseph notes. “We’re investing and recruiting accordingly.”

Part of that investment will be within UMG’s new offices in the emerging creative hub of Kings Cross, which will boast an array of filmmaking and editing tech. The move away from the firm’s current Kensington base will take place in 2018.

Joseph points to new signings Dermot Kennedy and Grace Carter as ones to watch next year, plus the next steps for Stefflon Don, Sigrid, Mabel, Loyle Carner and Jessie Reyez.

“It’s always hard singling anyone out, but I’m excited to watch The 1975 evolve into what we all believe they can become, and how Giggs can translate his electricity internationally.”

From the classical part of the business is a young cellist called Sheku Kanneh-Mason who was named the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year in 2016.

Finally, does Joseph have any answers as to why British-born executives now hold global positions at all three major labels?

He answers pointedly, “I’m not about to categorize Lucian with anyone!”

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