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Blighty Beat

Closer Artists is helmed by joint MDs Paul McDonald and Ryan Lofthouse, who have had huge success with male singer/songwriters including George Ezra and James Bay, both of whom have been busy this year, as well as James Morrison and John Newman.

After winning Best Male Solo Artist at the BRITs, and hitting #1 for the second time with Staying at Tamara’s, which has spent over 60 weeks in the Top 10, Columbia artist Ezra embarked on a 13-date sold-out U.K. arena tour (a first for the Closer team), which culminated with two shows at London’s O2 Arena, followed by 12 dates in Europe. A summer of headlining festivals was highlighted by a key performance at Glastonbury on the Pyramid Stage just before Stormzy, and Ezra is now going to take a well-earned rest while thinking about album number three.

Which is just in time for things to step up a gear for Bay, who toured with Ed Sheeran in Europe this year and is deep in the writing process for his third album, due out in 2020. Lofthouse is keeping mum about the details of the new music, apart from telling us that guitars are back following Bay’s second album—which spanned pop and R&B as well as rock—and to expect a less experimental, more arena-ready sound.

In January, manager Luke Williams joined the Closer fold, bringing with him Virgin EMI signing Calum Scott and Warner priority act JC Stewart—a brand-new solo male artist “who is fabulous,” says McDonald. “While he’s under the headline of ‘solo male,’ he’s got his own lane. There’s a more electronic and modern element to his records.” Lofthouse continues: “There’s a massive global ambition for him from everyone at Warner. He’s a priority act with Phil Christie over there, and he’s on Max Lousada’s radar. So it feels like he’s certainly going to get a shot and the weight of the company behind him.” Stewart has been on tour with Bay and Snow Patrol, and recently played a show with Anne-Marie. “We’re just trying to put him in as many versatile audiences as we possibly can, be-cause we think he’s making incredibly accessible music,” Lofthouse concludes. Scott and Stewart join young pop-leaning songwriter Etham (also Virgin EMI) on the Closer roster, and to confound expectations, the firm also reps three female artists: soulful singer/songwriter Lily Moore, who recently dropped a new track with Maverick Sabre, and two unsigned (for now) acts, “incredible songwriter” Holly Humberstone and “pure pop” artist Michaela.

 So if it’s not smashing it out of the park with male singer/songwriters, what’s Closer Artists’ USP? “That we develop things from the very beginning,” McDonald answers. “We found most of the artists that we’ve worked with when they were teenagers with very few or no songs of their own, and brought them to the point where they’re now all consummate writers and performers. We realize that these days you have to be incredibly patient, because it all takes a lot longer. You have to ready an artist so much more now before you can bring them through.”

“I think that we’re still a country that culturally pushes things forward.”—RYAN LOFTHOUSE

On the subject of artist development and any particular obstacles to that brought about by the British music market in 2019, McDonald points to the tricky balancing act of timing. “There’s a much bigger article to be written about the timing of when you actually launch an artist, versus the public nature of stats, versus a certain fear about getting a knock back from mainstream media if you don’t appear to have your ducks in a row,” he explains. “Because streaming stats are there for anybody to dial up, you have to prove a record now before you go anywhere near radio, and there’s an element of catch-22 about that. Some genres don’t break on the internet the moment they’re released. They need the support of traditional media because of the volume of traffic that the DSPs are dealing with every day.”

Lofthouse weighs in: “You do have a situation where your streaming story can be out of sync with your traditional media story, and I don’t quite know what the answer to that is. We’re playing a game with the hand that we’re dealt with at the moment, and that’s all we can do until the situation changes.”

Despite those challenges, Lofthouse remains encouraged by the stylistic range of music that is supported at media in the U.K. He says: “I think that we’re still a country that culturally pushes things forward. It’s really exciting that even though there are genre-led playlists that people can gravitate towards, you can still listen to Annie Mac of an evening, and hear a grime record next to a rock record, next to a dance record, next to a singer/songwriter record, and no one freaks out about it. Even on daytime BBC Radio 1, all those different genres of music fit together, and hopefully, it’s still about whether it’s a good song or not.”

Alongside Williams, the Closer Artists team grew earlier this year with the hiring of Nadia Shukri as Day to Day Manager, Amelia Scivier as GM and Josie Charlwood as Head of Digital, representing what McDonald describes as “gentle expansion.” As well as providing the company’s clients with more support and expertise in digital marketing, the hires were indicative of a philosophy that values fresh perspectives. “It’s important for Paul and I to bring people in that have fresh ideas,” Lofthouse explains. “We’ve both been guilty of getting really quite lost in the weeds on intense campaigns, and sometimes it’s just good to have people in the office who can see things from a different angle that you’re not seeing, especially with the landscape changing every five minutes in the industry. Paul and I are still learning things every day.”