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Blighty Beat

Tap Music has emerged as one of the key players in management and artist development over the last few years, thanks in large part to huge successes with three-time BRIT Award winner Dua Lipa and Lana Del Rey—who hit #1 in the U.K. and U.S. with her sixth studio album in September. Founders Ben Mawson and Ed Millett have added another superstar female to their roster with recent signing Ellie Goulding, while developing artist Dermot Kennedy is a top priority at UMG after hitting #1 with his debut in October. In addition, counterculture pop icon Neneh Cherry has recently joined the company, along with her manager, Robin Pasricha, from Giant Artist Management.

Dua Lipa is currently in the studio working on the follow-up to her debut on Warner Music, which has reached over 4m sales worldwide and, with Dua Lipa: Complete Edition, is the most-streamed album by a female artist, with 6b streams to date. Meanwhile, Polydor artist Goulding is gearing up for her fourth album. One of the reasons why Tap emerged victorious in the competitive battle to sign Goulding (who was previously repped by First Access), was Head of Marketing and Development Hannah Neaves, who has a strong relationship with Goulding after working on her first two albums at Polydor. Since joining the Tap roster, Millett tells us, Goulding’s monthly streaming numbers on Spotify have tripled.

Discussing the plan for her, he says: “Her last album came out in 2015, and a lot of that was written by, or co-written with, the Max Martin camp. Ellie is an amazing songwriter, and I think she felt slightly disillusioned at that point, so she sort of disappeared for a bit. When we started talking to her and she was looking for a new management situation because she wanted to restart things, for us there were two things that we needed to achieve for her. One is we needed to pump her streaming, and secondly, we needed to show that she’s relevant and still doing something that’s fresh and exciting. She’s had a history of doing collaborations so our first couple of big releases have been collaborations.” “Close to Me” with Diplo f/Swae Lee was her debut #1 at Top 40 radio in the U.S., and “Hate Me” with Juice WRLD was her second. Her fourth album is expected in Q1 2020.

From a business perspective, Tap, which encompasses management, records and publishing, is growing worldwide, with Millett recently relocated from the U.K. to a new, bigger L.A. office to help develop things stateside. There, they are on the search for “good independent entrepreneurial” managers looking for infrastructure to help develop talent. That’s where Wendy Ong joined as Head of U.S. Marketing from Roc Nation, and former AAM exec Chris Woo was hired as A&R at the end of last year.

Alongside U.S. artists Hailee Steinfeld, Annika Rose and Moby Rich, and Australian artist Eves Karydas, British developing artists on the Tap roster include singer/songwriters Grace Carter and Barny Fletcher and R&B singer Col3trane. It’s no secret that breaking new U.K. artists has been challenging over the past few years—does Millett have any changes he’d like to see that would make that easier? “U.K. radio is so out of step with how the rest of the world works, both in streaming and radio,” he answers. “From an artist-development perspective, it’s really hard, because you have to burn through so many singles to keep your momentum up at radio. Yet, one song will last you three to six months in streaming for it to develop, and for it to really percolate in the rest of the world, and you can’t go any faster than that, so it can take four years to build an artist’s campaign.”

He continues: “If you’re working on U.K. radio time, you’re ultimately releasing two albums worth of music, and they’ve all got to be radio songs. In what world do people write 10 or 15 hit radio songs when they’re still developing? So then what happens is, the U.K. zooms ahead of you, and the rest of the world hasn’t yet caught up, and you become a U.K.-only artist, irrespective of the style of music. The U.K. radio cycle has to change. If they programmed like the rest of the world does, that would make a big difference.”

For Mawson, the key to breaking artists globally is a country-by-country focus, and he points to opportunities in developing markets that help secure kudos in the U.K. and U.S. “We’re aware that Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia are huge streaming markets, for example, so they’re important territories because they can massively boost your numbers if you are doing well there. That’s also led to a lot of collaborations to assist you in particular territories. The detailed breakdown of stats we get from Spotify and Apple Music’s backend mean we can work out what we need to do and where the weak markets are.”

The ambition going into next year is to build on the strength of their U.S. operation and break the new acts signed to Tap Records. Along with Barny Fletcher and Annika Rose, those include British pop duo aboutagirl and French producer OkLou. “We´re focusing on a major expansion of the U.S. office so that it becomes more of an autonomous entity in itself for that market,” Millett explains. “The overall ambition for us is growth across everything—publishing, records and management.”