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U.K. SPOTLIGHT: THE LEADERS OF THE BIG THREE

The U.K. music market may be comparatively small to its sister stateside, but what it lacks in size it makes up in prowess. Evidence of which has been proven by the three chieftains—UMG’s David Joseph, Sony Music’s Jason Iley and Warner’s Max Lousada—who have ascended in parallel since entering the music business in the ’90s and now boast a multitude of worldwide successes among them.

 


DAVID JOSEPH, UMG U.K.

Joseph has been loyal to UMG since joining the label in 1998 as GM of Polydor. In 2008, he was promoted to the top job. According to inside sources, Joseph is rational, long-sighted and extremely digital-aware (he’s been fighting for the U.K. industry to recognize streaming's ascent for years). It’s these key qualities that enable him to man the biggest ship of the lot. As a firm believer in the cumulative power of his labels fighting one another for success, Joseph bears similarities to his mentor, Lucian Grainge.

How is Universal U.K. maintaining its market dominance, and how do you balance the four strong personalities that head your labels in Ted, Darcus, Ferdy and Nick? When signing an act, do you sit down with the artist and management and discuss which of your labels would be the best fit?
I’d rather not use the “d” word; we just feel proud about what we’re part of, and we don’t ever want to let that slip away. If there’s an artist and music we believe in, we’ll stop at nothing to make sure we end up together. I’m also a total believer in distinct label culture—something Lucian has always felt very strongly about—and the relatively small teams who work as separate A&R powerhouses under the Universal Music banner. There would be something wrong if all the label presidents weren’t strong and different personalities. I’m also proud to add Jo Charrington to the lineup; she’s had the most exceptional start here with Nick at Capitol, and Rebecca Allen, who’s continued to make Decca the #1 classical-crossover label by a mile. 

Our team know each other inside out, and there’s a healthy balance of rivalry but respect. There’s autonomy, but when we need to work as one, we do. And ultimately, the signing process is totally organic. It all comes down to the team and label an artist feels most at home with. We try not to be getting into intercompany tussles over signatures—it occasionally happens because passions run high—but ultimately it’s the artist who makes the decision. That’s always my thought. 

What is the most important role you play at the company?
It’s hiring the right people and giving them what they need in order to do what they’re best at and grow within the company—also the confidence to back their judgment and giving them the credit when they do. Every creative executive needs a different type of support depending on their style and hopefully I’m OK at figuring that out. I’m proud of the number of our team who are now running their respective labels and divisions who started here in relatively junior positions. It’s a company where we don’t just pay lip service to career progression; it actually happens. 

The streaming model is rapidly changing the market landscape and making music more of a global business than ever before. How is this new reality impacting the way you approach major artist releases and the essential development of viable new acts?
I’m not sure it’s taken streaming to make us think globally. International breakthrough has been the benchmark for success for the whole time I’ve been in the industry. I’m not interested in an act who signs here who can only reach an audience in the U.K. Streaming helps this: the speed, accessibility and instant metrics of success are hugely appealing. I believe our music should be available on the same date in every country and streaming has made this possible.

Joseph with UMG ruler Lucian Grainge and HAIM


JASON ILEY, SONY MUSIC U.K.

Iley’s career came full-circle when he was named Chairman/CEO of Sony Music U.K. in April 2014; his first job in the music biz had been as a product manager for Sony in 1994. Doug Morris recruited Iley after a short stint as president of Jay Z’s Roc Nation Records, following 15 years at Universal, including a highly successful eight years as President of Mercury U.K., having also worked across Polydor and Island. A perfectionist, Iley simply wants the best of everything. “His premier skill is knowing exactly when and how to press the mega-marketing button during an act's career,” says our source. “He’s here to sell records; he stays out of the studio and doesn't meddle with A&R.” Interesting, then, that artists really like him—whether it’s Paloma Faith thanking him at the BRITs or U2 leaving Island to join Mercury when he was label boss. 

You’re now into your second year heading Sony Music U.K. Where are you in the process of reorganizing the company, and what else needs to get done structurally?
The company and our labels are focused on signing and developing domestic artists who can be successful globally. Columbia is a testament to this strategy, with recent successful albums from George Ezra, Calvin Harris, The Script and Mark Ronson, while RCA is breaking Bring Me the Horizon worldwide. Paloma Faith’s and Mark’s third albums have also both sold more than their previous albums.

A&R is at the core of our future. Over the past year, we have further developed our A&R base with bright new A&R executives and additional A&R resources. This investment will continue.

What is the most important role you play at the company?
I simply want to provide the teams with confidence. To believe in themselves. They know I have their backs.

The streaming model is rapidly changing the market landscape and making music more of a global business than ever before. How is this new reality impacting the way you approach major artist releases and the essential development of viable new acts?
There have been many technological changes in the music industry over the years, and we have always adapted. We need to continue to think differently, think smart and continue to be innovative. Streaming just creates more opportunities. The delivery method might be changing, but our vision remains the same: Sign the best talent and make the best records.  

Iley with Paloma Faith and Rita Ora


MAX LOUSADA, WARNER MUSIC U.K.

Lousada was promoted to Chairman/CEO of Warner in 2013 after running Atlantic Records for nearly a decade. Lousada favors quality over quantity; he doesn’t sign too much and maintains faith with artists over campaigns that exceed 12 months. As the smallest major, the Warner employs a “running our own race” ethos. Our insider tells us he’s a friend of the artists and is obsessed with signing “signature voices.” At Atlantic, this might occasionally have left him unwilling to chase acts he didn't consider standout, even if it meant missing out on a big seller. But those he backed—from Ed Sheeran to Paolo Nutini and Clean Bandit—speak for themselves. As a major-label boss, his A&R background and deep care for his artists puts him in the mold of Atlantic father Ahmet Ertegun.

Can you take us through the assimilation of Parlophone into Warner U.K., and explain how your company has changed since the acquisition?
Buying PLG was always about growing and strengthening the combined business; we didn’t want to just absorb Parlophone into Warner, we wanted to take the best of the two companies and build something new. 

For me, coming from an A&R background, the combination of the two incredible rosters was irresistible, like every great signing you’ve ever done happening on one day. Our immediate priority was to create the stability and momentum for each of the labels to thrive, and you can see that in our recent, big UK releases—both domestically and in terms of exports—which span the full label portfolio, including Coldplay, Iron Maiden and Pink Floyd, who all came from Parlophone; Muse and Royal Blood from Warner Bros.; and Ed Sheeran, Charli XCX and Jess Glynne via Atlantic. And that story is mirrored in catalog too.

The same goes for the internal talent. Blending Warner and PLG at every level has given us a stronger core, opened up important growth areas like sync and brand partnerships and lifted the performance of the company as a whole. As a result, we’ve been able to attract and re-sign the talent we’re most excited about across all our labels; culturally, it feels as though we’ve really carved out a point of difference in the market and, while it’s not the only measure we focus on, we’ve seen market share gains beyond the initial acquisition growth in both albums and singles. 

From the beginning, we set out to create a company that was greater than the sum of its parts, and so far, I feel we’ve succeeded.

What is the most important role you play at the company?
Our success is based on the same thing it always has been—exceptional artists and an exceptional team working together to create music and experiences fans care about enough to pay for. I see it as my role to create the right conditions for that to happen. That means making sure Warner is a place where talent can thrive and reach its full potential—whether that’s our artists or the people who work here. It means making sure we’re equipped to deliver creatively and commercially—that we have the relationships, the resources, the intelligence and the skills we need to succeed. And it means really promoting and creating space for innovation throughout the organization because, if we’re going to be able to keep fans engaged in such a complex and competitive landscape, we need to be as hungry as they are for new and better experiences.

The streaming model is rapidly changing the market landscape and making music more of a global business than ever before. How is this new reality impacting the way you approach major artist releases and the essential development of viable new acts?
What streaming has really changed is that it’s given us the ability to have a conversation with fans so that we can be more experimental, more responsive and more agile. Couple that with the shift to a global release date and the potential to create a consistent, global story combined with bespoke, nuanced local campaigns is unprecedented, especially when it comes to established artists. For newer acts, streaming is a vital discovery tool and again, allows us to take a more collaborative approach right from the beginning—identifying the hardcore fanbase, getting feedback from them and then building out from that.

 Lousada with Dan Chalmers, David Bither, Nicola Powell, Matthew Rankin and Robert Plant 

 

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