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U.K. SPOTLIGHT: THE MAJOR-LABEL CHIEFS

U.K. acts have a bigger share of the global audience than they’ve had in some time. What do you think is behind this growth in the reach and appeal of domestic music?
Nick Raphael: Three factors: Our incredibly diverse and proactive radio in the U.K.—led by the BBC’s continual commitment to new music, particularly Radio 1—as a result, the commercial radio networks also add and support new artists earlier, from Global to Bauer. The lack of research-based A&R in the U.K.—which in my opinion only helps you find one-off hits, but rarely finds you artists. And over the last 10 years the incredible run of successful British artists have had—starting with Amy through Coldplay, Mumford and to cap all off, Adele, who sells 30m+ records on one album!—has focused all eyes on the U.K.

Alison Donald: The U.K. has always produced world-class artists, from The Beatles to Adele. We are going through a golden age, particularly in regards to male singer/songwriters; they make terrific album artists. Due to the cultural diversity, wealth of creativity (both historically and currently), the U.K. will always continue to export important and genre-defying talent.

Joe Gossa, Black Butter Co-President: Aside from having great acts here, we have and continue to nurture an environment and culture which supports unique and talented artists. We’re not scared of crossing genres. In fact, we do it naturally and encourage it. This makes our artists appealing globally. Timing is also a factor.

Miles Leonard: Great artists, great songs, great performers, ambitious, hardworking talent—the best in class. Adele, Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, One Direction, Muse and, on their way up, Royal Blood. They didn’t get there by chance. The U.K. has always punched above its weight with delivering incredible talent to the world. Sure there are peaks and troughs, but on the whole we always deliver.

Roger Ames: This always feels to me to be cyclical, though maybe the statistics would refute that. It actually feels that in the non-U.K. and U.S. markets there is far more competition from local artists for the available audience, with of course the advantage of being locally available in the market all the time.

Why do you think the business has become dominated by new artists in the last few years? Why has it been hard for so many superstar acts to maintain their stature?
Darcus Beese: The obsession with the new.

Ferdy Unger-Hamilton: In the U.K. we love the new. We have always loved the new. That is our purpose.

Mark Collen, Sony SVP International: If you look at the broader music industry and factor in live entertainment, I don’t believe that’s the case. You only need to look at box-office charts of the biggest touring acts on a global basis to see that. If you’re looking specifically at recorded music, around half of our global annual business comes from catalog—and our focus day-to-day is about building new acts into becoming catalog acts of the future. It’s fair to say streaming and track download services naturally skew toward a hit-driven landscape, but it’s not true that the business overall has become dominated by new artists.

Dan Chalmers: Has it? I’m not so sure—when you look at the holiday charts last year in the U.K. around half of the Top 40 was dominated by established acts. It’s great that new exciting talent is coming through, but I think superstars are still important to the business, and we continue to operate successfully in this space.

Roger Ames: I am not sure that it is all that different from the past. The superstar acts on the touring front remain as important as they ever were.

How heavily do you rely on A&R research, and which tools do you consider invaluable?
Miles Leonard: I think you have to use all the tools at your disposal to find new talent. At the end of the day you’re still looking for the same attributes that excite you about an artist, only now you have a broader church in which to find them. Artists use socials to find their fans, so we should utilize them, too—you can also get a good idea of audience response. But you shouldn’t rely on just artist view counts or streams to make a decision—that’s dangerous. You must love the artist, believe the artist’s vision and feel something when you hear their music.

What new and developing artists are you most excited about?
Ted Cockle: It’s a very strong selection of new talent that we represent, from Halsey to Alessia Cara to Tori Kelly and Colombian fireball Kali Uchis to a breath of fresh air from Welsh rock upstarts Pretty Vicious.

Jo Charrington: Frances.

Sonny Takhar: We are excited about all of our artists. In terms of new artists, Ady Sulieman, Ben Haenow and Fleur East have all delivered incredible records. This year’s X Factor also feels like an exceptional year for talent.

Colin Barlow: Billie Marten has a voice so pure it will light up 2016. Nao is an artist who will push boundaries and create a unique lane for herself. Tiggs Da Author has a voice of sunshine. He’s creatively fresh and original.



How competitive are U.K. labels for signing artists, both within and outside of your label group?
Darcus Beese: Think Ali-Frazier, Trump-Clinton: Respect, but when the bell rings, it’s gloves off.

Ferdy Unger-Hamilton: Irritatingly competitive, but competition is healthy, I’m told.

Mark Terry: Very competitive. The key is to get there before the competition begins.

Mark Collen: The U.K. has a rich history of signing some of the world’s most exciting new talent. That’s as true today as it was in the ’60s. It’s a super-competitive, fast-moving market and the concept of popular music and a hit record is woven into the fabric of our culture.

Miles Leonard: The thing that I feel is particularly great about Warner is all our labels have a healthy competitive attitude. We all share a drive for success, but we don’t feel the need to undermine each other in striving for it. Outside the group, we focus on what we have to offer and how we differentiate from everyone else. Each music company has a different culture; that’s how it should be. In terms of the deals, the market decides. 

What separates your label from the others?
Ted Cockle: We’re #1 marketshare in albums YTD—as we have been for the previous two years on both albums and singles in the U.K. The Virgin EMI plan is to be always representing the very best in each breed of artist, across all genres. From the greatest contemporary pop stars (Taylor, Katy, Kanye, James Bay, Iggy, Jay Z) to the legends (Keith Richards, Don Henley, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Neil Diamond), to the rock gods (Metallica, Pearl Jam, Sabbath), to dance stars (Avicii, Alesso, Tiesto) to pop sensations (The Vamps) to the freshest, newest stars out there and everything in between—and all be handled with the same amount love, labor and understanding.

Jo Charrington: Focus.

Sonny Takhar: Unquestionably, the caliber of our artists and our success rate in helping them become global superstars. We are a label with ambition.

Colin Barlow: Passion, belief, strategy, vision, no fear, loyalty. No matter how tough it gets, there’s always a reserve to keep going. A morale to build careers and not to let outside pressure dictate decisions. A love for music and a desire to uphold the wonderful legacy RCA has created over the years.

Dan Chalmers: I’m fortunate to oversee three labels in the U.K. The first is ADA, which partners with the indies—right now we’re helping the likes of independent artists such Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Noel Gallagher (Sour Mash), Stereophonics (Stylus/Ignition), Major Lazer (Because) and others achieve big success at home. What separates us from other label-service companies is the fact our team matches the indies’ passion for great music. Then there’s East West, a frontline label we recently relaunched to focus on great entertainers. It’s had a good first year with the likes of Robert Plant, Jools Holland and Bette Midler, and we’ve also brought back a couple of famous founding acts like Simply Red and The Corrs. Many of East West’s artists perform particularly well around key gifting periods, so a real point of difference for us is our specialist understanding of that marketing and promotional landscape. Finally, there’s Rhino, which I think, quite simply, is the best catalog business in the market.

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