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U.K. SPOTLIGHT:
INDIE LABEL MOVERS
& SHAKERS


What is the current “state” of the U.K. indie sector? What have been some of your proudest achievements over the last year?
Martin Mills: The state is rude health—and the best achievements are always putting out the best music.

Why do you think the business has become dominated by new artists in the last few years? Why has it been hard for many superstar acts to maintain their stature?
Peter Thompson: Has it? As far as record sales are concerned, maybe, but I imagine some of the superstar artists are having a phenomenally successful time in the live arena. Due to the flexibility of streaming, we now have access to markets we could only previously have dreamt of (Eastern Europe, India, China, South America), and newfound exposure in these places can open up all sorts of opportunities for both new and established artists.

How much time and resources do you have for artist development?
Laurence Bell: We have plenty of both, and it’s a large part of what we do—it’s our raison d’être, in fact.

Caius Pawson: That’s all we do! Acts and albums have taken from two to seven years to make, but if the music is right, then it’s always worth it.

David Dollimore: Like any record company, we have an A&R team. Our team comprises scouts, A&R managers and an A&R director. I try to spend as much time as I can focusing on music and how we can facilitate our artists’ visions. The record company comprises roughly 20-30 people: A&R, marketing, sales, business affairs. We all contribute as a team, and I encourage people within the label to play to their strengths. Maybe one A&R is better at closing deals and another is better at working in the studio with the artist to make the record. We all have different ways of working, but what makes our label so successful is the teamwork, enthusiasm, impeccable work ethic and pure passion for the music.

Mark Lewis: This has been and always will be the key area for us. It is where a large part of our budget will go. We are currently working on acts that we won’t launch for another two years. For example, we signed Kodaline when they were 18, and we worked with them for three years before anyone in the outside world had heard a note of music. We have done similar early-development signings with Seafret and on the publishing side with writers like James Bay, John Newman and Jonny Coffer. I think this is the area where majors and indies are most apart. I know majors can develop acts, and some do it brilliantly, but on the whole there is too much fiscal pressure for a major to have an act on the roster without releasing music in a defined timeframe.

Peter Thompson: As I imagine with most labels, we do whatever it takes for all our artists. The main thing I preach to my team is patience. There is an awful lot of music out there (and a lot of awful music), and we need to understand that it can take time for our artists to be found by the public—never mind taken to heart. If the music is good and everyone works hard, we will get there eventually.

​Martin Goldschmidt: Currently not much, but we plan to open up that lane next year; watch this space.​

How do you approach the global marketplace when breaking new artists? Has the global release date affected your plans, if at all?
Laurence Bell: We approach the global marketplace with hopefully the right mixture of strategy, passion and energy. We start a creative dialogue with the key international markets and try to formalize a global vision that fits everyone’s needs along with the freedom to customize locally. We weren’t asked our opinion on the global release date in the first place. We don’t think it’s helped at all, but it is a fait accompli, so we’re learning to live with it, just like everyone else.

Caius Pawson: We always think of every territory when breaking an artist—and now that streaming is as big as it is, it’s impossible not to.

David Dollimore: For every act we sign, we think globally. As we are an independent, we can partner up with whoever we want in each territory, so it’s an á la carte approach when mapping out the rest of the world. Online is global, and whatever we do, whether it’s a new video or a new song, it’s picked up around the world. So for each artist it’s paramount that we think of the best partners from the start, whether another independent or a major, or we go it alone and put promo teams in place.

Peter Thompson: The strategy can be very different for every artist. We try to have a very global approach to everything we do, but you also need to be pragmatic. Cost and artist time are key components, but “cultural fit” has also got to be considered. We generally have a good idea of what can work and where, and we factor this in when setting up our campaigns. The [PIAS] international network is very broad, and we are blessed with excellent independent-minded people across the globe. Their input is essential and welcomed when we roll out our campaigns.

How has the radio landscape changed for indie labels in the last few years?
Caius Pawson: The emergence and development of 6 Music and 1Xtra have allowed a much broader range of artists to break through to national audiences in the U.K. This has been increasingly important for indies who might not get on commercial radio. Radio 1, as ever, has a huge reach and also takes risks, which is key to the indies breaking acts.

David Dollimore: It has always been challenging for indies at radio, because radio stations understandably want to support artists and labels that have a chance of gaining mainstream popularity, since that will drive their listening figures. Fortunately, in the U.K. we have the BBC, who have a creative and public-service mandate, and new music remains hugely important to them. The specialist shows on Radio 1 are a great route through to the playlist, and 6 Music also allows a more eclectic selection of indie music to gain an airing. From our perspective, stations like Capital Xtra and Kiss Fresh provide highly valued opportunities for underground electronic and urban music to cross over into mainstream daytime playlists at Capital FM and Kiss 100, etc.

Mark Lewis: As a hugely influential station, the BBC is still the preeminent route to breaking an act. In recent years it seems to me that the playing field is even more level than it was previously—I can’t see any major-label bias going on; the majors have more records on the playlist simply because they release more records. I think it is more about being a trusted brand, and that brand could be a manager, publisher, label or plugger. There is definitely a comfort for us at B-unique that marketing budgets are not really an overriding factor in what gets rotation.

Martin Goldschmidt: The U.K. landscape hasn’t changed that much. The landscape for indies is dominated by the national stations, BBC Radio 1 and 2, but 6 Music has successfully increased its reach to also become significant. The BBC is pretty good to indies. We had 30 records on national playlists (#1, 2 and 6) in 2014/2015!​

Peter Thompson: It has its ups and downs. The continued emergence of 6 Music is great to see but as a key outlet for a lot of independent artists it can get terribly congested. While Radio 1 and 2 are still options for independent artists, the current demands for bland, repetitive pop music don’t sit comfortably with many independent-minded artists and labels, and therefore these options are becoming more difficult to access. We are still waiting to see whether Radio X can mean anything more substantial, and the jury is well and truly out on Beats 1.

The track record of U.S. indie bands breaking in the U.K. before they break in the States seems to have slowed. Is that, in fact, the case?
Caius Pawson: I think it is the case. What allowed U.S. indie bands to break in the U.K. before was the bastions of the industry and media here being quicker on the uptake than in the U.S. However, the Internet has flattened that all now, and great music, whether from the U.K. or the U.S., will get to early adopters in the U.K. and the U.S. at the same time.

David Dollimore: U.K. radio needs a story. We are very different, and fortunate, compared to the rest of the world, because the likes of Radio 1 heavily support new music. Bands can be from anywhere in the world, but with any new act they need time, investment and most importantly a fan base. I remember the band The Neighbourhood, who I believe got played on Radio 1 first and were then signed by Rob Stringer, but the band were fresh out of the box, and so Columbia U.S. did the right thing and took them away, got the live “match fit” and then broke them in the U.S.

Mark Lewis: I think I would agree with this; there are a number of factors. Primarily, a few years ago there was a definitive route to market for a U.S. indie band. The NME had huge influence on radio and they always valued U.S. indie bands higher than U.K. ones. The net result was that NME hype influenced radio play and a fanbase, and in some cases overnight success was born. The paper’s decline has really affected U.S. bands, with radio being more influenced by local factors. There is also the changing musical landscape. I think there has been a boom in British talent in the last few years, and this has probably resulted in the U.K. being a much harder market to crack for a U.S. indie band. That said, it is not at all doom and gloom; it just takes a little more work and consideration than it used to.

Peter Thompson: I don’t think it’s a U.S. thing; I think it’s a problem for indie bands of all nationalities (including U.K. ones) in that “breaking” is becoming more and more difficult. It is harder and takes longer, but it helps if you have a constant presence in any one market. As previously stated, it’s very congested out there, and coming to the U.K. and playing five or six shows twice a year limits the opportunities.

What are your planned releases for the next 12 months?
David Dollimore: Off the back of his U.K. #1 debut, Sigala returns with his new single, “Sweet Lovin,” on 12/11. We are also launching a brand new electronic artist this week called KDA, which we also publish, whose just-launched single featuring Tinie Tempah and Katy B is set for a Top 5 hit in the U.K. German duo Format B own the Ibiza anthem of the summer, “Chunky”; it was launched on 11/6, and based on early radio support and weekly Shazam numbers, it looks set for a U.K. Top 10. Then it’s all about the mighty return of the 1.5-million-album-selling act London Grammar, who over the past six months have been busy crafting album number two. Some 12 tracks of the music are already in now, and from a first hearing of the beautifully recorded demos, it can only be described as exceptional. We will be plotting out our release plan once the band are happy with the music, but I would say this album should be arriving Q2 next year.

Peter Thompson: We have an exciting year ahead in 2016. We are hoping for new albums from Agnes Obel, Crystal Fighters, Lucius, Melanie De Biasio, Lisa Mitchell, Purple and a few more I’m probably best not talking about yet.

Which U.K. act on your roster will be next to break in the U.S?
David Dollimore: My gut instinct tells me Jodie Abacus, based on his huge song “I’ll Be That Friend.” This artist has had an absolute “scrum” of U.S. labels trying to meet/sign him, but I can now confirm we have concluded a deal with RCA’s Peter Edge and his team, who have been consistent with their passion and belief in what Jodie can achieve in the U.S. Everybody needs a friend, don’t they?

What new and developing artists are you most excited about?
Laurence Bell: The Bohicas are an urgent and modern rock & roll band from suburban England with monster hooks. Bob Moses are a new North American signing sporting timeless songwriting matched with sophisticated electronic production. Georgia is a phenomenal young female producer/writer/artist from West London with the spirit of Neneh Cherry and M.I.A. by way of Björk.

David Dollimore: “Culture” is the signifying word at our label because, since roughly 2008, the vision for the record company, outside of our enormously successful compilation and dance hits business, has been to create an environment that artists want to be part of and will elevate them to the musical heights. Now we are approaching 2016, and we have broken artists such as Example, Wretch 32 and of course London Grammar, and the current roster has never been so rich and diverse. This talent includes Louis Berry, a young Liverpool singer who can only be described as a U.K. Johnny Cash, but with the front of a Gallagher; Jodie Abacus, who could be a modern-day Stevie Wonder, with a touch of Thundercat in his production and a noir two-piece pop band, MIAMIGO, who musically sit comfortably on the same bill as The 1975, Phoenix and CHVRCHES.

Peter Thompson: We obviously get excited about all our new artists (and our old ones too), and next year we’re looking forward to albums from Twin Wild and Spookyland. We also recently signed our first Polish artist, the extremely talented Brodka.

Finally, Martin, what is the most important role you play at Beggars?
Martin Mills: Maintaining the balance.

 

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