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A&R, RADIO AND THE
POST-1D BOOMLET

The last several weeks have seen a flood of new music from Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Katy Perry, DJ Khaled with Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamar, Sam Hunt, Imagine Dragons, Zedd f/Alessia Cara, Kygo f/Selena Gomez, Luis Fonsi f/Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Halsey and more, with Miley Cyrus dropping a track this week and Liam Payne, Calvin Harris, Selena Gomez and others said to be on the way. Meanwhile, as a result of the A&R investment that followed the streaming windfall of 2016, a boatload of new artists are also hitting the marketplace.

Singles going to Pop radio this year have increased by nearly 25%, according to Mediabase.

One downside of this glut is that labels still generally depend on radio to break artists, and the “automatics” (whether they’re worthy or not) are edging out new acts, given the logjam at Pop, where everyone contends for the 20-25 slots reserved for currents.

Even on the top streaming playlists, the volume of big records frequently eats up the most coveted real estate. It’s harder than ever to get traction with most new acts, what with radio and digital promo working records for political reasons. This includes accommodating their stars, of course. But it also often means working a major signing that a top exec considers vital because he/she signed it and committed tens of millions of dollars to inking and breaking it. Labels are thus forced to kill their young due to a lack of bandwidth, as promising new artists get shoved off or down the priority list—sometimes even if they’re researching and selling.

These acts become sacrificial lambs so that more politically opportune records get massive hype and appear successful (sometimes just for the near term). This has become more pervasive lately at certain labels, where songs are traded out of rotation at radio for other, “more important” ones, thus killing the artists whose spins are traded away. Some managers are complaining loudly about these magical disappearing spins on their acts when the practice is most blatant.

No fans are more intensely invested in new music than One Direction fans, who are now experiencing a solo-release boomlet unseen since KISS unleashed their simultaneous Casablanca solo sets in September of 1978. Riding the crest of this wave is Columbia’s Harry Styles, whose ambitious, self-titled solo bow hits on 5/12, with projections for its first week now hovering just north of 200k. Harry’s anthemic lead single, “Sign of the Times,” moved #16-12 at Pop radio last week and has earned a song SPS of 403k+. The song got a boost at retail from its video, released on 5/8, but its nearly six-minute length has created some issues at both radio and streaming. While the song’s sprawl naturally limits the number of times it will go on the air, it also means that it takes about twice as long to rack up as many streams as most competing tracks—just as a long movie screens fewer times and this affects its box office. “Sign” is #38 on Spotify’s U.S. Top 50 and #26 on the Global chart; it’s #67 on the more urban-skewing Apple Music’s Top Songs.

The competition between the former 1D members is mirrored by competition between the labels that threw down for them. Rob Stringer, in his final major signing before assuming the top job at Sony Music, made a big-money deal for Harry. ZAYN, who left the group before its official “hiatus” and was inked by Peter Edge and Tom Corson at RCA in 2015, has made the biggest mark as a solo act so far, with two big hits—initial single “PILLOWTALK” (3.1m song SPS) and his monster Fifty Shades duet with Taylor Swift (2.3m song SPS). His latest, featuring the Drake-affiliated PARTYNEXTDOOR, has hit about a 648k song SPS. One issue confronting ZAYN is his well-chronicled reluctance to perform, which many in the biz believe has hurt him immeasurably in the marketplace.

Singles going to Pop radio this year have increased
by nearly 25%, according to Mediabase.

Capitol’s Niall Horan earned a 1.28m song SPS on lead single “This Town,” which peaked at #12 at Top 40 radio, and dropped a new track, “Slow Hands,” this week, which instantly hit #1 at iTunes. Horan inked to a big-money deal with Steve Barnett, whose relationship with 1D/Niall manager Richard Griffiths goes way back. The pair’s recent success with 5 Seconds of Summer followed their triumph, during Barnett’s Columbia days—in conjunction with SYCO—on the 1D juggernaut. The lads’ five-plus-year run sold tens of millions of albums, tickets and merch items. 

Since the ex-1D lads naturally insist on being on different labels, the signing of Niall at Capitol also interrupted the international Nick Raphael-Barnett nexus that collaborated so successfully on Sam Smith and 5SOS, giving Monte Lipman’s hit-making machine Republic a chance to scoop Liam Payne for the U.S. last October, after Capitol U.K. chief Raphael signed him in Blighty. That deal didn’t go to Barnett, naturally, because of Niall. Liam’s upcoming first salvo, a rhythmic jam featuring Quavo of the volcanically hot Migos, is said to have some radio folk slobbering. Could this be the first U.K. signing broken stateside by Republic since the days of Florence and Amy?

 

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