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NEAR TRUTHS: YEAR-END WRAP-UP, PART 3
Bye-bye Burbank, hello DTLA. (12/13a)
2019 TOP 50 SONGS
What comes after X? (12/12a)
TASK FORCE TACKLES INDUSTRY TROUBLES
A wider view of the issues (12/13a)
A TASTE OF RAINMAKERS II:
SCOOTER BRAUN
A very intriguing dude (12/12a)
HARVEY IN THE MIX
Mason Jr. discusses his senior role at the Academy. (12/12a)
EGGNOG!
Ours is mostly bourbon.
MISTLETOE!
Delicious in salads.
CHESTNUTS!
Ours are roasting, but it could be these slim-fit jeans.
WEED!
An entire Christmas tree made of it. Is what we want. for Christmas.
Blighty Beat
U.K. CHARTS: LUCKY #13 FOR ROBBIE
12/6/19

Robbie Williams has topped the U.K.’s Official Albums Chart with The Christmas Present (Columbia) on 53k combined sales. In doing so, he equals a record held by Elvis as the solo act with the most #1s in U.K. chart history.

Williams now has 13 #1 albums under his belt as a solo artist, and 17 including his releases with Take That. Elvis is the top solo act with 13, and the overall record is held by The Beatles with 15.

Rod Stewart’s You’re In My Heart (Rhino) moves up one place to #2, while Coldplay’s Everyday Life (Parlophone) moves down to #3.

On the U.K.’s Official Singles Chart, Tones & I’s “Dance Monkey” (Parlophone) spends a 10th week at #1 with 75k combined sales (including 9.39m streams). That matches another chart record as the longest running chart-topper by a female artist, sharing the accolade with Whitney Houston's “I Will Always Love You” from 1992, and Rihanna's “Umbrella” from 2007.

 

 

BRITS HONOR CELESTE
12/6/19

Polydor signing Celeste has won the inaugural BRITs 2020 Rising Star Award, and is the first artist announced to perform at the BRIT Awards in February. It’s the second year in a row that UMG imprint Polydor has won the developing artist gong.

Celeste was up against Dirty Hit signing Beabadoobee and Insanity's Joy Crookes. Previously titled Critics’ Choice, the winner of Rising Star receives a performance slot on the main show for the first time in BRITs history next year.

Celeste signed to Polydor last year and has since garnered critical acclaim for a string of singles including “Lately,” “Father’s Son” and latterly “Strange,” which was heavily supported at Radio 1.

…Read more

THREE-WAY RACE FOR XMAS #1
12/5/19

The race is on for the U.K's Christmas #1 single with two weeks to go until the official winner is crowned on 12/20. Bets are currently being placed on tracks by Stormzy, Lewis Capaldi and Tones & I.

Unless a new release garners enough hype to go straight in at #1, which is getting rarer and rarer these days—there have been 11 #1 singles in Blighty so far this year—the Christmas top spot is likely to be nabbed by someone who has already gained traction.

With eight weeks at #1 already, Tones & I could very well hold on for the next two with "Dance Monkey" (Parlophone). Capaldi is currently 15k combined sales behind at #2 with "Before You Go" (Capitol), while Stormzy, Ed Sheeran and Burna Boy sit a close third with "Own It" (Atlantic). The bookies' favourite is currently Capaldi, followed by Stormzy, whose sales are likely to be boosted by the arrival of his second album on 12/13, and Tones & I.

Beyond that, there's a few classics currently making their way up the charts: "All I Want for Christmas is You" (Sony) by Mariah Carey sits at #8; "Last Christmas" (Sony) by Wham! is at #13; and "Fairytale of New York" (Warner) by The Pogues f/Kirsty MacColl at #22.

Will a surprise release or charity campaign disrupt the current status quo? Stay tuned.

HUMAN RE SOURCES LAUNCHES U.K. OUTPOST
12/2/19

Digital distribution and label services company Human Re Sources has announced its expansion into the U.K., with the appointments of A&R Amal Omari and VP of Creator Services Matt Ott. Alongside Founder & CEO J. Erving, as well as A&R and Creator Services executives Austin ThomasRay Kurzeka and Clarissa Reformina, these additions reflect the young company's continued growth. Human Re Sources also announced its newest signing and first U.K. artist, twenty-four-year-old East London rapper Lancey Foux.

Prior to joining Human Re Sources, Ott worked within the Spotify UK Artist and Label Marketing team, and before that at BBC Radio 6 Music and RCA. “The future of music can only be the artist. The best possible future for artists is a supportive, creative and patient team around them who value their art above all else,” said Ott. “To be bringing that artist-first vision to life in the UK is an honour, and something I’m humbled to be a part of.”

Before joining the team at Human Re Sources, Omari was part of the founding team of Radar Radio. She then joined the Warner Music Group ecosystem as a consultant for Asylum Records, and then progressed to head of A&R at Platoon, the now Apple-owned distribution services company, where she identified and developed artists in the UK and globally. “I’m really excited to be part of a company whose ethos aligns with my own when it comes to the well-being of independent artists and their development” commented Omari. “I’m here for putting artists first forever and always.”

In 2015, Lancey Foux was freestyling over YouTube beats in his bedroom. After finding his way to a studio, he released his PINK EP that same year, and two weeks later dropped his breakthrough single "About It." By 2018, he had released PINK II with singles "Starstruck," "Speed Demon" and "Dyed 2WICE" feat Grime legend Skepta, who Foux would join on his SK LEVEL European tour. With his new Friend or Foux album coming later this month, Foux is having his biggest moment to date with his first headline show at London’s O2 Academy Islington on 12/8.

Human Re Sources' Erving shared, “We’re proud to have expanded into London, to serve the music industry here and support local artists. Having signed Lancey Foux to join us at Human Re Sources is the beginning of much more, and we’re excited to have him on board.”

Human Re Sources partnered with Q&A in 2019. As co-founders of Q&A, Erving, Troy Carter and Suzy Ryoo lead both Q&A and Human Re Sources as music and technology ventures dedicated to creating an ecosystem bolstering the notion of artist as entrepreneur.

MANAGEMENT COMPANIES:
TAP MANAGEMENT
11/28/19

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.”

 

MANAGEMENT COMPANIES: CLOSER ARTISTS
11/28/19

Closer Artists is helmed by joint MDs Paul McDonald and Ryan Lofthouse, who have had huge success with male singer/songwriters including George Ezra and James Bay, both of whom have been busy this year, as well as James Morrison and John Newman.

After winning Best Male Solo Artist at the BRITs, and hitting #1 for the second time with Staying at Tamara’s, which has spent over 60 weeks in the Top 10, Columbia artist Ezra embarked on a 13-date sold-out U.K. arena tour (a first for the Closer team), which culminated with two shows at London’s O2 Arena, followed by 12 dates in Europe. A summer of headlining festivals was highlighted by a key performance at Glastonbury 
on the Pyramid Stage just before Stormzy, and Ezra is now going to take a well-earned rest while thinking about album number three.

Which is just in time for things to step up a gear for Bay, who toured with Ed Sheeran in Europe this year and is deep in the writing process for his third album, due out in 2020. Lofthouse is keeping mum about the details of the new music, apart from telling us that guitars are back following Bay’s second album—which spanned pop and R&B as well as rock—and to expect a less experimental, more arena-ready sound.

In January, manager Luke Williams joined the Closer fold, bringing with him Virgin EMI signing Calum Scott and Warner priority act JC Stewart—a brand-new solo male artist “who is fabulous,” says McDonald. “While he’s under the headline of ‘solo male,’ he’s got his own lane. There’s a more electronic and modern element to his records.” Lofthouse continues: “There’s a massive global ambition for him from everyone at Warner. He’s a priority act with Phil Christie over there, and he’s on Max Lousada’s radar. So it feels like he’s certainly going to get a shot and the weight of the company behind him.” Stewart has been on tour with Bay and Snow Patrol, and recently played a show with Anne-Marie. 
“We’re just trying to put him in as many versatile audiences as we possibly can, be-
cause we think he’s making incredibly accessible music,” Lofthouse concludes. Scott and Stewart join young pop-leaning songwriter Etham (also Virgin EMI) on the Closer roster, and to confound expectations, the firm also reps three female artists: soulful singer/songwriter Lily Moore, who recently dropped a new track with Maverick Sabre, and two unsigned (for now) acts, “incredible songwriter” Holly Humberstone and “pure pop” artist Michaela.

 So if it’s not smashing it out of the park with male singer/songwriters, what’s Closer Artists’ USP? “That we develop things from the very beginning,” McDonald answers. “We found most of the artists that we’ve worked with when they were teenagers with very few or no songs of their own, and brought them to the point where they’re now all consummate writers and performers. We realize that these days you have to be incredibly patient, because it all takes a lot longer. You have to ready an artist so much more now before you can bring them through.”

“I think that we’re still a country that culturally pushes things forward.”—RYAN LOFTHOUSE

On the subject of artist development and any particular obstacles to that brought about by the British music market in 2019, McDonald points to the tricky balancing act of timing. “There’s a much bigger article to be written about the timing of when you actually launch an artist, versus the public nature of stats, versus a certain fear about getting a knock back from mainstream media if you don’t appear to have your ducks in a row,” he explains. “Because streaming stats are there for anybody to dial up, you have to prove a record now before you go anywhere near radio, and there’s an element of catch-22 about that. Some genres don’t break on the internet the moment they’re released. They need the support of traditional media because of the volume of traffic that the DSPs are dealing with every day.”

Lofthouse weighs in: “You do have a situation where your streaming story can be out of sync with your traditional media story, and I don’t quite know what the answer to that is. We’re playing a game with the hand that we’re dealt with at the moment, and that’s all we can do until the situation changes.”

Despite those challenges, Lofthouse remains encouraged by the stylistic range of music that is supported at media in the U.K. He says: “I think that we’re still a country that culturally pushes things forward. It’s really exciting that even though there are genre-led playlists that people can gravitate towards, you can still listen to Annie Mac of an evening, and hear a grime record next to a rock record, next to a dance record, next to a singer/songwriter record, and no one freaks out about it. Even on daytime BBC Radio 1, all those different genres of music fit together, and hopefully, it’s still about whether it’s a good song or not.”

Alongside Williams, the Closer Artists team grew earlier this year with the hiring of Nadia Shukri as Day to Day Manager, Amelia Scivier as GM and Josie Charlwood as Head of Digital, representing what McDonald describes as “gentle expansion.” As well as providing the company’s clients with more support and expertise in digital marketing, the hires were indicative of a philosophy that values fresh perspectives. “It’s important for Paul and I to bring people in that have fresh ideas,” Lofthouse explains. “We’ve both been guilty of getting really quite lost in the weeds on intense campaigns, and sometimes it’s just good to have people in the office who can see things from a different angle that you’re not seeing, especially with the landscape changing every five minutes in the industry. Paul and I are still learning things every day.”

MANAGEMENT COMPANIES: UROK
11/28/19

Helmed by father and son Roy and Sam Eldridge, UROK counts British pop superstar Jess Glynne on its roster alongside national treasure Liam Gallagher and exciting developing talent Jade Bird. The company celebrated a second #1 album from Glynne toward the end of last year, which brought her chart-topping singles tally up to seven, making her the first British female solo artist to achieve that feat. The success was followed up with a pivotal performance of her track “Thursday” at February’s BRITs, where she took a stand against unrealistic beauty standards and championed female empowerment by removing her makeup on stage alongside a group of women.

After a summer of festivals, and a support slot on the Spice World Tour, Glynne is now starting the development process for her third record on Atlantic. Expect new music to be released across the next nine months. “We really want to emphasise the scale that she’s reached, and use that to broaden out her points of reference and take risks in terms of our single choices and collaborators, and have some fun with that,” says Sam Eldridge.

Warner Records signing Liam Gallagher has transitioned from his former life as part of Oasis and Beady Eye into a bona fide solo act following the release of his #1 debut last year, which was followed up by second album, Why Me? Why Not., in September. It reached #1 on the U.K.’s Official Albums Charts, and UROK hope to build on that with a bigger international presence. Working with Gallagher’s manager (and partner), Debbie Gwyther, has been a particular highlight for Sam and Roy, who tell us that the “instructive” relationship is indicative of the way they want to build UROK going forward—empowering and supporting great people to run their own campaigns and businesses.

Discussing his ambitions for UROK, Roy says: “We just want to be the best at what we do that we possibly can be. We want to encourage our young partners to grow and develop, and grow and develop their artists, provide a brilliant service and support network for very talented artists to achieve whatever ambitions they have.” Which is why they teamed up with Anne-Marie and Gracey manager Jazz Sherman, who launched her own Hunger imprint under UROK toward the end of last year. Sherman joins other independent managers brought into the UROK fold, including Becky Richardson, radio promoter and co-founder of all-female radio station foundation.fm, who looks after developing London duo Babeheaven and alternative-pop band Flyte, and Jasmine Srih, who reps young rapper Keyah/Blue and DJ collective BBZ under her Obscura firm. 

Discussing the wider reasons behind the UROK business philosophy, Sam explains: “We don’t want to be taking on huge amounts of manager partners, but I think the ones we have are consistently providing something different and adding to the environment here at UROK. Management can be a lonely business, and having people that you can talk to who can provide infrastructure to make sure you are operating at your absolute best, and learning and developing, is what we really try to aspire to provide; that’s definitely the philosophy within the company at the moment. Something that is important to me is to be constantly challenged. In a music business that is always shifting, [it’s essential] to have people who are seeing those different ways in which that can happen, and communicating that back to you and challenging your, perhaps, ‘older’ ideas as to how things should work. Sometimes it’s about running with that, and sometimes it’s about pushing back. But that open dialogue is something that’s very important to us.”

When it comes to developing acts, Jade Bird, whom UROK signed to Glassnote and is looked after by Chris Kasa, “really exemplifies the kind of artist-development process that we want to be our focus,” says Sam. “As someone who we trusted 100% to write her own record, she’s very much a singular vision of how a 21-year-old young woman wants to present herself. It’s been really satisfying to work with Glassnote and look at that worldwide campaign from New York. From a touring perspective, it’s always so important to have an economy of scale. That disparity of where you’re playing arenas in one country and playing clubs in another is always very difficult for artists, and it’s great to work with a label where we’ve seen that consistent development across all platforms at the same level. I think it’s incredibly reassuring to the artist when they’re going around the world and seeing it growing at the same sort of level everywhere. It’s providing her with an amazing base for the future.” After hitting #10 on the U.K.’s Official Albums Chart with her debut in April, Bird took to the road in the autumn.

It hasn’t been the most fruitful time for breaking new British acts over the last few years—are there any market changes that could help make that easier? “One of the things that I like about the U.S. is that there are so many ways to market, whether it’s this radio station, that radio station, that online platform, a live plot, whatever it might be, it feels like there are lots of ways to grow your audience,” Sam answers. “In the U.K., I’d just like to see that something doesn’t get crushed at the first sign of success. I think our radio structure is not as conducive to [developing artists] as it could be.

“I’d like to see records being allowed to sit on playlists at a certain level for a while, and grow and let the artist become more and more familiar to the audience,” he continues. “Or even just go, ‘It’s too early for that’—because I think through playlisting, touring and social media, you can build a really powerful audience. Obviously, that’s not true of every pop artist; they need that super injection sometimes, but I think for other artists it’s about seeing it grow naturally, and that can take some time. But, similarly, when something feels like it’s really going, then backing it 100%. I do think everyone is learning that, though; we’re just trying to recalibrate.”

MANAGEMENT COMPANIES: YM&U
11/28/19

YM&U Group got a major boost in the U.K. after acquiring British company Machine Management at the end of last year, bringing in Years & Years and Clean Bandit, as well as a strong team consisting of Iain Watt, Martha Kinn, Sophie Bloggs and Phil Morais. As part of the deal, Watt was named MD of YM&U’s music division, where he’s able to realise an ambitious global vision while having the support of a bigger company.

Discussing the motivation behind the sale, Watt tells us: “Before we sold it, I was running Machine Management for 16 years. In the last year of that process, the senior team were talking about how we would expand the business and what things we needed to do to remain competitive on a global level. The same things kept coming up: ‘We need to expand, we need digital, streaming, brand and sponsorship expertise internally, and we also would like to have an L.A. office.’ The issue with that when you’re an independent company is if you really do all those things, you get it wrong once and you’re out of business.

“For me personally, more and more of my time was spent on HR, office management, IT, financial direction,” he continues. “Those elements are important when you have a company that’s growing, but it’s not why I got into the music business—and those things do not help you break artists or generate new ones.” At that point, YM&U got in contact with Watt, proposed an aligned vision and the deal was done.

Since then, Watt’s newly expanded team have been busy working on a number of big artist campaigns and development projects. Overseen by manager Chris Dempsey, the campaign for Take That’s platinum-selling best-of album Odyssey on Polydor came with a sold-out stadium and arena tour (their biggest in 10 years). Managed by Watt and Alistair White, Clean Bandit released their second album at the end of last year; it has sold 200k in the U.K. to date, while their international footprint has been growing with collaborations in Japan, China, India and Russia.

British singer/songwriter James Arthur (managed by Watt, Anushka Gunes and Mamie Lowther) has been undergoing a career revival after returning with a smash single and album on Columbia Germany in 2016, and has since then gone on to work with Anne-Marie, Martin Jensen, Marshmello and Ty Dolla $ign. He undertook an arena tour ahead of the release of his third album, which hit #2 in October, and Watt tells us there are big ambitions for him in the U.S. Additionally, Friendly Fires made a successful return after an eight-year hiatus, Years & Years concluded the campaign for their second album on Polydor (which hit #3 last year) and maintained a busy live schedule, with new music set to come this year, and the development of DJ Crystal Clear has continued apace.

On the business side of things, Watt has been building out his U.K. team, including Head of Digital Fiona McAuley, who came from Polydor, Commercial Director Anna Gregorek, who previously worked for Warner, and Head of Streaming Alistair White, who was promoted internally. All of them work closely with the team that Watt has established stateside.

Discussing his approach to management, Watt points to two mantras he always sticks by. “I’ve learned that no one manager is an expert in every single field that an artist will want to be in,” he says. “So for us, having a team that are experts in digital, streaming, brands and live that you can call upon is absolutely essential. The second element is really simple: What are the five ideas that you’re going to come up with that are going to make a difference to an artist’s career? What door are you going to open that they didn’t even realise was there, and what pitfalls are you going to guide them around to ensure that their career doesn’t go off the rails? If you’re just focusing on logistics, most artists could have a PA to do that. I think teamwork and creativity are the two absolutely essential bedrocks to make a successful artist’s career and also to make best use of resources in our company.”

When it comes to artist development, there are two changes that Watt would like to see. Firstly, a more obvious path for new artists on streaming services, who can get lost while still unknown on the big playlists. “When you’re a brand-new artist and you get on a playlist like New Music Friday, it’s not that meaningful because you’re unknown, and it’s hard for people to actually care,” he explains. “It’s not a criticism of streaming services, because I think it’s difficult to work out what that path might look and feel like, and I certainly don’t have the answer. But it would be great if there was a mechanism on streaming services that would really help new artists pop.”

And from the label side, more flexibility over deal terms would be welcomed. “I think it would be interesting to look at the way deals are structured, because at the moment, most of the development of artists happens outside of a label,” he points out. “It happens with the manager, and maybe after two years of doing their own thing, if they feel that they’ve got the fire started and want some petrol poured on it, then they’ll go to a label and do a deal. But if labels were a bit more creative and collaborative in the way they structured their deals, and the investment was elongated over a longer period of time, perhaps more managers would want to do those deals earlier. Record labels can clearly offer some expertise and advice, but I think any good manager will probably know the same, if not more, in terms of the early-development stages of breaking an artist.”

The ambition going into next year is to continue growing the music team—which stands at 26 in the U.K. and 45 in the U.S.—as well as taking on other managers, either through employment or acquisition. New artists under development at YM&U include Ghanaian pop artist Bree Runway, who is managed by Martha Kinn and is “almost Madonna-esque in her ambition,” says Watt. Soulful vocalist Duchess will be introduced to the wider world with music later this year, and there’s a new DJ called Pvblic Xcess and the continued trajectory of Sony Insanity signing JNR Williams.