Interview by Rhian Jones

A&R man Tyler Brown
stepped up to fill Sonny Takhar’s shoes as MD of Simon Cowell’s SYCO in January. The exec has been working at the Sony label for nine years, where he played an integral role in One Direction’s stratospheric success. Other acts he’s worked with include Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle, Westlife, Labrinth and Little Mix. Syco began 2017 with the #1 albums spot, thanks to Glory Days from Little Mix, which spent five non-consecutive weeks at the top. The label has also enjoyed a #1 single recently with Camila Cabello’s “Havana” f/Young Thug, while Little Mix’s Latin track “Reggaetón Lento” has hit Top 10 all around Europe. Along with the acts mentioned above, James Arthur and Louis Tomlinson are priorities going into next year. The solo career of new signing and top songwriter Ina Wroldsen is also on the way, as is the debut campaign for boy band PrettyMuch, for which Brown has stadium-level hopes.

What’s your strategy for SYCO?
We want to be one of the biggest pop labels in the world and continue to have global artists. Over the last 10 years, we’ve always had one global artist in the roster like Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle, One Direction and Il Divo. My ambition is to have three or four of those at the same time. We’ll do that by working with talented artists who are authentic and who get involved in the songwriting and creative process. Gone are the days where an act can be super-manufactured and just jump into the studio and put the vocal down. It’s now about A&R and making sure you are making very competitive records. Every label is judged on hits and hit artists, and I want more of those.

Aside from authenticity, what else do you look for in new signings?
A point of difference, someone who is original and brings something new to music. Work ethic and ambition are also at the top of my list—being an artist is a lifestyle that’s 24/7. With social media and the fact there are so many genres to listen to on streaming services and playlists, I think young audiences are becoming way more sophisticated in their taste. That means the artist has to be in the middle of everything, whether it’s the lyrics, the creative of a music video, the artwork or how they talk to their fanbase on social media. So if you don’t have an artist who has a voice, taste or point of view, it’s probably a waste of time.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from Simon and Sonny?
Sonny’s drive, the way he motivated people and always wanted to be the best. His ambition to have marketing campaigns that the industry looked at and said, “Wow, you’ve done something different.” The other lesson is loyalty. A lot of people I work with have been here for 10 years, which is remarkable in this industry.

Simon is a genius. He thinks five steps ahead, and to have the luxury of his insight and guidance is invaluable. He gets it right way more often than he gets it wrong. Again, he’s a hugely loyal person if you work hard and bring in results. He is kind, super-polite and a complete gentleman. Like Sonny, he doesn’t accept second-best. He wants to have the biggest TV formats in the world, and he wants artists who have the ambition to sell out stadiums. 

How is streaming changing what you do and how you measure success?
The long tail of streaming means that if you have a record that reacts, you’ll still be making money 18 months later. Outside of that, it’s not changed the A&R process at all. If you make great records, people will listen to them over and over again, and that was the same with downloads. When I have A&R meetings, I don’t want the vocabulary to be, “Oh, this sounds like a Spotify record,” or “We should be making records that sound like they should work on Spotify.” If you get caught up in that language, then you are not doing what is right for the artist and you are not going to make a record that is going to react, because it’s not unique and original.

We see ourselves as creative partners, so we should share in the rights with artists, and that’s something I think labels have to focus on more in future.

Spotify has made everyone step up their game, because there is so much music that’s more readily available worldwide. If you want to cut through, the record has to be better. That puts a lot of pressure on A&Rs, but it can only be good for the industry and the general public, because they are going to be listening to better records.

Streaming has challenged us to think slightly differently in terms of how we release records and the amount of records we release. The Camila Cabello record was something she thought was a great piece of music and just wanted to put out there. It has been out for months, the audience discovered it and data started showing it had hit potential—and now it’s #1. That probably wouldn’t have happened in the download era.

How do you see the artist and label relationship developing in future?
I think labels have to be way more creative in the way they do business with artists. I know 360 deals have been very popular over the last few years, and I think that approach has to remain. Being an artist is a business, and part of that is record sales, but also touring, merchandise, brand deals and sync. We see ourselves as creative partners, so we should share in the rights with artists, and that’s something I think labels have to focus on more in future. They can do that by being truly collaborative across everything nand having good relationships with managers, lawyers and artists, and being fair. If you want a relationship that has longevity, the relationship has to be fair and honest.

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