HITS Daily Double
Blighty Beat

Labels have stepped up
to help artists find revenue opportunities beyond touring and channel the surge of creativity many are experiencing in lockdown. As our interviewees reveal, this has meant an increased focus on the digital world, a new emphasis on catalog, supercharged creativity and a greater reliance on entrepreneurial thinking, among other considerations, all of which will surely help the industry reemerge stronger than ever in 2021.

Laura Monks is co-MD, alongside Tom Lewis, at UMG U.K.’s Decca Records, where she’s worked on successful campaigns for Ball & Boe, Gregory Porter, The Lumineers, Aurora, Andrea Bocelli and The Shires. Monks has worked at Decca for eight years, during which time she’s run the digital, marketing and commercial teams. Prior to her tenure at UMG, she rose through the ranks in digital at EMI Classics. This year she’s been working on Dame Shirley Bassey’s grand-finale album, the Blue Note Re:imagined project featuring artists from the burgeoning U.K. jazz scene, lockdown home performances from the Kanneh-Mason family and Gregory Porter’s new album, which hit #3 on the U.K.’s Official Albums Chart in September.

MD of Sony label RCA U.K., Stacey Tang manages the marketing and digital teams and roster strategy. This year she’s been working on domestic album campaigns for Little Mix, Bring Me the Horizon, Camelphat, Paloma Faith, Loski, Fredo and Nothing But Thieves. Prior to her stint with RCA, Tang worked at Columbia Records with Rag ’n’ Bone Man, George Ezra and Calvin Harris. She was also a pivotal member of the team that launched Ed Sheeran at Atlantic Records during her time with Warner.

Jerome Porritt is Senior A&R Manager at Warner Records U.K., where he’s been working with JC Stewart, Steel Banglez and Mist. He started his career in music eight years ago managing a DJ and promoting parties and festival stages. After meeting Kim Frankiewicz at Imagem, he was hired as a scout, a role he performed while also working for independent label Good Years. In 2015 Warner Records President Phil Christie hired Porritt as a scout. 2020 has seen him working new releases from Mist, Stewart and recent signing Route 94.

Co-Head and VP of Marketing at BMG U.K., Gemma Reilly-Hammond has most recently worked on campaigns for Kylie, McFly, Travis, Katie Melua, Rejjie Snow, Roisin Murphy and new artists KSI and Curtis Waters. She began her career in music as part of a charity project, then established her own management company. She next expanded the business to provide marketing and label services to independent artists and labels, one of which was BMG. After working for a few years as a consultant, Reilly-Hammond joined the company in house. That was six years ago. She currently runs the U.K. label in collaboration with Jamie Nelson.

How do you see the coronavirus crisis impacting the music industry long-term?
Laura Monks:
One positive is the influx of broader audiences to streaming services. I’m delighted to see people delving deeper into their musical tastes and discovering the depth of catalog and range of genres we have rather than relying on a few playlists of big hits. But it’s devastating not being able to come together and enjoy gigs or concerts right now. Nothing will ever beat the feeling of sitting in front of a 180-piece orchestra.

Stacey Tang: In the beginning, there was just a lot of livestreaming. That’s still happening, of course, but now I feel like creatives—and not just recording artists but people making all kinds of assets—are getting a little bit braver. There’s so much on the Internet that you have to make things that really stand out. And platforms like TikTok are opening up a whole new space for what makes a track move or what makes an artist campaign. There are different places for us to look now in terms of where talent is coming from.

Jerome Porritt: The loss, particularly in live music, has been significant, and we need to do what we can to support our industry colleagues through it. On the upside, it has absolutely forced all artists, from brand-new independents to global superstars, to think even more creatively about how to make content that resonates with their audience and fills the massive experiential void left by fans not being able to see their favorite artists live. I think that creativity will lead to new ways of reaching audiences even when COVID is under control.

Gemma Reilly-Hammond: The crisis has clearly accelerated the focus on digital, in terms of accessing a large number of fans online. It’s great to see artists who might not have prioritized digital in the past growing into that space and enjoying the benefits of deeper engagement with their fans. Streaming is front and center even for artists with a slightly older audience, with significant growth in the 45+ demographic now moving to streaming. Artists are being encouraged to have an “always on” mentality, regularly sharing music and other aspects of their lives with fans, which I’m finding they generally enjoy and embrace. Promoting albums internationally and within traditional media has been challenging but has also resulted in new opportunities because there’s a lot that can be achieved digitally without having to sacrifice so much of an artist’s time and money. The uncertainty around physical retail and the live business is obviously very difficult, though.

How is everyone adapting to the new normal?
In many ways, lockdown has galvanized the Decca team. Zoom can be a curse—we’ve tried to ensure time away from staring at each other on screens—but equally, we have never been more connected to our global colleagues and artists. Being able to speak to Gregory Porter or Ludovico Einaudi at home has made us closer than ever.

ST: We haven’t worked on a domestic album release in the whole of lockdown, so the fact that we’re approaching seven of them now means we’ve had to meet in smaller teams to get planning so we have enough of the creative ideas you need to make campaigns. Sometimes you can get records out and chase them in the chart, and you know what you’re looking for in terms of numbers and aims. But because we are tasked with storytelling on behalf of our artists, it’s about making sure those campaigns mean something to their fans so the artist can stand behind them proudly in public. That’s an important part of what we do, and there is a lot of that going on at the moment.

JP: A lot of the artists were more prepared for social distancing and working remotely than you might think. They’ve been making music at home or with their friends since they started, so their creative flow hasn’t been interrupted. I think the pressure is on us as a major label to keep up and continue turning around exciting content as part of all-around campaigns.

GRH: You just have to get on with it, don’t you? I don’t think we’re doing anything different to what we did before. We’re just doing more of some things than others; the focus on streaming, digital, and creativity is heightened, and as a result, there are changes in terms of the marketing mix and the budget split. The big question is, how do you create impact in this new world? That’s the question we’re continuously working with our artists and managers to answer as we head into campaigns and releases. Social consciousness has also increased. Lots has happened during this period, and I think people are educating themselves in terms of how to care more for others, which is great to see.

What’s the most exciting thing you see happening in the music industry right now?
LM: I’m enjoying the entrepreneurialism coming from all corners of the business. We’re working in completely new ways, with live agents and promoters in particular, to keep audiences engaged with unique experiences.

ST: For one thing, we’re seeing just how important music is in people’s lives, because we’re all relying on it for a kind of emotional safety. I also think artists having to work within these new limitations means they’re getting even more creative. Whether that’s artists we work with already or a new generation coming up, they’re going to be talking about the intense things they’re experiencing at this time.

JP: For me, the most exciting thing isn’t specific to the music industry; it’s the increased awareness around social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. Though of course how we respond as an industry is incredibly important.

GRH: I’m seeing a lot of great things happening in terms of using new technology. AR, for example, presents opportunities beyond the traditional music video in terms of how you can enhance the experience for the people at home. There is some great work going on in the livestreaming world, too. We’ve observed some really good results for artists like Nick Cave and Laura Marling. The beauty of it is that artists can now put on a concert and reach a global audience with one hit. You don’t have to travel around the world to reach people.

How do you see the role of the record label evolving?
Among other things, I think it will be increasingly important to have a facility in the office, especially for younger artists, to build on what they’ve learned making their own content, telling their own stories. We can talk about everybody having access to technology, but it’s not actually a reality for a lot of people. So I hope that if we turn our office space into somewhere more creative, we won’t miss out on artists who might not have access to that tech.

GRH: I don’t think it’s so dissimilar to how we’ve been evolving up until now: a bigger focus on streaming and digital and less reliance on the physical music market. D2C will remain important, especially for the artists who are able to more fully participate in, gain control of and profit from their work. But in the end, live will always remain a core part of the business.

What are you working on now that you’d like to share?
I’m excited to be working with a broader international scope, from developing artists with our Latin American office to several new signings in Africa. The world is our oyster!

ST: We have loads of exciting developing artists, like Sam Fischer, who’s an incredible songwriter. We also work with an exceptional band called Everyone You Know, and there is a young woman called Biig Piig who is going from strength to strength. There is another young artist called Mathilda Homer who is just starting out.

JP: One artist in particular to watch out for is Odeal, whom I signed with [fellow A&R exec] Tobi Omoloja. He’s a massive talent with a unique vocal style. I can’t wait for everyone to hear what he and his main collaborator, YKKUB, have been making.

GRH: We want to leverage the Bertelsmann network to create a wider content offering from our artists than just an album and a tour. And we’re very keen to further expand, and perhaps even more importantly, diversify our roster in 2021.