Twenty years is a long time in any business. And for those on what one might describe as the receiving end of the streaming boom and the digital revolution, it’s likely to have felt a hell of a lot longer.
Artists have borne the financial brunt of a market that increasingly favours subscription over ownership, while radio has been forced to up its game to justify its place in a playlist-dominated world.
As with any successful business, it is Hart Media’s ability to adapt that has served it so well over the past two decades.
It’s an approach that filters down throughout the business from its founder and leader Jo Hart, whose ebullient approach and refusal to look backwards has been crucial at a time when radio is having to fight its corner more than ever before.
“You’re never too old to learn and you have to change with the times,” Hart tells Music Week as we discuss the company’s milestone anniversary.
“I surround myself with younger people that can teach me and we truly believe in the acts we’re working with and do the very best to get their message across.”
The company, which is now based at Tileyard Studios, currently boasts an array of major clients, including Joss Stone, Passenger, The Prodigy, Ward Thomas and many more. According to Hart, radio airplay is still as important as it ever has been.
“New artists definitely are [as focused on radio as older acts],” she affirms. “When we are in meetings we all discuss how we can break through, though sometimes radio won’t come through until we have a little bit more traction going.
We get people coming to us saying, We want to get on radio, and we’ll say, Well, are you online, are you on social media? Because when we are going into radio stations we just need a little bit more than saying, This is a great song. Even though a great song is a great song, we still need other areas to help us.”
Hart also hails Tileyard as the perfect home for the business to flourish in as it enters its 20th year.
“Tileyard is such a great place to be, especially for independents, with so many creative and wonderful people, companies, artists and songwriters,” she explains.
“Being here is like being part of a big family. I have many friends here who are only too pleased to help and work together. Paul Kemp and Nick Keynes (co-founders) really have done a wonderful job in bringing the independent community together.”
In the wake of last year’s much discussed new talent drought, radio came under fire from certain corners of the industry for supposedly not doing enough to help break new UK artists. This led to Radio 1 overhauling its new music strategy with the implementation of the Brit List, aimed at dedicating more airtime to emerging UK talent.
For Hart, radio, at least on the specialist side, is still where the greatest opportunities lie for new acts.
“Radio is still the most effective way to introduce a new act,” she states. “There are certain smaller stations out there that you can start off with that will put on newer artists if they like the song.
“The new major stations are a bit harder to get, because they have so much choice and they’ve got their formats, but radio is still really important in breaking an act.”
One of the biggest challenges faced in 2016, Hart says, was a lack of risk taking from certain stations and “people not taking a chance”.
“People have got so much choice now with streaming, more so than before,” she explains. “But then everything is a challenge and you have to think outside the box and try your hardest to overcome it.”
One thing Hart is sure of is that the arrival of digital services and the internet has not only brought about greater collaboration between artists, their teams, radio and pluggers, but that it has also made the process of helping break an act more gratifying.
“It’s so exciting now, because you’ve been part of that team,” she enthuses. “It really has to be a team effort nowadays. There is no one area that can work on its own anymore.
Gone are the days where if you got a song played on Radio 1 that would be it and everything else would just follow. You’ve got to have everything now.
“It’s slow sometimes, but it’s all about being part of building an artist, which we try to do with all of our acts. There is nothing better than being part of that success when it happens.”
While Hart is hesitant to predict what the future holds for radio and its place in the world alongside streaming, she is confident that it will still be central to the process of introducing new acts to audiences and serving listeners with the most effective means of music discovery.
And in another 20 years’ time, one wouldn’t bet against Hart and co leading from the front.