Summer Lovin': How Love Island became the No.1 TV show for sync

Summer Lovin': How Love Island became the No.1 TV show for sync

Clearly I’m looking for something a bit more substantial, or you just don’t rate me as a human. I really don’t know…”

That was Love Island contestant Laura Anderson, admonishing her soon to be ex Wes Nelson in the first big bust-up of the fourth series of ITV2’s Mallorca-set reality dating show. Their argument was set to the urgent, emotional strains of Deaf Havana’s Hell, taken from the Norfolk five-piece’s album Rituals, out this week on So Recordings.

As the song blasted out and the drama concluded (“You will never ever, ever, ever, get this chance again!”) the islanders watched on from the fire pit, the hub of dumpings and tension. Before we go on, a quick explainer: Love Island is set in a sun-soaked villa, where male and female contestants live for eight weeks to ‘couple up’, each in search of love. Viewers vote for their favourites, there are Big Brother-style evictions, or ‘dumpings’, jokey ‘challenges’ and all manner of drama, which unfolds mostly by the aforementioned fire pit. 

Deaf Havana’s sync is important because now more than ever, artists whose records feature on Love Island reap the benefits, from Shazam, to streaming and beyond. Like Made In Chelsea before it, Love Island has carved a sonic niche, with carefully chosen music varying from Ibiza-style house and pop to its signature stripped-back covers of older tracks and untested cuts from new artists. Indeed, many in the industry now view it as the place to discover new music on TV.

Love Island is definitely the biggest TV show for breaking artists or for people to find new music

Tim Hayes, Warner/Chappell

“They do it in interesting ways,” says Tim Hayes, creative and licensing executive at Warner/Chappell. “At the moment Love Island is definitely the biggest TV show for breaking artists or for people to find new music. People pick it up on social media and everyone watches it. It gets shared everywhere, internationally too.”
Deaf Havana’s manager Angus Blue delightedly tells Music Week that Hell was searched for on Shazam 1,800 times on the night it was broadcast. Its total now stands at around 3,000. It hit a peak of 4,060 streams on Apple Music, and jumped from 88-10 on the iTunes rock chart after the sync.

“Even compared with evening BBC Radio 1 spins, the effect is phenomenal, it’s immediate impact,” says Blue. “It’s about making sure you’ve got everything in place, all the metadata lined up. It’s the emotional connection and the immediacy of it that people react to. It’s fascinating, although I never thought I’d be speaking to someone about Love Island.”

But an increasing number of people in the music industry are doing precisely that. 
An avid viewer, Blue describes the show as “the one hour where you sit down with your dinner and decompress”, but concedes that he didn’t initially fancy his chances of snaring a sync. “We know how difficult it is to place rock bands, unless it’s very genre specific.”
Nonetheless, when he saw Laura and Wes’ argument trailed while watching at home, he emailed producer Stephen Yemoh. 

Holed up between edits in Love Island’s production village – situated a mile from the villa in an old concrete factory staff have nicknamed ‘Charlie’s’ – Yemoh remembers it well. “Our editors have been really great in letting us go with what we like, they don’t say, ‘We’ve got to be pop,’ or anything, it’s just whatever we want,” he says. “Artists that aren’t particularly mainstream but that we just enjoy, we will go back to them. Viewers have noticed the same artists through the series, that’s just because we like them.”

Yemoh reflects fondly on numerous uses, one of which is a specially commissioned cover of Bananarama’s Cruel Summer by new Sony artist Hailey Tuck. Sony’s involvement with Love Island stretches back months, due in part to Ministry Of Sound’s decision to release an official compilation album for this series. Were it not for Now’s 100th edition it would likely still be No.1 in the compilations chart. Still, 28,852 sales in two weeks are not to be sniffed at.

“Sony said if we wanted any particular cover done by their artists they could get them made,” Yemoh explains.
“I always wanted to use it, but couldn’t quite find the instrumental. So Hailey Tuck did a cover and it worked nicely.

“I think it was the morning after Wes and Laura had broken up. Laura was upset in bed by herself and Megan and Wes were outside, the lyrics worked perfectly.”

Yemoh’s descriptions offer a window into the obsessive manner in which those that enjoy Love Island remember its storylines, and the producer and his team – including his “amazing” night shift counterpart Sarah Fay – ensure that its soundtrack is just as memorable.

“A high level of craftsmanship is paramount, and a big part of that is the eclectic use of music,” says Fay. “From classical to grime to disco, no genre or era is off limits, and that’s what makes the show so much fun to make. Music is such an important part of Love Island now.”

Love Island know their core demographic exactly and they hit the nail on the head 99 times out of 100

Ian Neil, Sony Music UK

Ian Neil, director of sync for Sony Music, has “only positive things to say” about Love Island. “We were feeding them music very early on,” he says, highlighting the job done by Sony’s TV specialist Sterling Williams. “With Hailey Tuck we had something like 7,000 Shazams, which is remarkable. I’ve been around this game a long time and I don’t think I’ve seen music on TV react quite like this, and on a daily basis.”


Neil also points to a usage of Rebecca Ferguson’s Teach Me How To Be Loved from 2011, which rocketed to No.25 in the iTunes chart overnight, seven years after release. He puts part of the reactive power of Love Island’s music down to its audience. “The music is relatively in the background, not as prominent as Skins or Made In Chelsea, but because of the demographic, it’s all part of the experience – they’re on Shazam as soon as they hear something.”

Warner/Chappell have a successful Love Island cover story, too. Foy (feat. Scott Quinn) recorded a version of George Benson’s Give Me The Night, one of more than 100 Warner/Chappell usages this series. “It’s a way of reintroducing those classic songs,” says Andrew Howell, senior creative and licensing manager. “People go back to the original and discover a new artist or genre they wouldn’t necessarily have known about. That feeling of, ‘I do know this song, but why do I know it?’ gives a really nice overall picture to the sync.”

Clearly, the music Yemoh and his team are choosing is having a big impact, on viewers and artists alike – he gleefully reels off a list of acts who have publicly thanked the show (Raleigh Ritchie, Tom Walker, Rationale) and proudly reports a mention for the soundtrack on Good Morning Britain.

All of which begs the question, what are Love Island’s aims when it comes to syncs?

“It’s not just to enhance the scene and heighten emotion, but a soundtrack that people can enjoy,” Yemoh explains. “It’s not just the straight music you get on reality shows, we spend months on it. If people can tap their feet and the track pulls on heartstrings, that’s what you hope to achieve. People aren’t just listening, they’re going out and finding it.”

And that is where the music industry comes in. Executives and artists alike have been following the show all summer. “Songwriters and artists want to be featured on Love Island, A&R executives are emailing saying, ‘Can we get this used? These are perfect lyrics all about breaking hearts,’” reports Warner/Chappell’s Hayes.

“If there is one thing over and above everything else it’s that it’s an opportunity to promote new music,” says Neil, who acknowledges that such chances are increasingly rare. “A lot of feature films and advertising use lots of catalogue. For us to have someone like Tom Walker and everything else Love Island uses is very encouraging, because it reflects the demographic, which often gets missed in sync. Love Island know their core demographic exactly and they hit the nail on the head 99 times out of 100. Even when they do throw a cureveball people still seem to react.”

Put the name Tom Walker to Yemoh, and his response is indicative of the show’s appreciation of the music scene. “I saw Tom Walker support Samm Henshaw a couple of years ago, I really liked him and used a load of his tracks in the last series and again this year,” he says. “I think it’s really helped him. We opened the second show with Leave A Light On and it saw a massive surge and it went to No.1 on iTunes. It makes it worth it to dig a bit deeper.”

With the series wrapping, Yemoh is already looking forward to 2019. Neil, who admits his team “won’t know what to do” without their nightly fix from the villa, feels the same.

“People clearly love it and the reaction through Shazam and streaming is indicative of that. We’re very pleased, and the whole industry should be. The collaborative way the producers have worked with the music industry has been very inspiring and quite unique.”

“We’re working together with the music industry now, which is great,” concludes Yemoh, before heading back to the edit suite. “We’ll carry on crate-digging…"

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