Today marks a special release day for George Michael fans, with the reissue of his 1990 classic Listen Without Prejudice arriving amidst much anticipation and excitement.
Michael stars on the cover of the latest edition of Music Week, out now, and the singer’s Freedom documentary premiered on Channel 4 this week, earning rave reviews. Read our take on the lessons the biz can take from the film here.
In our cover story, Music Week presents an intimate portrait of the campaign behind both film and album, with contributions from Michael’s close friend and manager David Austin, Phil Savill, MD Sony Commercial Group, Jon Cauwood, marketing director Sony Commercial Group, and Joanna Kalli, head of marketing, catalogue, Sony Commercial Group.
“It’s really exciting,” Austin told Music Week. “Because there’s this awareness, it’s not like we’re out there, as George would say, trying to flog our wares. There’s a conversation happening and we will deliver the music and if people want to accept it and take it that’s great. It feels very fresh, the whole thing.”
Commenting on Michael’s input before his death, in December 2016, Kalli added: “While George was still here guiding us through it felt very authentic and it had to have integrity and we had to keep bringing it back to him. Even more so, now he’s no longer with us, we’ve got these principles that we’ve tried to adhere to throughout; to maintain the integrity and authenticity of the campaign. It’s so important. This is his record and his campaign and we’re just here to deliver.”
Read on for an extract from the full interview, in which Music Week ventures deep into the mechanics of what looks set to become a truly remarkable campaign…
Has the concept changed since the initial discussions?
Jon Cauwood: We had a set idea that it would be a very good reissue series, good products, the talk of the documentary was very much focused on the album, but everything changed when George got more involved.
Phil Savill: It went from having his blessing to go ahead and do something to the back end of last year, with him being heavily involved and treating it like a new release.
David Austin: We had the initial meetings and we were going to make a documentary because George wasn’t going to promote it. But once he decided to roll his sleeves up, he got involved in everything. He drew out the album artwork himself and was involved in every increment, all the way. And once that started to happen, the whole thing started to snowball. When you get an artist behind a project like that, it’s different to just management and record company. To have an artist of that stature with that kind of experience involved really shows in this project, it brings it to another level, and then you get the engagement of the record company.
Are you aiming at the original fanbase or a new audience?
JK: It’s both. Where we find ourselves now, with an amazing product and an incredible film that I think will inspire so many people, to tell a really important story. This campaign is about so much more than the album given where we find ourselves now, unfortunately. It’s our responsibility as the label to spread the word and also maintain George’s relevance and importance and reach a new, younger audience. That really focuses on the fact that, as a man, he was very upfront about everything he went through in his life, he was very honest, everything was tempered with humour. A lot of the things he faced in his life, people still face now and it’s about drawing parallels and explaining them. He will always be an incredibly relevant artist in so many ways and we’re working with different creative to build on that and put that out there into the big, wide world. It’s looking after his existing fans, but also making sure that we do get that new, younger audience. The film is the centrepiece of our campaign and, once people see that, they’ll understand the bigger picture when it comes to George.
DA: There is a long-term conversation that’s happening with Sony. We’re going to structure something on a regular basis, look at the legacy, how we protect it, how we develop it so it’s not just project-by-project. Sony are the custodians of the catalogue and our partners in this. Since George sadly passed away, people have become more aware about who George is, what he did, what he stood for, down to him giving someone five grand in a pub or paying for IVF or building a school in Africa. More will come, I promise you. Young people might not necessarily know his music, but they know who he is and they know that he was a really cool guy who did all this stuff and was always standing up for the person who’s on the back foot. We’re looking to deliver our music in an organic way.
Subscribers can read the cover story in full here.
Read former Sony UK boss Paul Russell on the Sony-George Michael court case here.