Ed Sheeran’s return has dominated the music business this week, with his twin comeback singles, Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill, set to make chart history later today by debuting at No.1 and No.2 on the Official Singles Chart. He will become the first artist to do so with two brand new tracks.
Sheeran’s third album, ÷, is due on March 3 through Asylum/Atlantic and looks sure to become one of the year’s biggest-sellers. Both previous albums, 2011’s + and 2014’s X, have sold in excess of two million copies each.
So Music Week caught up with Sheeran’s manager, Stuart Camp of Rocket Music, to find out the state of play with the new campaign…
What made you want to release two singles at the same time?
Well, they’re both great. We were saying, What do we want to do? and we decided to sell two sides of the story. We want to superserve the album and get excitement built up early, so we thought, Bugger it, let’s just do both. The UK media seem to be on side, we’re getting double A-lists at Radio 1, Capital and what have you, it’s no issue whatsoever. The Americans think it’s a very novel idea but they’ll get used to it!
Presumably over there the two tracks will suit different radio formats?
Ostensibly we want to treat them like twin children and treat them exactly the same but, yes, Shape Of You will funnel into Hot A/C and Pop and Castle… will be Triple A and Alternative, ultimately. But we hope the online clamour will be so high that it’ll be hard for anyone to ignore either of them!
Ed’s online teaser campaign certainly caused a clamour. Did you ever think you could break the internet by tweeting a blue square?
It’s not bad, is it? I now feel bad for torturing these children that come to me on Twitter. The blue square was exactly a year to the minute that Ed went off social media. After he finished the tour in New Zealand, he did the, I’m going away for a year, see you later [announcement] and he did nothing. No one ever thought he’d stick to it, least of all me, but he did. So we thought, Let’s do something, every album’s had a colour theme in its marketing and this one’s obviously blue. Originally, we were going to launch January 1 with music but we thought people are hungover or not really looking at their phones, so we thought we’d tee it up for a week and then go [last] Friday with both singles, simultaneously, all across the board, all platforms. We’re not being silly buggers with anybody, we just want to be fair and open and get as many people as possible to listen to it. We shot two videos in December, and they’ll be airing soon.
How important was the break to him?
Well, it was probably [only] about three months. He took a holiday at the beginning of the year, travelled with his girlfriend and had a great time, then got back into working May/June. He recorded part of the album on the Queen Mary coming back because our producer [Benny Blanco] doesn’t fly and then did a lot of it at his house in Suffolk.
Does it sound very different to his previous albums?
There’s [been] no change for the sake of it, but it’s certainly matured, there’s more diversity sonically, and the songwriting has gone up a notch. If anybody has had any good feelings for him in the past, they’ll be very pleasantly surprised by this album, but it’s not gone metal or R&B. One day it’s going to happen I’m sure! That’s the point of the two singles, the album’s called Divide and they’re the two ends of the spectrum of what the album sounds like. We’re very proud of it, we’re just desperate for people to hear it and get it out there.
Does the huge anticipation around the album bring any extra pressure?
We’re not bothered in the slightest. We’re very grateful to be in that situation and hope we can live up to that, we’re just happy people care and are interested and we hope we give them what they want.
Can the sales figures for ÷ measure up to + and X?
We’ve got a very solid foundation from + through to X so I’d like to see at least similar growth, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable. We’re going to be working this and touring at least until the end of ’18. Live dates are coming early summer in the UK and then we’ll come back here in ‘18 as well.
Streaming has changed the market a lot since X…
It isn’t that long ago since we were last in this situation on X, but it’s almost like learning to set up a record again, going back to our label and saying, What does this all mean? But our [streaming] figures have always been strong so I think that will serve us well, but it’s certainly completely changed.
Does that mean you have to approach things differently?
Not massively. We had to come up with a different approach which is why we’re doing two singles, people have been slightly freaked out because they almost think we’re going to cannibalise ourselves figures-wise, but everyone’s willing this to work and accommodating it, so there’s no real difference.
Finally, what made Ed want to write the X Factor winner’s single?
He really wanted to get a Christmas single out and the opportunity’s never arisen [before]. He wrote [When Christmas Comes Around] in one of the later sessions for the album, they came up with this song and they were never going to use it. He was with [producer] Steve Mac and they met with Sonny [Takhar, Syco] and he said, Have you got anything that could possibly work? Originally they were going to have different songs for every contestant, then they said as long as it’s not Honey G, we’ll take that song and he just went for it. Sadly it wasn’t the Christmas No.1 he was hoping for.
Will he do his own version?
I doubt it, he has other Christmas songs for himself – but that’s for the Bublé stage of his career!