Ed Sheeran’s year just keeps getting better and better. A day after Music Week named him Artist Of The Year – and interviewed him for our Christmas double-issue cover story – the midweeks suggest he’s heading for the Christmas No.1 single with his song Perfect.
Music Week has already noted the lessons the rest of the biz can learn from the way in which Team Sheeran rebooted the song – a Top 5 hit earlier in the year as part of Sheeran’s chart takeover in the wake of the blockbusting release of ÷ (Asylum/Atlantic).
But now, two key members of that team – manager Stuart Camp of Rocket Music and Ben Cook, UK president of Sheeran’s label, Atlantic – have revealed how they bucked the trend by turning Perfect into a huge hit, months after the initial streaming surge had peaked.
“It was one of those things,” Camp told Music Week. “Perfect was such a big record and had the highest streaming figures when the album came out. We were like, ‘Have we burned this record out before it’s even had its Christmas moment?’ So we thought, ‘We’ll get other people to do versions of it’ and everyone was like, ‘Beyoncé!’”
Camp admits he initially thought that particular collaboration would be difficult to pull off – although Sheeran had met Beyoncé before, he “didn’t feel comfortable to try and push [the song] to her”. Instead, they approached the singer through her publisher, Jon Platt, CEO/chairman of Warner/Chappell Music.
“They said she loved the song and would love to do it,” said Camp. “We were in New York at the end of July and they went and did it.”
Camp admitted that the huge surge in streaming numbers has made it much harder to extend an album’s lifespan by traditional means, such as releasing multiple singles.
“In the old days you could plan it and it’d be fine, it’d just roll through, but now you just don’t know,” he said. “You do wonder how many moments of magic you can really conjure up. You have to realise that, once you’ve orchestrated something like [Sheeran’s chart takeover], the rest isn’t really in your hands to try and do it again eight or nine months later. So you just have to believe in the strength of the record. The other versions certainly give you some legs – you do what you can but you’d be remiss to expect it.”
“The album was being gorged upon on streaming which was a great thing,” agreed Cook. “People got to learn the songs, share them, talk about them, comment on them and sing them back at live shows, but it’s a very different thing then keeping an album campaign running for a long period of time.
“Pre-album, Ed was very clear he felt Perfect was the best song he’d written, a record he thought should be our big record into this gifting period and Christmas to end the year on a high,” Cook added. “So we were quite protective of that and very mindful of, ‘How do we make this into a 12/18/24-month campaign, rather than 3-6 months and then it’s spent.”
Despite many high-profile appearances from Sheeran over the summer, Atlantic resolved to “preserve our moment to come back and package Perfect up as a really clean single message in its own right”. The song notably did not feature in Sheeran’s Glastonbury set, when the album saw another surge in interest, returning to the No.1 spot. That left pent-up demand for the song when it was declared a single in its own right in September, with Perfect becoming an airplay and sales chart hit before the duet versions with Beyoncé and Andrea Bocelli were unveiled.
“It was Top 10 before Beyoncé,” noted Cook. “At the end of September we declared it as a single with a lyric video, and then did the full video – it was no mean feat creating snow in a ski resort when there was no snow whatsoever! Then there were a bunch of other moments to build this record back up. We were able to get the Beyoncé record out on December 1, so it felt like the official start of Christmas and, all of a sudden, the whole thing started to move.”
The song now looks nailed on to be this year’s Christmas No.1 – and, if Perfect does stay on top, it will provide a moment of personal redemption for Camp who, when working on the label side of the business, was thwarted in the 2003 festive battle between The Darkness’ Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) (Must Destroy/Atlantic) and Michael Andrews & Gary Jules’ Mad World (Sanctuary).
“I’ve never had a Christmas No.1 in any capacity, as a label, management or anything so it’d be nice,” said Camp. “The closest I got was with The Darkness. We were well ahead on the midweeks and Gary Jules just took over. I was in Hamleys the day I found out and I think I swore at a small child. Well, not at the small child, I think I was like ‘For fuck’s sake’, and there was this little girl going, ‘Waah!’. I wasn’t popular but I couldn’t contain my disappointment. So fingers crossed, it’d be lovely but we’ll see…”
For the full story of Ed Sheeran’s ÷ campaign, featuring interviews with Sheeran, Camp, Cook, Max Lousada and other key members of Team Sheeran, see the new, Christmas double-issue print edition of Music Week or click here.
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