New For '22: Mimi Webb's blueprint for a modern pop breakthrough

Staking a claim as one of UK pop music’s biggest TikTok success stories, Mimi Webb’s path into the music industry has been anything but conventional. Here, alongside RCA and her management team, the future star traces her journey so far, ...

Revolution Radio: Behind the scenes at KISS

Bauer Media Audio’s radio station KISS – and its sister channel KISS Fresh – is on a mission right now to establish itself as the essential home of new music on the airwaves. Before we dive into the details with presenters Ellie Prohan, Henrie Kwushue, Tinea Taylor and Harriet Rose, Music Week joins content director Rebecca Frank as she outlines their bold masterplan... I just can’t imagine a world without them,” beams Rebecca Frank. “I can’t imagine a KISS without them.” This is how Frank – who assumed her current role as content director at KISS in March 2020 – reflects on the new crop of presenters she’s welcomed to the station recently, including Ellie Prohan, Tinea Taylor, Henrie Kwushue, and Harriet Rose. Together they embody Frank’s masterplan to embed KISS in the national consciousness as the go-to place for new music.   “Commercial radio is something I feel passionately plays a huge role in introducing listeners to new music opening up opportunities for artists,” she says. “With the heritage we’ve got, coupled with the ambition we have as a brand, it was a no-brainer to bring in some new properties.” Frank was confident that the right presenters with the right chemistry would pay off. In August 2020, KISS’s new breakfast show was launched, hosted by Jordan Banjo and Perri Kiely, with DJ Harriet Rose.  “They bring personality, cultural relevance, but also massive musical passion to the table,” enthuses Frank. A month after launching the new breakfast show, the network also kick-started the KISS Hype Chart.  “It really is ever changing,” says Frank. “We create that every day, on the day, to represent the tunes that are the most talked about.” The Hype Chart’s presenter Tinea Taylor, Frank describes as, “the best person to do that show – she’s that mate who brings you in and is discovering music at the same time as you.”  The launch of KISS Nights in November 2020, meanwhile, offered more opportunities for the station to invest in specialist new music and broadcast a “massively diverse range of talent”. The content strand’s Tuesday night presenter, Ellie Prohan, Frank describes as “one of the most exciting DJs around – her credibility is second to none”.  All of this is without mentioning what Frank says is the station’s “out-and-out, indulgent, new music brand” KISS Fresh. First launched in 2014, it was consolidated last year, with presenters including Elz The Witch and Daisy Maskell.   Yet alongside breaking new acts, nurturing its own presenters is very much at the heart of the station’s mission. Henrie Kwushue, who hosts KISS’ weekend morning show as well as co-hosting the Spotify podcast Who We Be Talks, was discovered by Frank when she was interning at the BBC.    “She’s so confident in herself now,” Frank says. “She loves dance music, she does pop music: such a broad portfolio that allows her to bring her whole self to her job.” This focus on new music might spark comparisons to the ethos of competitor stations such as BBC Radio 1, but Frank is adamant the brand doesn’t get distracted. “There are way more opportunities to break artists and tracks than there have ever been – I think because of us!”  Rebecca Frank “One thing I’ve been really staunch about over the last 18 months is focusing on ourselves and the audience, rather than being competition focused,” she offers. “Of course, everybody loves to say they’re No.1 [laughs].”  She does, however, suggest that KISS is “ahead of other competitors for our demographic”. Listeners to KISSTORY have climbed to 2.2 million, making it among the most popular DAB commercial stations. On the up, too, are the listening figures for KISS Fresh, which are at 416,000. Such figures debunk the myth that the younger generation (KISS’ demographic is primarily 15-34 year olds) don’t engage with radio. Nowhere was that engagement clearer to see than at the KISSTORY Festival, which returned to South London’s Streatham Common in September 2021. The overarching impression is that KISS is pushing the traditional remit of commercial radio.  “There are way more opportunities to break artists and tracks than there have ever been – I think because of us!” says Frank. “Take a track like Tell Me Something Good by Ewan McVicar: that’s been solidly in the Top 15, but was something we stuck our necks out on. We’ve got a reputation for doing that and sticking with something.”  So what, then, is Frank’s message to the wider music industry right now?  “We’re really proud of our open-door policy,” she explains. “The message is that we’re open to conversations and feedback. We’ve got so many opportunities to be a bit more experimental. We have slots for new tracks for unsigned and independent artists and we can put them in amongst major label tracks. We’re open for business!” “KISS is in a really, really healthy place, with a diverse line-up that represents the UK now and in the future,” she concludes. “Having expanded our team, we’re able to do everything we want to do properly. That’s testament to the evolution of the brand from a traditional commercial radio operator into a lifestyle and cultural brand for the UK.” Harriet Rose Interview: Adenike Adenitire You appear alongside Jordan and Perri for the KISS Breakfast show every weekday. What’s unique about your take on that coveted slot? “Oh, the show is just such an exciting thing to be part of, because the boys are fantastic. They bring such a big fan following but now they’re able to delve in alongside me. KISS is offering so much more than just a playlisting show at the moment – we go outside of that. We’ve got the KISS Breakfast Banger which brings everybody a new music tune they might not have heard and we tend to do an array of different tunes for that, and support brand new music. You get a little bit of everything.” And what do you bring to the table? “I’m really passionate about music. I love to support artists and see their growth and see how their careers take off. I do a lot of interviews for the show and it’s one of my favourite things on earth to do – communicate with others, whether that be a guest on the show or the listeners. I always want to bring something out of it that that person listening has never known about before. Also, being a queer person and being able to talk about that to a huge audience in a normal way is one of the main reasons I love being at KISS. What kind of audience are you reaching? “I think we have such a diverse audience in the sense that we have the new music – we have the biggest tunes at the moment – but we also have the KISSTORY bangers. So, we’re appealing to people on the way to school who want to tune in and hear some fun, people on the way to their jobs in their 30s who are listening to the KISSTORY bangers and maybe also getting involved with the new music we’re playing.”  What ideas are you proud of that you, Jordan and Perri have introduced? “I’m so proud of the show and what it’s turned into. I think the KISS Breakfast Banger is incredible because we’re highlighting one tune for a whole week, which can do huge things for an artist. In terms of things that I have personally brought, I guess the formats and the fun things we’ve done across the show like My Teenage Self, which delves into the early years of artists’ lives. And we also recently started an On The Street feature where we’re going out and talking to the general public about something current, so I love that element of bringing the audience into the show.”  What do you make of your rivals in the radio world? “Rivalry is not a word that I’m interested in using for myself, because I just don’t feel that in this industry. I think there’s room for everybody to do great things. And especially the smallest stations because they’re creating the future of radio. I started on a smaller station and cut my teeth for years doing a new music show, which brought my passion for new music alive. I mean, personally,for me, I was at FUBAR Radio, and I grafted and did everything alongside my amazing producers. I wrote all the interviews, which I still do now to be honest. I also edited all my own videos and put together my own press packs and it just meant that when I was able to go onto commercial radio, I was so much more equipped." How will radio stay ahead of podcasts longterm? “The downloadable shows, app and the website makes [radio] that much more accessible. And on top of that, having YouTube, TikTok and the Instagram Reels, it’s like you’re really covering the bases. If you’re more of a person who wants to listen to say, a 15-20 minute interview, you can go to YouTube and find plenty of those. There’s also a lot of restrictions in podcasting, you can’t play full-length songs. But if you’re going to listen to a podcast, that’s not what you’re coming to KISS for. You’re coming to KISS for tunes, but also insightful, interesting, fun and dynamic chat, so I really do see them as two totally different things.” Finally, what acts are you most excited about in 2022? “Griff is one of the most exciting artists at the moment. I’m really looking forward to hearing more from her. Arlo Parks is doing amazing things. I’m also really interested in the TikTok generation of artists – there’s Audrey Nuna, plus Miraa May, I can’t wait for more of her. Ashnikko is doing really well, she’s going to get humongous, and also, Mae Muller. Oh, and Bree Runway – that girl is going to take over the world next year, hands down, she’s going to be as big as Lady Gaga, she’s got star quality that I’ve not seen in a while.” Tinea Taylor   Interview: Adenike Adenitire Can you tell us about some of your personal highlights since joining KISS?  “I’ve been at KISS for seven years now and I’ve had a lot of people pass through the building, I would say Lady Gaga is up there. Hugh Jackman’s also up there because he was absolutely insane. Usain Bolt, because he’s just hilarious in person, but very iconic as well, so I feel really privileged to have spoken to him, especially after the 2012 Olympics. Also, I would say the moment I’m living in now, in my KISS space, and having the Hype Chart, is a highlight for me because this is where I feel the most comfortable. I’m a music-head first, so talking about music and championing new artists as well as playing artists that are well-known gives me great pleasure." What would you say separates your show, not only from other shows on other stations, but from other shows at KISS? “Firstly, at KISS this show’s never been done before, so the Hype Chart was created a year ago to bridge the gap between daytime KISS shows and the specialist shows at 9pm. It was created to not only play big tunes, but to create moments for new artists to have a platform. Usually, you wouldn’t hear a brand new artist that has never been played before 3pm, but you’ll definitely hear it on the Hype Chart. So that, I would say, is the main difference between my show and the other shows on the station. We have a moment in the show called KISS Bliss. And that’s our new sister station that’s on the KISSTORY app and it’s about playing some KISSTORY on there, some good old school R&B and some new R&B. The whole premise of the station is about chilled out vibes. So, that is the main difference between the other shows, we just have a different purpose.” Who are your role models in radio? “I’ve always loved Fearne Cotton, I think she’s an absolutely brilliant broadcaster. She was to the point, but still fun and engaging. And just as a woman on radio, her show was sandwiched between, like, three different men, you know what I mean? I just love hearing women on the radio. I think Annie Mac is amazing. Talking about KISS greats, there was Neev Spencer, too. When I joined KISS, Neev was ‘Miss KISSTORY’, and always did the KISSTORY hour. I loved her tone of voice and she actually taught me something called ‘light and shade’, which is changing up your voice and having different variations to match the tone of the music. I learned a lot from her.” You’ve done several interviews offering advice – what words of wisdom would you give to the next generation of broadcasters? “I always say, ‘Don’t rush, take your time, everything happens when it’s supposed to happen, so live in the moment.’ If you’re at a festival, and you’re backstage and you’re interviewing, five years prior, you were a punter queuing up in general admission, so take in that moment of, ‘Look where I am’. If I could go back, I would take in those moments more. But it definitely feels great to be in the position I am in and anyone that asks for advice I’m happy to give it because I know how hard it is to get your foot in that door and stay there.” And are there any acts that you feel you’ve helped break in particular? “I don’t want to say I broke anyone because someone’s talent is their talent. And if they’re successful, that’s because of them. But Bree Runway is incredible, and I’ve been playing her music for a while on the show and now she’s nominated for the Rising Star award at the BRITs and was nominated and performed at the MOBOs. So, she’s someone that I’ve always championed from the beginning. And I’m so glad that she’s getting her flowers.” And which acts excite you most in 2022? “There’s so many. I think Cleo Sol is incredible, and Little Simz is just a superstar – she acts as well, and she directed her Woman music video. She’s killing it right now, but I just want to see more of that recognition for Little Simz and for Cleo Sol. I think Bree Runway’s going to be our Lady Gaga, because she’s so fun, eccentric, passionate and fierce. And I absolutely love Ms Banks as well, she is a sick lyricist.” Ellie Prohan Interview: Adenike Adenitire What is unique about your show compared to other ones that play the same kind of music?  “Every week I break between 20 to 28 artists who’ve never had KISS plays before. It’s basically connecting the streets to the people. The reason I love UK rap is because everybody has a lived experience. My show bridges the gap to the people who don’t necessarily understand that experience. I actually have a very sick battle called 15 Seconds Deep and it’s my baby. I was inspired after reading [New York radio presenter] Angie Martinez’s book and I was so obsessed with it because growing up Angie Martinez represented me, in terms of my skin tone and her body shape. I also completely resonated with her as she was so massively into Black music. So, 15 Seconds Deep is kind of the old way that Angie Martinez used to break artists on radio in New York. Two tracks go head-to-head every week, and the listeners decide who bangs the hardest in 15 seconds – the one that gets the most votes get played in full on my show at midnight.” How do you personally find new music?  “My inbox. I get thousands of submissions a week. I personally pick all the music, it comes through my Instagram, emails, and I let people into my DMs. It’s the way I do things and it’s personal. From when I first started my KISS show, it’s only been in the past two months that I stopped replying back to everybody as I physically couldn’t do it anymore. The messages I would get back were so important to me because they were thanking me for replying and at least listening to their track.”  Are there any acts you feel proud to have helped bring to the masses? “I play 28 new artists a week and I listen to every single track myself. I think the longest I’ve listened to music in one go for my show has been 15 hours straight. I’ve been really excited about female rappers such as ShaSimone, Cristale, Queen Millz who I became familiar with a little while ago, and it’s nice to see her come into her own and really understand her niche. Carla Prata is another artist who I’m a big fan of, she has this unique sound which is beautiful and quite similar to Amaria BB. Then Wavy The Creator who’s been on the show a few times, and Bryn… We’ve even had Lala &ce who’s a French drill artist, she’s pretty sick. So yeah, the ladies are killing it right now.”  Having previously been at Foundation FM, how important is it that stations like that exist? “The importance of Foundation FM is that they really put the emphasis on really good female talent, not just female talent, and I think there’s a big difference. Also, being a part of that female energy was so empowering because everybody was very supportive of each other. I also got to really feel a part of Black music in a way that I wouldn’t on many other stations.”  What is it like working with the department heads at KISS? “She’ll hate me for this because she gets so embarrassed, but [content director] Rebecca Frank is the best boss I’ve ever had. She’s so empowering and from day one she’s been a massive supporter of my show. And considering the music that I like to play and the fact that it can be controversial, she has stood by me a million percent and always encouraged me to push the boundaries. By giving me opportunities, she’s not just a boss but almost like an agent.”  And what acts are you most excited for in 2022?  “Artists like SKT who is an Italian drill artist, Lucii and Lady Ice. There’s an incredible artist called D’One who I had on my show the other day. SR, who’s huge already and had a big MOBO nomination, and also Clavish. There are some artists I can’t talk about yet, but they’ll be available very soon. There’s an artist called Keanan, who represents the LGBTQI community. And I’m very excited for Digga D next year, too. He’s a very smart artist. And I’m also very excited for the UK/US link-up, Central Cee is going to have a lot of surprises for us on his projects coming up. And I think it won’t even just be a US thing. I think that we’re really understanding our connection with Europe.”    Henrie Kwushue Interview: Adenike Adenitire You joined as the weekend Breakfast host in 2021, how did your first year go? “I’ve really loved it, even though I was filling really big shoes to be honest. But I’ve always wanted a space where musically I get to hear everything I would listen to on a daily basis and just have fun with that. In terms of learning more, KISS pushed the boundaries for me in ways I wouldn’t even know to do.” You’ve worked on Spotify’s Who We Be Talks podcast, contributed to No Signal radio and presented on Reprezent Radio – what did all of that experience bring to your show on KISS? “I think it’s not only brought diversity to my show but diversity to who I am, which I think by God’s grace makes me perfect for the role at KISS. That all adds to the Henrie experience and makes me an eclectic person. I love that at KISS I get to bring exactly who I am to the music, no matter what kind of music it is.”  Do you feel there are enough opportunities for young women from all backgrounds in radio? “Unfortunately, I think when it comes to Black women and ethnic minorities definitely not as much, or they’re probably not as visible as everybody else. And again, so much more needs to be done in getting them more representation and more jobs because there is a natural bias.”  What things and which people have proven to be most helpful to you on your career in radio? “Church was definitely one, because without my spiritual journey, my career probably wouldn’t look the way it does. Outside of that, it would have to be Ella-Bonai Gordon and Stephanie Duncan-Bosu, who are my managers. JoJo Sonubi and David Sonubi at No Signal radio have been super-helpful and encouraging and have brought me into so many different things, and Adrian Newman from Reprezent Radio has helped my journey – a lot of the first times I’d ever done anything corporate was at Reprezent. Rebecca Frank at KISS, who I started working alongside at another company ages ago and she was like, ‘Yeah, Henrie I remember you and I’d love for you to have a job at KISS.’ People like Zeon Richards, Sian Anderson, Julie Adenuga... There’s been so many.” In terms of advice, what would you say to a young person who dreams of being a DJ?  “Probably just to get rid of the fear that is making you not want to get into it because you’re feeling shy, or it’s awkward. Do your research and start doing whatever you want to do, or else you’ll never get to the point where you feel like you’re ready. Get yourself a controller, book yourself a space at pirate radio, or if you want to DJ on your laptop, get the necessary software.”  How important is it for your show to break hits? “It’s very important. Sometimes you’re the first voice that people hear in the morning, you’re at the forefront of everything, so if you’re breaking new music, that’s super-important. A track might literally have just dropped and you’re the one playing it. In a world where you’ve got so many music platforms you want to stay current with whatever’s going on.” And what are your thoughts on the charts at the moment? “Music in general is in an incredible place. I think the fact that over the year, you’ve had UK artists and Afrobeats music charting is incredible to me. I really love that because I no longer feel, as a presenter and as a consumer, I’m combining two worlds, or two parts of myself. It literally is all parts of who I am represented in the charts. It shows how far music has come, and what people see as mainstream has changed a lot too.” What’s the main difference between podcasts and radio in your opinion? “Oh my gosh, there’s so much difference. A podcast is long format speech, so you get more of a chance to express yourself and your personality. But when it comes to radio, you really do have to condense everything into whatever can fit into that link. Switching between both isn’t that easy but I love a good challenge.” Finally, which acts excite you most in 2022? “I’m excited to see more from A1 x J1. The fact they’re so young and doing so well is incredible – I think they’re both still in school and their trajectory, especially on apps like TikTok, and then charting at No.2 [with Latest Trends – 658,516 sales, OCC], is out of this world. I can’t wait to see what they’re going to be up to next year. I can’t wait to see acts like Griff, who I think is incredible, Hamzaa, Tiana Major9, Joy Crookes who had a Top 5 record, and Bellah. In fact, there’s a lot of UK singers that don’t get their shine enough and I’d like to see them fully take over next year.”  

Rising Star: Janay Marie

The industry's brightest new talents tell their stories. This month it's the turn of Janay Marie, community, programmes and events manager at TikTok... How would you describe your journey through the music industry so far? “I graduated from The BRIT School of performing arts and technology with a BTEC in Community Arts, then did work experience with various companies, from ITV to MOBO. I started an internship at Sony, where I was a part of Simon Cowell’s PR team working on The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and The Greatest Dancer. It was an amazing experience. During the pandemic, my current job came up at TikTok, working with creators on and off the platform, as well as working with the music team and artists on projects. It feels like I’ve been here for years and that the job was made for me.” Describe a typical day at work... “Every single day is different. One day, it’s back-to-back meetings, the next it’s working on presentation decks and catching up on admin. Then it may be site visits, or spending hours on TikTok, finding creators, venues or brands to work with on campaigns. It’s a crazy whirlwind – no day is the same.” What are you most proud of in your career at TikTok? “In my short time here I have accomplished a lot, especially when it comes to amplifying the Black community. We just finished the #ThisIsBlack campaign, which was a big deal for us. I led on other campaigns such as #Windrush, and on the event activation for Notting Hill Carnival with [TikTok creator manager] Lola Oyewole. I am most proud of leading on the Stephen Lawrence Day campaign. We worked with Stephen’s mother and her charity, as well as our music and live teams to create a memorial concert in honour of her son.” We really need to start listening to everyone’s voices How do you think the industry can improve its support of Black music creators? “Research and representation are extremely important – everything, in fact. You want to be inclusive? Start hiring people in teams that can really push for the same diversity and inclusion activations you’re seeing elsewhere. Support Black music creators, ensure you’re paying fairly, invite them into spaces in order for them to grow. And lastly, listen to the feedback that’s being given, from entry level to senior management. Interns see everything, probably more than those at the top at times. We really need to start listening to everyone’s voices in the industry.” Now you’ve established yourself in the industry, what do you hope for its future? “We have a long way to go. Luckily, there are so many organisations that are encouraging diversity within music. I’m hoping in the future, we will see more Black people in senior positions across the industry, and once we’re through the pandemic, there will be even more activations and events within the music space.” JANAY MARIE'S RECOMMENDED TRACK: Browse the very latest music industry jobs on the Music Week jobs page.

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