Island Records UK president Louis Bloom on the art of A&R

Island Records UK president Louis Bloom on the art of A&R

In the most recent edition of the Music Week Interview, Island Records UK president Louis Bloom outlined why he feels his label has now laid “the foundation for huge success” going forward.

Island has recently achieved a string of big hits and accolades with the likes of Dermot Kennedy, ArrDee, Unknown T, Yard Act, Easy Life, The Lathums, M Huncho, Sports Team, Sigrid, Fireboy DML and BRIT Rising Star nominee Lola Young. That’s not to mention the big buzz around signings like FLO, Dylan, Nia Archives, and Sam Tompkins. 

But how do they find their acts? Especially when so many of them are being discovered outside of the usual music hotspots in the UK – with ArrDee hailing from Brighton, The Lathums from Wigan, Easy Life from Leicester and Yard Act from Leeds. Music Week wondered whether Bloom and his team sign based more with their heart or with data. Has he, for example, signed anyone recently that was just a case of gut feeling?

“It’s all gut feeling, I promise you,” said Bloom. “The competition is so fierce I don’t think you have time to look at stats. Aside from that, for me the most important thing is that this is not about transactions. This is about a relationship. This is about waking up every day knowing I’m going to work with an artist for the next five to ten years minimum. It’s about careers. I think there’s a very big difference between moments and careers. Both are valid, but I want to be in both businesses – I want to be in the singles business, and the albums business. Data is very, very important and you’d be a fool not to take that into account. But what I’m saying is that if you don’t have an emotional connection, or an understanding of what you can do for an artist, or a shared vision, then there’s no point. Let another label do it.”

So if the data is good but the gut feeling isn’t there?

“It’s not getting signed,” said Bloom. “I don’t know many that haven’t been standing starts from anything that we’ve signed. ArrDee was pretty much a standing start, though Mixtape Madness, who as always were ahead of the curve, definitely drew our attention to him with their freestyle release. Yard Act had a couple of songs out, but they were embryonic. And they were both signed during Covid when there was no going to even meet them. Easy Life had a single on Chess Club, but that was it. These acts that we sign go from having nothing going on to suddenly becoming instant priorities. With FLO, I saw their video and I was like, ‘Right! Let’s put all our energy behind that!’ But there were no stats, they had nothing released. It’s about following your heart and following your gut. I’ve had a lot of experiences when I went head over heart and it hasn’t worked. We look at data, it really is important, because it’s never just one song you need to track – you need to track everything, you need to work to see where the spikes are that you need to push on. It’s after the signing that data becomes more important.”

If you don’t have an emotional connection, or an understanding of what you can do for an artist, or a shared vision, then there’s no point. Let another label do it

Louis Bloom

Bloom also opened up about the pressure of working at a label with Island’s immense legacy. Did it ever feel like it was weighing him down, especially he first took over as president?

“When I became head of A&R, I was like, ‘How am I going to do this?’” said Bloom. “But you’re encouraged here to take educated risks, you’re encouraged to do it on your own terms, and I never found that I’d be second guessed in any of that. You’ve got to give new meaning to the Palm Tree, and you’ve got to put your own imprint on it. That’s all about being a modern take on what is an iconic label, and that’s what I’m trying to do. It all comes back to finding the best artist of all time [laughs]. Wherever you are, I think there’s an expectation of that. I never really look back by the way, I’m always on to the new, like, ‘What’s next? What’s exciting?’ But when it all ends, I want to look back and see a legacy of artists that I’ve helped and be proud. And talk about legacy? U2 are still with us. Bob Marley is still in the charts. I want to be part of all that musical history and that journey.”

The one thing that keeps Bloom up at night? The thought of missing the next big thing…

“I have enormous anxiety about finding those acts,” he says. “That’s what keeps me awake at night, just making sure that we don’t miss the talent. And it hurts. It hurts like hell when I miss something – and no, I’m not going to go into detail! I guess when it stops hurting, then I know that this job is not for me to do anymore. So I try and turn that pain into a positive, but I’m really fucking competitive. I really want to win. I want the biggest and most influential artists of all time. I’m just excited, and I think in the next five years hopefully we’re going to enter another golden era for Island.”

Subscribers can read the full Louis Bloom Music Week Interview here.

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