Warner Records is ruling the charts this week, and president Joe Kentish has told Music Week that his team’s “curious” approach to using data helped pave the way for the success.
Emerging Warner-signed acts Eliza Rose and LF System occupy the Top 2 of the singles chart, while UK rock titans Muse became the first group and second act in chart history to debut at No.1 with seven consecutive albums with their ninth record, Will Of The People. And if Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal’s B.O.T.A (Baddest Of Them All) unseating LF System’s Afraid To Feel - which itself had been No.1 for eight weeks - wasn’t enough, Warner also have Luude and Mattafix at No.10 with Big City Life, another floorfiller on the rise.
Of course, the numbers make for impressive reading. Eliza Rose topped the list with 43,576 sales, LF System was at No.2 with 39,616 (and boasts a to-date sales total of 628,845). Muse, meanwhile, sold 51,510 copies of Will Of The People, more than six times as many copies as any other album, and more than the rest of the Top 10 combined. The trio also posted the highest album sale since Liam Gallagher’s C’mon You Know sold 70,261 copies. Gallagher, it goes without saying, is also signed to Warner, where Kentish took over the presidency from Phil Christie in May last year.
“I feel like Hannibal at the end of The A-Team, you love it when a plan comes together type of vibe,” Kentish tells Music Week. “It doesn’t always happen and you’re always wondering whether Harry Styles and Drake might do a duet at the last minute and mess you up…”
The president, who watched this week’s chart race unfold while on paternity leave, dedicates the success to the artists and his entire team.
We could see that this week was potentially on the horizon from even before we signed Eliza Rose
“The successes we’ve had are a result of that team,” he says. “[GM] Jen Ivory who’s held the fort down while I’ve been on paternity leave, [senior marketing manager] George Simpson who’s been building the dance department and the A&R team who have brought in some great records. If anything proves it’s about them and not about me, it’s me being away for three weeks and them delivering the greatest chart week of our label’s history.”
So far in 2022, Warner Records has guided Michael Bublé, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gallagher and now Muse to the top of the albums chart, while LF System’s TikTok-fuelled run at the top of the singles chart speaks for itself. Kentish reveals that his team saw this week coming.
“Obviously these things don’t come out of the blue for us, we could see that it was potentially on the horizon from even before we signed Eliza Rose,” he confides. “We’ve got really brilliant people who look at data and trends and can see the stories. I’d asked the question of whether it could be on and they came back really quickly and said, ‘possibly’. It’s a culmination of a couple of months of looking at that and working these records.”
Kentish says that Eliza Rose and LF System - which he is careful to emphasise are both UK-signed dance acts - and Muse represent the diversity and authenticity of the label’s roster.
“It’s a combination of everything we’ve been about at Warners, our legacy and where we feel that we’re going,” he says. “Muse, LF System and Eliza Rose all come from their own alternative scenes in one way or another, so it’s really gratifying. Muse are a legacy act that have a core fanbase and come from a particular scene, they’ve kept that scene going all along and they make records that are very uncompromising. Then you’ve got LF System, which is an underground dance record that made it from the dancefloor to the charts, and Eliza Rose, who comes out of this cool East London dance scene. These aren’t craven chart plays, these are really cool records in their own way with their own stories.”
To dig further into how Warner Records made this week’s chart success happen and to find out more about the label’s innovative approach, we sit down with Kentish to mark a feat that he says is just the beginning…
Firstly, can you expand on the role that data played in what you’ve been able to achieve this week?
“We spent a long time thinking about data and its role in music and decided that we’d be a label that would approach it in a really curious way and use it wherever we can, we don’t think it’s an either or thing. We think it contributes to the conversation and we want to be curious about how data can help us. So we’ve got people looking at everything from advertising spend and the impact of that on an artist by artist basis, we’ve got people looking at streaming trends, consumption pre-signing, so we’re deciding when to go for things or not… We’ve got people looking at data everywhere from the audience department to the specific data and insights department within A&R. We don’t go to the boffins, we want that intelligence and those insights in every part of what we do.”
But presumably you’d say that data doesn’t trump your gut instinct as a A&R?
“I really try to steer away from a binary view of it. Without being too cerebral, the gut instinct I have as an A&R is a result of having listened to hundreds of thousands of records, you know? If you look at Eliza Rose, the reason why we were early on that record is because [Warner Records A&R] Keir Fullerton was walking through Glastonbury at God knows what time in the morning, I haven’t asked him, and heard it two or three times on his way to get his cab. He looked into it and then got together with Rafi Galkoff who works in the data team and they started to see that this record was really moving, so the data allowed us to be really bullish about our offer. But it was someone walking through early in the morning hearing a song that they thought was great a couple of times that allowed us to be early. So it plays a role, but it’s all mixed together and I don't know that it’s that important to differentiate how we look at things.
How about Afraid To Feel?
“Our A&R Anton Powers had this song and it didn’t sound obvious, but he thought it was a great, cool record and he decided it was going to be the next single. And then very early on, we started to see data signs and started to build a very long term plan around that. So data played a part in both those songs, but it wasn’t the complete story.”
Muse have got a huge audience, but how do you keep them relevant and make sure you can amplify what they do? What’s the label’s role?
“When I came in [as president], they were one of the acts that I’d had the least hands-on experience of. As president, I was willing to help them in any way I could. I was really encouraged by how much they lent into having label support, they wanted to know which records we liked and which order [we thought] they should come in. Muse are obviously a huge touring act and we had to put together a campaign that was really coordinated around live dates. We had to coordinate with radio in the US, too. There are so many pieces to put together with a huge act like that to make sure you make the most of the incredible fanbase they’ve got and that also people know how good the record was and how different it was. There was a really big part to play for the label and Jen Ivory [GM] deserves all the respect for putting that plan together, she’s an absolute master of those campaigns and they are very, very complex. We pride ourselves on executing them well and there are moments where we’re looking very hard at the data on those too, it’s not completely old fashioned, it’s not a campaign from 30 years ago.”
We feel like we have a good idea of what TikTok means to a record and to an artist
This year, you’ve had a No.1 for Red Hot Chili Peppers, a big Foals album. How big a part are rock bands of what the label does?
“It’s more than bands, it’s an approach to making music. It’s never been a case of, ‘Let’s rip it up and start again’, it’s always been a case of, ‘Let’s apply the values this label has always had and apply it’. Again, I don’t look at it as being big on bands, I look at it as championing artists that have come from scenes. And that’s something that’s relevant to almost every artist making music, so can we carry that through to wherever consumers and listeners are?”
TikTok is important for so many different record campaigns at the moment in different ways. How important is it in your opinion?
“For a little while it was seen as a silver bullet, like, ‘TikTok will save the industry, that’s where we find all of our hits,’ and maybe it was for a minute or two, for a variety of reasons. Now I think it’s calmed down a little bit and it’s one of a suite of things that can help. It can kick off the success of a record, it can accelerate the success of a record, it can elongate the campaign, spread it in other countries or give a record a completely new life after the cycle has gone as we’ve seen with Dua Lipa. Because we’ve had quite a lot of successful UK-signed acts and have been privy to watching the evolution of their records, we feel like we have a good idea of what that platform means to a record and to an artist.”
Can you expand on what that is?
“There are no laws of how it works. We’ve got three songs in the Top 10 at the moment, all UK-signed acts, and TikTok has played a different role in each. We’ve got one where we're steadily plugging away on TikTok hoping for a moment, one where it’s really exploded on TikTok and one where TikTok has been a moderate part of the story. It definitely plays a part in what we do, it’s super-important and really exciting, because you’ve got a place where young people are discovering music. We don’t look at this as, ‘Is it good, is it bad? Is it everything, is it nothing?’ It’s like, we’re curious about it and we embrace what it means for records on behalf of our artists.”
Dance music has emerged in a very prominent way this year, as reflected by both Eliza Rose and LF System. Why do you think that is?
“There are some genres of music that feel evergreen, and with people coming together again and wanting to hang out again, dance is an obvious way to have a communal experience with lots of people. A little while ago, we really wanted to do it in the right way, so we hired engaged A&R people who had first hand knowledge of the scene and had been in it for years. We signed acts that were respected in the scene and doing something in their respective genres, people like The Blessed Madonna. We went after it in that way. We got in marketing people and audience people whose speciality was dance, it’s something we felt like we needed to be in in an authentic way. Our success is a culmination of those things that were put in place 18 months ago.”
Finally, how can LF System and Eliza Rose grow from here?
"When you have these runaway successes, the hard job is to turn it into something more concrete. What we won’t be doing is encouraging them to chase after chart success, we’ll be encouraging them to look at what their core values are and to keep producing music and creating work [in line] with that, and we’ll help that to be successful. That’s the way that we’ll turn them into the type of longer term successes that they want to be and we want them to be."