Olivia Dean and EMI co-president Rebecca Allen talk artist development as debut LP impacts Top 10

Olivia Dean and EMI co-president Rebecca Allen talk artist development as debut LP impacts Top 10

Olivia Dean is pushing for the Top 10 with debut album Messy.

The singer and songwriter from North London is at No.8 in the Midweek Sales Update, according to the Official Charts Company.

Olivia Dean, who has three million monthly Spotify listeners, is one of EMI’s crop of breakthrough stars, including Caity Baiser, Mae Stephens and Mae Muller. The label won the Record Company trophy at the Music Week Awards. 

Dean came through the AMF label, which released her 2019 EP OK Love You Bye. 

EMI co-president Rebecca Allen has been looking forward to releasing Messy ever since her appointment in the summer of 2020.

“Because of the pandemic, I started getting to know people by doing individual Zoom calls,” she told Music Week. “And when I asked which artist people were most excited about, Olivia’s name came up again and again. I’m so proud we’re putting this album out. It feels emotional, because we’ve seen the journey this young woman has gone on, both in her career and personally.”

Emily Braham of Yo&Co has been Dean’s manager from the start of her music career seven years ago, following a spell at the BRIT School. She was selected for Amazon Music’s Breakthrough programme two years ago.

Braham told Music Week that Dean’s ambition has been there from the beginning.

“She told me she’d like to make an album, play Glastonbury and be on Later... With Jools Holland,” she said. “And this year will be when she completes all those dreams.”

Although she has 144,400 TikTok followers and 2.1 million likes, the focus for videos on the platform remains on live and performance.

“I’m a pretty old soul,” Dean told Music Week. “I like live gigs, I like doing stuff with bands and I don’t like TikTok. I would never post a video of me talking into my phone because it creeps me the hell out.”

For an authentic artist like Dean, the absence of touring proved a particular challenge during the pandemic.

“We had to really think about strategy and have Olivia think about that too,” said Allen. “And she did lean into social media, but it came from a very live perspective.”

Olivia Dean is going to be around for a very long time

Rebecca Allen

Dean travelled the UK, sponsored by the shoe brand Clarks, playing socially-distanced gigs from the back of a bright yellow truck with her name painted on the side.

“It was a fantastic content idea for her and we built audiences through that,” said Rebecca Allen, adding that EMI has kept to a similar strategy since. 

“Recently, there was a clip from Brazil with just Olivia and a guitar on a balcony, we also filmed her at The Jazz Cafe in Camden and a clip of her singing The Hardest Part went viral. We knew there was something about the in-person moments with Olivia that we had to capture to drive social growth, and it worked.”

The EMI co-president said that engagement was so impressive that, last year, Dean only released one track and sold out Koko and The Roundhouse.

“She was building this audience by putting out very little, but it was quality content,” said Allen. “Her streams and social growth kept going up, The Hardest Part [Dean’s biggest track on Spotify with 39 million streams] was the hardest working asset ever. What that one piece of music did for Olivia was phenomenal.”

Dean has just shared an intimate handheld captured live performance of the album’s title track Messy. It was shot by her friend Sirus Gahan at sunset in a field in South London with her band.

Dean returned to long time collaborators Max Wolfgang, Bastian Langebaek as well as finding new creative partnerships with Matt Hales and Tre Jean Marie for the production of the record.

“We’ve never forced her to work with anybody,” said Allen. “And, in fairness to Olivia, she would always push back on things that we suggested that didn’t feel authentic to her. So we allowed her

to be herself, gave her time and patience to discover who she is, to experiment and write and create. She wanted to make this album and we allowed her the space to do that.”

“I think about albums like Carole King’s Tapestry, or The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill – and I’m not comparing my record to those fantastic records – but the way that you come back to them, and they’re just there for you,” said Dean. “I would love my music to be that for people.”

EMI takes a similar view, with Allen emphasising that the label sees Olivia Dean as a career artist.

“This is an important album, but it’s certainly not the last album she will ever do,” said Allen. “Allowing Olivia to grow, develop and explore is going to be a theme that continues through her career with us. She is going to be around for a very long time.”

Manager Emily Braham added: “I think it’s really important to build an artist fully, build a dedicated and substantial fanbase and have a consistent high level of output. Instead of having one big break, it’s about building a really good business and catalogue of music.”

AMF creative director Connie Meade has continued to consult for Dean following the artist’s move to EMI.

Dean is also supported by Jordan Jay, the A&R who originally signed her. Their working relationship paused when AMF Records left the EMI stable and Dean was moved to the main EMI label. 

Jay, who now runs Karma Artists Management, is on board as a consultant A&R.

“I love Jordan, and I’m really proud of the record we’ve made together, he’s been so helpful,” said Dean. “Then there’s Jo [Charrington, EMI co-president] and Becky [Allen], two women at the head of the label. So, thank you very much, that’s cool, that’s a godsend.”

Subscribers can read the full Olivia Dean interview here.


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