'Our ambition is for records to have a longer life': BMG's Alistair Norbury talks chart strategy

'Our ambition is for records to have a longer life': BMG's Alistair Norbury talks chart strategy

As revealed in the latest issue of Music Week, UK artists have had a tough year in terms of No.1 albums - and it looks like they’re set to miss out again this week as Michael Buble aims to score another chart-topper

BMG has enjoyed chart success this year with a run of acts who have moved to the label, including a big No.1 result for The Prodigy and, of course, Kylie - not a Brit, but signed and based in this country. Here, Alistair Norbury, president, repertoire & marketing at BMG UK, opens up on their release strategy…

How has BMG secured UK chart success for its artists in 2018?

“The fact is that we clearly focus our attention on established, iconic artists and they are our frontline releases, they’re not legacy releases, they are not heritage releases. The fact that the bulk of our resources and our time and energy are spent on these artists is reflected in the success, because we basically focus everything on them. The fact that we have a very strong A&R team, with Korda Marshall, Jamie Nelson and Thomas Haimovici means we’re spending a lot of time taking care and attention in the records we make. And the marketing team is undeniably brilliant.

Are you hopeful of another No.1 with Dido next year?

“Yes [but] look, we never know what is coming. The fact that this year for 28 weeks we’ve had a soundtrack album at No.1, just about everybody is going to be looking more at those projects. We will do everything we can to deliver the most successful campaign but what you can’t predicate for is freak releases, events happening, the tragedy of somebody passing away. Our ambition next year is to now make sure records have a longer life. Kylie has gone back [at No.42 with Golden] 32 weeks after the record came out. We’ve released the fifth single from an album, and hopefully that album will sit there for the rest of the year.”

The lack of UK No.1 albums this year shows it’s been tough for artists, including BMG contenders such as Rick Astley and Richard Ashcroft

“Correct. It is very difficult. This year the achievement of The Greatest Showman has obviously taken up a lot of the bandwidth and that has been followed by the other soundtracks. We are in a very competitive landscape, that makes The Prodigy result so remarkable. I just think we are focused on our particular lane. We’ve stepped slightly out of that lane this week with Aled Jones and Russell Watson. I am delighted that our first what I call Decca project is a Top 10 record, it is fantastic. We’ve decided to take a look at it and we’ve applied a very similar methodology to working that record. You’ll see BMG doing more of these crossover classical and jazz type records, because we’ve had a go and we like this space. We think it’s a world we can successfully operate in.”

We will continue to deliver the best repertoire and market it in the best way to retail

Alistair Norbury

With the increasing lack of retail space for physical music, is that also a challenge for securing a No.1 album? 

“Obviously, the lack of retail space will have an impact. Our job is to make the most compelling case for being given the visibility we want. We know the supermarkets like you to be TV advertising, we know they like you to be on all the big TV shows, on all the channels. They are the two drivers that influence the decision. We are fortunate with traditional retail, they see us bringing The Prodigy, and Rick Astley, and Kylie, and Dido, and records that still have a very strong physical presence. I think we’re going to maintain that but you’re right, as the time goes by, the physical retail opportunities get tighter. But all we can do is continue to deliver the best repertoire and market it in the best way to retail.” 

You’ve also landed a Top 10 compilation album with The Rolling Stones-curated project, Confessin’ The Blues…

“That’s a great example of our music publishing relationship with the Stones leading into an opportunity to work with the band on this compilation. We’ve just signed Keith [Richards'] solo catalogue as well, so we have a very good relationship there. Peter Stack’s team at BMG catalogue are having a very good time coming up with compilations and special editions. They won the AIM Award for the Black Sabbath box set and the Nick Cave box set. The great thing about BMG on the label side is that catalogue and frontline are very connected. We have some fantastic catalogues, the job they’ve done on the Trojan campaign this year is phenomenal.”

The compilation follows the Stones’ success with their Blue & Lonesome album. Was this project inspired by their own record? 

“Completely. That was exactly the conversation that was had. They have always been inspired by these great blues songs, recordings and artists. So how about coming up with a definitive compilation which they could curate, and tells the stories of the blues through those original recordings? You’re absolutely right, that’s how that came about.”

What’s the reaction been from Stones fans? 

“Very positive. Particularly having Ronnie [Wood]’s painting on the cover. It’s an authorised release and obviously with a donation to Willie Dixon’s [Blues Heaven] Foundation as well, it’s all been done with the best intention. Ronnie did the launch for us two or three weeks ago and everybody is very pleased with how it looks and sounds and how well it is doing.”

To read the Music Week story on UK No.1 albums pick up the latest issue - or subscribers can click here. To subscribe and never miss a big industry story click here.

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