Polydor’s head of marketing Ali Tant has spoken to Music Week about the the Rolling Stones’ campaign for Hackney Diamonds – their first album of original material in 18 years.
The Stones played a surprise show in New York last night at Racket NYC. The album launch featured a guest appearance by Lady Gaga during the encore.
The band have just unveiled their huge partnership with Spotify for the Stones lips logo on Barcelona shirts. It’s just one of many components to a global campaign that includes DSP partnerships, branding deals and international pop-up stores.
The Rolling Stones revealed their comeback plans with a Hackney Empire launch event last month, which was broadcast globally on YouTube. Lead single Angry became their first Top 40 hit since 2005.
Within the huge global campaign, there will be a lot of attention on the week one UK sales. The Stones’ 2016 covers album Blue & Lonesome was released in December that year and opened at No.1 with sales of 105,830.
Hackney Diamonds has been released alongside Polydor and Universal Music’s catalogue campaign for the band, following the release of 40 Licks on DSPs in the summer. It’s all part of a wider strategy to boost streaming for the band with big DSP partnerships set to roll out for the campaign.
“There is huge room for growth and I truly feel the quality of this album gives them a huge opportunity to do that,” said Ali Tant. “Alongside the new album we’re constantly looking for new initiatives to help grow catalogue streaming.
“We love working with the UMR team. Hannah [Neaves], Azi [Eftekhari] and the team have been fantastic on the Stones. We worked very closely on the Forty Licks campaign leading into the announcement of Hackney Diamonds, and we have further plans to continue to build the Stones’ catalogue later this year and into 2024.”
“Getting Forty Licks back out was really important for us as we’ve not had a compilation in the market that tied both ABKCO and the Stones’ post-1971 catalogue together for years,” added Tant. “There are various metrics we want to hit over the next 18 months but personally I’d like to get the Stones into the top 100 acts on Spotify off the back of Hackney Diamonds and keep them there!”
You can read our report on Hackney Diamonds in the latest edition of Music Week.
Here, Ali Tant reflects on working on one of the biggest albums in his label career and opens up about the long-term ambitions for Hackney Diamonds…
Looking back to the Hackney Empire launch event, how did that help to kickstart the global campaign?
“The launch was everything that we wanted and more. I didn't sleep really for about a week leading into it, because I was so so nervous, because it was so big. It's the biggest thing that I will ever do in my career bar none, in terms of a domestic act. The return of the biggest band of all time, arguably. YouTube has been, and will continue on this campaign, to be absolutely brilliant. We spoke to them about three months before the launch and went through what we wanted to achieve, which was essentially to create a TV show to launch the album campaign. Mick was very clear that he didn't want this to feel too British, which is why we brought Jimmy Fallon over. We wanted someone who actually had a strong social foothold, as well as being someone the band have got a relationship with and feel really comfortable chatting to. So whilst it was always going to launch in London and Hackney especially, it always needed to feel bigger than just a London launch, which is why we flew in a lot of media from around the world – the stalls were 70% international media.
“We had 188,000 people watch the livestream as it went out and then a further two million in the first 24 hours, which is incredible. The main views outside of the UK came from the US, Germany, Japan, France, South Korea, Brazil. Off the back of the launch, within 48 hours we had 10% growth on subscribers to the YouTube channel. We launched the Angry video, which did more in a day than Living In A Ghost Town has done in its life. That is testament to the song and video, but also testament to what YouTube have come to the table with. Their plan was pretty incredible.”
Angry became the Stones’ first Top 40 hit since 2005, is that a sign of how DPSs are embracing the campaign?
“I really wanted Angry to be a Top 40 single because I felt it could [do it]. There are very few older acts that can put a single in the Top 40 in the current climate, ABBA probably being the only other one in recent memory that have done it without a sync. The streaming on the track was really healthy, 60% of the consumption came from streams. It was quite fun listening to the Stones getting played on daytime Radio 1. Hearing Jack Saunders playing the Rolling Stones on the BBC Radio 1 Chart Show in full was very enjoyable. In Music Week, Alan Jones wrote that they are the first act to have a newly-recorded hit song over six different decades. It’s a very nice stat.”
I’d like to get The Stones into the top 100 acts on Spotify off the back of Hackney Diamonds and keep them there!
So they are reaching a new audience this time around, as well as long-term fans?
“Yeah, completely. I mean, that's the whole point of this record. What’s very important to Mick is that we're not just hitting the same Stones fans they can hit week in, week out, it was about reaching new audiences. It's about not just new music but how can you future proof the catalogue, how can a younger generation of people discover the Stones? Angry is in the new EA Sports FC 24 video game. I wanted the song to be in a situation where it's heard without any bias. If a 15-year-old kid can hear the song not knowing it’s by the Rolling Stones, like the song and then realise it's the Rolling Stones, then for me that's a massive win.”
It sounds like it’s going to be a long campaign into 2024 that connects with the catalogue…
“Yeah, that was another thing that Mick was very vocal on. He didn't want this to be week one and done. We’ve got a really nice suite of formats. The aspiration is that it's going to be a big number for week one. But there's a lot more to come for week two, three, four, five. There’s a fair chunk of time going into the Christmas period, and there are still activations to happen between October and December as well.”
What's the potential for more hits, because it’s quite a diverse record in terms of styles?
“Angry was the first song that we heard, obviously it’s track one. It was always the first single, it set the tone for the record. It was the one that announced ‘we’re back’. There is no nuance to it, it's just a brilliant sounding Stones song. For me, the best song on the album is Sweet Sounds Of Heaven, which is the seven-and-a-half minute gospel-inspired track with Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder. When we sat down at Metropolis to listen to the album earlier in the year, that song especially, it knocks you off your feet. It’s not just a very good new Stones track, it’s up there with the best songs that they've ever made. It’s in the same sort of world as Gimme Shelter and Sympathy For The Devil.
“The album is extremely strong. I think Will Hodgkinson [in The Times] said it's their best album since Some Girls , and he’s right. The third single is Mess It Up, which is one of the two songs that Charlie [Watts] plays drums on. That's kind of like a long lost relative of Miss You, it’s more disco-infused Stones. The album has got a bit of something for everyone. It's got the Rolling Stone blues cover at the end, it’s almost like going full circle. It's absolutely brilliant.”
With 12 tracks over 48 minutes, it’s a substantial new body of work…
“Yeah, you've got the more single tracks, Angry, Mess It Up, Depending On You, which is a really strong track that feels a little more fragile in terms of subject matter. It's about relationships, it's about friends, it's about the relationship that they've had with each other. When we sat down and heard the album in full, I wasn't sure what to expect. You go into these situations and you're nervous because you want it to be brilliant. You're also conscious that you're being looked at because your reaction to the songs is being monitored. But yeah, it was just incredible. I came out smiling for about four days.”
In terms of a career highlight, what was that like listening to the record with the band?
“It just didn't feel real. I've met a lot of people in my career, and I never take it for granted. I came back and told my wife, ‘I've just been sat in the studio listening to the record [with the Stones] and I can't tell anyone!’”
The UK is actually leading on this campaign, which is fantastic for an iconic British band. How are you working with international partners?
“The UK has, historically, always led on the Stones. The UK isn't necessarily the biggest market for the stones – arguably the US and Germany are bigger, Germany's a massive market for the Stones. The work that Victoria [Fonfe] and Nickie [Owen] do in the international team is incredible to make sure that everyone feels super-served and gets what they need. It's just been an absolute honour to work on this one. When Tom [March] went over to Geffen, it was a very natural place for the Stones to go. The Stones have been with Interscope anyway, so Tom, Adrian [Amodeo], Steve Berman [vice-chairman] and John Janick [CEO/chairman], are incredible and bring a huge amount to the campaign in terms of partnership activations.”
Although you said it’s not just a week one record, what ambitions do you have for the opening result, particularly with the vinyl?
“We’ve made sure that we've got a really good suite of products. Each key retailer has got their own exclusive, be it Amazon, HMV, indies, e-commerce, they all have exclusive products. I'm very intrigued to see how CDs sell on this record. Whatever people say about the CD market going into decline, the Stones audience always buck that trend. Yes, vinyl is going to do well on this record, but the CD is going to do very well. So we needed to make sure that we had good products for both vinyl and CD.”
The reviews are really strong, but I think the word of mouth is going to be even stronger
What do you think is going to be key to keeping this album going into next year? It sounds like the band are hungry for success as well…
“Yeah, they expect the best. They expect us to work really hard on it. They're working really hard as well. We're sort of getting into the plans for next year. But the plan really is that this is 18 months [of activity] that will keep this album buoyant – but not just the album it’s the catalogue as well. The Stones’ catalogue has ticked over nicely, it's done well. We've had moments like the Goats Head Soup reissue and Tattoo You reissue, where we've seen spikes and brought new audiences in. But if you take Blue & Lonesome out of the equation, this album is the first time in 18 years since they have put out a studio album. It’s the first time in the streaming era that they have put out a proper studio album. I genuinely think this album is going to be a rocket for the catalogue. This album will bring new fans in, but everything we’re doing is not just about this album. The Spotify-Barcelona partnership is about exposing the Stones and their iconic branding to a billion people. It’s not just going to be all focused on the new album, it’s going to be focused on everything.”
Where can the Stones go from here, can they reach new heights on this campaign?
“Yeah, but it’s the Stones! They’ve been at the top for six decades, both musically and culturally. They’re always pushing boundaries, be it in a live sense, musically or creatively. Who else has remained at the forefront of culture for over 60 years, constantly pushing to achieve more. Honestly the quality of this record just cements the Stones at the top of the list. It is incredible, and I think it will take a lot of people by surprise. The reviews are really strong, but I think the word of mouth is going to be even stronger. It’s an absolute honour to be involved with the Stones. I’ve got very high expectations for the record.”
PHOTO: (L-R) Fred Stuart, head of digital creative & artist development, Polydor; Victoria Fonfe, VP international marketing, special projects, UK, Universal Music; Keith Richards; Semera Khan, senior director of creative, Polydor; Orla Lee-Fisher, EVP strategic marketing, Universal Music Group; Sir Mick Jagger; Ali Tant, Polydor head of marketing; Ronnie Wood
PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Hogan
MAIN PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Seliger