Warner Music's Linda Walker talks key campaigns: Ed Sheeran, David Bowie, Kate Bush & Sam Ryder

Warner Music's Linda Walker talks key campaigns: Ed Sheeran, David Bowie, Kate Bush & Sam Ryder

Ed Sheeran delivered for Warner Music UK again in 2022.

Despite being released in the prior year, Sheeran’s = album (Asylum/Atlantic) and lead single Bad Habits both finished at No.2 in the year-end charts. The = album now has sales to date of 883,276, according to the Official Charts Company. 2017’s ÷, which finished the year in 12th place overall, has passed four million sales (4,024,611).

As revealed in our interview with co-presidents Ed Howard and Briony Turner, Atlantic was the No.1 label in 2022 based on domestic repertoire released in the previous 12 months. 

Overall, Warner Music maintained its UK market share (15.9%, down slightly on the prior year) during 2022 for a strong third place among the big three majors. 

In the latest edition of Music Week, our analysis of the recorded music market in 2022 includes key insights from Linda Walker, SVP, commercial, UK & Europe, Warner Music UK.

Here, the major’s top commercial exec opens up about their campaign successes, the streaming outlook and their catalogue impact…

Ed Sheeran had an amazing year again and was not far off the biggest-selling album by Harry Styles. What's been key to the success of the = campaign?

“To see the Ed album in the Top 10 for 58 weeks straight is testament to the strength of Ed as an artist, and the quality of music he creates. Right from launch, we’ve had a clear idea of targets and how to achieve them, across all platforms and formats.”

What are the strengths in terms of streaming for Warner labels? What's your assessment of the overall streaming market performance?

“We’ve had yet another really strong year in the streaming space. Summer was particularly strong for us with a market-leading run in the Top 10 for 11 weeks over the summer, wth tracks from the likes of LF System, Eliza Rose and David Guetta & Bebe Rexha.  

“In terms of the overall streaming market performance, the pool of potential new subscribers is shrinking, which means that the streaming platforms are having to work harder to grow their subscription numbers, whilst also holding on to their current subscribers in a challenging economic climateWith podcasts and audiobooks challenging for consumers’ listening time, combined with a slowing of organic market subscription growth for music, it’s going to be a real challenge this year to cut through with our music and grow our market share. 

“So how do we continue to grow? Well, we have real strength in depth, which helps us to drive our streaming market share; from our frontline artists, right through to our incredible back catalogue, our focus is to maximise streams and jump on every opportunity across our whole roster.”

Rhino had another strong year, how are catalogue campaigns evolving and complementing new releases? 

Catalogue continues to prosper, with Rhino capitalising on both the evolving streaming market - catalogue’s share of overall streams continues to grow each year - and the ongoing appeal of well-curated physical products. The commercial and Rhino teams work together to create campaigns that recognise both these priorities, using key events such as significant anniversaries to deliver plans that may have a new physical release attached but also work with DSPs - and media - to celebrate ongoing legacy of these great records.”

Breaking new artists is always central to what we do

Linda Walker

David Bowie’s music was a strong presence in 2022, are you hopeful he will continue to top combined artist vinyl sales? 

Bowie is good example of this, as 2022 started with the Bowie 75 campaign around what would have been his 75th birthday in January, which was primarily streaming-focused and included partnerships with all the key platforms, and ended with the release of Divine Symmetry box set, which is being hailed as one of the reissues of the year. We obviously hope that Bowie remains the top-selling vinyl artist in the UK, but we also have exciting plans for a number of our other superstar acts for 2023.

“Also, when we consider catalogue, the age of a track is no barrier to being a hit now, just look at Kate Bush. The Stranger Things sync opened up Running Up That Hill to a whole new audience and gave Kate a richly deserved No.1 many years after its original release. I love the idea that this one moment could lead someone to explore other tracks in an artist’s catalogue as well.”

TikTok does not appear in the market statistics, but how significant has it become as part of the UK music ecosystem? 

“It goes without saying that a lot of people are spending a lot of time on TikTok!  We factor in a TikTok strategy into all of our release plans, and for certain artists, it’s a platform where they first started to build their fan community. It’s particularly interesting to see the impact it has on catalogue tracks. We keep a very close eye on emerging trends so that we can really capitalise on this interest.”   

How is warner placed for 2023 in terms of new, breaking talent and returning artists?

“Breaking new artists is always central to what we do, we are very excited about the emerging talent we have coming in 2023. In terms of returning artists, we have some amazing new projects to get our teeth into. 

“We are all buzzing about Sam Ryder’s success. He really deserved his No.1 album and has worked so hard throughout the entire campaign. The decision for Sam to be part of Eurovision… now everyone sees it for the masterstroke that it was!” 

Subscribers can read the full analysis from the latest edition of Music Week here.

Click here for another overview of the market from Sony Music’s Charles Wood.


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