Warner Records president Joe Kentish talks Dua Lipa, artist development and diversity

Warner Records president Joe Kentish talks Dua Lipa, artist development and diversity

Joe Kentish collected the A&R trophy at the Music Week Awards last month, following the label’s success with Dua Lipa, Griff and Pa Salieu. 

Kentish, who was promoted to president earlier this year following the announcement of Phil Christie’s departure, was head of A&R during the period covered by the awards in 2020. The label had phenomenal success with Dua Lipa and her No.1 Future Nostalgia, as well as establishing Griff and Pa Salieu...

Here, he reflects on those artist campaigns, the work of the Black Music Coalition and why he “absolutely loves” his new job...

Why do you think you won the A&R award?

“As a label, we’ve set our stall out early on as a place for artist development, so we put a lot of focus on a particular brand of A&R, which means finding artists that we think are special and giving them a lot of space to be themselves and really drill down into what makes them original and to encourage them and provide a safe space for them to do that. I think we had a really good year when some of those artists really came into their own. Griff, Dua Lipa and Pa Salieu come from areas of music that are often very commercialised and homogenised, but each of them put their own brand on it and hopefully that’s what was recognised.” 

How do you reflect on how the Dua Lipa campaign played out??

“It was strange because it was a record that she’d made to perform live. All the way through the album-making process, she was saying, ‘This is gonna be great at Glastonbury, this is gonna be great on tour’. We were presented with what we thought was a very special album and suddenly the pandemic hit. The mood could have very quickly turned to, ‘This is a disaster’. We had a couple of days of wobble then she was the one who turned round and said, ‘If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, this album’s just got to be out there.’ 

“It turned out to be an album that many people were waiting for and not realising that it was what they were in the mood for. And that kicked off our lockdown experience as a label, going into making the best of it headfirst, trying to do things differently and really be innovative and encourage our artists that this was an opportunity of sorts. That record signposted our way through lockdown and what we could achieve. It was everything. You’re very lucky if you get to be part of a campaign like that, of an artist really hitting their stride.”

As a label, we’ve set our stall out as a place for artist development

Joe Kentish

With Griff and Pa Salieu, how much harder was it to break brand new artists in 2020? 

“We encourage them to be creative. When we did livestreams, everyone was getting tired of them, but we managed to present them in quite special ways and do really cool stuff with them. We encouraged them not to go after hits but to go after originality, and hopefully those records would become popular. I think they both did that with records like My Family and Black Hole. They really did different stuff that managed to get a big audience. They were able to put really innovative creative around that. That comes when you sign artists who have that vision inside of them. I dont think it’s something you can successfully manufacture, it comes from authentic artists.”

You’re label president now - how are you enjoying it?

“?I absolutely love it. I’m really lucky to have been made president of a label that I’ve got such a long history with and I’ve been part of its growth. I’m lucky to have had a smooth transfer from Phil’s time to mine, the label has been incredibly supportive and we believe that whoever’s in charge is not as important as the mission we’re on as a label, which is to give these really amazing artists a bigger platform.”

You did a Q&A for us when we had the Black Music Coalition on the cover. There’s been so much talk in the industry, what’s your take on where we’ve got to so far with the work that’s going on? 

“There’s been some really good work done. The women who set the BMC up are the driving force and they deserve most of the credit. But I’d like to think that with the BMC and the various task forces within the labels, that we’ve really begun to make changes. I’m very encouraged by it, there’s a lot of work to do, but I’m very encouraged.” 

Click here to read Music Week Awards winners Tap Music on Dua Lipa and more. 

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