While even some major artists struggle to maintain more than several weeks inside the Top 10 amid concerns about album sales in the streaming era, Sheeran’s third record has been a phenomenon. So Atlantic and Warner Music probably won’t be too disappointed about its gentle descent.
“It’s been incredible,” BPI and BRIT Awards chief executive Geoff Taylor told Music Week. “He’s a wonderful artist and a wonderful ambassador for British music.”
Sheeran’s ÷ racked up a record-breaking 76 weeks in the Top 10 - 20 of them at No.1 - before slipping to No.11 in the latest Albums Chart. It has sales to date of 3,101,121, according the Official Charts Company.
The album has the longest opening run in the Top 10 of the 21st century, closely followed by immediate predecessor X, which ended its 74-week run in the Top 10 in November 2015. Now ÷ is chasing X’s record-breaking total of 99 weeks in the Top 10.
Adele’s 21 managed 71 straight weeks in the Top 10 in 2011/2, followed by Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour (69 weeks in 2014/15) and Emeli Sande’s Our Version Of Events (66 weeks in 2012/13). Sheeran’s debut album, +, was Top 10 for 32 straight weeks at the start of its chart career in 2011/2.
“Clearly you get outliers every year, and in the albums market The Greatest Showman is also an unpredicted big success, so they do tend to come along,” said Taylor.
Asked if the industry could cope without a Sheeran album for a year or two, Taylor was confident about labels’ ability to deliver consistently.
“We’ve got to have faith in the ability of our labels to keep on producing great albums and working with fantastic talent to do that,” said Taylor. “Just a few years ago we were saying, ‘What will we do when Adele doesn’t have a record like 21?’, and then you kind of worry about the next year. But we should have confidence in our ability to keep on releasing great music - those bigger albums are part of the landscape and we’re used to them. I don’t think that a year without an Ed release will be a crisis for the industry.”
Sheeran remains on tour in the US for much of the rest of the year and the album continues to perform internationally under the watchful eye of Grumpy Old Management’s Gaby Cawthorne. It recently soared to No.2 in Austria - its highest position in 30 weeks - following stadium shows in the country.
His incredible live performances generate so much excitement around that record
“It’s absolutely extraordinary, but we do have a very proud record of generating artists who really achieve at the very top level,” said Taylor, who noted the robust performance of UK repertoire internationally. According to the IFPI, Sheeran had the biggest seller of 2017, Adele managed the same feat in 2015 and One Direction came out on top in 2013 (Taylor Swift and Drake scored wins for North American acts in 2014 and 2016).
The BPI recently issued strong figures for UK Music exports with Rag’N’Bone Man and Sam Smith also performing well in global markets.
“We have an amazing share of global trade in music for a relatively small nation, and that is down to the quality of our A&R, the quality of our marketing, and the risk that our labels take in backing local talent,” said Taylor. “Obviously Ed is one example, but previously many British artists including Adele have gone on to similar feats and that’s something that is really important that we see continue. Dua Lipa is doing very well internationally as well. Our labels are outward-looking, risk-taking and innovative and that’s the key to their success, not just at home but also overseas.”
Taylor credited the team effort in Sheeran’s success and the singer’s role in helping the shift in consumption to streaming.
“Ed is fantastic on social media, he’s got a really engaging personality, everybody I think feels so warmly towards him as a person as well as a musician,” said Taylor. “His incredible live performances generate so much excitement around that record, so he personally deserves a huge amount of credit.
“Ben Cook and the team at Atlantic have also done an incredible job, and not just with [Sheeran] but more generally achieving a great deal of success on streaming platforms and making the transition from format to format extremely successfully. They are doing a brilliant job of marketing and, as far as I know, there is a terrific relationship between the artist and the label. That’s really great to see and that just builds success upon success.”
Atlantic president Ben Cook recently spoke to Music Week about building on the stellar sales of Sheeran and life without a new album from the singer. With a roster including Jess Glynne, Stormzy, Rita Ora, Charli XCX and Anne-Marie, as well as a beefed-up A&R team, Cook is optimistic about maintaining market share post-÷ with domestic talent.
Meanwhile, Atlantic’s huge 2018 seller The Greatest Showman shows no signs of exiting the Top 10 any time soon…