'It takes vision': Label and radio execs talk artist breakthroughs

'It takes vision': Label and radio execs talk artist breakthroughs

It’s getting tough out there for debut artists – Anne-Marie was the only act on a first album to finish in the Top 100 sellers in 2018.

In the latest issue of Music Week, we crunch the numbers to show how artist album sales are on the slide for debut acts, although singles are more promising for breakthrough stars.

“Breaking artists in 2019 is all about the long haul,” Chris Price, head of music at BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, told Music Week. “Whether you’re a label, a manager, or you’re programming a radio station, it takes vision, belief and perseverance to cut through the noise.”

Radio 1 launched its Brit List platform on the network to back artists on the rise. In 2017 it gave Brit List support to Anne-Marie, Jorja Smith and Mabel, who all went on the secure album or single breakthroughs last year.

“Some singles connected better than others but we stuck with them, bringing them into the Live Lounge, to Radio 1’s Big Weekend and to 1Xtra Live,” said Price. “Tom Walker was also a 2017 Brit List addition and here we are in 2019 on the eve of his debut album release. That’s how long it takes now.”

Ed Howard, MD, Asylum Records, recalled the efforts trying to crack streaming with Anne-Marie’s Alarm, her debut single proper in 2016. 

“It took us three, four months of working it, we knew it was an incredible song she’d written with Steve Mac, and we had a massive belief in the song but had this uncharted scene we were trying to navigate with a single,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘We can’t let this song go, because it’s so good and it could break the artist’. It was a real slog.”

Price said the Brit List is about “committing to an artist over the long term and creating meaningful connections with new fans through music programming, live opportunities and bespoke editorial.”

The 2018 contenders hoping to score big sales this year include Lewis Capaldi, Sam Fender, Jade Bird, Pale Waves and Hrvy.

I have no doubt in my mind that Jorja Smith will be a global superstar

Ian Dutt

Music Week cover star Freya Ridings is set to release her debut album in 2019, following the singles chart success of Lost Without You.

“Freya was already at Shepherd’s Bush before she had a hit, she’s a unique live artist,” said Christian Tattersfield, founder, Good Soldier Songs. “The album is central to who Freya is as a songwriter and artist, she’s in the same lane as Adele and Ed Sheeran.”

While Anne-Marie was the only debut album artist to make the Top 100, Jorja Smith came close with Lost & Found (Famm/The Orchard). The album moved 62,833 copies last year and helped secure Smith multiple BRITs nominations and a Grammy nod.

“Jorja and Famm had a very clear idea of what they wanted to achieve, the core elements of their campaign and roll-out were pretty well formed in their minds by the time we started working together,” said Ian Dutt, MD of distribution partner The Orchard UK. “The most important fundamentals were authenticity and time. I have no doubt in my mind that Jorja will be a global superstar. What Famm understood is that it doesn't have to be on the first album. If it happens that way, then great. But let’s build something that is real, with real fans, that is totally sustainable on a global level.”

To read the Music Week report on 2018 breakthrough artists, subscribers can click here. To subscribe and never miss a big industry story click here.

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