Former A&R man John Niven spent more than a decade in the music business with labels such as London and Independiente before penning the cult 2008 music industry novel, Kill Your Friends. Now back with its sequel Kill ‘Em All, ...
David Dollimore, president, RCA UK:
“There isnt anyone more prolific than Olly Murs.
He’s very dedicated to doing everything possible to promote and market his records. Every artist should look up to him in that respect. He’s that guy that’s approachable, the average guy, one of your friends in the pub that you could just have a chat with. He’s an everyman who appeals to everybody and it’s very rare to have those artists.
“He’s a smart guy. He doesn’t just allow the label to call the shots and make the decisions, he understands what it takes to have a successful campaign or a hit record, you cant just rely on the old days where you had a pre-order single and it rocks up in the Top 10. It takes a minute now. That’s quite rare for an artist who’s been here nearly 10 years and is still successful.
“I’ve noticed on this album, people don’t remember The X Factor at all. That for me has completely disappeared, they just see him as Olly Murs, a successful artist who’s had numerous No.1 albums.”
“There isn’t anyone else like Olly, who’s come from reality TV and had consistent success. The stats and the awards don’t lie.”
Harry Magee, co-founder, Modest! Management:
“Olly would have been successful in whatever he had decided to do in life. He just happens to be a born entertainer so this has been an unstoppable vocation for him. He has focus, tremendous natural instinct, continual ambition and an unrivalled work ethic. It’s also about his vision for himself and not someone else’s because he understands his audience and how to play to his own strengths. He’s always wanted to understand all the processes.
“His longevity is based on his instinct, knowing his audience and having an evolved understanding of the work he has to do in creating and executing his music, live performances and TV work in the most entertaining way. He always wants to step it up from the time before, based on his development and growth into the most consummate entertainer he can be – he never rests on his laurels.
“Remaining a relevant, viable artist and a television personality can be challenging, but The Voice has allowed Olly to show his depth of musical knowledge and his personality with charm and empathy. That in turn has given more credence to his core career.”
Bondi Beach, 2008. A tousle-haired 24-year-old is sitting on the sand, contemplating how he can change his life forever. The bombastic sound of Kings Of Leon’s chart-topping Only By The Night blasts out around him. ‘How,’ thought one Oliver Murs, ‘Can I make it in music?’
Ten years later, it’s pretty clear he’s found the answer. Olly Murs and his epic quiff are buzzing around his press officer’s HQ, surrounded by music memorabilia. He takes a seat in front of a giant promotional Madonna candy cane and starts talking. He doesn’t pause for an hour. “I can talk for England,” he says at one point. He’d be a shoo-in for a gold medal, were chatting ever to become an Olympic sport.
“I was sat on that beach pondering what I was gonna do,” he remembers. “I was travelling, and that Kings Of Leon album made me think I wanted to be in music, whether that was singing in a bar every week, playing an instrument… I just wanted to be singing, dancing, performing.”
Those last three words are delivered with glee. It’s no secret that Olly Murs is perhaps happier than your average pop star, and he’s overflowing with good vibes today. His comeback single, Moves – a Steve Mac and Ed Sheeran co-write that features Snoop Dogg (!) – has just dropped and he’s preparing to start the “graft” ahead of his sixth album, You Know I Know, which is released via RCA on November 9. Nile Rodgers and Shaggy are featured artists too, while the title refers to an accompanying CD of Murs’ hits – he knows the new songs, the fans know the oldies. Retailers will be able to flip the album, which has two covers.
Four out of his five LPs hit No.1 and he reminds Music Week that he’s done some “big numbers”. His biggest single is Dance With Me Tonight, which has sold 965,124 copies, according to the Official Charts Company. He treats us to a few lines, as if to emphasise its might.
Murs’ album sales to date make for impressive reading, too: Olly Murs (2010, 834,280), In Case You Didn’t Know (2011, 1,119,986), Right Place Right Time (2012, 1,380,902), Never Been Better (2014, 861,556), 24Hrs (2016, 386,228).
“People struggle after two or three albums,” he says, lowering his chin into his tracksuit top. “I’m hunting and chasing down my fifth consecutive No.1 album, which is a massive achievement. There is a list of artists that have done that and it’s a luxurious list, great artists.”
The question is, can Murs seal his place on it? Music industry waters have been choppy ever since he emerged. His last record, 24Hrs, hit No.1, but its tracks fared markedly better at radio than in the singles chart. Moves is still establishing itself, having debuted in the UK Airplay Top 10 and been added to BBC Radio 2’s A list and the Capital playlist, it’s nearing three million Spotify plays and has so far peaked outside the Top 40. Murs has also belted it out on The Jonathan Ross Show.
RCA president David Dollimore is all too aware of this conundrum. “We’ve seen significant change in the past five years, especially for someone like Olly who’s had such a long career,” he tells Music Week. “Moving from the physical download market to a streaming market, it’s an interesting time for an artist like that. It’s how we ride that wave, and it’s encouraging to see the first single get New Music Friday coverage and Spotify coverage. We need to keep chipping away at that.”
But Dollimore is confident all the same. “We want to sell as many Olly Murs records going into Christmas and Q1 next year as possible,” he says. “The pre-order is flying, we had 2,500 in the first 30 minutes. The cast of songwriters and producers is the best we’ve ever had. We want to have a massive Q4,” he adds, before leaning on history to back up his point. “Olly has sold a lot of records in his time...”
Modest! Management’s Harry Magee acknowledges the challenge, but says his client’s understanding of his fans will pave the way for more chart-bothering. “As usual, this abum will have its share of hits,” he says. “Both his songwriting and the quality of collaborators has progressively risen in stature as he’s kept his music fresh and relevant to his audience.”
Murs reckons there’s a need to “up my game”, and talks business like a man who’s spent 10 years in major label boardrooms, studios and on stage. He’s mixed it with some big execs too, starting with Nick Raphael and Jo Charrington at Epic.
He praises his current team, and they froth right back, and the impression is of Olly Murs as a modern music anomaly, the happy-go-lucky former recruitment consultant and pub singer who became a star and now knows the business inside out. Pre-fame, he once won a tenner on Deal Or No Deal. Around the same time, his parents cast doubt on his pop aspirations: “A pop star isn’t a job you can get in a Job Centre,” they said.
Plainly, there’s more to Murs than just “a down to earth lad that enjoys music”. There’s much to discuss, with credibility, longevity, stardom and cracking the music industry puzzle high on the agenda, not to mention plans for his new album. Settle in for a good ol’ chinwag…
How does it feel to be back?
“Amazing. Spotify, streaming and all these things are evolving. I’m really aware of that and making sure we’re ticking all the right areas and are on all the right playlists. But you can only do so much with social media, radio and all the different platforms. Really, it’s all about the consumers, the fans, the people who want to listen to your record. It’s about reaching out to new fans that haven’t heard your song before and love it and stream it or buy it.”
Has hitmaking changed since you started?
“It’s a different industry now, people have loads of choice. Before, you could build up four or five weeks of promo and build momentum. How many people got No.1s and the song never went to No.1 again and just fell out of the charts within a week or two? You’d done so much promo, but the song wasn’t good enough to sustain itself. That’s how the market used to be, you’d be able to convince people it was a good song when really it wasn’t that good. Dance With Me Tonight and Troublemaker were proven hits because how you prove a hit now is how long it sustains. If I was releasing Moves three or four years ago, I’d like to think it would be a No.1 record. But now with the market as it is with streaming figures, you just don’t know.”
Does it excite you to try and beat it?
“Of course! At first I felt trepidation, ‘The market’s changed, how am I gonna make this work? You’re not getting any younger…’ My songs were getting better but my audience – which is very diverse, teenagers, mums and dads, older people – [some of them] aren’t on Spotify really. They still like to buy the albums physically. So I’m in between, I’ve got fans that are young and love it and also ones that don’t so I’ve got to try and find the balance. It is a little bit difficult, but I’ve embraced it. It ups your game as a songwriter, you’ve got to get an absolute worldie of a song. I believe I’ve got that in Moves.”
Did artists used to have more power, then?
“It used to be in our hands. If you put the work in you could get your song in the Top 5 and if everything went your way you could get to No.1. My first chart battle was with Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, I should never in a million years have beaten Katy Perry to No.1. Please Don’t Let Me Go was a great record for me, but it should never have beaten her, it’s Katy Perry, she’s massive. She’d just come out with a huge record and got beaten to No.1 by my song. Why was that? Because I’d grafted so hard, impressing people, showing people the record, I travelled the whole country, I put the work in and made it a No.1. I bet half of the people reading this, if you said name one of my songs that was a hit, that one would not be in your Top 5 or 6, maybe even Top 10. But I managed to get it to No.1, I believed in it, I worked my arse off.”
“Now, you do all the work in the studio, you do promo and get the song to a great place, but have no idea how it’s gonna do. I’m changing, I’m evolving, the industry’s changing, my music is evolving, my fanbase is, too. I was in Wagamama last night and I had kids of six and seven coming up to me who would not have even heard my first single or seen me on The X Factor. Hopefully my positivity and passion will lead to the success of the music.”
What are your aims with the new album?
“I always try and keep it fresh. I’ve looked at all the influences and all the different people in the market and their styles and tried to do my thing. I know what I do best. I’m a different artist to a lot of artists that are out there. I’m not going to be doing a Drake song, or a J Hus or Calvin Harris kind of record. This is my place, this is who I am. The album is me being creative, going, ‘Why don’t we try this, have a bit of that, do this?’ That’s what you do, try and find something different. You’ve got to blend in with what’s out there, I don’t mean blend with the crowd, I mean this is what fresh music is like, you’ve got to be fresh. That’s what I’m trying to do with this record, make sure it keeps my fans interested. I want them to hear it and go, ‘Oh my God, this is nice, it’s different, Olly’s back,’ not ‘Oh it just sounds like the last record’. That’s not what you do.”
Where do you stand on writing credits?
“I’d never demand that. A lot of artists demand 10%, 15%, not me. It’s not my way of doing things. Sometimes people will use it in negotiation, they say, ‘We’ve got this song and we’re willing to give you 10% because we think it’d be great for you.’ But with Ed and Steve, I’ve known them a long time and Moves is theirs, of course I’m gonna take it, but I took it because I loved the song. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. It’s a massive song and that’s what it’s all about.”
Where are you in the British pop pantheon?
“It’s hard for me to answer, it’s up to the industry. I’ve been doing it for nearly 10 years, I don’t take that for granted, people can forget about me like that. I’ve got loads more to achieve and do, but for me, to come off reality TV and have the success I have, I am super-proud of that. I’m happy with that achievement. It’s a hard slog, it ain’t easy, especially when there are people that are gonna try and take you down and when there’s always someone else that comes along, another singer to try and take your place. To be able to sustain it for 10 years, I’m delighted.”
Does the X Factor association bother you?
“People remember me from doing it, but I am established now as Olly Murs the artist, the singer. But you always want to leave something behind, at some point I won’t be doing this at this level, I’d like to think people will look at my music and go, ‘This guy came along, was always happy, did some really fun music.’ I don’t think I’m changing the world of music, I’m not stupid, I’m not bringing out all these tunes no one’s ever heard, I’m not an innovator, I don’t think, but I’d like to think I breathe positivity.”
But has it affected your career?
“It’s [about] finding your place. I felt for the first two or three years, there was a real stigma from being on The X Factor, a reality TV show. I think there still is, especially on some of the big music awards shows. I always felt in the early days when I could have won a BRIT or another award, especially after 2012, I had two No.1 singles that year and a No.1 album and I was flying. I’m not saying I deserved to win, but I do think there was an element of people getting a bit sick of people coming off The X Factor and doing well. It was like, ‘Alright, cheers, I’ll just have to hit that.’”
And now you’re a judge on The Voice. Is that like coming full circle?
“It freshened things up and reignited a bit of a buzz. I’m able to help people, give them a guide or helping hand. That was a really powerful thing to be able to do. I was really grateful. In the world of social media and press, people write things and say, ‘How does Olly deserve a place on the panel?’ I saw a few comments like that.”
But you don’t see it that way?
“There is a reason I’m there, I’ve had 10 years in the industry. I didn’t come from a YouTube channel or being scouted, I’ve come from these shows so I know exactly the journey they’re gonna go on, how it feels. I’m able to show them that this is the success you can have if you do it the right way. You need so much luck, I can only give so much information, I can’t make a record company sign you.”
Has it affected your credibility as an artist?
“The Voice has given me a bit of credibility, being on a big show, being sat with these big stars. I embrace that and it’s nice to be taken seriously as an artist, I’ve always been that guy from The X Factor, even though I’ve had all the success. You could say, ‘Shut up Olly you’ve done this, you’ve achieved that’. But, I feel it’s nice to get… People look at me slightly differently. I’ve got a bit more respect from the industry, they can see I know what I’m talking about, I’m not just a puppet that did karaoke songs on The X Factor. I’m a singer, entertainer and a songwriter. I write songs, I perform them, I’m really heavily involved in my career and it’s nice to feel that respect. Whereas three or four years ago people were like, ‘It’s that guy from The X Factor who used to wear a stupid hat,’ you know?”
What does being a pop star mean to you?
“I’ve always known since singing in pubs, people just want to be entertained and have a good night out. Anyone that comes to my shows, it’s about singing of course, it’s about having fun, listen, it’s Saturday night. Every artist is different, I’m an entertainer, a performer, I love the singing just as much as talking between the songs, getting the crowd pumped. Being a singer and a pop star is all about music of course, but at the same time it’s entertainment. You’ve got to put on a show. I’m a different performer to Adele or Sam Smith or Ed Sheeran and all three of them nail it every time. I just do it differently, but we have the same ambition, to show that there’s a good reason to come.”
Finally, why release a greatest hits now?
“Oh don’t say ‘greatest’! I hate that word. It’s just the hits. They’re great in my head, I’m not sure they’d be great for everyone else! [laughs]. Greatest hits is when you’ve been in the industry for 30-40 years. If you can have a song on radio for that long, then that’s a greatest hit, I haven’t done that yet. Some of these songs could be played in 10, 20 years time, who knows? The label wanted to do it and they persuaded me to and I’m really happy. They wanted to do it before and I said no. This is the right time. It signifies the end of this chapter and it’s important for me and the fans to celebrate the songs I’ve had. I’m still having a great career, this is an opportunity to celebrate.”
Murs attacks Olly Murs on his new LP’s arsenal of collaborators...
“It’s a bit of va-va-voom. Snoop’s a character, he’s a rapper obviously, but he’s a character, the persona, the Snoop Doggy Dogg, the way he delivers it, he’s got that swag and style. I didn’t have any direct interaction with him, which was frustrating because as an artist, I’d love to sit and have a convo with him. But he’s on the song, it’s dented my bank balance a little bit. He was worth the money.”
“Nile Rodgers and his famous hitmaker guitar, why not? We met at the GQ Awards in Germany about five years ago, he did a Chic melody and asked me to sing with him. We kept in contact and I said I’d love to get in the studio with him so we did, in Abbey Road. Look, here’s a video [Olly shows Music Week a clip of Nile Rogers on guitar], it was awesome. He taught me to enjoy the moment.”
“He’s an absolute legend of the game, he’s still smashing it. We had a song that didn’t have a second verse, it was a reggae-feeling track, so we contacted his people and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’m in,’ and it was done.”