The Rolling Stones are back with their first new album of original material in 18 years.
Following the teaser advert in the Hackney Gazette and the big launch event, the Stones’ campaign for Hackney Diamonds is now in full swing. Released on October 20, there are huge expectations for the record, which has had rave reviews and is being embraced as one of their best albums in decades.
In the latest edition of Music Week, we speak to the team at Polydor and Universal Music to get the inside track on a campaign from the UK’s most iconic and enduring rock band.
In addition to the RS No.9 Carnaby Street store in London, the retail concept is expanding with pop-up stores in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, in addition to other international retail activity in various markets.
As well as a physical sales and merch, there’s also a focus on streaming, following the release to DSPs of catalogue title Forty Licks in the summer and the Stones’ arrival on TikTok.
Orla Lee-Fisher, Universal Music Group’s EVP of strategic marketing, has worked with the Stones and their manager, Joyce Smyth, since they signed to the major in 2008 for new recordings and post-1970 catalogue. Universal partners with ABKCO on earlier catalogue.
“It’s a great management team, they’re a great band,” said Lee-Fisher. “They’re very hands-on as a band, they always have been, so you deal with them. It’s a great relationship and that’s what’s really good about it.”
The Stones campaign is led out of the UK, with Orla Lee-Fisher playing a key role in coordinating the global roll-out of the hugely-anticipated new album, as well as building the catalogue. Here, she takes Music Week inside the plans for one of the biggest global campaigns of recent years…
What’s it like to be working on a brand new album by the Rolling Stones?
“It's pretty special. I've worked with the band since they signed to Universal and Polydor in 2008, when we did [live album] Shine A Light. So I've worked with them on many different records, but this is their first studio album [of original material] in 18 years. Obviously, we had Blue & Lonesome in 2016, but that was covers rather than original music. So it's a whole other level of excitement and engagement. What's been really different and interesting with this release and set-up is just the excitement for new music. Although they've had new songs – we've had Living In A Ghost Town, Doom & Gloom – to have a whole album of incredible new music has really just been a game-changer.”
And the Stones have a hit single as well with Angry…
“Well, I think with Angry, it's such a statement of intent and it's a nice album opener. But, also, when we know what we've got coming, there are so many different directions the album can take, and especially for such a global band. That's what I find really exciting, that there are so many audiences we can tap into. But this one [Angry] has really worked for a very youth-orientated focus.”
Where do you think the Stones stand now in music and the wider culture?
“In the first few days [of release for Angry], we got 300,000 new subscribers on YouTube, just out of the gate. Having Sydney Sweeney [starring in the video] helped engage a younger audience. But I think the beauty of that video is, because you see the iconic billboard and all the different guises of the Stones through the years, it's a great reminder of what an incredible band they are. It’s probably their most clever video because it engages different people. There's the nostalgia, but there's also the reminder of just how cool they are.”
How have you increased their reach in the build-up to this?
“Because we've known it's coming, there's been lots of discussions internally about it. It was to make the band as match fit for this with a newer audience because they're always about looking forward, they're trendsetters. So you want to make sure that they're on the platforms but done in the Stones way. There was the TikTok launch, and working with the creators and various channels, just to make sure that we were ready with 40 Licks in the summer around Mick’s 80th birthday. It was just really reuniting the catalogue as well, to have that moment to start building the breadth of the catalogue in terms of a streaming audience. So it's been very much focused on leading to this point with the catalogue warm-up, and seeing the results of that has been really heartening as well.”
Is there potential to grow the Stones in terms of reach on DSPs?
“There's always room for growth, I mean that's what we do and that's what we live for. Also, it's about the future of the Stones and a whole new audience – it's about discovery. We've seen it in every area, every territory globally as well, how we are ageing down the audience as streaming has grown. But to have brand new material to do that, we’re opening this world to really drive streaming over the next year and beyond for this campaign, because it's a long campaign so you want to have that opportunity. To have new music and to go to all the DSPs for fans and discovery for new fans, that's what's really important for us.”
Can you say a bit more about how you’ve worked the Stones’ catalogue on TikTok?
“It is reaching a new audience, and that's the thing, isn't it? There's the very obvious one with Start Me Up. I think because their [classic] look, their fashion, their videos lend themselves to engage with a younger audience on TikTok, that’s been really refreshing to see. And it's something where there are so many ways we can go with this. But we also want to stay true to the style of the Stones. The whole point of TikTok is how people interact with the music. So to have it there for people to do that, and with the Moves Like Jagger brigade as well, we've had a lot of fun with that and there's more to come. It's got a cheeky nod to it as well. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. From the Polydor Hackney Gazette ad right through [to launch], we've been able to play around the edges of a very serious massive global campaign with really nice little charming parts that have really just touched people. It's just taken on a life of its own.”
To have a whole album of incredible new music has really just been a game-changer
Can you tell us more about the making of Sweet Sounds Of Heaven, the album’s second single, which features Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder?
“It's a magical record because of how it came about. Mick, Keith and Ronnie talk about how they were in the studio in LA making the record. Stevie was there, he was playing kind of wild keyboards, and Gaga happened to be in the next studio – so a bit of serendipity. She just kind of slid in and then took Mick’s iPad, where he had the lyrics, and then just started to ad lib. So it was a natural record that just evolved into this epic song that just feels like it's a classic. It feels like it's up there with a Gimme Shelter type record, because her vocals are absolutely stunning. And then the interaction with her and Mick, it's just one of those records that's really special. That's a big focus for us, and then also going into the album we've got Mess It Up, which is a real dance-sounding record, it's got a real groove to it. It's also one of Charlie's [Watts] last records that he played drums on, so it's very special for that reason as well.
“What's great [about the album’s guest artists] is, with the exception of Lady Gaga who’s obviously a featured artist, the rest are all musicians. So whether it’s Paul McCartney, Elton John, or Stevie Wonder, they are musicians playing on the Stones record, and just playing because they're so talented as musicians – it's not a duets album. So it shows a whole different side to these artists.”
What can fans expect from the rest of the album?
“There's an amazing song called Whole Wide World that all the territories feel is one that they'll work, and then there’s Depending On You, which is a beautiful ballad. So there are just so many ways we can go with this album, reaching new audiences. It's not all like Angry. Angry is an incredible first song, it’s really resonated, it feels really fresh. So it's been a really magical start for the campaign. But we have a long way to go with lots of other great places to take the album as well. The final track, which is the Muddy Waters cover Rolling Stone Blues, it feels like that's going full circle for Mick and Keith as it's back to where they started, where they met and their love of blues and Muddy Waters. So you've got something for everyone on this album. It feels very special as a full album body of work, but also works on a single track level as well, which is great.”
It feels like Hackney Diamonds will have momentum throughout 2023 and beyond…
“Yes, definitely, and that's the intention. It's not about the first week, it's a long campaign. They've taken 18 years to make this album. We want this to really grow into 2024 and beyond as well. It feels like a classic Stones album.”
Geffen is the US label partner. What are the priority territories for the Stones?
“They are truly global, they resonate everywhere. LATAM is a huge region for us, they've always been big there. They are global superstars there. But also, Germany is a huge market for the Stones and continues to be. At our launch, we had so many people at Hackney Empire who flew in for it, over 200 international media, so they touch every part [of the world]. China's an important region for us going forward, Holland punches above their weight in terms of their support and as a Stones market, Italy – they really are everywhere. It's very hard to pick one territory, because they all outperform and they all absolutely adore the band. There are pop-up stores in [multiple territories] to launch the album. We share ideas amongst the territories and see what will work. So it's a very information-sharing collaboration with the Stones and the global team.”
What are the ambitions for vinyl sales, is there a big range of products?
“Yeah, there are coloured variants and there's the one that we've always done from their bricks-and-mortar store, RS No.9 Carnaby Street, where we've always had the Pantone red vinyl that we started with the catalogue [reissues]. We've expanded that because of the pop-up stores and we're carrying it in those globally, so we're giving more people an opportunity with the red vinyl. There are colour variants, there’s a picture disc, so vinyl is hugely important. But then you never underestimate the CD market for a band like the Stones, because they have such a wide reach. So it's something for everyone, physical but also digital.”
What are the ambitions for this in Q4, particularly the gifting season?
“It definitely feels like one that is a gifting [album]. Obviously, we have high ambitions with this album. All we can base it on is what Blue & Lonesome did when it was released at the start of December , and we know what a success that was globally. So you would want to go beyond that, because that was very much a blues record. This has much more variation and diversity than a blues record. So to have it here and bedded in for Q4, it's a massive global priority for us.”
Are the band on board in terms of media coverage?
“They've done lots of media. Their work ethic is incredible, I have to say, and they've been doing stuff non-stop since the Hackney Empire launch. So I think that shows their appetite for this. They're really ambitious. You don't get to be a 60-year career band and not be ambitious, and they are very driven to be making music like they're making now. They love success and they're real musicians, they're very clever.”
There is no one like the Stones and there won't be anyone like the Stones ever again
What’s your role with the Stones in terms of both catalogue and the new album?
“It's the same as Elton, it's the same as The Beatles, I sit across frontline and catalogue. So there’s the UMR team and catalogue, and there's the Polydor team, and I sit across it depending on what the release is. There’s the relationship with the band and management, I suppose I’m the constant in it from when we signed the band back in 2008. It's the experience of working with the band over many different campaigns and knowing how to approach things, that's helpful. And it’s great to be able to work with the Polydor team, which is where I started when we signed the band. They’re a really gifted team, they have these amazing ideas and it's a lot of fun.”
Finally, what’s it been like working with the Stones on this campaign? They seemed pretty fired up at the Hackney launch event…
“They are so fired up, they're just incredible. There is no one like the Stones and there won't be anyone like the Stones ever again. It's their work ethic, their innovation and their drive – they're just very driven.”
Subscribers can read our full report on the Rolling Stones in the latest edition of Music Week.
PHOTO: Mark Seliger