Music Week Awards 2024: Island president Louis Bloom on the label's 'brave A&R decisions'

Music Week Awards 2024: Island president Louis Bloom on the label's 'brave A&R decisions'

Island Records triumphed in the A&R category at the Music Week Awards 2024

It follows the Universal Music UK label’s breakout success with The Last Dinner Party, winners of the BRITs Rising Star award last year and now a chart-topping British band with a hit single.

Island also helped to secure Hozier his first No.1 album last year with Unreal Unearth. The Irish singer-songwriter has now earned his first No.1 single in the UK and US with Too Sweet.

Since Louis Bloom took over as president in 2018, the label has focused on developing bands, the latest of which is English Teacher, who cracked the Top 10 with debut album This Could Be Texas. 

Island has also seen success with Nia Archives, while flourishing catalogue from artists such as Amy Winehouse and Bob Marley & The Wailers shows how historical artist development at the label continues to impact the charts decades later.

Music Week met up with the A&R team as they celebrated backstage at the Music Week Awards.

Here, Louis Bloom and Daniel Lloyd Jones, head of A&R, reflect on the label’s achievements and their trophy win…

Congratulations on the A&R award. How does it feel to win this one?

Louis Bloom: “I really am delighted. Every year, it actually hurts when we don't win it. We pretend we don't care [if we don’t win] but then when we do get it, it’s actually a real honour.”

Why do you feel Island triumphed in this A&R category?

Daniel Lloyd Jones: “I just think as a label, we A&R by community and not committee; we're a team, we're together. We discuss what we should and shouldn't sign, we don't chase [hits]. We’re not data-led, we don't chase that stuff. We're looking for genuine artist propositions. We've dedicated the last five years to doing that, and I think the artists that we've signed have made us look good.”

What was key to the development and breakthrough by The Last Dinner Party?

LB: “We sign things early, we do it on belief and we present it with confidence. We had an amazing artist. We went out all guns blazing with a brilliant song and a great video, and then that just takes care of itself. It's that simple – if you deliver some remarkable music into the world then good things happen.”

Where has better culture, and where has a better understanding about artistry than Island?

Louis Bloom

You've been quite focused in that space of bands. Why do you believe in that so much?

LB: “It’s all about taste. We all love [that kind of music]. We work together in the A&R department because we are like-minded, we've got similar influences and bands are a very important part of that in all of our music tastes. So we naturally gravitate there. I also liked the fact that no one else was doing it. We always want to do something different from the competition, so you really stand out. Thankfully, the zeitgeist and the culture has changed towards more authentic and more leftfield artists. So it all works together really well.”

You signed Hozier earlier in your career and he’s recently had a first No.1 album and now a No.1 single too. Does that underline the long-term approach you have with artists?

LB: “Yeah, that's 10 years, and within the bookends of Take Me To Church to Too Sweet, he's had loads of songs that popped off and loads of moments. So he's a proper career artist. We love him and we're very fortunate to be working with someone so talented.”

Are there particular new and developing acts that you have high hopes for?

LB: “We’re having a good year with Nia Archives and English teacher, so we're really excited by that. We've got Lola Young coming up, she's such a special artist. We've been working with her for four years, this is her debut album and we think it's going to have a massive impact. And we're always just developing. Hopefully, this award is about artist development and recognising that, because that’s what we specialise in and love.”

As an A&R you've been in the game for quite a while, Louis, has it changed a lot?

LB: “Well it did change a lot, but now I think it’s gone back to the fundamentals of having a strong artist proposition. I don’t want to get too granular on it, but it's about how these artists interact with their fans. The way we did Mumford & Sons, there are parallels with what we do now in terms of developing relationships with your core audience and just building it and having patience with it.”

Is there a particular pride in working at Island because of the label’s amazing heritage?

DLJ: “It’s an honour, it's a privilege and with that comes pressure as well. I joined five-and-a-half years ago, and Louis was starting to build phase two. I'd been offered jobs elsewhere, but I only took [Island] seriously because [Louis] had been there for almost 15 years. I was only going to make the move If it was someone who had integrity, taste and that I knew had a purpose as well. 

“It’s been a long, hard road the last five years to get to where we are now, and that is why this [award] means a lot because it's not based on data, it's not based on a gimmick. It's just based on music fans [at the label] who genuinely believe [in the artists], listen to music, know the chronology of music. We've got behind each other and backed each other when it's been hard, and stuck with our guns. That's all credit to Louis for building us, having patience, and the 10th floor [at Universal Music] having patience, but I think now it's paying off because we genuinely believe we've signed future festival headliners. You see how The Last Dinner Party and Nia Archives are very quickly climbing the ranks of festival bills, that’s because of class and artistry. It's almost less about album sales and more about people believing in the [artist] brand.”

So Island’s not just focusing on that big week one for an album to launch artists?

LB: “No, it's just momentum and keep building. You never know when a bit of virality is going to happen. A chart [run] can last for a short amount of time, so it's really about building fanbases and putting beauty into the world through art and music, and that's winning. We don't think in commercial terms, we think in terms of creative and greatness.”

What does Island mean to you, Louis?

LB: “Island is like a culture… I came from a very boring place in the suburbs of Manchester. Island – it’s colour, it's vibrant and it has diverse opinions and diverse people. It's inclusive and it attracts great artists and beautiful people. I've always felt that about Island, everyone that I work with and the artists [on the label], it feels like a family.”

And you have remained at Island for more than 20 years now…

“Where do you go? Where do you go from Island? Where has better culture, and where has a better understanding about artistry? Credit to [label founder] Chris Blackwell because it’s in his image and that's the way we keep it. And fortunately I've got a boss in David Joseph who allows me and us to continue that legacy and make brave A&R decisions.”

Click here to read our interview with Record Company winners EMI.


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