'Stormzy is going to be the big one': Atlantic GM Katie White on the reshaped label's ambitions

'Stormzy is going to be the big one': Atlantic GM Katie White on the reshaped label's ambitions

Atlantic Records has shaken up its structure and made several key appointments to ensure it remains competitive in the streaming era. As exclusively revealed in the latest issue of Music Week, label president Ben Cook is focused on what he calls the “attention economy”, alongside the regular business of being a top-flight record company in the running to retain its title at the Music Week Awards.

The process really began six months ago with the appointment of former Vice exec Katie White to the role of GM. Here, she takes Music Week inside the bold new vision for Atlantic…

This latest announcement builds on the ambitions for Atlantic signalled by your appointment last year, doesn’t it?

“Absolutely, I had some theories about what we would need to do to really keep developing to change the model and become the label of the future. I’ve realised that content is one of our primary focuses, coupled with our storytelling capabilities and great ideas that live and breathe in culture. We’ve now started to look at the internal structures, processes and vision to bring that more to fruition.”

How does the creative studio at the label complement the work of Warner’s Firepit operation?

“We’re working really closely with our roster of artists to help them develop their identity and help them express that through all the different mediums that you need to do that through to be successful today. That is everything from how you look, how you’re positioned, your content, your videos, and beyond. Where The Firepit are looking at the big content mediums such as long-form storytelling, we’re working alongside them as the mouthpiece of the artists into creative communities. We’re working out how we can make great content, tell great stories and level up the creativity we are putting around our artists. Because we are not just competing with other artists and other musicians any more, we’re competing with film-makers and influencers for people’s attention. So being world-leading in the way that we approach creativity is one of the things that we’re gunning for.” 

What has the creative studio been working on so far?

“We’ve worked on smaller test projects, we did a series around karate with Anne-Marie quite recently, which is on her YouTube channel. That’s one of the test cases of how we tell an artist’s story outside of the music through their social channels. Hopefully, people will see that we’ve levelled up on music videos and the storytelling around the music videos that we’re working on.

"Jess Glynne’s BRITs performance is another big one to mention, because our creative team were heavily involved with the promotions team and in commissioning Es Devlin in putting that performance together. We could have done a standard performance at the BRITs, but actually we wanted to work with Jess to tell a story and create a moment that really embodied a lot of the things that we’ve also been doing on her social channels. We did a lot of no-make-up-selfies and that type of content around the Thursday track. It’s just really about having one of those ideas which, for Jess, is a lot about being yourself, bringing the lyrics to life and then tying that all together.”

How does that connect to other departments?

“We’re working really closely with our publicity team as well to make sure that we’ve got the right influencers [working] with our artists. So when you do something like the Jess campaign, it’s how do you actually get influencers engaged with that as a social movement. One of the things we’re finding is that it’s not all about having big shiny assets. A lot of the time, it’s much more about how you get people engaged in those stories - that might be a gif or Instagram Stories, but just doing it in a slightly different way. So we’re really trying to get ideas across in everything that we do and move away from what I think the industry’s been a little bit guilty of in the past, which is more of a formulaic approach.”

Being world-leading in the way that we approach creativity is one of the things that we’re gunning for

Katie White

Is it fair to say that the narrow measure of sales is no longer enough for a modern label?

“I think so. Across all of the metrics that we are tracking and what we are looking at on a regular basis, we have gone really broad now. So, obviously record sales are the heartland and where we’ve come from and what we’re focusing on. But we’re trying to go deeper and look for insight and look for indicators of success much more broadly than that, whether it’s video views, social traction or mentions, and really trying to understand the relationship between all of those metrics. At the moment, there are so many variables that can affect record sales. We feel that it’s our responsibility to be smart in the way that we’re looking at data and finding insight, so that it’s reflective of everything that an artist needs to do to be successful today.”

And yet you are also strong on traditional formats such as radio airplay and CD sales…

“It’s still super important and this is a really important point, it’s not an either or for us. It’s really looking at consumer behaviours and understanding how they all fit together. Particularly with fanbases, often we’re finding that super-fans will buy physical and stream, there’s overlap and there’s a lot of interesting patterns that are emerging as people become more sophisticated in the way that they access music and interact with our artists. It’s a much more sophisticated landscape and we’re finding that we just have to be much more sophisticated and bespoke in our approach. Which is why data, insight, strategy and creativity – all those things that we’re rolling out across the teams and restructure – are just so important.”

What’s the first big test for this new label structure?

“Obviously, Stormzy is coming this year - that’s one where we know he’s going to have a big year with Glastonbury and new music coming. That’s the one we’re really excited about in terms of seeing it all come together. He is a really strong personality and has a really clear vision for his own creativity. So the relationship that he’s building with the creative team is a very strong, collaborative relationship. The key thing is that it’s the opposite of manufacturing; this is far more about working with artists to understand who they truly are and helping them to communicate that identity in really interesting ways. Stormzy is the master in terms of knowing his own identity and building that up himself. So I think that’s going to be the big one where it all comes to fruition.”

To read the full, exclusive story on Atlantic’s restructure, see this week's print edition of Music Week, available now, or click here. To subscribe and never miss a big industry story click here.


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