The highlights: Industry leaders reflect on 2021 Pt.1

The highlights: Industry leaders reflect on 2021 Pt.1

In 2021, the music industry united to forge a path towards life beyond the coronavirus pandemic, and the news cycle didn’t let up. To mark the end of the year, Music Week gathered a selection of the biggest names from across the business to look back on the biggest stories.

Today, we present the first part of our series of interviews, featuring Warner Music UK CEO Tony Harlow, BBC Radio 6 Music boss Samantha Moy, 0207 Def Jam co-president Alex Boateng, YouTube Music's Sheniece Charway and many more. Look out for much more on very soon.


How would you describe how 2021 unfolded for the industry?
“Slowly. And cautiously. But it was very good to be back together at shows, events and, eventually, the workplace.”

What's your biggest takeaway from the year?
“That patience is a virtue. Plus, artists’ ability to be brilliant is undiminished by isolation.”


How did the industry innovate in 2021?
“The evolution was constant and daily. The rise of content consumption continued and the amount of platform variations that need feeding also rose. We are now seeing wins in connected fitness and health-based apps that we were not working with two years ago. The exciting part is that the innovation is constant, which gives more opportunities for our artists.”

What was the best campaign of the year?
“Mimi Webb. I love pop music. I love pop stars. We have been working with Mimi for a number of years, but I love seeing an artist breaking. As a business we are breaking fewer females, so I am determined to help Mimi in any way I can, to reach her potential. Good Without went Gold and she performed at the Jingle Bell Ball. These are things she would have dreamed about 12 months ago. Magic.”


What did 6 Music do best last year?
“Being 6 Music. A voice in a room that may not have heard another all day. Playing music by artists that couldn’t play to a room of people. 6M was a voice and gave voice. And that, to me, is the wonder and the privilege of broadcasting.”

Tell us the biggest lesson you learned...
“Trust your gut. It’s rarely wrong. And that you really don’t need another biscuit.”


How was the first year of 0207 Def Jam?
“It’s been amazing – better than expected. I’m really enjoying the learnings, challenges, people and music.”

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in the role so far?
“That you don’t stop learning… if you want to keep learning.”

We have seen a lot of change over the last 12 months but there is so much more that needs to be done

Sheniece Charway, YouTube Music



Is the music industry a better place at the end of 2021?
“Most definitely, we have seen a lot of change over the last 12 months but there is definitely so much more that needs to be done. We have seen the likes of initiatives such as Power Up, Keychange, BMC, The Debrief who have been here to help make the industry a better place and to also hold companies accountable for the changes that need to be made to make it a better place for everyone.”

What was your highlight of the year?
“One of my highlights for this year was our partnership with Music Week for the Women In Music Awards. We were able to highlight key Black women in the industry who have been paving a way for women, not only Black women. This partnership was super important to me and I want to thank Music Week for being such an amazing partner. The Women In Music Awards were also special to me as I won the Rising Star Award and was amongst so many women and peers that I truly respect and look up to.”


How will the DCMS Committee streaming report change the industry?
“My hope is that the report will ultimately lead to positive change. Already it has catalysed a process for industry and government to come together, which is very positive. Change rarely follows a smooth path but I have faith that all the voices advocating from all sides do so with a shared passion for our sector, and that ultimately we all want the same thing – a UK music industry fit to face the challenges of the 21st century.”

How did you celebrate your fifth anniversary at AIM?
“This was more a year for hard work than celebration, particularly in terms of social justice and the climate crisis, as well as supporting many of our members who were hit hard by the ongoing perfect storm of Covid and Brexit. In addition there is genuine fear in the independent community that proposals for ER on streaming will do real damage to their businesses and artistic careers. I would say my fifth anniversary brought more of a sense of purpose than triumph, I feel privileged to be able to serve the music community. I hope to continue to be a force for positive change through and beyond the current sense of crisis.”


What moment defined 2021 for you?
“Musically speaking, Major League DJz brought over from South Africa by Afro Paradise Party (Danai Mavunga and co.) – the music that night was absolutely brilliant. The audience was brilliant. To see amapiano being appreciated in the UK in that way was incredible. From a friends’ standpoint celebrating the life of Ty, the rapper we lost to Covid the year before, was a pretty poignant moment. Being called to speak for the DCMS streaming inquiry was also a defining moment for me. It showed how far the transparency/fairness debate had come. Politically, the attack on the United States Capitol, on Jan 6th 2021, blew my head clean off… I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a coup in full view. Televised!”

What new, emerging area of the business are you most interested in?
“Firstly, publishing… I’m late to the party, but loving being a publisher. I am also loving doing FAB music project management and consultancies! As an area it is fascinating, as it actually stretches you and sharpens you as a manager, so it’s work that helps your other work because you are working on new projects constantly. Also, I have loved what’s happened with Cre8ing Vision’s Ultimate Music Circle, as we now have success stories and people from different and diverse backgrounds being directly employed not just at junior level. Well played Andrea and Nicki – amazing work from the brilliant co-directors.”


What was GIR's biggest achievement last year?
“Having 2,000 aspiring female songwriters and producers attended our GIR Academy #GETHEARD Future Hitmaker Competition. We’ve been running this competition since 2017 alongside PRS – it’s growing and going from strength to strength. We’re looking forward to the 2022 competition, we’re just in the process of reaching out to partners etc.”

What one thing do you want the industry to take away from 2021?
“That giving opportunities to black creatives and executives is one thing, but giving us the power of ownership and building our own black lead companies is another. It’s time they open the gates a lil’ wider.”


In what ways did the industry move forward in 2021?
“2021 has been a multitask year. The industry has had to complete damage assessment, as well as putting into practice the invaluable lessons learned.”

The Wizkid story was impressive again – what is that like to work on?
“It has been incredible… Wizkid delivered a truly outstanding record. Essence gave us a glimpse of the superstar in Tems and, of course, the song soundtracked our summer. Selling out three nights at London’s O2 Arena in record time, the success of his US tour and the accolades are all well-deserved. One of my favourite reviews came from popular Nigerian music critic – Joey Akan. He described Made In Lagos as ‘the project that crystallised Nigerian music’s entrance into the global pop framework, bridging the chasm between pop and (our) niche sound status.’”


After a few years of fun, but somewhat faceless moments, artists are thankfully coming back to the fore

Ben Mortimer, Polydor



How did the A&R landscape change in 2021?
“Artists emerging again. It felt like after a few years of fun, but somewhat faceless moments, artists are thankfully coming back to the fore.”

And how did Polydor's operation change?
“I don’t want to give away too many trade secrets but safe to say we’ve adapted…”


How pleased are you with how Power Up has started off?
“Power Up was created to move the needle on anti-Black behaviour within the UK music industry, via our Power Up Participant Programme and the Power Up movement. I am truly proud of all that we have achieved in year one. The impact of the Power Up Participant Programme and network is already bearing fruit with the likes of Jennifer John winning an AIM Award, Hannah Shogbola joining the Music Week Women In Music Roll Of Honour, Nova Twins winning a Heavy Music Award, Ego Ella May winning Vocalist Of The Year at the Jazz FM Awards, Dan Kidane and Abel Selaocoe taking part in the 2021 Proms, as well as new companies being launched, and several participants moving into more senior roles and even into the boardroom. To provide participants with a platform and resources to push through the glass ceiling to the next level was key to the programme and to see that happening is vindication for the work we have done and the early success of the initiative. Whilst we have had amazing support from YouTube, Spotify, Beggars Group as well as the BMC and trade bodies, it would be amazing to see more engagement of the programme coming from the three major labels in 2022 and beyond. This has been disappointing, as we have first-hand accounts of situations within the major labels that I'm sure would be of interest to them and be helpful in shaping a more equitable, equal and pleasant work place.”

What was the most significant change in the music industry in 2021, in the fight against racism and discrimination?
“The data research that Black Lives in Music undertook in 2021 was extremely significant. It is really important that the qualitative and quantitative data exists to support what we already believed about the racial inequalities that exist within the UK Music industry. This gathering of data has proved that the industry needs to change and highlighted the key areas that need to be looked at. This was amazing work from BLiM and I'm glad that Power Up and BLiM alongside the BMC and other organisations have a joined-up approach to moving the needle on racism in the industry.”


How would you sum up 2021 in the music industry in one word?

What did the business really excel at this year?
“Adapting to seismic changes, embracing hybrid working, while continuing to deliver great artists and great music.”


What was your 2021 industry highlight?
“The return of live music. What else?”

What was your favourite moment of Idles’ US gigs?
“The first show I caught was night one at T5 in NYC; the band opened with Colossus, Joe [Talbot, vocals] split the crowd and asked: ‘Are you ready to look after each other?’ before commanding the most unreal mosh pit which heaved and breathed until the end of the final song. The notion of ‘what pandemic?’ left people feeling ready to move forward after a very difficult 18 months. Also, a very special mention for Halloween at Pappy and Harriet's in the California desert… Dev [bass] was dressed as Orville Peck, Bowen [guitar] as Madonna and Joe as a hot dog, which was surprisingly unrestrictive. It was gloriously surreal.”


What did the music industry do that made you proud in 2021?
“I am proud of the unity the industry had as a whole. Across every part of the industry it felt as if we all kept each other going, through, and even after, the pandemic began to settle down a little. Artists and people behind the scenes alike were determined.”

Did the live music comeback happen as you thought it would?
“Live music came back amazingly and I’m very happy about that. I was actually quite anxious about its return – since the pandemic, I thought having many people in one place would always feel odd going forward but everyone has worked really hard to get back to normality.”


We all kept each other going

Whitney Boateng, WME



How did radio change in 2021?
“Radio faced its biggest test yet in 2021: an audience with their routines affected. Being a habitual medium there was genuine intrigue at how much audiences would adapt and pick up new platforms to hear their favourite content. When RAJAR released its first figures in 18 months, it was wonderful to have confirmed what we’d suspected: that the pandemic had deepened the audience’s relationship with radio and that it had fared really well.”

What was your favourite Radio 1 moment this year?
“There’s so many! Despite all the new shows launching and creative projects we did around the UK, I actually think, for me, it was the unique live music performances we made for our virtual Radio 1’s Big Weekend this year. From Coldplay taking over Whitby Abbey to Jorja Smith at Alexandra Palace, we created a bespoke performance with a unique creative that only happened because we had to think differently doing the event without an audience.”


What made you smile most in 2021?
“Probably like most, the return to relative freedom and everything that allowed personally and professionally. Reconnecting and appreciating the simple stuff.”

And what was most frustrating thing about the year?
“Winter 2021 and its never-ending lockdown.”


How do you reflect on how 2021 unfolded at Atlantic?
“I am very proud of how our team and artists kept things moving through challenging times and also how positive the return of office-working and live music has been!”

Where did you see the most improvement in the business?
“Our various teams, including lots of new faces, have had a chance to settle, get to know each other and have delivered amazing results in various genres. Atlantic will end the year with the most streams from domestic releases for all UK labels which speaks for itself. It’s helped getting off Zoom and actually seeing one another in person.”


How have you adapted to the pandemic and its impact on PRS?
“Through continuous investment in our team and technology, and clear objectives, we had strong foundations in place at the start of the pandemic, ensuring as we transitioned into new ways of working we were able to fully focus on maximising distributions and supporting our members. We were proud to be able to pay out a record £699.4m to members last year, despite a decrease of 20% in revenue. The pandemic rapidly accelerated the need to think outside the box, to tackle new and existing challenges in very different ways, and we are determined to maintain these qualities into the future.”

What did you learn from the DCMS Committee streaming inquiry?
“Throughout 2021, voices from the songwriter and composer community have been loud and clear – the value of the song, of their work, is not being properly rewarded in the streaming era. The Committee’s inquiry provided a very public focal point for what is a long-standing concern for those of us invested in securing a strong and vibrant music creator community. There remain many challenges to realising a streaming market that properly rewards all parts of our industry, and it will take our collective efforts to deliver the solutions needed.”

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