UMG's Sir Lucian Grainge reveals expansion of artist-centric strategy by targeting superfans

UMG's Sir Lucian Grainge reveals expansion of artist-centric strategy by targeting superfans

Universal Music Group CEO & chairman Sir Lucian Grainge has promised an “extremely exciting and transformative year” for the company.

In the UMG leader’s annual note to staff, which has been seen by Music Week, Sir Lucian reflects on the achievements of the major in the past 12 months, including its artist campaigns and the long-term industry initiatives around streaming and AI.

“Once again, 2023 saw Universal Music lead the industry in all major financial and competitive performance metrics, at the same time our artists broke records and topped the charts around the world,” wrote Sir Lucian. “To put it succinctly: UMG is the most successful company in the history of the music industry and every one of us should be enormously proud of what we have accomplished together, let alone what I know we will accomplish going forward.”

In 2023, UMG had six of the Top 10 global artists on Spotify: Taylor Swift (at No.1), The Weeknd, Drake, Feid, Karol G and Lana Del Rey. 

On Apple Music, the major had 13 of the Top 20 most-streamed songs globally, with Morgan Wallen’s Last Night at No.1. On Deezer, UMG had the three most-streamed artists worldwide with The Weeknd, Taylor Swift and Imagine Dragons. 

In the UK, according to the Official Charts Company, UMG had seven of the Top 10 artists in terms of overall consumption, including Taylor Swift at No.1, Drake and The Weeknd in the Top 5. 

On Spotify’s 2023 most-streamed artists globally, UMPG had four out of the Top 5 (Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, The Weeknd and Drake) and seven out of the Top 10. 

A year ago, Sir Lucian Grainge used his New Year message to address key issues around the streaming royalty model, including measures to properly reward the artist-fan relationship and tackling fraud and those gaming the system.  

UMG has since pursued its artist-centric model with key reforms with DSPs including Deezer and Tidal. Spotify then followed with its own reforms, which took effect in 2024.

“I’m proud to say that in just a matter of months, several global platforms, including the world’s largest music platform, have already adopted artist-centric principles that will transform the way artists are compensated for their work,” wrote Sir Lucian. “In the coming months, I believe you will see more platforms adopting these principles. Why? Because it is the right thing to do both for artists and for the wider music ecosystem. As this new model becomes widespread, the impact will be profound: a healthier, more equitable and more vibrant music ecosystem that rewards all artists – be they major, indie or DIY – at all stages of their careers.” 

“In the same way, we showed the industry the way forward when it came to confronting the challenges and opportunities of AI,” added Sir Lucian, noting the impact of its Responsible AI initiative.

As well as lobbying lawmakers to protect artists against unethical uses of AI, UMG forged private-sector partnerships with AI technology companies.  

“In the past, new and often disruptive technology was simply released into the world, leaving the music community to develop the model by which artists would be fairly compensated and their rights protected,” wrote Sir Lucian. “In a sharp break with that past, we formed a historic relationship with our longtime partner, YouTube, that gives artists a seat at the table before any product goes to market, including helping to shape AI products’ development and a path to monetisation.”

We are creating the blueprint for the labels of the future

Sir Lucian Grainge

The major also advanced its initiatives in health and wellness, including the first ever Music + Health Summit, as well as sustainability and the environment.

In 2023, UMG also continued the strategy to expand its presence in high growth markets around the world, both through Universal companies in those regions as well as the expansion of Virgin Music Group

It acquired Chabaka Music, a leading MENA-based company, as well as a majority stake in RS Group in Thailand. In India, UMG formed an exclusive partnership with management firm Represent

“Looking to 2024, both the pace of change and our industry leadership will increase significantly,” wrote Sir Lucian. “We’ll be moving quickly and meaningfully on many different fronts.”

One such area is that of the superfan, which Goldman Sachs highlighted as a growth area for the industry.

“The next focus of our strategy will be to grow the pie for all artists, by strengthening the artist-fan relationship through superfan experiences and products,” wrote Sir Lucian. “We are already in advanced discussions with our platform partners regarding this phase and will have more to announce in the coming months. In addition, we will be building our in-house capabilities through groundbreaking partnerships that will accelerate our artists’ ability to create experiential, commerce and content offerings for their fans. In short, we are creating the blueprint for the labels of the future.”

The major also expects to announce more commercial applications for artist-driven, ethical AI.

As well as expanding geographically and leveraging new technologies, UMG has been building e-commerce and D2C operations.  

“In 2024, as we continue our industry-leading investments in A&R and artist development, we will further evolve our organisational structure to create efficiencies in other areas of the business, so we can remain nimble and responsive to opportunities as they arise, while also taking advantage of the benefits of our scale,” wrote Sir Lucian.


PHOTO: Cindy Ord/VF23/Getty Images for Vanity Fair


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