Caroline Steinigk, senior marketing director at Warner Music Central Europe, has told Music Week that Germany is now an indispensable “launchpad” for UK acts to enjoy successful European careers.
Last week, Warner Music Group officially opened its brand new Berlin office. Doreen Schimk and Fabian Drebes, co-presidents of Warner Music Central Europe, have already told us about why the creative hub represents a “historical moment” for the company, which you can read in full here.
Also joining Music Week in conversation in Berlin on the day of the hub’s launch was Steinigk. Here, she tells us about Warner Music Central Europe’s work helping UK exports like Fred Again.., Maisie Peters and Griff gain traction in Germany, and why they want to be “the leading territory” in Europe to break artists…
Fred Again.. has been a big UK success story in Germany, having just played the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin this month. What have you all done right together to make that happen?
“With Fred Again.., one thing we did do right is going in very, very, very early, long before there was a success story. First of all, we have the luxury of having quite a large marketing team. Of course we have to prioritise, but if we love an artist and see how excited the UK company is, then we have the ability to go in early, even if there isn't data yet [to support it]. The data, of course, came in later, but everybody listened to Fred's first records and people were so excited. The whole team was on fire, and so was the UK company, so we decided to go in early. From a marketing perspective, we noticed that for every dollar or euro we spent on Fred, streams were moving. That was crazy. We kept spending and spending and spending. Sometimes nothing moves, but with Fred, we saw how incredibly reactive it was. We went in early because we thought he's an incredible artist, but then we had the data to prove that it's worth spending the money from a business angle. And what we do with an artist like Fred, we overspend. We don't optimise for profit, we optimise for artist growth. And that's what we saw: the streams went up, and monthly listeners, social following… Everything exploded. So I think going in early was really one of the things. The other part was storytelling. Fred does a fantastic job of that with his bike rides in the UK, and at the Berlin show he said, ‘Hi, Berlin!’ [in German text on a screen], and then showed images from when he recorded his first album here. He's really, really good at creating this connection to the local audience, and also showing appreciation.”
Are there any other artists who’ve done a good job of that?
“There’s definitely a couple. Another amazing example is Blessed Madonna. She did this Instagram post where she wrote about how much she loves Berlin. She said nobody gave her a shot 10 years ago, but Berlin was open to her. She did a great job of really telling people what Germany means to her. Ed Sheeran is doing a really good job with that as well. At his concerts, for example, he shares how German audiences are very different than those in the UK, saying how the UK keep cheering during quieter songs, but German audiences are so respectful of the artist they are quiet and truly listen. He said how at first it confused him like, ‘Do they not like it?’ Then he realised, ‘Oh, this is their way of showing true respect towards the artists!’ So he is doing a fantastic job. When he played an underplay this year in Berlin, that was incredibly special, as was him bringing people onstage to sing-along. Of course, the content went viral but it didn't seem like some marketing stunt or anything. It really seemed sincere.”
Who are you working on at the moment that you're really excited about trying to break in Germany?
“We’ve already talked a lot about Fred Again.., but I still think there's so much room to grow. He’s so massive live, but on streaming I think we’re only at the beginning. I've just seen 17,000 people going crazy at his Berlin show and I think he can be even bigger. And then some other ones are Maisie Peters and Griff. For Maisie, it's going to be about a long sustainable career growth. It’s about really being in the market and building a strong fan community playing live. She played a 1,000-person venue this year in Berlin. That's massive. And the audience went crazy, considering they are German and more reserved [laughs]. So it’s all about being in the market, storytelling, building her brand and getting people to understand her brand. And with Maisie’s music, that's a little bit more challenging, because the connection comes through the lyrics, but they’re all in English. So we have to build that bridge of how German people connect through the lyrics so they can relate to her, to her themes.”
We don't optimise for profit, we optimise for artist growth
Caroline Steinigk, Warner Music CE
So how often should a UK artist come over to Europe to build a proper profile in those territories?
“It’s hard to put a number on it, because it's so different for every artist. For Maisie and Griff, it’s going to be absolutely key. We’ll try promotional moments – usually TV, PR, radio and some fan events and live shows. For true local momentum, so far we can’t have Griff and Maisie here enough to be honest – if they want to move here, that would be amazing! [laughs]. We’re incredibly excited about Fred, Griff and Maisie.”
In terms of managing UK exports, how do you go about marketing a UK rap act to the German market, especially given the language barrier?
“I sometimes wonder if [German people] can understand the lyrics – sometimes they can rap along but don't fully understand it, but I don't think that's how it connects. It's more about the culture, the scene and the feeling that goes with it. So, of course, there’s creator marketing, but also just creator relations – it doesn't even have to be paid. We just make sure that the right people in the scene get to know the artists and that happens quite naturally. With hip-hop, it's a different sort of curve than pop music, you release something and you can tell really quickly if it's connecting or not. Of course, there are exceptions and some things break later, but usually within the first couple of weeks it's flying high, and then drops. Whereas pop is more building and building over months.”
A lot of executives tell Music Week that even more than just pure talent, it is the work ethic of an artist that is perhaps the single most important determining factor in success now. Where do you stand on that, specifically with regard to UK artists putting the time in with global markets?
“I half agree, half disagree. I mean, that's the ideal case. The UK does an incredible job of exporting, I mean that sincerely. We’re always like, ‘We’re excited about this artist but we need this, this, this and this from you’ And if they deliver that, if the artist is willing to work – which is always the best case – then we are willing to spend time and money. But also, I feel as a major label, we need to be able to build an audience with zero artist commitment as well. I know it sounds harsh, but I don't want my team to use this as an excuse: ‘Oh, the artist doesn't do anything’. There are always interesting things we can do. We can do creator marketing, community events, listening events without the artists, advertising, talk to our media partners and create content without the artists. I always want to have artist commitment, but I don't think it can be any sort of excuse for us [if it’s not possible]. It's our job.”
One thing we did right with Fred Again.. was going in very, very early in Germany, long before there was a success story or data
Caroline Steinigk, Warner Music CE
Is creator marketing the biggest thing occupying your time these days?
“It's a big thing. But so is storytelling, which is funny because it sounds almost like an old school thing, right? Fifteen years ago and more, we thought about storytelling a lot, but I think it's still so important. With Fred Again.., with our other artists, people care about their stories and what they stand for. That's an old skill that’s still incredibly relevant. Look at Charlie Puth, he was always a popular, successful artist, but I don't think people knew what a musical genius he was until he started creating that kind of content on TikTok. That’s part of his story now. Another thing to think about is what other worlds artists work in – we have some artists that are really into food and cooking, so they can have cookbooks now. But that has to be very authentic.”
Finally, what would your message to the UK be?
“That Berlin is such a creative, inspirational place. The Hansa Studios are located here in Berlin and Coldplay recorded there. The other thing I thought about was really that Berlin and Germany are a launchpad for European careers. Germans love British music. Being a launch pad is something we pride ourselves on. We want to be the leading territory [in Europe] to break artists.”
(Photo: Yvonne Schmedemann)