MUSEXPO Day 1: A&R, albums and Ariana Grande

MUSEXPO Day 1: A&R, albums and Ariana Grande

British executives featured prominently as the annual MUSEXPO conference got off to a lively start in California.

The conference has moved to a new venue (Castaway in Burbank) and operates under a new banner (California Entertainment Week) but founder Sat Bisla had recruited his usual stellar castlist of heavyweight executives.

Capitol UK co-presidents Nick Raphael and Jo Charrington starred in a rip-roaring and searingly honest afternoon keynote that pulled few punches about the A&R process, or even each other.

“When I was first in the business, I was the biggest prick in the business,” quipped Raphael at one point. “But as I've got older I'm more aware of other people's feelings. I’ve learned the positivity of doing right by artists."

The pair noted the importance of managers in the modern industry.

"If you're an artist and you think your manager's a douchebag, get rid of them,” said Raphael. “Because if you think they're a douchebag, wait until the record company gets hold of them."

Charrington – Music Week Women In Music Businesswoman Of The Year 2015 – discussed sexism in the music industry, saying some people often tried to talk to Raphael instead of her. But when asked what it was like to be a successful woman in the business, she quipped: “It’s all I know!”, before noting: “There are still not enough women in senior positions, or in A&R.”

Both agreed that their partnership was successful because they were always able to be upfront with each other.

"It works because we're honest with each other,” said Charrington. “We challenge each other and sometimes we fall out. It's a really important part of a creative relationship to be able to be honest."

Earlier, the day kicked off with the Global Keynote session, moderated by Music Week editor Mark Sutherland, where a high profile team of execs debated the future of the music biz.

BBC Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper featured prominently, flying the flag for radio’s continued necessity in the face of burgeoning streaming stats.

“Streaming is insular,” he said. “For radio it’s about the zeitgeist, the community. Give us the artist, we'll put a great presenter next to the artist, and do creative things with the artist and the audience.”

Cooper noted the book industry’s revival despite the threat from Kindles and said many music fans were still unlikely to subscribe to a streaming service.

“How much more can streaming go up?” he asked. “There will be a couple of years of growth and then it will level off. There will be people who want new music and will get it from their radio."

But Allison Kaye, president of SB Projects, which manages Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, said some old school gatekeepers were under threat.

“Message to awards shows and radio,” she said, in a thinly-veiled reference to Grande’s row with the Grammys. “You will have to appeal to artists and they will dictate what they want to do.”

Kaye also noted that streaming had changed the game for many artists and, that while Grande’s label had initially been reluctant to release her all-conquering Thank U, Next album so soon after Sweetener, they could now see how effective the strategy was.

“People's attention span is short, so you have to keep feeding the beast,” she said. “You have to really put the time in with fans day-by-day and that's what labels usually don't want to pay for it. You have to go on the ground, meet fans, and engage with fans. You have to keep doing that. Ariana is on Twitter day and night talking to fans and fans know it’s her, not someone doing it for her.”

The globalisation of the music industry was also a key topic, with Tarsame Mittal, founder of Indian management group All About Music, QYou CEO Curt Marvis and AWAL CEO Lonny Olinick noting the lack of international borders for hit records.

“It is really easy to put a song into the world but you need marketing muscle to promote it,” said Mittal. “There is no language barrier any more. We don't speak Spanish in India but Despacito was a huge hit.”

“Today you can be global from day one,” said Olinick. “I see opportunities for artists to go beyond their own territory that were not possible before. I see artists who don't break in their own market but break elsewhere. We always think global, but you have to be careful. We try to find the best opportunity and spread from there.”

Another Radio 1 exec, head of music Chris Price, featured in the Marketing Forum, saying he wanted to make the network “the most artist-friendly radio station in the world”, and citing his Brit List initiative as proof. "When you commit to three songs [on the playlist], you establish a different relationship with artists, you are entering a conversation," he said.

Meanwhile, panels focusing on A&R and songwriting showed the changing face of artist development.

“There is no lightning in a bottle,” said songwriter & producer Billy Man. “Every artist development process is a long process.”

That makes breaking albums harder, but Sony/ATV SVP and co-head of West Coast A&R Jennifer Knoepfle said she hoped the LP would survive.

"I'd miss the album if it went away,” she said. “Albums allow artists to stamp a moment in time that you can't get from just releasing single after single."

Atlantic’s president of A&R Pete Ganbarg agreed, saying his label’s stability meant they could place “long bets” on artists such as Twenty One Pilots.

“They were huge in Columbus, Ohio, when we signed them,” he said. “But no one outside of the town knew who they were. So we decided to throw away the clock.”

Even so, records themselves get made a lot quicker these days. Producer Steve Fitzmaurice recalled taking eight-to-nine months to make singles such as Crazy and Kiss From A Rose by Seal.

“We once spent three days choosing a snare sound,” he said. “That doesn’t happen anymore!”

* MUSEXPO continues on Tuesday. Stay tuned to and our social media profiles for updates.

By Mark Sutherland & Emmanuel Legrand

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