Mike McCormack has told Music Week that Universal Music Publishing Group’s less is more approach to signings helped it get to the top of the publishing game in 2022.
UMPG UK celebrated its latest Music Week Awards win at last month’s ceremony and McCormack (pictured above with the trophy) has offered his take on a landmark year for the business.
In a new Q&A with Music Week, McCormack highlighted successes with Glass Animals, LF System and Rina Sawayama to demonstrate the power of his A&R team, which is led by Pete Simmons.
Beyond new signings, one established star and their key collaborator dominated 2022 for UMPG, as Harry Styles and Kid Harpoon enjoyed huge success for Harry’s House.
Styles’ third album was the biggest-selling in the UK last year, while its lead single As It Was achieved the same feat.
Harry Styles was a global signing for the company that involved both the UK office and CEO/chairman Jody Gerson in the US.
Speaking backstage following the victory, Tom Foster, SVP and head of film & TV, Europe, said: "Harry Styles was incredible for us, and by extension Kid Harpoon, who's his longtime collaborator. I think we had a great year with Sam Ryder as well. These are artists we signed, developed and worked with quite early on."
"To support an artist at the top of their game in any capacity is a real honour," added Alice Greaves, VP, global brand management. "So yeah, it's been phenomenal to watch him."
Foster said the publisher had been "selective" in terms of sync opportunities for Harry Styles. Last year Music For A Sushi Restaurant soundtracked an advert for Apple AirPods with spatial audio, for which the artist fee was donated to the International Rescue Committee.
"Harry's at a stage where he can pick and choose what he wants to do," said Foster.
The company just secured a major placement for Sam Ryder with Fought & Lost on a big Apple TV+ series.
"On an episode of Ted Lasso, we had an original song that was written by Sam Ryder, which appeared in a pretty pivotal scene,”he said. "It is really beautiful – we've got high hopes for that one."
Foster stressed that a UMPG deal in the UK means that a songwriter is signed to the whole company.
"I think that's what makes us great, we have this global reach," he said. "We have A&R teams, sync teams and marketing teams in all of these territories, and we communicate with each other."
Here, Mike McCormack expands further on the philosophy and ethos behind UMPG’s success in the UK…
What does UMPG do differently to your competitors and what, in particular, did you do that stood out in 2022?
“I think what we do differently is not try to sign too many artists and writers, when we do, it has to be exceptional. I want to see proper follow through from the creative and sync teams at UMPG and it's much harder if you sign too much. Personally, I'm proud of signing Glass Animals last year as I'd been a fan of Dave Bayley's for ages, and LF System which Pete and Dougie from the A&R team did, Afraid To Feel was a massive hit.”
You will always succeed in publishing as long as you're signing the best talent available
Tell us the single most impressive thing your team did last year? What made you most proud?
“It's a toss up between Sam Ryder and Rina Sawayama as Claire Walters and Colette Goodfellow from Pete's A&R team were so deeply involved in the creative process from the very beginning. Claire signed Sam and then put Max Wolfgang with him to write Spaceman, while Colette helped A&R the entire Rina LP.”
Do we need to see more success from new talent in the major publishing world than we currently are? And how is UMPG working to break new acts?
“Well of course we want more success. We're not in it to fail! I think we are seeing British artists and writers dominating the charts worldwide last year from Harry, Kid Harpoon to Ed Sheeran, Steve Mac and Adele. But we need to develop the next generation of British stars, that's our mission. It's about identifying the best talent and giving them solid creative support to grow and flourish.”
Looking ahead, what changes are on the horizon in publishing? Is there anything that worries you?
“There's always been challenges against developing and breaking new talent since I started nearly 40 years ago and now is no different. But if you're adaptable and forward thinking you will always succeed as long as you're signing the best talent available, so I'm always positive about the future.”