Brit Beat: Brit Awards Boss Hopes for ‘Higher Representation of Women’; Wet Leg’s Label Looks at Longue-Term Success
On the morning after the Brit Awards the night before, the U.K. music industry generally opts for a long lie-in. But 2023 Brits chairman Damian Christian was up early – despite it being a Sunday – to receive an email from ITV bosses telling him that the show had posted “great numbers.”
The telecast peaked at 3.9 million viewers, up from 2.7 million last year, with a further 1.2 million streams of the show on streaming service ITVX. The ceremony also scored its highest share (54%) of 16-34-year-old viewers in more than a decade, confirming the big move to Saturday night had paid off.
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“Although it was great getting the Saturday night, there was still no guarantee people were going to watch it,” Christian tells Variety in an exclusive interview. “For us to do a show for two hours, full of music and for everyone to engage with it is a massive result.”
Christian says he will be pushing for the move to Saturdays to be made permanent, with discussions about 2024’s event due to take place over the coming weeks.
The ratings success comes after the run-up to the event was over-shadowed by rows about the all-male shortlist for artist of the year and the absence of R&B artists on the best pop/R&B act shortlist.
Christian says the Brit Awards were “really disappointed to see the lack of females represented in the artist of the year category and the lack of R&B artists being eligible” but added that, “The criteria to be on the long lists does feel fair.”
“Next year, we anticipate a completely different set of artists being eligible and we’re hopeful for a higher representation of women,” he says. “We learn something new every year, and always listen to and take on board what is said, and I’ll sit down with the committee soon to discuss how we can further improve our process to ensure we are fairly representing and highlighting the best talent the U.K. has to offer.”
The night itself had its fair share of chaotic moments, with a number of controversial outbursts from the winner’s podium, and a technical hitch that saw the show cut to footage of Adele’s performance from last year.
Christian says the running order had to be changed after an issue with the hydraulics used during Sam Smith’s set and praises the Brits’ team and Smith for their handling of the situation.
“Running a live TV show is incredibly hard but they dealt with it incredibly well,” he says. “Sam was as good as gold, they were very calm about it.”
Despite some poor reviews, Christian also hailed host Mo Gilligan for doing “a really good job.” Discussions are yet to take place about the host for next year – or whether Christian will take on the chairman role for a second year (traditionally, Brits chairmen served for three events, but that has been broken up in recent years).
“I loved it,” Christian says. “And it’s very addictive. If we get the Saturday night, it would be tempting to go again, but we’ll see…”
Christian says the ceremony could be revamped for 2024, whoever is in charge.
“The Brit Awards have stayed pretty much the same for the last 15-20 years, but the music industry changes every week,” he says, adding a “more punchy,” shorter ceremony could be a potential way forward.
However, Christian – who says he headed to the pub to celebrate when he received the ratings news – is confident that the future for the awards is now secure.
“We wanted to keep the show relevant,” he says. “To do the Brits TV show and come out with a win makes me feel good. I’m genuinely very proud of what we achieved.”
Harry Styles picked up the most Brit awards on the night, but perhaps the biggest winner was Wet Leg.
After picking up two Grammys, the Isle of Wight-based indie-rock band added two Brits and, after its televised performance, saw U.K. chart sales of its debut, self-titled album rocket by 116% week-on-week.
Chris Scott, GM of Wet Leg’s label Domino, says it added up to a discombobulating couple of weeks for both band and record company.
“It’s not normal, that’s for sure,” he laughs. “Towards the end of last year, we got the sense there was a momentum behind the band that was out of everyone’s control. It’s hit that point where it belongs to the world and just rolls and rolls.”
Scott says Wet Leg’s global streams rose by 50% after both their Grammys and Brits triumphs, with the debut album campaign now being “elongated” to capitalize on the interest.
“As much as awards ceremonies are a bit of a nonsense, they do matter,” he tells Variety. “In a world where you’re told young people are not interested in guitars and that indie music’s had its day, a lot of doors are shut until something like this happens and forces a reappraisal of the musical landscape. It’s really exciting for them and for Domino to be part of.”
The band has live dates booked through the summer, including support slots with Harry Styles, and Scott says there will be a “late push” for the album in America – where “Angelica” and “Wet Dream” are both picking up momentum at alternative radio – before thoughts turn to the follow-up record.
“They haven’t done anything yet and they need time to sit together, be the wonderful band they are and come up with ideas,” he says. “I’m confident they’re going to make a great record when it’s time.”
And Scott says Domino’s familiarity with handling indie rock bands with huge debut success will help ensure a smooth transition.
“A lot of people have worked at Domino for a long time and remember the Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys times,” he says. “That experience definitely comes into its own. “But our job is just to help the band be brilliant. They made the record they wanted to make and understand their audience really well – they deserve all the plaudits they get.”
The BPI, the labels trade body that organizes the Brits, has finally named its new CEO. Dr. Jo Twist, currently CEO of games industry trade body Ukie, will take up the role in July. She takes over from Geoff Taylor, whose farewell party attracted a huge industry turnout this month. Chief strategy officer Sophie Jones will continue as interim CEO until Twist is in post.
Another of Britain’s most beloved music awards ceremonies is also undergoing a revamp.
In 2023, the Ivor Novello Awards, which honor songwriters and were first held in 1956, will have a new host (Lauren Laverne, replacing long-time presenter Paul Gambaccini), a new sponsor (Amazon Music, replacing Apple Music) and will add live performances to the event.
“The opportunities and the feel of it are going to be a lot more contemporary,” Ivors Academy chair Tom Gray tells Variety. “We’ve taken a big step into the 21st century. The Ivor Novellos has been this brilliant thing we’ve been hiding under a bushel for a long time, and we’re going to let it flower in the world a bit more.”
Some of the event will be livestreamed on Amazon Music UK’s Twitch channel, a move away from the Ivors’ tradition of not broadcasting proceedings, although Gray insists the ceremony’s intimate feel will be retained.
“We’re not going to lose that,” he says. “But we’ve still got a long way to go to get people to really focus on the value the songwriter brings. It’s very important that we use our greatest platform to do our work.”
Some songwriters believe streaming companies undervalue songwriters’ contribution, but Gray says Amazon Music – which will produce a wide range of content at and around the event – is committed to supporting creators.
“There are always going to be issues about how the money is divided up, which is a consistent struggle for songwriters,” Gray says. “But they can help us to massively platform the message that songwriting is important. That is such a powerful instrument for change that we’d be foolish not to put our arms around it.”
Gray also criticizes the Brits and the Grammys for not including their respective songwriter of the year awards in the main show.
“If introducing the award is saying we value songwriters, to then put them in a much lower rank where they’re not even part of the main event doesn’t help the messaging,” he says. “But that’s their choice. For me, songwriters should be dead center in this conversation.”
One songwriter who will definitely be featured at the Ivors is Sting, who will become only the 23rd fellow of the Ivors Academy. Gray hails the former frontman of the Police as “a giant of popular music” and Sting’s manager, Martin Kierszenbaum of Cherrytree Music, tells Variety the award is “a grand honor.”
“He’s been bestowed many awards but this one’s particularly special to him,” says Kierszenbaum. “Having grown up in the U.K. and knowing the history of the awards, it speaks to a tradition of songwriting that he feels a member of. It’s going to be a great privilege.”
Kierszenbaum says there is “a good chance” that Sting will be persuaded to perform on the day and says he hopes the revamped ceremony will help Sting’s songs reach a new generation of listeners and musicians.
“To be able to access portions of the Ivors via streaming is pretty amazing, especially for songwriters around the world,” he says. “Sting sees [his songs] as living, breathing things. They’re there for people to interpret, cover and interpolate – he’s very progressive about that and that’s one of the reasons the music keeps enduring.”
In April last year, Brit Beat broke the news that former BMG U.K. boss Alexi Cory-Smith was back in the music biz with her new Bella Figura Music company.
The company has now announced its first catalog acquisitions: the publishing catalog of Robbie Williams’ co-writer Guy Chambers and the recordings catalog of “White Ladder” singer-songwriter David Gray, as well as portfolio of rights from the likes of Placebo and the Wombats, acquired from Kobalt.
And Cory-Smith – who had a golden run at BMG before leaving in 2017 – tells Variety that those deals are just the start for the company.
“There’s a new player in town,” she declares. “But a new player with real depth of experience and knowledge that’s to be taken very seriously. We’re not just playing at this or joining a gold rush. We are proper music people, we know this business, we’ve worked in it for a long time and have invested years into our network, relationships and knowledge.”
With capital from private equity firm Freshstream, Cory-Smith says there is “no upper limit” to the funds Bella Figura has available. But, while she sees no sign of the market for megadeals dying down, she expects most Bella Figura deals will likely be in $10-$75m “sweet spot.”
Bella Figura also has big plans for the U.S. market and Cory-Smith says they are actively looking to acquire “a publishing business with owned catalog and a really good person running it, who could be our business in America.”
“I’m looking at a few things and talking to a few people,” she says. “We want to grow the operation and scale up revenues quickly, and that’s a good way to do it.”
Cory-Smith pledges the company will remain small enough to be hands-on with all the catalogs it represents, but that isn’t stopping her from thinking big.
“The target is to be a billion-dollar business,” she says. “That sounds flip, but it isn’t, based on what we and our investors would like. I want to build a great company.”
Another big-name executive back in the biz this month is former Capitol U.K. President Nick Raphael.
Legendary A&R executive Raphael has teamed up with old friends and colleagues Christian Tattersfield (founder of Good Soldier and former Warner Music U.K. CEO) and Ben Bodie (co-founder of Ministry of Sound Publishing) to launch NWS Music Group, which will operate recordings, publishing and sync under one roof.
Bodie runs the North West Songs publishing division, already enjoying success with songwriter Dan Fable, co-writer of Venbee & Goddard’s Top 5 hit “Messy in Heaven.” It also has deals in place with the likes of singer-songwriter Sekou and electronic artist Daniel Avery (the latter through a joint venture with Grammy-winning producer Paul Epworth).
“There’s a huge gap in the publishing world to find really talented people and develop them from the ground up,” Bodie tells Variety. “Nick did that with Jimmy Napes, I did it with Mura Masa, Christian did it with the 1975. We’ve all built up companies and enjoyed developing writers – this is just an opportunity to do it again in a bigger and better way.”
Bodie says the company is not interested in acquiring catalogs, but does intend to target the North and Latin American markets for talent, and hopes to open a U.S. office once the U.K. operation is firmly established.
Raphael and Tattersfield are keeping details of the recorded music division under wraps for now. But Bodie says publishing and records will work hand-in-hand.
“We’re all part of the same little team of ambitious lunatics,” he quips. “But it’s about being the best, not the biggest.”
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