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interviews

Rising Star: Syco's Charlie Martin

The biz's brightest new talents tell their stories. This week it's the turn of Charlie Martin, Syco Music digital marketing manager. What’s your biggest aim for 2020? “Syco Music is home to a whole host of globally established stars like ...

Hitmakers: The songwriting secrets behind JP Cooper's September Song

Singer-songwriter JP Cooper’s 2016 double platinum-selling single September Song was the soundtrack to nostalgic teenage romance. Here he looks back on recording in LA, high school memories, and the rise to No.1... I was on a writing trip in LA doing back-to-back sessions, which was a bit like speed dating; you never really know what’s going to happen. It was my first ever session with Mr Hudson, who’d just met a guy called Jon Hume and we all ended up in a room together. I had this idea, which started from remembering that kid at school who would always chew his pen and end up with ink all down his face. So, the song came about because we wanted to write about high school and that kind of anti-hero; this weird school kid in his own little world! We started writing it on the piano, but at the time I remember thinking, ‘There’s something special in this, but I don’t really know if it’s for me’, because it was more commercial than anything I’d ever done before. We did almost give the song away to either The Voice or The X Factor Australia, who wanted it for one of their winners. At this point I’d not really had any commercial success, and thought, ‘Great, probably better someone else sings it.’ But, after the success I had with Jonas Blue on Perfect Strangers, we pulled it back, re-produced a lot of the sound and it became what it is now. It took us a while to figure out the chorus, but I think I actually had the idea of September Song come up on a voice note. We kept putting the words at the end of the chorus, but it sounded really cheesy! I remember thinking, ‘What would Prince do?’ He would just say it, like ‘Raspberry Beret’, and come out with it. So, we decided we needed to say it at the beginning and it just turned into a thing. What I like about working with Mr Hudson and Jon is that they were willing to just guide where I was coming from and add a bit of pop sensibility. Originally I’d written the lyrics, ‘We played those records every weekend’. Then someone said most 15-year-olds listening to it won’t know what a record is, so we changed it to mixtapes. The lyrics were definitely a hook to bring people into it, because it reaches a lot of different generations. Did I ever picture this song being as big a success as it was? No, because up until that point, especially when I wrote it, I’d never had any massive success, I was more the person who people came to see live like the best kept secret, and I was quite comfortable being that guy. But I’m grateful for [the success]. It was really tough though. I was so out of my comfort zone, but I grew so much in that time and I learned to understand this certain type of music. Up until then I’d been quite selfish in my music and did it for me and my mates, I just wanted them to think it was cool. The success is amazing but the thing is everything has to reach that kind of level now. Something might come out and do 50 million streams and I think, ‘OK, it was a success but it wasn’t a September Song success, was it?’ So we’re constantly chasing that and that’s what my team are hoping for – it’s good to aim high. But streaming is an amazing way of gauging how people are receiving it. We just released In These Arms, and every day I check to see how it’s doing. The first week you think, ‘OK, how’s it going, are people replaying it, are they skipping it on the playlist?’ But I didn’t start doing music for that and regardless of whether something gets 10 streams or 10 million streams; I’m still going to keep doing music. Artists just need validation! Sometimes the number of people listening to it measures differently to the effect it’s going to have on people. You’ll get messages like, ‘That song helped me come out of depression’, so there are paydays in different ways. It’s very important for me to take that pressure off myself and just focus on writing great songs. I’m so grateful about reaching so many people and hopefully it is a song that will get put on every September for many, many years to come! Writer’s Notes Publishers Sony/ATV, Concord Writers JP Cooper, Ben McIldowie, Jon Hume, Teemu Brunila Release Date 16.09.16 Record label Island Total UK sales (OCC) 1,276,307 By Sarah Thomas

'There are endless opportunities': How artists are embracing Twitch

How many new acts get to play to half a million people? Well, rising pop-Americana duo The Luck did, via the magic of live streaming platform Twitch. No wonder they’re being credited with the “lightbulb moment” that has helped make the company ever more attractive and effective as an artist promotion tool. Owned by Amazon subsidiary Twitch Interactive and launched in 2011, Twitch has made its primary mark as a streaming video game portal. The company claims average daily visitors of more than 15 million, with more than three million unique creators streaming each month. Average viewership at any given moment is 1.3m, and more than mere viewers, they’re active participants, in what has become an online hub of global proportions. But beyond gaming, increasing numbers of music acts are realising that Twitch can also host their creativity, with impressive engagement numbers. They’re arriving from both the indie and major sectors, too. Lil Nas X and Dominic Fike are among those to stage events on Twitch, while Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco, Matt Heafy of Trivium, T-Pain and Deadmau5 have all seized upon the platform’s possibilities in a variety of ways. “These artists are regular streamers and great examples of where music meets gaming on Twitch,” says Twitch head of music operations & go-to-market Will Farrell-Green. “They all stream different formats, which is great from a content diversification point of view and, as we build our music presence, we’ll look to these types of artists as SMEs [small-to-medium enterprises] and advocates of what’s possible within our community.” “We’re in regular conversations with both major and indie record labels about different ways to test and learn together,” says head of music strategy and licensing, Pat Shah. “All the labels see the value of participating in our community.” Ryan Ruden, Columbia Records’ SVP, experiential marketing & business development in New York, is one of those enthusiasts. “The way that Twitch has brought people together as a community is truly remarkable,” he says. “And whenever people gather and form communities, music is sure to follow.” Such is the label’s commitment that it has built a high-end Twitch studio at its Madison Avenue offices. “We’ve had artists from Diplo and Dominic Fike to Quinn XCII interact on the platform,” Ruden says. “But our biggest activation on the Twitch platform was when Lil Nas X did a listening event of his new EP with Twitch star Pokimane.” Unlike a label, Twitch has no restrictive A&R policy on the door. Any artist can set up their own channel without charge, and if many are using Twitch for the instant accessibility it can give them to a large, simultaneous audience, there’s revenue potential too. “Artists can use all of our existing monetisation tools,” says Shah. “That’s mainly ad revenue, channel subscriptions, bits [the term for Twitch ‘currency’], and ecommerce. But in addition to those tools, they can customise their channel pages to add third party links, like Patreon, for example.” Artists can also set up a donation button on their home page, where fans can pay to request a live performance of a favourite track; the same page can also include links to all of their other social media outlets, their record releases, merch store, tour dates and more. So how did The Luck become the conduit to Twitch’s expanded musical consciousness? Max and Esmay Luck, signed to indie label and production entity Common Market Media, released their debut album Ready To Run last July, days before staging their own ‘festival’ on Twitch as part of its launch, to an extraordinary unique viewer total of well over half a million. But there’s a backstory to tell first. The Luck started to broadcast regularly on Twitch in 2017, and soon saw the benefits. “Twitch introduced us to an amazing community of music lovers,” says Max Luck. “Imagine playing a show with the best sound you can possibly create, at any time of day, to an almost unlimited potential number of viewers, who can all chat to you, and each other, while you perform. “We found ourselves building an online family of Luck fans who would tune in a couple of times a week to chat, watch our performances and hang out. We started receiving donations, followers would subscribe to our channel and use Twitch currency ‘bits’ to ‘tip’ us for our performances. And when we were offline, they’d stream our music on Spotify and buy items from the merch store. They’d also come along to our live shows.” The Luck’s Twitch channel now has nearly 3.3m page views. “Twitch is like street performing, but from the comfort of your own living room to a potentially unlimited number of people around the world,” adds Max’s sister Esmay. “We had viewers watching across Europe and the US, and from Russia – sometimes on tablets or computers, or even their phones. It was so ‘meta’ when so many of them flew over to London to see us live, and we could put faces to nicknames.” Such activity didn’t go unnoticed at Twitch HQ. “Twitch has always been a home for independent artists who wanted to build their fanbase and interact with their fans,” says Shah. “For me, the light bulb went off when I discovered The Luck, and they began to stream a few times a week out of their homes. “Over time, they were able to build a fanbase that began to directly support the duo by subscribing to their channel, contributing bits, and even showing up to their live concerts. I saw how hard work and consistent streaming could be used to accelerate artist careers.” The Luck have enhanced that online community with vast amounts of more traditional gigging and promotion, including hosting their own live residency, Ventura Nights, at London venue The Social. Spotify streams were beyond two million well before the release of their first album, and in August at a London studio, they hosted their own mini-festival and Twitch’s first such creator-led, multi-artist event, The Luck & Friends. It was conceived and produced by Rosie Croft, the group’s manager at RCM, and Jack Widdison from Autonomy Music Group. Gibson Guitars and Countryline TV were media partners in the event, directed by Olivier Behazdi from Sassy Films. Music production was overseen by the band’s producer Paul Broucek. The duo’s closing set was augmented by fellow homegrown country artists Emily Mae Winters and Laura Evans, and by performances live streamed from Minnesota, San Francisco, Manchester and Texas by fellow Twitch torchbearers MeganLenius, Tammy Byerly, Otropilot and A Couple Streams. By the end of the evening, Twitch had logged total unique views for the festival of 569,126, almost 2,500 new followers for The Luck and an average viewership of nearly 15,000. With viewer compliments flying in at breakneck speed, the benefits of playing in a location of your choosing – to an average audience almost three times that of the Royal Albert Hall – were plain to see. What’s more, the mini-festival came in the closing hours of the opening sales week for The Luck’s Ready To Run album, which then debuted on iTunes UK’s country chart at No.1. The duo’s emergence continued when they supported Sony roots trio Wildwood Kim’s November/December tour. CountryLine co-founder and creative director Nathalie Cox notes: “As an artist, your challenge is to reach an audience. At CountryLine we created a dedicated global app for the country fans, because they are so under-served outside the US. We’ve been big supporters of UK talent, and we love The Luck, so it was a natural fit to partner with them on this innovation.” Adds RCM’s Croft: “The first time we saw the band performing on Twitch and saw the direct interaction from the fans, and the size of their following on the platform, we knew it was essential to utilise Twitch as part of their album release campaign. For a band at their point in their career, the 500,000 unique views on the night was huge and demonstrates the massive potential of Twitch being utilised by emerging artists.” Winters, whose own High Romance album was self-released via Kartel the week before The Luck’s, also felt tangible benefits. “Twitch was a really unique experience,” she says. “To play to such a large crowd, but live streamed on the internet, was really exciting and it’s lovely to get that instant feedback from viewers on your performance. “I noticed my Spotify listenership had gone up by 50% the week following the live stream. If I was invited to be a special guest at a similar event, I definitely would.” But does the fine art of Twitching favour artists with superior tech skills, and those who are adept at playing music and responding audibly, on stream, to their fans, sometimes in the same breath? “Live streaming requires a different mindset than just uploading a video,” says Shah. “It’s more like a FaceTime conversation. It’s a raw, intimate experience that creates a deep emotional connection with your viewers.” Tammy Byerly, who records under that name but whose Twitch handle is Tammy_Blackmedia, has a long history with Twitch that combines her music career with her interest in gaming. “Black Media founder, Sunny Promyotin, has always seen Twitch as a place to share passion and build community,” she says. “Sunny’s background is in artist management, music production, performance, film and building tech companies, so live streaming was something on his radar very early. “Black Media took me on as an artist and helped me transition to playing music full time. I haven’t had much conventional artist promotion, but when it came time to build an online presence, he recommended Twitch and I went live in February 2017.” She now has 29,000 followers, and total page views of 2.55m. “I was able to find my voice, build a community, make friends, grow as a musician and build an awesome career,” she says. A Couple Streams, a husband and wife duo known only as Travis and Allie, have total Twitch views of just under five million. “We began performing live from our home on a whim in January 2016,” says Travis. “In just a few short months of live streaming, we achieved more creative goals than we ever could’ve dreamed, from a Twitch partnership to releasing our debut album.” “Most importantly,” adds Allie, “We get to work together on a project that we love, and we’ve discovered an incredibly kind-hearted and closely-knit online community that makes every day of ‘work’ that much more fun and exciting. To say that we are grateful and honoured to be a part of it is an understatement.” But there’s also hard cash involved, with sponsors becoming similarly engaged. Anthony Pakrosnis, Twitch’s London-based partnerships manager, EMEA, says that last year’s Lollapalooza was streamed live on Twitch by Red Bull. “Music is a newer but growing area of content on Twitch,” he notes. “It’s showing huge potential because it’s such a natural fit with our community.” As The Luck make plans for their own ‘Twitchfest 2’, Columbia’s Ruden sums up the label’s relationship with the platform. “As streaming grows, there’s a need to provide original music content to such a highly engaged audience,” he says. “We try to provide that premium content in an authentic way. When you view Twitch as a potential modern day live music experience, there are endless opportunities for collaboration.”

'Sampling is here to stay': Deborah Mannis-Gardner talks clearing samples for the world's biggest hip-hop stars

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The Aftershow: Andy Saunders

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Talk of the town: Team Spotify on how podcasts are changing the music business

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