Awards season has been in full swing in the U.K., and the highlight of the month was the glittering Music Industry Trust Awards, held in London last month.
The awards honor individuals for their contribution to the U.K.’s musical and cultural landscape, while raising vital funds for the BRIT Trust and Nordoff & Robbins. This year’s winner was Lucy Dickins, WME’s global head of contemporary music & touring.
Sony’s Rob Stringer and Universal’s David Joseph were among those paying video tribute, alongside Dickins’ clients Adele and Mumford & Sons, while Hot Chip and Loyle Carner played live. Dickins’ brother, September Management founder and longtime Adele manager Jonathan Dickins, presented her with the award, hailing the leading agent as “a fierce negotiator, strategic, loyal and, most importantly, the greatest sister I could ever have.”
Lucy tells Variety she was “overwhelmed” to win the prestigious award – previously won by the likes of Stringer, Lucian Grainge and Kylie Minogue – putting her success down to picking up artists early in their careers and helping them to break through.
“I’ve been a part of my artists’ journey from the very beginning,” she says. “I’ve seen them get married and have babies, they’ve seen me get married and have babies and I have a really great relationship with them all.”
One of those Day One clients is Adele, who Dickins has helped become a massive live draw, despite the star’s initial reluctance to tour heavily.
“She loves it now, but she didn’t like playing live much in the early days, so we had to be very strategic,” Dickins says. “It was like, ‘OK, what do you like? How do we make this the best way we can make it?’”
Adele has since gone on to headline Glastonbury Festival (“Her worry was, are people at Glastonbury going to want to watch Adele? But there were people coming from the dance stages to watch her and it was one of the best moments ever”); and is currently performing a hugely successful residency in Las Vegas, despite its initial last-minute postponement from January 2022 to the following November.
“That was tough, but inspiring,” says Dickins, who reps Adele alongside WME colleague Kirk Sommer. “This is a girl who is all about her voice, so people will go, ‘Well, why don’t you just go on and play?’ And she was like, ‘I’m not going to give someone a half-hearted show, I want to give everyone my absolute best’. And it’s the best show I’ve ever seen, so the fact that she and her team stood solid and took a whole backlash for that was really inspiring.”
The “Weekends with Adele” dates at the Colosseum have now been extended through to mid-2024, and Dickins credits the singer with helping Vegas become “the No.1 event destination.”
“She and Usher [also doing a residency in the city] have brought new life to Vegas,” she says. “She could stay there for ever, but it finishes next June.”
Dickins says Adele is unlikely to return to more conventional live work any time soon, adding: “I don’t think Adele’s ever wanted to do traditional touring, it’s not cut out for her. I don’t see her going out on world tours like everyone else.”
Pretty much everyone else on WME’s books is out on the road, however, with Dickins saying the agency has booked over 45,000 shows this year.
“It’s through the roof,” she says. “We’ve had the best year ever and next year looks phenomenal as well.”
She does, however, express some concerns about mid-level touring saturation: “I always say to my artists, ‘You’re up against this, this and this: what’s going to make people come and see you?’ You have to be smart about your marketing campaigns,” she says.
But perhaps the greatest threat is to independent venues, particularly in Britain, where the Music Venue Trust says 127 venues have closed in the last 12 months.
“It’s really important to have those grassroots venues, that’s how artists learn,” she says. “I signed most of my artists from going down to a 100-capacity, sticky-floored, beer-ridden toilet venue. You can’t get that vibe anywhere else.”
Dickins is now based in Los Angeles, rising through the ranks after leading a successful revamp of the WME London office when she first joined in 2019. She left her father Barry’s agency, ITB, to take the WME job, and tells Variety it was “the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make in my life.”
“I was sick and tired of everyone saying I was getting somewhere because I was Barry’s daughter or Jonathan’s sister,” she laughs of her music industry dynasty of a family (her grandfather Percy also co-founded NME, while her uncle and fellow MITS winner Rob is a former chairman of Warner Music U.K.). “So, I thought, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to stand on my own two feet, let’s see how good I really am.’ And obviously I was alright!”
Meanwhile, BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music head of music Jeff Smith took advantage of America’s awards season, flying to Nashville to attend the CMA Awards and pitch the local music industry on how the U.K.’s No.1 radio station can support country music.
“There was a greater diversity of music at this year’s CMAs,” Smith tells Variety. “That fits the broader music policy that we’ve got at Radio 2 now. Country was always music that represented timeless melody and great songwriting, but there’s more breadth within country music now.”
Radio 2 has been hugely influential in the rise and rise of country music in the U.K. and Smith says increased coverage is on the cards next year. Legendary broadcaster Bob Harris will celebrate 25 years at the helm of the station’s “Country Show” in 2024, and Radio 2 will broadcast live from all three sites of the Country to Country Festival (C2C) – headlined by Kane Brown, Brad Paisley and Old Dominion – in March.
C2C remains the flagship country event this side of the Atlantic, but Smith’s message to Nashville executives while in town was that there’s now such demand for country music in the U.K. that it should be a year-round destination for the genre’s stars. Luke Combs recently played to over 100,000 people on his U.K. tour, while Morgan Wallen plays arena dates in December.
“The big country stars are making a point of actually touring the U.K., rather than just popping up in London and then going home,” says Smith. “Because they know there’s a country here that’s hungry for that music. We want to welcome them with open arms.”
Smith says that he wants to feature more country artists in influential Radio 2 slots such as the Piano Room sessions and live events such as Radio 2 In The Park, while other stations are also catching on to the power of the genre. Youth-oriented network BBC Radio 1 is currently featuring Zach Bryan feat. Kacey Musgraves’ “I Remember Everything” on its playlist.
“In the past, just Radio 2 has been doing the country thing,” Smith says. “It’s great that we’re able to support the music a lot more across the BBC, because there’s some brilliant music out there at the moment from that area.”
Smith – who has boosted the Radio 2 music team with the recruitment of highly-rated 6 Music editor Lauren Brennan to the new role of editor, Radio 2 music team – says early BBC support even helped boost the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Kelsea Ballerini in America.
But he admits it’s much harder for British country artists to make an impression on America. A wave of successful U.K. acts including The Shires and Ward Thomas in the late 2010s has not translated into the establishment of a more permanent domestic country scene.
“It’s a very difficult job to convert the American market to U.K. artists,” he says. “There’s that degree of authenticity that needs to come through to Nashvillians and people who support country music in America, they don’t always understand why they come with a British accent.
“But I’m sure somebody will get it right – Keith Urban is from Australia, so why couldn’t there be a massive U.K. country solo artist?”
Authenticity was also key to this year’s revamped Meta Loves Music event in London.
The social media company – which owns Instagram and Facebook – has long held the MLM events in major international cities to help inform and educate music industry partners about new features and how its platforms can boost artist careers.
But this year’s London event went one step further – holding a week of special artist-fan activations in The Vinyl Factory in Central London. It saw everything from Jungle hosting a dance workshop so fans could learn the moves from their popular “Back on 74” video, to Griff hosting an embroidery workshop with her fans.
Josh Nicoll, Meta’s music label partnerships lead, says the idea was to relocate the social media interaction between artists and fans into the real world.
“Seeing the different communities around each artist, and that fan-to-fan and fan-to-artist connection has been pretty amazing,” Nicoll tells Variety. “The fans are completely made up to be doing something unique with their favorite artist, the artists are having a good time, the labels have really enjoyed it – and we’ve really loved it as well.”
Meta is keen to push its short-form video Instagram Reels feature to the music industry. Nicoll says all the artists involved in Meta Loves Music – which also included rising stars Ayra Starr, Henry Moodie, Baby Queen and Here at Last, alongside more established names such as James Arthur and Cat Burns – saw their current focus tracks trending in Reels’ audio library during the week, as fans created Reels content before, during and after the events.
Burns – who hosted a journaling session and Q&A with fans at Meta Loves Music, as well as performing her latest single, “Know That You’re Not Alone” – tells Variety that Reels has become “massively important” to her career.
“They really help get more eyes on you and help people discover you,” she says. “If a video does really well, it helps build my overall fanbase.”
Burns says she enjoyed doing something different with her fans and welcomed “the opportunity to have such an open and candid conversation about anything and everything.”
“I’ll always take any opportunity to get to know my fans and be around them because they’re the reason why I am where I am,” she says. “So I always like to nurture, continue and build that relationship.”
Nicoll says the unusual approach to the events – rather than simply hosting live performances – was designed to “build a narrative around an artist and give them an opportunity and a space to tell a story about who they are as a person.”
According to Nicolls, there are 200 billion plays and 2bn shares of Reels content every day and he says the platform is gaining traction, despite the dominance of TikTok.
“We’ve seen big breakthroughs [with the music industry] this year, because people are seeing communities around artists build and be more sustained,” he says. “Sometimes virality on other platforms is not as sustainable as it is on Reels and we’re about the complete artist, not just one particular track.
“We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face, but people will only respond to it when they see the proof. And they are seeing it: artists are growing and getting bigger.”
Nicolls now hopes the event will return to London next year, and has the potential to expand to other markets that hold Meta Loves Music industry events, which include Los Angeles, Nashville and New York.
“There’s so much good music out there that sometimes a lot of it gets lost without a good story and that emotional connection that goes alongside it,” he says. “We can help artists connect with their fanbase in a way that they want to.”
Finally, some people are already looking ahead to the next awards season, with BRIT Awards organizers announcing another category revamp for the 2024 ceremony.
Last year’s event was hit by a row over the absence of any female artists in the new, non-gendered Artist of the Year category, and a lack of R&B artists in the Pop/R&B Act section.
This time around, the number of artists shortlisted for both Artist of the Year and International Artist of the Year will increase from five to 10, in an attempt to “improve representation and inclusion.” There will also now be a separate R&B Act category.
“The changes to this year’s categories are part of an ongoing process of evolution,” says new BPI chief executive Jo Twist. “We will continue to review, listen and learn.”
We’ll see the impact of the changes when nominations are announced in the New Year. The ceremony – with Atlantic U.K. managing director and president of promotions Damian Christian once again installed as BRITs chair and showrunner – takes place on Saturday, March 2.
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