Dua Lipa looks to be on the verge of something big.
Last Friday (Feb 10), the emerging British artist scored no less than three singles in the Top 15 of the UK Singles Chart. These included two features (with Sean Paul at No.13 and Martin Garrix at No.15), while her own track, Be The One, climbed inside the Top 10.
This week, she was named Best New Artist at the NME Awards.
The ascent of Be The One is an interesting case study in modern artist development. Dua Lipa signed to Warner Bros UK in the summer of 2015, and initially released the track in October that year.
It turned some heads on streaming services and, partly thanks to local media support, rose to the top of the charts in Belgium, while going Top 10 in Austria and Australia.
In Dua Lipa’s home territory, however, Be The One didn’t resonate quite so quickly.
According to Warner Bros UK President Phil Christie, the slow climb to the triple-threat chart success enjoyed last week has been a constant game of keeping his artist ‘in the game’.
“It’s very easy to point at the market and say, ‘Things have changed, things take longer’,” he says. “There’s more to it than that. You’ve got to take your time developing artists and be ready to elongate your campaign, as well as waiting for the songs to connect – and connect in other territories.”
Phil Christie, Warner Bros UK
He adds: “People talk about length of time in development as a negative thing, but I’m very proud of it. Look at Rag’N’Bone Man; you’ve got to keep in the game and when an artist connects, all of that development time will be seen as a positive.
“Everyone in this industry talks about the need for real artist development but some then criticize the length of time before a debut album comes out.
“The point we’re making with Dua is that we will put this album out at the optimum time; it will best reflect years of development and hard work on her part, TAP Management’s part and her label’s part.”
Interestingly, almost two years into her signed career, Dua Lipa already has seven tracks out in the marketplace (including features), with other singles such as Blow Your Mind (Mwah) and Hotter Than Hell both going Top 40 in the UK last year.
Her global credentials have never looked better: she was the 15th most listened-to artist in the world on Spotify yesterday – drawing almost 4m plays in 24 hours.
According to Christie, who took over at the top of Warner Bros UK last year, cementing Dua Lipa’s profile as the maker of global hit pop singles isn’t the label’s only priority.
“We’re at an interesting point; with streaming on the increase, certain artists are more single-track focused,” he says. “For a pop artist, that can be a big bonus. And yet for Dua, there’s real value in the album format because it shows the breadth of the personality she has, so it’s really important.
“The growth of the campaign has completely legitimized us moving [the album] back. The fact there’s real traction out there now has meant the writing opportunities have broadened, the scope of the singles has broadened, and the need to wait to harness that has developed.”
Phil Christie, Warner Bros
“At the same time, you consistently want to be in hit single territory, as that is what consumption on streaming services demands.
He adds: “You need to constantly have the door open to new songwriting sessions and be ready to find another hit. That’s the biggest challenge: balancing out the traditional album campaign with the demands of the modern streaming landscape, which requires an ‘always on’ mentality from it’s artists.”
To overcome this challenge, Warner Bros has pushed Dua Lipa’s debut LP back twice – it was first set to arrive in September last year, then February 2017, and will now arrive in June.
Says Christie: “From an old-fashioned perspective, you might see that as a negative move, but in Dua’s case it’s been a very positive process.
“The growth of the campaign has completely legitimized us moving it back. The fact there’s real traction out there now has meant the writing opportunities have broadened, the scope of the singles has broadened, and the need to wait to harness that has developed.
“We’re going to put the album out when there’s optimum demand and when we’ve had the opportunity to deliver global hits.”
This careful balance between racing up streaming track charts while building a proper artist profile suggests a forward-thinking approach from Christie’s Warner Bros label in an ever-more-complex music market.
“When I came into Warner Bros I felt I wanted to broaden the proposition of the label,” says Christie, who has also signed Liam Gallagher, Ten Tonnes and Catherine McGrath since taking charge.
“As a modern major label you have to be operating with the broadest possible range. There were some areas we needed to compete in more strongly, and one was pop. Dua embodies that. She’s credible, cool, and has a great voice.”
He adds: “I want people to see that this is a label that backs real talent, has a broad range and works collaboratively with its artists and delivers quality.
“I want people to see Warner Bros as a label that is evolving faster than the competition.”
Phil Christie, Warner Bros UK
“We’re in a hugely fast-moving consumer marketplace and the best labels are those who can evolve fastest in the way they run campaigns, work with media partners and break talent.
“You need to be constantly evaluating the methods you use to do so – I want people to see Warner Bros as a label that is evolving faster than the competition.”
Christie came to music business prominence at Warner/Chappell UK, where he signed acts including Michael Kiwanuka, Royal Blood, Rag’N’Bone Man, Tom Odell and Ben Howard.
“Some of the more successful things I signed at Warner/Chappell were self-contained projects, and the job was to help refine the essence of the artist proposition to make it as undeniable as possible,” he says.
“That gave me an appreciation of the power of singular artist propositions. Dua is a collaborative project, but the voice – figuratively speaking and literally – is very much her own. She’s an incredibly bright, empowered musician with a lot to say.
“The onus is on the campaign to really make that obvious, and that’s what we’re striving to do.”Music Business Worldwide