One of the most respected leaders in the business, Jon Platt has a gift for recognising superstar songwriters early in their careers, among them Jay Z, Beyoncé, Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, Drake and Rihanna. Since he became Chairman & CEO at Warner/Chappell, its songwriters have hit new heights and, as a result, the company recently rose to No.1 on Billboard’s US airplay chart (Q3), and was named Publisher of the Year by BMI. Given Jon’s history in hip-hop, and the fact his company publishes many of the biggest names on the UK urban scene – including Stormzy (pictured below), Skepta, J Hus, Dave and more – we were curious to discover what he had to say to this new generation. Known for putting his songwriters first, Jon rarely does interviews, so it was a pleasant surprise when he responded with the letter below. Packed with hard-won wisdom, it makes his excitement clear, while underlining that the stakes are higher than ever…
Almost two years ago, I was at the O2 for the BRIT Awards.
One of the artists I was looking forward to seeing was Kanye West, whom I signed to his first publishing deal years earlier, well before he became the global superstar that he is today. Kanye’s performance was hotly anticipated that evening and, like I’ve seen him do so many times before, he blessed the audience with something shocking and real.
When Kanye hit the stage, he was joined by an army of what seemed like every grime artist in the UK, all dressed in all black. Together, they delivered a set so powerful, so raw, and so mysterious that it shook the BRITs audience to its core. I loved it.
Fast-forward 15 months, and there it was again – watching Skepta and Stormzy perform sold-out shows in front of their own audiences was further confirmation that your movement is real.
I’ve had so many special moments in the UK through the years, but what you are building really brings home the power of community.
It shows what creative individuals can accomplish when they’re constantly bringing out the best in each other.
As an American, I have great respect for what you’ve created in your musical world. I’ve lived through multiple incarnations of hip-hop culture. What I’ve learned through the years is that the greatest songwriters are the ones with distinctive voices who stay true to their roots.
As you have beautifully proven in the UK, real artists don’t need to compromise to reach the mainstream. Some will read this and say that I’m telling you not to cross over to the mainstream. They would be wrong. I’m all for crossing over – as long as the mainstream crosses over to you.
It’s an amazing time for the grime scene in the UK. The culture that you’ve built on your own is not only topping the UK charts, it’s being heard around the world.
“As you have beautifully proven in the UK, real artists don’t need to compromise to reach the mainstream.”
One minute I’m at Alexandra Palace watching a majority of the scene on stage with a burning car, and the next I’m in the middle of a desert watching some of the same artists performing in the blistering heat at Coachella. This is rapidly becoming more than just a ‘London thing’.
The streaming revolution has opened a direct path from the artist to the ears of the world and has shown what listeners truly want to hear – your music. Because of this, the gatekeepers, as we knew them, have been sidelined, and the entry gates have been torn down.
They’ve been removed by your belief in yourselves and the culture you represent.
The question is, what comes next?
Will your movement continue to grow organically and authentically? Or will it become diluted as it increasingly reaches the mainstream?
Grime has the power to speak to a massive audience in ways that transcend borders, race, gender, and even language. It can bring people together as part of a movement that grows and grows. From what I’ve witnessed, it’s reflected in everyone’s live shows; there seems to be a genuine camaraderie.
However, that growth comes with the likelihood that opportunists, or ‘tourists’, as I call them, will attempt to take what you’ve created, put a different face on it, and turn it into something else that they call ‘new’. Or worse, the gatekeepers will tell you that you need to articulate your culture a certain way to succeed.
You must not allow that to happen. Protect what you’ve built.
“I am direct proof of the opportunities that this culture can provide, as I am the only black global CEO of a major music company. But I shouldn’t be alone.”
I’ve seen first-hand the positive impact hip-hop can have on its community. I am direct proof of the opportunities that this culture can provide, as I am the only black global CEO of a major music company. But I shouldn’t be alone. The power of your movement can create opportunities for people of color, women, and countless others.
Make sure the companies you do business with truly understand your culture. As you evolve, seek partners who respect who you truly are, and what you have built. Challenge your business partners to employ people whom you relate to, share your core values, and live your culture.
With success comes responsibility – the responsibility to do right by your community and to blaze a trail that others can follow.
The power is yours. The originality and uniqueness of your artistry and your songwriting will always win the day.
Continue to use your voice. The world is listening.
Jon Platt’s letter first appeared in the debut issue of MBW’s beautiful new quarterly magazine covering the British music market, Music Business UK (pictured), which is out now with subscribers.Music Business Worldwide