The story you are about to read begins, like all good music business yarns should, on a ridiculously large yacht.
The vessel in question is owned by Warner Music Group kingpin and all-round financial baller Len Blavatnik.
On its deck two years ago, at a party in Cannes (naturally), British manager Dave Bianchi got talking to the Hollywood giltterati about one of his star clients at Various Artists Management – Charli XCX, who had recently provided the standout sync track for 2014’s hit teen drama, The Fault In Our Stars.
Bianchi called up his new bigwig movie contacts shortly after this experience to discuss in detail the music of emerging UK singer/songwriter – and Various client – Barns Courtney.
Thanks to a pitch by Universal Music (where Courtney is signed to Virgin/EMI in the UK and Capitol in the US) and publisher SONGS, Courtney’s Fire had been commissioned for use in movie Burnt, starring Bradley Cooper and released in November 2015.
Emboldened by his new lofty connections, Bianchi concocted a plot with Tinseltown music supervisor Dana Sano and Richard Glasser to maximize the track’s impact on the big screen.
“Weinstein Corp were beyond accommodating, even allowing us to suggest where the song went into the movie,” Bianchi tells MBW.
“Barns then walked the red carpet with Bradley Cooper in London and New York. Out of that came People Magazine coverage, and out of that SiriusXM really got on board. And that in turn gave Capitol the story they needed to start working the track at Triple-A radio in the US.”
To date, Barns Courtney’s Fire has sold 200,000 copies in the States, as well as going Top 3 on Triple-A radio – while remaining on the Alternative airplay chart for a 52 week run.
The point being: even without Len’s yacht, Dave Bianchi’s Hollywood associates or the Bradley Cooper buddy-up, Barns Courtney is being broken big-time through synchronization.
“We signed Barns towards the end of 2015. Thanks to all this sync activity, he’s already recouped – and he hasn’t even got an album out yet.”
Gerard Phillips, SONGS Music Publishing
And we mean big-time: to date, according to estimates from those MBW has spoken to in ad-land, he’s clocked up more than 50 placements – and generated more than $1m across recorded music and publishing from global licensing fees alone.
Since Burnt, standout syncs for Fire have appeared in a run of major US TV shows, including Ellen, Teen Wolf, So You Think You Can Dance and coverage of the NBA Playoffs.
Across Fire and fellow single Glitter & Gold, the likes of Burberry, Volkswagen, Renault, Miller Lite, ITV and Taco Bell have all used – and paid for – Courtney’s music.
“We signed Barns towards the end of 2015,” explains GM of SONGS Music Publishing UK, Gerard Phillips. “Thanks to all this sync activity, he’s already recouped and then some – and he hasn’t even got an album out yet.
“It’s not like he’s had a few syncs and it’s dropped away – it’s remained constant for over a year.”
Dave Bianchi has two pre-eminent reactions to Barns Courtney’s TV/ads/movie-led prosperity.
First: the good. He’s ecstatic, obviously.
“This level of success with syncs makes everyone feel more comfortable spending money and taking chances on an artist,” says Bianchi, who makes special mention of a recent Renault ad in France which propelled Courtney’s EP to No.35 on the market’s iTunes album chart.
Various Artists saw a similar reaction to ITV’s use of Glitter & Gold on its ‘Where Drama Lives’ trailer in Q4 2015, after which the song leapt up to No.1 on Spotify’s Viral chart and No.2 on the UK iTunes alternative rankings.
Adds Bianchi: “All of this buys us longevity to build Barns’s career. We can tell people like his music because every time they hear it, they engage more with it – Shazam it, buy it, stream it, watch it on YouTube.
“The issue is: how do we now get from point A to point B and give it proper mass exposure?”
And this is where we learn about Dave Bianchi’s alternative, less-than-delighted take on the Barns Courtney story so far.
Ask anyone in the UK industry today who the biggest breakthrough act of the past two years is, and you’ll only hear one name: Rag’N’Bone Man.
Before that, they might pick out George Ezra, whose Sony-issued debut LP (2014) has now sold comfortably over a million copies.
Ask them which new artists could come to prominence in Rag’N’Bone Man’s slipstream, and you might hear about Anne-Marie, or Dua Lipa.
All of the artists mentioned above – literally all of them – broke outside of the UK to a mainstream degree before they earned significant media support in their home country.
“according to estimates from those MBW has spoken to in ad-land, Barns Courtney has clocked up more than 50 placements – and generated more than $1m across recorded music and publishing from global licensing fees alone.”
Dua Lipa’s Be The One topped charts in Belgium back in 2015; Anne-Marie’s Do It Right went to No.22 in Austria last year, while her global streaming hit Alarm went Top 10 in Australia; George Ezra’s breakout track Budapest went Top 10 in Italy and Germany almost six months before it entered the UK’s Top 40.
As for Rag’N’Bone Man, MBW will hold its hands up: we may have confused some European readers in November when we asked Brits and Americans: ‘Is this the UK’s breakthrough artist of 2017?’
His lead single Human had just been No.1 in Germany for six weeks.
Barns Courtney making noise in the US and elsewhere outside his home market, suggests Bianchi, is symptomatic of this worrying trend for new British artists.
“This is why I feel the UK is suffering a great deal at the moment,” he says.
“We’re now in a position whereby the great and the good of the London-based media – particularly radio – aren’t interested in anything new if they don’t find it automatically ‘cool’.
“Unfortunately, the general public to a large degree don’t care about ‘cool’. They care about great music.
“I say this to all my acts. There are eight ‘cool’ people in the world: four in Hoxton, two in New York and a couple in, I don’t know, Los Angeles. Beyond that, it’s people from where I’m from – council estates. Where people identify with Ed Sheeran and Adele because it feels real to them and it connects.”
“I say this to all my acts. There are eight ‘cool’ people in the world: four in Hoxton, two in New York and a couple in, I don’t know, Los Angeles. Beyond that, it’s people from where I’m from – council estates. Where people identify with Ed Sheeran and Adele because it feels real and it connects.”
He adds: “No one particular thing or person is to blame, but we’ve reached a point where we’ve got to ask ourselves some pretty f*cking serious questions about what the UK’s role in breaking its own acts should be.
“This exposes why we’re having to target sync with Barns – as well as using all the other tools in our arsenal – to force public recognition.”
Adds SONGS’ Gerard Phillips: “When you deal directly with the international territories like I do, you realise that the UK can take itself far too seriously. We’re far too concerned about what’s cool as opposed to what’s good.”
On this theme, Phillips has an interesting theory as to why the likes of Rag’N’Bone Man and George Ezra broke in one European country in particular.
“In Germany, when people listen to music they don’t judge each other anywhere near as much as us Brits do – it’s not in the culture,” he says.
“You can be in the coolest bar listening to the cheesiest song – no-one cares.”
As for Barns Courtney, the plot now begins towards his debut album, due later this year – and the job of capitalizing on the extraordinary support shown for his music by advertisers and movie/TV executives.
The day the LP is released, Courtney will head out to tour in the US for three solid months.
According to Bianchi, Team Barns will then be concentrating on the markets where they’re finding the loudest spots of support, with the UK – currently, anyway – not high on this list.
In an age of online global reach, reasons the manager, it doesn’t make much sense to automatically prioritize an artist’s home nation over any other territory.
Instead, you follow the buzz.
“Everybody’s terrified to admit this because it makes them look like a poor manager, poor label or whatever, but the truth is 50% of this business has always been about luck,” says Bianchi.
“There are people that generate their own luck and there are people that don’t. Barns is definitely one of those that does, and it’s our job to make strategic decisions that ensure this [good fortune] isn’t wasted.”
He adds: “I rather suspect that when it comes to the end of Barns’s album campaign, it will look like a total mess in traditional campaign terms.
“But we’ll come out battered, bruised and covered in blood – having scored a proper victory.”Music Business Worldwide