Ren found out that he’d scored his first UK No.1 album by listening to the countdown live on radio.
The moment was captured on video, and posted to social media back in October, featuring a few celebratory whoops and tears, with Ren getting hoisted onto the shoulders of his mates, all beaming from ear to ear.
The outpouring of emotion from the musician and the friends around him in that video highlights the significance of the achievement for Ren (real name Ren Erin Gill).
Not only was Rick Astley’s latest album Are We There Yet? pipped to the post by Ren’s own Sick Boi that day (Friday, October 20), but the milestone arrived amid a long period of chronic illness for Ren, who has been receiving experimental treatment in Canada for an autoimmune ailment.
As Alastair Webber, co-founder of Ren’s label and publisher The Other Songs, explains, Ren’s ongoing health issues meant he couldn’t perform or participate in many promo activities prior to the release.
“He came to us in January and had already pre-recorded six music videos, because he knew he was going to do treatment from February, indefinitely,” says Webber.
Ten months later, after a campaign focused on fan community engagement and press, Sick Boi, which chronicles Ren’s health struggles, topped the UK Album chart, marking his and The Other Songs’ first No.1.
Founded in 2018 by brothers Alastair and Billy Webber (sons of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber), The Other Songs operates across recorded music, publishing, management, animation and events.
The company’s artists and songwriters have collectively racked up over two billion streams globally across all platforms. Some of their tracks include Pump It Up by Endor (Certified 3x Platinum), Following The Sun by SUPER-Hi & NEEKA (Certified 4x Gold), and Ritmo by Raffa FL (Certified Platinum).
Headquartered in London, The Other Songs also has a global presence with offices in New York and San Francisco, as well as strategic partnerships with music entities such as Paris-based Unity Group, Berlin-based Wasted Talent and a global distribution deal with The Orchard.
Alastair and Billy’s own careers started in A&R at Island Records UK and Warner Music, respectively. Towards the end of their stints in major label land, they set up an event in 2018 named The Other Songs, where songwriters were invited to perform acoustically to an audience, according to Alastair, “looking for songs and ideas”.
“We invited A&Rs, artists, and people in film and fashion,” he recalls. “It started with 20 people in the room. It slowly gained momentum until we were completely oversubscribed from the music industry every time. It was a really hot ticket.”
The event has featured performances by a number of superstar songwriters and artists over the years, like Raye, Dave Stewart, Nile Rodgers, Jimmy Napes, David Foster, AR Rahman, Joan Armatrading, Cathy Dennis and Rodney Jerkins. In 2023, The Other Songs’ sold-out show at The London Palladium, hosted in partnership with The Ivors Academy, raised £65,000 for The BRIT School.
That original live event eventually morphed into a multi-faceted company also called The Other Songs that now operates across recorded music, publishing, management and, most recently, animation.
That latter venture was launched via a new division called The Other Studio, in partnership with ex-Pixar animation director Andrew Gordon, who has worked on films like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc.
“We want to keep shining a light on songwriters who are sometimes undervalued in this industry.”
The Other Songs also recently hired Vince Amoroso as CMO, following his tenure as Head of Marketing at mTheory. Another key leadership position at the company is held by former Island Records UK executive Sophia Humphreys (Chief Business Officer). “She joined us right at the beginning as COO, is now our Chief Business Officer, and runs all operations, legal, finance, and those areas,” explains Alastair. “Without her, we wouldn’t exist today.”
Looking to 2024 and beyond, with their first No.1 album and a sold-out Palladium show under their belts in 2023, Billy tells MBUK that the ambition for the new year is still the same as it was in 2018 when they set up their first event: “We want to keep shining a light on songwriters who are sometimes undervalued in the industry,” he says.
Here, the Webber brothers explain how they plan to do that, how they met Ren and how, together, they scored their first No.1 album…
What was your relationship with music like growing up? Was there always an expectation that you would end up working in the business?
Billy Webber: We’re from a musical family, but our dad wasn’t forcing music down our throats. We would watch things like Tom and Jerry and Peter and the Wolf and loved the music in those. I was, at one point, really interested in going into sport. When I was still at school, Al had just started his internship at Island. I didn’t really know what A&R was. I don’t think he really knew what it was. But I asked him, ‘What are you doing every day?’ And he was like, ‘I’m finding tunes’.
I remember I used to listen to the MistaJam show and Colin Murray’s show on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra and started sending Al records as well. I also loved the production side of it. The most influential person for Al and I, when it came to music, was our brother Nick [Nicholas Webber], who sadly passed away earlier this year.
He gave us Logic when we were 12 or 13 years old. Me and Al would stay up all night producing terrible records, and Al’s going to kill me [for saying this], but you know, he would sing on some of them, very badly.
We did that for probably eight to 10 years. Our parents were a little bit stand-offish in that respect. They were not ramming it down our throats and they weren’t forcing us to do anything. We absolutely loved what our brother was doing. He was in multiple bands, he was getting played on Radio 1 by Zane Lowe. He was a proper hero for us.
“Our brother Nick was so influential to both of us, in terms of our music taste, and in terms of the career that we went on to have.”
Alastair Webber: Nick was in a band called Archangel. We were going to our first shows at 93 Feet East, and at all these cool venues at the time, between 2005 to 2007, right in the thick of that indie movement. Nick was wearing eyeliner and had skinny jeans and pointy shoes, smoking a million fags and giving us our first beers and cigarettes. We got a taste for music and pop music there.
Whilst dad would [talk about] the Top 10 every week, and we’d watch Top of the Pops together, Nick would bring that alternative side to our music tastes.
He’d tell us what albums to listen to. He was so influential to both of us, in terms of our music taste, and in terms of the career that we went on to have, in a slightly different area to the area that our dad was in.
Having said that, [our dad] would disagree reading this, because he’d argue that Jesus Christ Superstar in the ‘70s was alternative and that he was part of that movement of pop music, but in his own way. It has come full circle now. We’re working together in this day and age really well with dad, but we’ve gone about it differently. We’ve learned and done our own thing.
Could you run us through your roles at The Other Songs and the division of labour?
AW: The way that it was divided up at the very beginning was, I would take on the singers, and Billy would take on the electronic music and management.
And now as the company has grown, Billy is more in charge of all the A&R across the different divisions. I sit on A&R with him. But [mostly] I’m [responsible for] business partnerships. I drive everyone mad by setting up new businesses and JVs.
BW: We come together on every single crucial decision, basically. And that is from creative to hiring a new person in the company, to any other big business decision.
But we also trust each other to work separately and individually on various things. And then we usually always agree on something or sometimes we can both disagree together on something as well.
AW: Luckily, I’d say 100% of the time, musically we align. And that might be a weird brotherly thing, or how we’ve grown up, but that is really important. There’s never a ‘Hmm, I’m not sure we should sign that.’ If someone loves something, the chances are, it’s a definite that the other person would like it as well.
BW: Or we just know how to talk the other person into it.
AW: We have three main business strands within the company. We have Another Rhythm, our electronic imprint, run by Joanna Phillips and Daniel Esrich.
We have The Other Records with Harrison [Jones], and Louis [Merrion]. And we have The Other Studio, our animation studio.
Now, we’ve hired Vince Amoroso [as CMO]. He’s based in New York and sits on top of those three companies making sure the marketing initiatives are run properly.
Was the plan always to have this multi-division company?
AW: Yes. The plan was to create something that felt really exciting and independent and different. We didn’t want to just set up a record company, a publishing company or a management company.
“By having a live event opportunity and this ecosystem of songwriters, it puts the artists signed to the labels and the publishing into a totally new sphere.”
By having a live event opportunity and this ecosystem of songwriters, it puts the artists signed to the labels and the publishing into a totally new sphere, and connects us with so many more people. But also, having an animation studio now opens the door into a whole other realm.
So you’re not just signing to a record label, or a publishing company or management company, you’re signed to a company that is a multifaceted, interesting place to be, that is fair, transparent, and [offers] competitive deals.
How did you meet and sign Ren?
AW: We signed his publishing in 2019. I met him when I was in my second year at Island Records, in 2011.
Nick Huggett and I were interested in signing him [at Island Records UK]. But he wasn’t able to continue his music career because he suddenly fell ill with Lyme Disease, so we kept in touch over many years.
It was heartbreaking to see him post these messages of total despair as he was misdiagnosed consistently. It was only much later that he finally got diagnosed with Lyme, and started getting stem cell treatment.
He started getting a bit better and started busking on the streets of Brighton. He joined a band called The Big Push. They were doing very well. He played The Other Songs [event]. Then he signed to our publishing company, which is in fact a JV with our very good friend Björn [Deparade] at Wasted Talent in Berlin. It’s called The Other Wasted Talent.
We’ve been working with Ren closely ever since and in the last year he signed to the record label.
Ren’s health issues and treatment make the No.1 album achievement all the more extraordinary. Can you tell us about the challenges you had during this campaign?
AW: We had a bunch of videos in the bag, but we didn’t have Ren in the market, doing shows, and doing as many interviews as we wanted.
We also had to be very mindful of the amount of times we spoke to Ren, because he was going through experimental treatment.
I said to Ren in January, when he had multiple different options, ‘I know you. I’ve known you for 10 years. And I know that we can look after you.
And I know that we can put a support system around you, that won’t put pressure on you and at the same time we can try and do the best that we possibly can’.
Did you think you’d have a Top 10 record?
AW: I might have said, ‘Let’s aim for it’, given that we could see some sparks in the fanbase.
But I don’t think we thought a No.1 was possible. Really, it was about thinking of things in a totally opposite way than we’re used to. It wasn’t about, ‘Let’s get your music in playlists’; it was about, ‘How can we work with the fanbase and tell the story through press?’
Press was really important because Ren’s story had never been told properly. So we brought on Cherry Create, who have been fantastic. Piece by piece, the story was being told, and that galvanised the fan base to tell more people almost for us.
What was the overarching strategy on the campaign?
AW: As playlists and DSP support means less and less, community was vital. Every single that we released, we made sure that the community turned up together and were really excited about that particular moment.
Out of his streaming numbers, I’d say 1% comes from editorial, which kind of shows how large Ren’s fanbase is and how dedicated they are. The average listener listens 12 times per song on average; numbers I’ve never seen before.
The community management is absolutely key and something Ren has been really on us to try and provide.
And that’s why Ren does a lot of physical [sales], a lot of vinyl, cassettes, merch and CDs. He streams and has a physical music-buying audience who want to be part of Ren’s collectibles. They want to be part of his journey.
How important has the No.1 album been for The Other Songs’ positioning in the UK music industry?
AW: It’s good validation for the work that we have been doing over the last five years. It’s hopefully going [to help us] to use the momentum to put wins on the board.
We’ve had quite a few people call us wanting to sign their acts to us. We’re not the biggest company in the world, so we have to be careful not to stretch ourselves too thin.
What are your ambitions for The Other Songs in 2024 and beyond?
AW: The ambition is for the company to really cement ourselves as a place where artists feel inspired and that want a different kind of opportunity. For years, Billy and I have been chipping away at trying to make commercial successes, but the things that have been working are [artists] like Ren, where you don’t naturally go ‘Ok, I can hear that on Capital or New Music Friday or whatever’.
We have to stick to our belief that great art is great art and it takes a while. That’s what we’ve tried to do with the company so far.
“We have to stick to our belief that great art is great art and it takes a while. That’s what we’ve tried to do with the company so far.”
It’s taken five years to get to this point, of being nice to people and doing fair deals. Famously, someone said to us in the second week, ‘Boys, the deals you’re doing are going to get you nowhere. You might as well quit now.’
Doing a single without an option a lot of times. Why would you ever do that? Because we want to give artists the freedom to do what they like. Nine times out of 10, if we do a good job,
And that’s been our mantra from the beginning: How can we take the good things we learned at the majors and things we wanted to change about how those systems work, and put it into a fresh company? For 2024, it’s still the same vision we had in 2018. But now we have clearer objectives.
“We were the first record label in the world, as far as we know, back in 2019, or 2020 to offer songwriters a cut of the master on our record deals, and that percentage would come out of the record label share.”
BW: We were the first record label in the world, as far as we know, back in 2019, or 2020 to offer songwriters a cut of the master on our record deals, and that percentage would come out of the record label share.
We want to continue educating managers or songwriters that that’s what we’re doing and try and get more labels to sign up to that as well.
The important thing on the deal is that we wanted to create a blueprint that we could then just give to other labels. If we can do it, then anyone can do it, especially when we were way smaller back then.
But the idea is that 4% PPD would come out of the label share to non-performing songwriters. So, if they didn’t have a share of the master at all on the artist side, it would come out of our share, and they’d get paid from record one. That was a very important thing for us. It’s not very complicated, and we want to encourage more labels to do that.
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