Is this the UK’s breakthrough artist of 2017?

If you’re going to break an artist in the complex modern music business, you better bank your chips on streaming services.

Everyone from Zara Larsson to The Chainsmokers and Major Lazer show that the right track, pushed on the right Spotify playlist in the right market at the right time, can whip up global popularity like nothing else.

That’s the theory, anyway.

It doesn’t really explain the ascent of Rag’n’Bone Man – aka British singer/songwriter Rory Graham – who’s been laying waste to Europe’s charts since his epic track Human was released in July.


Human, co-written by Graham and Jamie Hartman, has just surpassed seven weeks at the top of Germany’s singles chart.

It’s also an official No.1 in Austria and Switzerland – and has topped the iTunes chart in no less than 21 countries including France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.

This popularity has driven sell-out tours across the UK and Europe.

mark-collen-221“AT THE HEART OF THIS IS AN INCREDIBLE ARTIST AND AN AMAZING SONG, WHICH HAS PROVED TO HAVE RESONANCE  – AND IS REALLY TOUCHING PEOPLE.”

MARK COLLEN, EVP, SONY MUSIC UK 

The rise of the Columbia-signed UK artist has everything to do with what Sony Music UK’s EVP of International Operations, Mark Collen, calls “almost the reverse of an overnight streaming sensation”.

Human’s success so far, he explains, has been driven by a combination of international radio support and non-stop touring.

“There’s no single solution to breaking an artist now, and that’s what’s exciting about today’s business,” adds Collen.

“The industry is understandably very focused on streaming, but we’re dealing with additional layers of complexity every day. Different artists need different routes to market, especially in those crucial early months and years.”


Rag’n’Bone Man was first spotted as one to watch by his Brighton-based manager, Polly Comber at Black Fox.

Comber and her business partner Josh Smith have form when it comes to developing big UK breakthrough acts: they were the management team which took Bastille (Dan Smith) from  coastal club nights to Brit Award-winning, multi-million selling success on debut album Bad Blood.

Black Fox first encountered Rag’n’Bone Man just over three years ago, having been introduced to his music by producer and Bastille collaborator Mark Crew.

“Mark played us [track] Reuben’s Train and Josh and I were instantly blown away,” says Comber.

Comber and Smith signed Rag’n’Bone Man to Columbia in July 2014, on the condition that the label backed their plot for a tour-heavy early campaign.

“Columbia have given us a lot of freedom and support to build a very strong live campaign and when people see him perform live it’s incredibly reactive,” adds Comber.


Key moments in the campaign have included a live performance at Reeperbahn last year, plus a much talked-about turn at Eurosonic in Holland in January – which switched on EU bookers to the act’s talent.

“Accepted current practice says the model is to build at streaming then go to radio – particularly in Germany,” says Collen.  “In a strange way, we’ve almost seen the reverse. We started getting radio, then Shazam, then iTunes – and now streaming is reacting everywhere.”

img_4646222“Rory’s debut album is an astonishing statement.”

Polly Comber, Black Fox Management

He adds: “Of course, at the heart of this is an incredible artist and an amazing song, which has proved to have resonance – and is really touching people. And, I think this, more than anything, has allowed us to follow a very different path.”

At last count, Rag’n’Bone Man had clocked up more than 25m audio streams.

Says Comber: “Rory recently delivered his album and we feel it is an astonishing statement for a debut.

“We think Rory has a massive year ahead of him.”


humanRag’n’Bone Man’s HUMAN: THE European stats
  • European Airplay chart- #5 
  • Worldwide Shazam chart– #3
  • Total worldwide audio streams– 25m
  • Reached #1 on iTunes in 21 countries: France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Greece, Moldova, Hungary, Israel, Belarus.
  • Top 10 of iTunes in 25 countries: France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway,  Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Romania, Turkey, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Israel, Latvia, Namibia, Uganda, Zimbabwe.
  • #1 single in 4 countries – Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium 
  • #1 Airplay 3 countries-   Germany for 3 weeks;  Austria for 2 weeks; Belgium for 2 weeks. Top 10 Airplay in 7 countries.
  • Reached #1 in Shazam charts in 8 countries: Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Italy. 

Music Business Worldwide

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