Briony Turner and Alec Boateng have added serious flammability to Atlantic Records’ A&R firepower in the UK in recent years – pushing Ben Cook’s London-based team to new heights.
The duo won a Music Business Worldwide A&R Award for their work on Jess Glynne’s multi-platinum debut campaign in 2016, and have both gone on to impressive further success.
Turner’s signings include Clean Bandit, Plan B and Rae Morris, while Boateng has worked with the likes of Rita Ora, Kojo Funds, and WSTRN – as well as playing an instrumental role in the recent signing of Stormzy to Atlantic via the #Merky JV.
The duo were promoted by Cook to the joint position of co-Heads of A&R earlier this year, after which MBUK fired over some tricky questions for them to ponder…
[Pictured L-R: Ben Cook, Alec Boateng, Briony Turner.]
There are a lot of major labels. What in your minds makes Atlantic unique?
Briony Turner: The support system here is really strong. A&R can sometimes feel quite lonely, but we never allow that feeling to creep in. We are very much one team in terms of our outlook.
Alec Boateng: Passion and vision drives everything we do here – especially when it comes from an artist. It then becomes our job to help them deliver it.
What, in your opinion, is the most important thing you can do, the golden rule, to get the very best out of an artist in 2018?
Alec: Care. Genuinely care. You’ve got to have the artist’s best interests at heart. Once we have a working relationship with an act, we’ve usually bought into a collective vision – our added care adds another layer of vigilance.
Briony: I would say for artists in development the key is to not go too deep into A&R’ing! We like to encourage our new artists to be prolific and expand their creative networks. For known artists there is a new challenge, to make records go international quickly, and consequently that requires a different approach with a strong focus on singles. I think it’s fair to say we now give a similar amount of concentration and resource to single campaigns as we
traditionally would have done for an album.
Do you genuinely feel like there’s a culture across Warner’s labels that comes from Max Lousada’s vision for the company? How does it tangibly affect the way you do your job?
Alec: I have some of the best music and culture conversations with Max. He still loves and listens to the music we make with our artists. To have an A&R-led approach is incredibly valuable. It’s great to have someone who you can play an underground Kojo Funds track to and then an amazing Rae Morris ballad, and who can give you an insightful and massively useful opinion on both, musically and strategically.
Briony: First off, Max is a brilliant A&R guy and this culture of caring about the music and the passion for records is certainly felt from the top down throughout the whole company. For a corporation it doesn’t feel corporate. Like Atlantic with Ben, the whole company feels like it’s run by someone who’s obsessed by the music and who wants to get the greatest results possible from the artists we sign.
Obviously don’t give away the secret formula… but can you provide an example of how modern artist discovery works: how did you actually get to find out about an act that you’ve had success with over the past couple of years?
Alec: The people we work with and around guide us into finding great new acts. By only working with the best you end up around people that are incredible – it usually leads you to other brilliant artists and creatives. For example, Sam Eldridge, who is the manager of Plan B, brought us the vocal pipes that is Jess Glynne. Ben [Cook] talks about the link from Wiley to Ed Sheeran. We’re proud to work with a G like Ben and build the lineage of the Atlantic family tree.
Briony: These days there are an incredible amount of A&R ‘tools’, but we remain quite artist-led. We fall in love with artists and music rather than falling in love with stats, and as Alec says we are lucky to have an established network of artists and friends who bring amazing talent to our attention. That’s not to say to anyone reading this that we aren’t arms open wide to new friends and extending that network wider! Our door is always open!
How important is the concept of an ‘album’ to each of you when formulating your approach to working on an artist project? Is it becoming less of a focus as the track-led world takes over?
Briony: It entirely depends on the act and their desire, or not, to make a body of work in a traditional way. Please name one A&R project which has taken place outside of Atlantic that has particularly impressed you over the past year and explain why.
Alec: There’s a dashingly handsome guy down the road who’s married A&R instincts and marketing well on projects like Giggs and Big Shaq [Boateng’s twin brother Alex just happens to work for Island Records at Universal HQ]. Plus brilliant A&R work has been done on projects like J Hus and Mabel. And I love Daniel Caesar’s album.
Alec, you’ve worked with Stormzy as part of his trusted network for some time. How excited are you to have him in the Atlantic fold via the #Merky JV, and what are you hopeful that the label can do with his career?
Alec: It might feel a bit different, Stormzy coming to us already a superstar – but when superstars land with us we can handle that just as well as we handle new artists; look at what we’ve been doing with Rita Ora.
Atlantic is a place full of geniuses, so bringing another genius to the table is amazing. Plus we’ve traditionally been really great at breaking solo males. The day Stormzy and I met, years ago now, I could see that this guy was special. His creative ambition and artist potential was scary. Meeting him early, as his team built from manager onwards, has been invaluable in really getting to know and understand how he works, how I work, how the team works, and it’s helped build all-important trust before being in a venture together.
Having trust in A&R is everything – that’s already been established [with Stormzy] and it’s been wonderful to have the room to build it in a natural way by being there with him so early. Moving forward into 2018, spotting stars early and allowing them to put music out, developing a sound and an identity outside of a label structure, is something we’re not scared of; we completely encourage it.
Briony, the landscape of the music industry has shifted quite a bit even in the short time since Jess Glynne was last releasing records and going multi-platinum. Has the growing dominance of streaming affected the way that you’re treating this campaign vs. her debut project?
Briony: Good question! We’re really proud of the first campaign. Jess came in with an amazing voice, a tonne of ambition and a handful of exciting demos. Two big features gave her the time and space to really set out her own artistic agenda and collectively we got to over a million albums and built a great partnership. Since Jess’s debut, the way in which we think about campaigns may have changed, but supporting Jess to make her best music remains at the top of our agenda, because ultimately if her music comes from a real and genuine place it will connect. What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve each learned in your career so far?
Alec: To stay human and centred around all the craziness of it all. Plus, music and passion has to be at the centre of everything.
Briony: When it feels like everything is going wrong, take a deep breath because often it’s about go right in the not too distant future. A&R is like a rollercoaster. You just have to stay on it and enjoy the highs and ride out the lows – and mostly remember that overall it’s really good fun.