As a champion of new urban music, he’s charted the fortunes of grime since its inception in East London over a decade ago to its headline-grabbing status in 2016 – and he sees potential way beyond the current hype.
It’s for this reason he was invited to join a panel to discuss the future of grime at the Music Publishers’ Association (MPA) Annual General Meeting.
Together with moderator Liz Stokes (Record of the Day editor), Chris Meehan (Sentric Music), Harri Davies (Bucks Music), P Money (artist) and Sian Anderson (SighTracked), he put forward his top tips for record labels, publishers and managers when engaging with grime artists.
We went along to learn more…
- Grime is best at marketing itself.
Sian: You can put a grime artist in the right places and in front of the right people, but in terms of coming up with a clever marketing strategy – which you would do for likes of Charlie XCX or Jess Glynne – it’s just not going to happen for a grime artist unless it’s very authentic.
- Don’t set your expectations too high when you sign a grime artist – help them flourish organically.
Sian: Major apparel and footwear brands have realised there’s a powerful connection between music and clothing. Labels are traditionally a step behind in this genre. What we see now is A&Rs trying really hard to be relevant and get involved. So they’re signing grime MCs without expectations. They won’t dish out loads of money to them, but they’ll allocate support and resources to see where the artists can go. It’s a great tactic and the only reason I’ll try to get my artists signed to majors.
- Grime artists need freedom to do what they want, when they want, in order to succeed.
Austin: Grime is a flexible genre and artists need freedom to record and get their music out there without having to sit through endless strategy meetings. It’s a DIY genre, so the industry must learn to work with that.
- Remember, grime is a nuanced culture and needs expert handling.
Austin: There are hundreds of thousands of variables, from the trainers you’ve got on to the cap you’re wearing. If you’re an A&R used to dealing with an Ed Sheeran, a Jessie J or a Mumford and Sons, you might not necessarily have that cultural expertise to deliver on a grime project. The labels that are going to win in this space are the ones which are genuinely investing in people who understand this marketplace.
- Understand where the ‘star factor’ is.
Sian: It’s really hard to distinguish what makes a really good grime artist unless you’re totally immersed in the genre. There are so many of them. If I line up five MCs in front of you and they’ve all got great flow, they’ve all got reload bars, and they’ve all worked with Ed Sheeran, which one do you choose? You’re not going to have a clue. You need to understand where the ‘star factor’ is in grime.
- Face-to-face relationships are everything in grime.
Harri: I’ve learned the best way to find grime artists is through word of mouth and relationships. I’ll hear of people through acts we signed five years ago who were making garage or UK funky. It’s about building on those relationships to deliver interesting artists for us now. The internet is also a key factor in how we discover acts but again, it’s all about entering into relationships with these acts – and that’s the hard bit. Sometimes there’s no entry point.
Chris: There’s been a big jump in the number of grime artists signing to Sentric over the last few months, and I think that’s because we’ve been out talking to people. Human interaction is really important in this genre. There can be some standoffishness if you’re not getting out there explaining what publishing is, what we can do for them. It’s about educating and building relationships.
- Don’t worry about the radio, if it’s good we’ll call you.
Austin: I get put off by people who make radio-friendly records with me in the back of their heads. Those companies who are signing grime artists need to stop caring about radio. If it’s good, we’ll find you.
- Understand that grime is an entrepreneurial genre.
Chris: Your average indie artist may not have that much commercial sense, but that’s really not the case with grime artists. Publishers and labels need to embrace this spirit.
- Go to a grime rave.
Sian: It’s really important for labels and publishers to go to a grime rave and see how they work. Even if you stand at the back, just go to a private rave to see what it’s actually like. Watch a grime set happening, watch how DJs mix grime. The companies who are getting it right at the moment are the ones who are immersing themselves in the genre.
- The UK music business needs to properly embrace grime.
P Money: People need to get behind UK music full stop. Whether grime is your favourite or not, it’s born here – it’s our sound. We now have Japanese, American and Canadian MCs copying it. For once we’re not trying to do hip-hop; we’re doing what we want to do, and the industry needs to get behind that.
Earlier this year, we profiled many of grime’s key players and artists – you can see all the interview and content on M here.