‘Adele’ fac­tor changes ev­ery­thing

XL Record­ing has bucked trends and thrived be­cause it has be­come a la­bel where artists feel at home

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - Jim Car­roll

Ear­lier this month, XL Record­ings re­leased its ac­counts for 2014. Like many la­bels, XL is see­ing a fall in prof­its and turnover as peo­ple aban­don CDs and down­loads for stream­ing ser­vices with a year-on-year drop of £11.2 mil­lion in turnover and a £5.3 mil­lion fall in prof­its.

There is, how­ever, a very large “but” to this set of fi­nan­cials. A week or two ear­lier, the la­bel an­nounced that one of its artists would be re­leas­ing a new al­bum at the end of Novem­ber and that piece of news changes ev­ery­thing.

The fact Adele’s last al­bum 21 has sold more than 30 mil­lion copies world­wide to date (making £40 mil­lion in profit for the la­bel in the process) bodes well for 25’ s com­mer­cial suc­cess. Even in terms of new-school met­rics, she’s big busi­ness: the video for her come­back sin­gle Hello was watched one mil­lion times an hour over the first few days of its release.

History does not record how well the la­bel’s de­but release,

We Want Funk by 2 In Rhythm, per­formed in 1989, but you can be sure it didn’t do as well. Back then, Richard Rus­sell’s la­bel be­gan life as a dance mu­sic im­print re­leas­ing tracks by artists such as SL2, The Prodigy, Jonny L, Awesome 3 and oth­ers.

The be­lief then was that a fo­cus on orig­i­nal­ity and artis­tic free­dom would lead to fresh, ex­cit­ing mu­sic.

Home ground

XL has thrived be­cause it has be­come a la­bel where artists feel at home. Ra­dio­head, Gil Scott-Heron, Vam­pire Week­end, Bobby Wo­mack, the White Stripes, The xx, MIA, Sigur Rós and many more suc­cess­ful mu­si­cians have been as­so­ci­ated with XL and its sub­sidiaries over the years.

Hav­ing such acts means XL proves at­trac­tive to the next gen­er­a­tion of ground­break­ers, as the pres­ence of Jai Paul, Shamir, Lap­s­ley (who you can see at this year’s Other Voices) and Jun­gle on the ros­ter shows.

XL re­mains a firmly grounded op­er­a­tion. Other la­bels with Adele-sized suc­cess might be tempted to splash the cash with fancy of­fices, for ex­am­ple, but XL’s set-up in a west Lon­don mews is fairly un­pre­pos­sess­ing. The la­bel did turn a pokey garage next to the of­fice into a stu­dio but it’s a largely frill-free af­fair. In­stead, the Adele prof­its were spent on artist de­vel­op­ment. Un­like many la­bels, XL does not go mad sign­ing rakes of new acts ev­ery year, pre­fer­ring to con­cen­trate on get­ting the best out of a small co­terie of ar­rivals.

There have been some mis-steps – Azealia Banks’ time with the la­bel did not end well – but for the most part, XL is a great ex­am­ple of how a new school la­bel should work. Rus­sell and co would ar­gue they’re only do­ing what any la­bel should, but it’s amaz­ing how rare this artist-led ap­proach is in the record busi­ness. Be­cause of this, you cer­tainly wouldn’t bet against the la­bel re­peat­ing the Adele suc­cess with an­other act.

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