Jamie Oborne is the owner and CEO of Dirty Hit Records and All on Red Management, working with The 1975, Wolf Alice and Benjamin Francis Leftwich among other artists. He was also the opening speaker at Music Ally’s Sandbox Summit conference in London this morning, interviewed by our very own Eamonn Forde.
“Marketing is about setting up problems to solve, as much as it’s about communication,” he said. “The problem for a band in the modern landscape is how do we navigate a shrinking physical marketplace, which has always been the anchor point for an alternative artist, and how do we bridge into the digital DSPs, to streaming, to the modern music landscape?”
“Fortunately The 1975 have always streamed really well for a band. They have music that connects with people quite easily, so we didn’t face the same challenges that an artist like Idles or any guitar band you can think of would face, because our streaming has always been at the upper end of what a band would have. But we don’t really have radio hits: these conventional drivers that cause consumption. So the problem that I presented and I wanted to solve was how do we compete with pop and urban records on DSPs?”
Oborne has a good handle on the streaming stats of The 1975 and the other artists he works with, and has drawn a clear conclusion. “It’s as clear as day that every time you release a song or an EP or an album… you cause a new pool of audience to discover your music, and that forms a new plateau of consumption. When I look at the analytics of releases, it’s very easy to see the patterns,” he said.
That’s what’s driving the approach to getting alternative / rock artists to compete with the pop and urban genres on streaming services: “To build the base level of consumption by releasing music, until… we are on a level playing field with these more conventional, media-led artists.”
The 1975 are in the middle of a two-album cycle: ’A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships’ came out in 2018, and ‘Notes on a Conditional Form’ will follow early in 2020.
“We still believe in albums. We believe in the artistic expression of an album. And I think culturally the world’s in a very odd place, isn’t it? I feel like artistic statements have more value than ever before. So we would never want to move away from the thing that forms our identity, which is these great bodies of work,” said Oborne.
“We want to be successful, but not at the cost of debasing what we’re building. As much as I want them to have multiple number one albums around the world, I don’t want that at the cost of their expression.”
The conversation turned to the first song from the new album, titled (in what’s become a tradition for the band) ‘The 1975’. This track featured a spoken-word contribution from climate-emergency activist Greta Thunberg, and Oborne explained how the collaboration came about.
He said that The 1975’s Matthew Healy has become “obsessed with using his platform for virtuous things” as the band’s popularity has grown.
“Honestly, I think it’s how he makes sense of his life, a little bit. It’s an odd life for him. Most nights he plays a show in front of five to fifteen thousand people, spends most of his days quite isolated, working on music, and can’t really go outside very much without a security guard,” said Oborne.
“I’m not saying that like a whinge, it’s just his reality. My point is: it’s a weird life. I think this notion of using his platform for virtuous things helps him calibrate that it’s worth it, in a way.”
Healy and Oborne were in the Dirty Hit office talking about who the most important person in the world to give a platform to might be. “We both agreed very quickly that it was Greta, and we very quickly found ourselves in Stockholm with her and her father, recording a track,” he said.
Oborne talked more about what The 1975 have become, as they have built their audience. “They’re like the biggest cult band in the world. They don’t really get any radio. We get great press now but in the beginning we didn’t get any press. We got negative press!” he said – the ‘radio’ comment was likely referring to commercial radio, since he added that the band have had great support from Radio 1 in the UK.
“It was very much in its own sort of vacuum, and granted that vacuum has become quite big now… but the track we did with Greta was the first time we had an external conversation. It was strange that it was our single biggest day on streaming, with a spoken-word track! It was bizarre, it made me laugh.”
Oborne talked about the creative process behind The 1975’s visual identity and video work. “It really is just a series of conversations between Matthew and I. We brainstorm, make notes and then design the campaigns,” he said, before returning to the motivations behind the two-album cycle.
“The two albums was really about wanting to continue to grow. I wanted to be competitive on streaming platforms. It was slightly different for Matthew. He feels like the world is running out of time. He wants to create as much as possible before the perceived lack of time becomes… finality!” he said.
Oborne stressed that there is a progression between the two records: it’s not the case of recording two albums at once and simply staggering the releases. What links them most strongly is the band’s live show.
“I see the 1975 live show as like our daily marketing exercise: the show is content based, and acts as a sort-of frame for all of the visual marketing assets that we’ve produced to date. We use video as a light source as opposed to conventional lighting, and that enables us to build this huge canvas that we can drop the visual identify of the band into, that has evolved over the years,” he said.
“We do see that sort of engagement with the audience as the most important thing. And in turn that drives the consumption as well. We’re fortunate enough to be doing big enough shows that when we do a show, we see a spike in consumption.”
He also said that the show evolves through its content. “The difficult part is just getting the content made, historically, for a band,” he said. For ‘Frail State of Mind’, the most recent single, the band spent two days filming “loads of content… From that we will make a video and we will make the content for the show”.
The same material will be used for both, as it was for previous single ‘People’.“The show and the promo video are one and the same thing,” said Oborne. “It’s probably seen as very complicated, but we’ve got quite a rhythm with it now, so it all happens.”
The 1975’s music, videos, opinions and everything else around the band are discussed online by a fervent fanbase, and that’s something that the band have both rewarded and played with, in a creative way.
“With any artist the most important thing is to create conversation around them. That’s how you build audience and build fanbases. That notion of the easter eggs, it just creates these little pockets of conversation,” he said.
“Sometimes it can be as small as just a hidden link that contains a load of PDFs to posters that no one’s ever seen before. Or it could be something as on-the-nose as the Greta Thunberg track… There’s still a little link on SoundCloud that no one’s found yet!”
The interview finished with a question about what’s next for The 1975. Healy has already been talking about songs and concepts for the band’s fifth album, revealed Oborne, although he joked that the band’s drummer and producer George Daniel will have a say in how quickly the actual recording process gets started. “I think he may go mad if he doesn’t get a little break!”
Oborne was clear that The 1975 will continue to evolve across every aspect of their work, from the music to the visuals to the issues they address. “I definitely feel there’s going to be a metamorphosis for sure.”