On Wednesday 22nd February, A&R Director Kevin Christian-Blair joined us at Talent House to deliver the fifth Masterclass, hosted by UD member, Saffah. Maria Hanlon covers the words of wisdom shared by Kevin throughout the evening…
The room fills up quickly as the masterclass is about to begin, I can feel the excitement in the air as we take to our seats. Sat at the front of the room is the person we’re all here to see – Kevin Christian-Blair. Kevin is the Director at Asylum Records – a subsidiary of Atlantic Records UK and home to the likes of Joel Corry, Kojey Radical and Ella Henderson. Sat beside him is UD member, Saffah, who will be hosting the evening. As I look around the room I can see how engaged everyone in the audience already is, with their notebooks, questions and demos at the ready.
The masterclass begins with Kevin introducing himself and telling us how he started out as an intern at Asylum, almost a decade ago, and has since worked his way up to become A&R Director. He gives examples of some of the artists he’s worked with and how he helped them become super successful such as BRIT award-winning supergroup Rudimental, multi-Platinum breakout star Joel Corry and MOBO-nominated rapper, story-teller and artist, Kojey Radical.
As Kevin shares his story, you can see how dedicated and hard working he is. None of this came overnight and it’s taken years of passion and progression to get where he is today, he explains. He remembers getting his first chart topper with Rudimental and thinking he’d made it as an A&R and then recalls his boss brutally telling him “You’re only half the A&R you could be”. However, hearing this gave him even more drive and determination to get to where he wanted to be and he now sits before us as A&R Director, working with some of the biggest names in the business.
After talking us through his journey, Saffah asks Kevin more about his role as an A&R which he explains stands for ‘artists and repertoire’. He then gives examples of clients he’s worked with such as Kojey Radical and Joel Corry and tells us how all of his clients are completely different. You can tell that he is extremely talented at his job as he is able to adapt the way he works to suit different personalities and get the best out of them. Kevin went on to share his thoughts on what a good A&R is – “If you’re a good A&R you should know the artist before they get hot!” He also gives his opinion on a bad A&R – “A bad A&R thinks someone is talented, signs them & then does nothing”.
Kevin tells us that his role is not as simple as signing an artist and getting them a number one – “As soon as an artist gets a hit record you’ve got to work out how to do that again and again and again…”. Consistency is key and it’s certainly something Kevin can deliver as in the last two and a half years alone, Kevin has 10 x Platinum singles to his name. As well as working with the likes of Kojey Radical, Joel Corry and Rudimental he’s also worked across multiple Ed Sheeran albums over the last eight years. He gave us an insight into Ed’s life before fame saying that he was homeless at one point and stayed on Kevin’s boss’ sofa. “Ed Sheeran was doing shows around the street for months & months” and people weren’t sure about his music at first he says, but that grew over time and obviously the risk that Kevin’s label took on Ed massively paid off.
Saffah asks Kevin about his thoughts on social media, which seems to be more important than ever before for artists, “Social media is the most powerful tool you can use” he says. He thinks nowadays “The personality needs to be as strong as the music” and goes further to say “You need a bit of everything but now personality seems to be the most important thing & how they communicate with their audience”. He ends the discussion on social media with the line “We can’t fool the public as they decide what pops” and with TikTok and Instagram being some of the most powerful tools for music promotion now, he’s absolutely right.
Kevin takes a few questions from the audience before we move onto the next part of the masterclass – dissecting demos. Kevin plugs his laptop into the speakers and we hear one of the first demos of Joel Corry’s ‘Head & Heart’ featuring MNEK which came out in 2020. He takes us through the process of making that tune, how MNEK came on board and of course the catchy hook ‘bum bum bum da bum bum’ that the song is so famous for. The track reached number one on the UK Singles Chart and has over 1 billion Spotify streams to date, which Kevin helped achieve. He also plays us ‘messy in heaven’ by venbee and goddard. which has almost 51 million streams on Spotify (and again, Kevin worked across). He plays us the very first demo which venbee recorded and a few versions that goddard. produced. It was so interesting to hear how the songs have changed since the original demo and to listen to how the final version was formed.
Now it’s over to the audience and there is just enough time for Kevin to listen to two demos from two lucky artists in the audience. First up is a late night tune, the artist explains to everyone “I love going out and partying, but my girlfriend doesn’t so it’s about me encouraging her to come out”. As soon as the song starts you can tell Kevin is impressed and everyone in the audience is smiling and bopping their heads. Once the song ends Kevin gives positive feedback on the pace, flow and delivery. The second artist comes to the front and plays his tune through the speakers which is called ‘Nintendo’ and includes playful production and superb storytelling, which Kevin picks up on and praises.
The evening comes to a close, Saffah thanks everyone for coming whilst Kevin kindly hangs back to answer additional questions from the audience. As Kevin shared so much wisdom over the past few hours it was impossible to leave without taking home plenty more knowledge and inspiration than when we first arrived at Talent House.
Words: Maria Hanlon @mariahanlon
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