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How Warner Records’ ‘No Bulls—‘ A&R Strategy Helped Benson Boone Reach a Hot 100 Milestone

Mr. Nimbus | 02/02/2024
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Benson Boone has had a few appearances on the Hot 100, scraping No. 100 with “Ghost Town” in November 2021 and reaching No. 82 with “In the Stars” in May 2022. But nothing has compared with his latest song, “Beautiful Things,” which rocketed onto the chart at No. 15 in its first week. The track garnered 15.7 million on-demand U.S. streams in the week ending Jan. 25, according to Luminate, and debuted at No. 5 on the Streaming Songs chart.

That instant success for the song has been a long time coming. Boone signed to Warner Records alongside Dan Reynolds’ Night Street Records in October 2021 and has emerged more than two years later as a heavy hitter, having spent that time in writing rooms honing his craft and developing as an artist. That’s the exact type of story that many have said is in the past in the current record business.

Now, he’s become just the latest in Warner’s recent run of success stories, which are coalescing in the first part of this year as Zach Bryan, Teddy Swims, Kenya Grace and Boone all occupy spots in the top half of the Hot 100. Meanwhile, another Warner artist, Brandy Clark, is one of the top-nominated acts at this weekend’s Grammy Awards with six nominations. This success with Boone, Clark and other artists such as Billy Strings (three Grammy noms), Rufus du Sol, Nessa Barrett and others earns Warner Records executive vp of A&R Jeff Sosnow the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.

Here, Sosnow talks about the rapid rise of Boone’s latest hit, the songwriting and artist success story Clark is enjoying and the evolution of artist development in the modern record business at a time when many deride the major labels as chasing after virality and one-off unicorn hits. “In this moment,” Sosnow says, “the artist development piece at Warner Records is no bulls—.”

This week, Benson Boone’s “Beautiful Things” debuted at No. 5 on the Streaming Songs chart and No. 15 on the Hot 100. What key decision(s) did you make to help make that happen?

It starts with the music. I had worked with producer Evan Blair over the last few years with another one of my artists, Nessa Barrett. I had a hunch Evan and Benson would hit it off and work well together. “Beautiful Things” was the first song that came together. After that, it really became a collaborative effort between our viral and marketing teams supporting Benson and his manager Jeff Burns’ incredible social campaign and teasing cadence. But certainly, it comes back to the music resonating in such a way with potent visuals that make for a magical moment. 

Boone signed to Warner alongside Dan Reynolds’ Night Street Records in October 2021. What work have you done to help develop him as an artist over the past few years?

Dan and his brother, Mac, had signed Benson, and Jon Chen at Warner Chappell turned me on to Benson who at the time had one song, “Ghost Town.” Together with co-publisher Coulter Reynolds we have put Benson with a group of core writers and producers after some trial and error. He found his footing and confidence as a writer and artist. The level of consistency in his writing is reflected over the arc of two years of consistent streaming. And it’s not just one or two big songs. But then you throw in the fact that Benson is a world-class performer and you watch thousands of kids sing every word to every song — not just the bigger ones — and you know the hard work and patience has paid off. Some used to call this artist development. 

This is his third Hot 100 entry, but first in the top half of the chart. What is it about this song that has made it resonate so much — and so quickly?

A great vocal can never be underestimated. I think Benson’s passion cuts through. There’s an urgency and a universal lyric. But again, his clever visuals on the social platforms and effective music video helped punctuate the visceral feel the song has. 

Brandy Clark is nominated for six Grammys this year, part of a dozen nominations that artists you’ve signed have earned. What made her year so special, and how has she developed and grown as a songwriter and artist?

Brandy is the most prolific songwriter I’ve ever worked with. It’s been an honor to work with Lenny Waronker on Brandy’s last few records. She always amazes us because we literally go through upwards of 100 to 150 demos to get to what comprises the album. Brandy’s openness to collaboration is a key ingredient to her success. It was an amazing moment when I was able to get Michael Pollack in with Brandy for just one day. They came out with “Dear Insecurity,” which is simply one of the most powerful songs of this or any year. Enter Brandi Carlile to produce and feature on the song, and you walk out with a timeless record. As great as the album itself is, “Dear Insecurity” was always the centerpiece for me.

How has the rise of different technologies and social apps changed how the role of A&R functions?

Many A&R people rely heavily on data, and it is such an incredible tool to have. We have always had various iterations of data — watching market-by-market ticket sales, radio spins, etc. But other constants that seem to prevail in the A&R process are a great song and a great voice. So technology hasn’t really affected one’s gut instinct and intellectual ability to speak to artists and producers and make decisions about pulling the trigger on a signing, or whether a song is working or not. 

A lot of people bemoan the state of artist development these days, but many of the artists you’ve signed have grown and developed extended careers. What would you say about the perception that labels don’t invest in artist development like they used to?

I don’t think labels as a whole have really, truly been beacons of artist development the last five years. I can say that what Aaron [Bay-Schuck] and Tom [Corson] have done in their time at Warner Records is to trust me with acts like Billy Strings, Rufus Du Sol, Benson, Nessa and Michael Marcagi. Each has a different arc and story, but the common thread is patience and belief in the artists and the A&R person’s ability to have real, honest conversations that will push them while also protecting and supporting them for the long haul. And in this moment, the artist development piece at Warner Records is no bulls—.

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus




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