Adele's Manager Jonathan Dickins Talks '25' Rollout, Streaming, Our Fascination with the New
As Adele's manager, Power 100 (No. 39) honoree Jonathan Dickins oversaw the record-breaking success of her album 25, which sold 7.4 million copies in the United States in just seven weeks. His roster also includes rising trio London Grammar and Grammy-winning producer Paul Epworth.
Billboard spoke with Dickins about the 25 campaign, the impact of keeping the album off streaming services and what’s ahead as Adele prepares for her first arena tour.
What do you consider to be your biggest business achievement in 2015?
[At the risk of] stating the obvious, it's the Adele comeback. To come back with good music and have people embrace it the way that they did. One thing that I don't do as a manager, and she certainly doesn't do as an artist, is take anything for granted. It's disrespectful to presume that because 21 sold so many records, that you have got a divine right to sell that amount again. From my point of view, I think that a world-class artist deserves a world-class set up, and I'm delighted with how we re-integrated her music back into the public consciousness.
What were the challenges in building the campaign?
To use a football analogy, the music industry is a simple game that can be complicated by idiots. If you get the music right, you've got half a shot. The most important thing was making sure Adele was given time and allowed a creative environment without pressure. From there, it was a lot of leg work and actually going to a lot of the markets -- not just the U.K. and U.S. -- and playing people the music early on.
It was a 30-second U.K. TV teaser advert that announced Adele's comeback. Where did that idea originate?
Between Adele and myself we knew very early on exactly how we were going to roll out this record. Generally when people do teaser campaigns they make it about branding, either a logo or, in the case of Daft Punk, their helmets. I wanted to flip that on its head and make it purely about the voice. It was very simple, but I was confident it would work.
How important was windowing and keeping 25 off streaming services in driving sales?
It's hard to say. If you look at the history of Adele, we did it on 21, we did it on "Skyfall" and we've done it on 25. Never did I imagine that we would have sold 10 million records before Christmas, but I do believe that we still have a physical business and I don't think one-size-fits-all with streaming. I've got artists that go day-on-date to streaming services, and I've got artists that don't. Windowing was something that we looked at for Adele, but it's not something that I would do with other artists I work with, who are equally important to me.
Is it tough balancing the rest of your roster when you have got such a phenomenon as Adele in your midst?
As a company I always think less is more. I haven't been bitten by that bug of trying to manage 30 artists. The biggest commodity that you have as a manager is time and I don't take people's careers lightly. Most artists have only one shot at a career, so it's very important that you spend the time on them and get the balance right. That generally comes with not spreading yourself too thinly.
Is there any lesson to be learned by the industry from the success of Adele?
I don't know if there is anything to be learned from 25. Just try as we have always tried to do -- for better or for worse, put the music first, not the business opportunity.
What are your goals for 2016?
With Adele, it's a successful tour. Before we did the NBC special, I thought: ‘God, we're really throwing her in the deep end here.' She hasn't played a show in four years and she's about to play her biggest show ever in New York.' And it was f--king incredible. It was like she had never been away. So I'm really excited about the tour. And then obviously trying to make great records with Jamie T and London Grammar. Making sure that we select good projects for the producers that I look after. And just try and make as good records as we possibly can and see where that takes us.
Having previously expressed a desire against playing huge indoor venues, this year will see Adele tour arenas for the first time. How did that decision come about?
Adele is very smart and very perceptive. Every decision we make is a collaborative decision. That's true with all of my artists, but with her in particular. There was obviously talk at times about 'Why are we not going bigger and playing stadiums?' If we'd gone to theatres again, there is no way that she could have done it. As it is, she is playing eight [nights at London's] O2, which sold out in 40 minutes. So we had to step it up. Organically this is the right move and she'll absolutely kill it. For me, Adele harks back to the great old-school entertainers where it's more than just someone belting out songs. There's a charisma and a personality. Not every artist has got that, so you play to their strengths. But Adele has got it in abundance.
What is the biggest issue facing the industry in 2016?
Not putting out enough good records. There is a "short-term-ism" in the music business. If you have a short-term focus, unfortunately you're going to get short-term results. We have got to do more to bring artists beyond one album. That's what's refreshing to see with the success of Adele, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. It's very important that we don't live in a debut record culture. I say to all my artists: 'The easiest thing you'll do in life is put out your debut album.' Because we live in a world that's completely and utterly fascinated with what's new.
Did you and Adele exchange gifts following 25?
You're going to get me in trouble here. She's the most generous person and got me a very nice watch case. Being a typical bloke, I haven't got her anything yet, but I know what I am getting her. The problem is that it will probably come in f—ing June.