On the eve of the nationally televised annual show, Billboard invited label and management executives to join contributing editor Paul Sexton and BRIT Awards organizing committee chairman Peter Jamies

The 2006 BRIT Awards, sponsored by credit company MasterCard, take place Feb 15 at London’s Earls Court arena. On the eve of the nationally televised annual show, Billboard invited label and management executives to join contributing editor Paul Sexton and BRIT Awards organizing committee chairman Peter Jamieson for a round table discussion about the British music industry's showpiece event.

The show will be broadcast in the United Kingdom in an extended, 150-minute primetime slot on ITV1 Jan. 16.

Joining Sexton and BPI chairman Jamieson were Parlophone Records managing director Miles Leonard and U.S.-born, London-based Todd Interland of Twenty-First Artists, manager of Atlantic-signed James Blunt.

Like Blunt, Parlophone artists Coldplay and Gorillaz have multiple BRIT Award nominations and will perform live at the show. Adding to the discussion (via a prior telephone interview) was another 2006 nominee, Dramatico artist Katie Melua.

Billboard: How do you think the BRITs is perceived internationally—does it create an accurate impression of the U.K. industry?

ML: It creates an accurate impression of British music from that particular year. Whether it travels as much as we like to think it does is possibly questionable. Maybe there’s some more work to be done to push the BRITs internationally, particularly in the U.S.

TI: The BRITs as an award ceremony means different things in the U.S., to the industry and the general public. The general public aren’t really aware of it—nor do they really take any interest—only because it’s not broadcast in any major way.

KM: America is very insular, so why try and fight them? It is called the BRIT Awards, we’re celebrating what’s successful in the U.K. The Brits should really just represent whatever the public buys.

PJ: It’s the classic brand that doesn’t ‘do what it says on the tin.’ BRITs actually stands for British Record Industry Trust—it is simply an awards show based in Britain for a trust. It hopefully delivers what has been the most successful music available in Britain during the previous year.

Have we been weaker as an awards show in the past than the Grammys? Yes. Do we have a huge strategy going forward trying to magnify the BRITs overseas? Of course we do. There’s a lot we can do, possibly in partnership with the Grammys, to develop more international exposure for the BRITs.

ML: But it’s also Europe. The MTV Awards are pan-European, and I guess that’s one of the big competitors for the BRITs across Europe.

PJ: The MTV Awards is driven by television for television, it’s commercially supported. The BRITs is a very different type of show. It’s absolutely genuine voting from an academy, just like the Oscars. Sometimes we don’t get the very best acts [to attend] we would like to get because we can’t guarantee they’ve won anything. In my dreams [laughs], I want to do a fixed show!

Billboard: Does that say something about the way the modern industry works, that there are a large number of artists that will not be at an event as a piece of promotion unless they are guaranteed a win about of it?

ML: Not my artists, no. My artists see the BRITs as a major part of the awards ceremony calendar. Nearly all the artists I have on the roster who probably have an inkling they may have nominations will have February booked out in their calendar 12 months beforehand.

PJ: It’s always been easier in the film industry to get nominees to turn up, and happily sit alongside the other nominees and hug the winner of the eventual award. Traditionally it’s been more difficult in music. The cost element is very significant. It’s a charity show, please remember everything goes to charity, so a lot of people spend a lot of money to facilitate the performance of the acts.

Billboard: Todd, thinking about the profile of international events on American television overall, even something like Live8 didn’t have the profile there that it had internationally.

TI: It had very disappointing ratings, compared to 1985, when we had Live Aid for the first time. [That] was different because it had never been done before. As we all know, America is very American-centric in terms of awards ceremonies. They don’t really pay as much attention to the MTV Europe Awards as they do to their regular MTV Awards. It’s changing a bit, but there’s still some more work to be done. There needs to be more open communication about it between not only the record companies but the press. But the American record companies have their own agenda, because airing the BRITs is not going to be a sales driver for any of their records in America, whereas over here it is a big sales driver for the performers as well as the winners. What’s interesting too is that with the Grammys, there is no public vote, but here I think, what, four or five of the awards are public-voted?

PJ: Six of them.

TI: That’s a big difference, and that embraces the public in a different way, and activates interest.

ML: The BRITs is more of a celebration and you need to have that, it’s an important part of the show.

PJ: I like to think we could find a way to reward 30 artists rather than 16. I like the way the Grammys can do posthumous or special awards, they’ll honor people in wheelchairs who’ve been in music for 40 years and they’ll find time to do that on screen, even though in the auditorium it looks like tokenism at its worst. It shows a greater respect for the history of music of that country. In Britain, and at the BRITs, we don’t currently have time for that, we’re more forward-looking and cutting-edge.

Billboard: What effect can a BRIT Award or nomination have on an artist’s sales and international profile?

TI: You have to take it territory by territory. There’s resonance for winning, or being nominated for this award, in places like Australia.

Billboard: If James Blunt wins, can you imagine that being stickered on the album in America?

TI: Yes. Five years ago, probably not, but I’m definitely seeing a change, I’m seeing more of an active interest from the record company people over there, who want to put into their press releases ‘Five nominations for James Blunt.’

ML: In the U.K., a nomination, a win, a great performance, you tick every box and of course it has impact on sales.

PJ: The perfomers get enormous sales boosts. This year, I would say 95% of artists nominated will find that product stickered, because it means something. Retail cooperation and co-promotions are significant, and growing every year.

TI: Do you find, Peter, that you might be cutting yourself short by not having an R&B, classical or jazz category at these awards?

PJ: We’re driving a peak time slot on, a very popular commercial TV station. We have had the BRITs classical award [most recently in 1992]—massive turnoff and loss of momentum, and huge difficulty for television purposes. I would love to find a way to feature more specialist awards at the BRITs, but I don’t want to lose what I’ve got going for me right now.

TI: I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a second. Do you find that you might be cutting yourself short by not having an R&B, classical or jazz category at these awards?

KM: It would be nice if the Brits had one extra category dedicated to more alternative artists — maybe world music, so those who are watching, who buy mainstream music, get introduced to one or two acts they wouldn’t otherwise.

Billboard: Turning to the methodology of the awards themselves, are you happy with the way they’re decided and the level of support and interest from the industry?

PJ: We have a solid academy, and it’s ranged from a select 1,000 to a semi-select 3,000. There’s always a percentage that never votes, which is frustrating. I’m not unhappy with it, but of course there’s room for improvement. Even three or four years ago there was always a bit of criticism that it was staid artists, the panel was maybe a bit too old and some of the more contemporary artists [were not represented]. But the nominations have got more and more credible and relevant in recent years.

ML: The explosion of Britpop, [with] Blur, Oasis, Pulp and so on, was a huge turning point for the BRITs. They recognized they had to make the change, and since that point it has been credible, [with] new, exciting artists alongside bigger, broader mainstream artists.

Billboard: Perceived record company politics on the show is a contentious issue.

PJ: The nominations are all done by ballot and popular vote. There are no other considerations, so there are no record company politics. Full stop, end of story. This year, indisputably, we’re heavy on singer-songwriters. But it’s been a year of singer-songwriter success, we’re simply reflecting the year.

ML: Sometimes there’ve been years where it’s been production over performance, and some of the American acts were probably more guilty of that. But then a simple performance by a great artist can really cut
through. I only know from when Coldplay went on and performed ‘Trouble,’ it had a huge impact.

Billboard: Peter, can you say anything on the record about any plans do move the location of the awards?

PJ: We’re always looking at the right place to do the BRITs, and we’ve had a very good relationship with Earls Court. There are issues with Earls Court at the moment, being up for sale at the moment [according
to] the papers. There’s the problem of Olympia being listed and the other two not, and the huge demand for residential property in that part of London. We have to think quite far ahead in terms of the BRITs. Yes, we’re thinking a securer future elsewhere, but no decision’s made. We’re at Earls Court this year and we’ll be at Earls Court next year.

Billboard: Miles and Todd, if you were in charge—is there one thing you would bring to the BRITs that it doesn’t do now?

ML: I don’t think there’s one key thing that would change the BRITs, because it’s generally run very well, and it’s an incredible show. If anything, there needs to be much more of an open mind in terms of the artists that are invited on; I understand people need to make a TV program, but at the same time, we need to really support British acts and make sure that at whatever cost, we can get them on.

TI: I wouldn’t change a thing. For me, with seven years in this country, I just love the way it’s done. It’s so different from the American award shows, and such a great time.