‘We’re here to amplify what the artist is doing’ | How Vevo became the go-to platform for artists

With an ever-shifting landscape for artists to be heard, one service has quietly set the standard for promoting them at every stage. We speak to Vevo’s UK Head of Music and Talent, Carl Young, to hear about the platform’s main aims, spotlighting new talent and how they grew their DSCVR Series from their office kitchen.

Holly Humberstone

In a Hackney Wick studio, tucked-away amid a collection of storage units that service London’s hustle and bustle, a group of people crowd around a screen before turning to singer-songwriter Holly Humberstone. After a few affectionate murmurs of support from her creative team around her – stylists, bandmates and day-to-day management – out pops the inevitable question, “What do you think?”.

The brief silence, giving the time and space for an artist’s creative cogs to whir, seems to exemplify the spirit of the platform that’s brought everyone together for the morning: Vevo. The director for the day, Charlie Sarsfield – who strikes the necessary balance of relaxed and workmanlike – listens to Holly’s ideas, before nodding in agreement and making a few light suggestions of his own. 

What we’ve been watching is the first take from Holly Humberstone’s Vevo Studio Performance, which she’d filmed moments ago, just metres away on a fully lit stage across the room. The studio itself is something of a Tardis, able to pack a state-of-the-art recording setup into a fairly minimal space.

Performing ‘Ghost Me’ from her critically acclaimed debut album, Paint My Bedroom Black, Holly’s performance marks a neat touchstone for both the singer and the platform alike. In just a few short years, the Grantham-born lyricist has gone from releasing diaristic tracks that struck a chord with fans during lockdown, to releasing her first LP under Polydor – not to mention touring with Olivia Rodrigo and a BRIT Rising Star award in-between.

And, as it so often is, Vevo has been there pretty much the whole way. After spotting her first single release ‘Deep End’, the platform listed her on their DSCVR Artists To Watch for 2021, and teamed up with her to produce a live performance of her cripplingly honest track ‘Vanilla’.

Of her latest collaboration with the platform, Holly told whynow: “It was a dream to work with Vevo on this Studio Performance. The process was very collaborative – I was encouraged to bring my artistry and vision to the shoot 110%, and had the opportunity to build additional creative points with Vevo’s team.”

Holly’s story is one of countless artists who’ve worked with Vevo, and who deem their collaboration with the platform as a means “to create an incredibly valuable visual asset,” allowing them “to connect with [their] fans in a cool new way.” Today, the platform boasts more than 800,000 videos from artists of all levels, and all genres; in the process, it now clocks around 25 billion views per month, equal to 1.5 billion hours watched over that time.

This digital pulling power comes from a range of different channels. As well as its Official Live Performance offering, which features just about every A-list artist you can imagine, its original content also includes the platform’s very own Vevo Studio, for a more unique visual setting; its CTRL Series, which champions work in hip-hop, rap and RnB scenes; and its DSCVR Series that finds and showcases the very best emerging talent.

In fact, those four simple letters, watermarked on videos from Beyoncé’s to Travis Scott’s, have become so synonymous with YouTube that many safely assume the Vevo platform is an adjunct to YouTube itself. But this isn’t the case – something Carl Young, the UK Head of Music and Talent at Vevo, finds himself dispelling on more than a few occasions.

“My role is essentially to oversee all label and partner relationships,” he tells me, a few weeks after the shoot. “I aim to be that point person amongst my team to help artists, labels and managers understand the opportunities of Vevo and feel empowered to best use the platform and get the most out of what we can offer.

“It’s amazing to show them the breadth of the business and explain things they might not be aware of; like the fact we’re not YouTube, but YouTube are one of our biggest partners, and how we leverage YouTube’s platform via our network.

“So that’s my main job. If someone wants to ask something, or their video’s not live in a certain market, or whatever it is, they’ve got someone human they can speak to. And that’s something we really pride ourselves on: to have a real human element to everything we do.”

This approach was there for all to see at Holly’s shoot, as Carl jauntily walked around the studio and greeted both the artist’s team and camera crew on equal terms. A student of music industry management at Uni and a former bandmember himself, albeit of limited success (his words, not mine), Carl says he “understand the struggles of making music, recording it and getting out there in front of press and radio, and the lack of opportunity or entry points.”

“Off the back of that, I got to a point where I realised music was fun, and definitely a hobby,” he says. “But I’ve got a bit of a saying, which I think many share, that every [non-artist] who works in music is basically a failed musician in some capacity; and it’s the moment of realisation where you think, ‘Hey, I’m not going to make it, but I can help actual, better musicians become better through my energy and effort.’”

Applying himself to this noble cause, Carl’s first entrypoint into music came via an intern role at the label now known as One Little Independent (formerly One Little Indian Records) before “some other bits and bobs” that eventually led him to a coordinator role at Vevo. After changing his department’s name from ‘Label Relations’ to ‘Music & Talent’, Carl quietly set about not only shoring up the platform’s video distribution, editorial and programming (“the bread and butter of what we do”), but essentially turned it into one of the most effective A&R operations in the country.

Primarily, Carl is a fiend for new music, with his first roles at Vevo focussing on finding the latest, greatest darlings of the industry. Like any reputable scout, he would hover around gigs and wait to talk to the band or artists about Vevo’s opportunities. (We began our interview by discussing the rise of the excellent Do Nothing, who Carl has followed since seeing them play to a small courtyard at Liverpool’s Sound City to recently packing-out London’s storied Koko).

The DSCVR Series, which spotlights a buzzy new artist every week, was born from this quest for finding and showcasing the most compelling new talent. Given it’s essentially predicted the rise of artists from Billie Eilish to Sam Smith, its tastemaking credentials stand in pretty good stead – which bodes well for the likes of Chappell Roan, Elmiene and The Last Dinner Party, who it supported in its latest list for 2024.

In fact, watch some of its very first videos from around a decade ago and you’ll see a baby-faced George Ezra speaking before he fully broke onto the scene with his chart-topping debut album, and a hungry yet humble Little Simz discussing producing from her bedroom and her aspirations – dreams she’s now fulfilling ten years later.

Scroll further still and you’ll not only see a smorgasbord of emerging talent but a production arm of the Vevo platform that grew like an ambitious artist itself, with a developing focus on production quality and arrangements, levelling-up every year. But its roots were more humble.

“We keep growing. I think production becomes more important every year, and is our offering within the industry, and more importantly, the artist’s community. We started filming in our office kitchen; in our old, old office on Argyle Street – that’s where DSCVR launched.

“And we shot Sam Smith, James Bay, G-Eazy, and all these incredible artists, with a handheld camera in our kitchen. We’d literally throw on some fairy lights, kick everyone out the office at 6pm and said, ‘Everyone get out, or you can stay and we’ve got a new emerging artist in called Sam Smith.’”

This DIY origin in fact speaks to a necessity at the time. Artists might currently be facing the problem of an oversaturation of platforms – making it hard for them to cut through the noise – but a decade ago, the problem lay more in having an accessible platform in the first place.

As Carl explains, the DSCVR Series came “out of a lack of opportunity. Originally, ten years ago, there weren’t a lot of filmed live performance opportunities for new artists; for things like TV, you had to be established. And we saw a lack of opportunity, but a wealth of amazing artists.

“As a video platform, we thought we should be creating videos with these artists. DSCVR’s aim has always been to represent what is exciting, in all genres, across as many markets as possible.”

Originally set to feature an artist’s first-ever live video performance, Carl and co. soon realised this could be of detriment to those artists who may not quite have been ready. “Ultimately, with that performance,” he explains, “they might not have been ready to perform live, they probably didn’t even have a booking agent ready yet, their live plot wasn’t together.

“We came to realise DSCVR is really a moment that is going to help them leapfrog to that next stage of their career; particularly as it’s live, it’s to help them sell tickets, help them get better festival bookings across the major festivals in the UK and Europe. And also to acknowledge that when we program and promote, we don’t just do UK artists to the UK; we’ll program the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, America… so it becomes a really meaningful live performance, as opposed to a tickbox.”

This gets to the crux of what Vevo as a whole is about, across all of its Original Content ventures. With a plethora of production options to cater to different artists, it’s become the premier platform to bring out the very best of their work at every stage. When Holly says she “was encouraged to bring [her] artistry and vision to the shoot 110%,” she means it.

As Carl succinctly puts it: “We’re here to amplify what the artist is doing. It doesn’t go the other way around; we can’t set a timeline and say, ‘We need you to do this on this day, because that’s when we can.’ If they don’t have the music or they’re not ready to perform live or ready with the release, then we’re working against them.

“Whenever we sit down with labels and artists, it’s about trying to understand what their timeline is, and then working out where the opportunities are for us to say, ‘Cool, we’ll do a big premiere on that video,’ or, ‘We’ll push it to these markets because we can see you’re getting streams there.’ Really it’s about being that platform that wants to help them with their timeline.”

And whilst timing is everything for some, the substance of the final videos themselves is where it really matters. Carl cites the performance of Nigerian artist Ayra Starr as a key example of the platform “adding value to an artist’s audience because you’re giving them something different,” with her DSCVR 2023 video offering a complete, pared-back rearrangement of her viral hit ‘Rush’.

Holly’s final video likewise seems perfectly coordinated, attune to where she currently stands as an artist. A slick, vivid display of close-ups and full-bleeds, concluding with a pre-recorded voicemail, it’s an intimate performance devised for the big screens, reflecting the relatable lyricist who wrote away in her room and now tours stages across the globe. Who knew so much could be devised from a studio in Hackney Wick.

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