Backstage with Miles Leonard
This week, we go backstage with Miles Leonard, someone who knows all too well about the music scene as former chairman for Warner/Parlophone Records, working with some of the biggest and most successful global artists and industry platforms.
He signed Coldplay more than 20 years ago and has launched and developed the careers of artists such as Kylie Minogue, Tinie Tempah, Gorillaz, Emily Sande, David Guetta and Lily Allen. The British music industry executive is also part of the YTL Arena team as an advisor.
From advice to emerging artists on getting discovered and the backstory of how he signed Coldplay, to tales of LA-partying with the likes of Madonna, Jay-Z and Banksy — keep reading to find out more about Miles’ exciting career in the music industry.
You’ve had a pretty impressive career in the music industry. How did you get your foot in the door?
I spent three years writing letters to labels and not getting much response, and when I did it was just rejection letters. Someone eventually suggested I hone down what it was exactly I wanted to do in a label as there are a myriad of departments. I knew I was always discovering new artists and tracks that went on to be successful, so A&R seemed a natural department to work in. A friend of a friend of a friend got me an interview on Friday and I started on Monday.
What inspired you to want to get into the industry?
My brother was and has always an inspiration to me. He got me into so much - he opened my eyes and ears to so much new music. Early favourites for me were Tubeway Army ‘Are Friends Electric’, Simple Minds ’New Gold Dream’ The Specials, The Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind...'and Yes ‘Close To The Edge’, all around the age of 10 to 14. That’s when the broader spectrum of music became apparent.
What are your top “pinch me” moments from your career?
I have been very fortunate to have travelled the world in the best hotels and on private jets, attended the best parties amongst some of the greatest global superstars. They are all pinch yourself moments to be honest. One memorable evening was a Grammy party at Dennis Hoppers House in LA. We turned up with the Gorillaz who had just performed, Madonna, De La Soul were there DJ’ing, Banksy was with us. Then Jack Nicolson turned up arm in arm with two beautiful woman and Jay Z rolls in. LA’s coolest partied until dawn. Banksy jumped in the pool fully clothed and was the last to leave.
Can you give us a little bit of a backstory to how you discovered and signed Coldplay?
We had an A&R team which I was the head of at the time. One of our incredible scouts Dan Keeling brought them in. The first set of demos weren’t really good enough or at least needed refining. We met with them and kept a relationship, going to see a couple of pub gigs. After a few months they turned in a new batch of songs and from that point we were blown away and I knew we had to sign them.
Fortunately, there was only one other label after them. They loved Supergrass too which we had on Parlophone. Chris had such ambition and determination which was very infectious. Something clicked between us and we signed their contract on a fold up table in the centre of Trafalgar Square.
In your job role in A&R, what factors were you looking for when scouting for the next big artist?
Authenticity, originality, passion, belief, drive and an incredible talent to perform, sing or write… preferably all three.
Following from that, what are the top skills and qualities do you think are needed for a role in A&R?
To recognise all the above ha! We are all individuals with unique taste so it’s important to go with your gut and not try to sign artists who you think fit a criteria. It’s always the artists that you least expect that have the most success. Listening, understanding and being able to communicate an artist’s vision is vital.
Social platforms, TikTok in particular, are enabling artists to become more discoverable than ever before. How do you think this is impacting record labels?
Well, it’s great that new platforms appear and are promoting new and old music. TikTok has huge reach which is great for music. However, is TikTok a platform that discovers new artists or promotes tracks? Probably the latter to be honest. There will be many artists that will come through to have huge success and it won’t be through TikTok. TikTok is used as an essential tool for labels to see how tracks are performing or an artist is building early profile.
What advice would you give to emerging artist trying to get noticed by a record label?
Don’t spend your time trying to get a record deal, spend your time building your own community and the labels will come to you.
First gig, last gig, favourite gig?
Simple Minds at Lyceum Ballroom ’82, Sam Fender at the Motorpoint Arena on November 26th, and Rolling Stones (too many to mention).
By the way I believe Sam Fender is the real deal and an incredible songwriter and performer. The other night in Cardiff just blew me away... unbelievable artist.
Which artist/band/performer would you like to see perform at YTL Arena Bristol and why?
Coldplay for obvious reasons and because they are from the South West. Billie Eilish would be amazing too.
And finally, can you share an all-time favourite song/ a song that means a lot to you so we can add it to our YTL Arena Backstage Pass playlist?
London Calling by The Clash. I love his vocal on the track and the sentiment of the song. Lyrically brilliant.