After Eurovision victories with both Loreen and Måns, as well as managing Sanna Nielsen, it’s fair to say Warner Music Sweden know their way around the Song Contest. At Eurovision 2016, there’s only one participating artist currently affiliated with the same label — but it isn’t Sweden’s Frans.
It’s actually Malta’s Ira Losco, and her entry ‘Walk On Water‘ is flying the flag for Warner on this occasion. That may come as a surprise to anyone who can’t make a Malta/Sweden connection there, but there is one appearing alongside Ira on stage, with Melodifestivalen two-timer Molly Pettersson Hammar co-wrote the song and will be one of Ira’s backing vocalists. Either way, it’s worth wondering just why Warner Music Sweden made the move of releasing ‘Walk On Water‘ internationally back in April, through Spotify and several other digital platforms, without glancing at any of the other songs competing in Stockholm.
Earlier this week I had the chance to speak with Ira, as well as Warner Music Sweden’s Artists and Repetoire/Product Manager Robert Skowronski, and our discussion certainly clarified the ‘why’ behind the decision. It’s clear that their relationship has benefited, is still benefiting, and will continue to benefit both Warner and Ira.
Magnetic Malta: How Ira and Warner Music Became One
Interestingly, this collaboration was a case of an unsolicited approach by Ira’s manager, as opposed to Warner seeking out a Eurovision entry to support. If not for Howard Keith Debono, Warner would likely have found themselves without a single finger in the 2016 contest pie, which after the luck they had taking Loreen’s ‘Euphoria‘, Måns’ ‘Heroes‘ and Sanna Nielsen’s ‘Undo‘ to the ESC and beyond, would have been hugely disappointing.
Still, in a chicken-or-egg scenario, the song still came first. “I actually heard the song before and I liked it, but I didn’t know that Ira was going to do it for Malta in the Eurovision,” says Skowronski. “So when Howard contacted us, we started to see and look at what we could do for it.”
After spending some time entering ‘Ira Losco’ into the search boxes of Google and YouTube, Skowronski was impressed. He heard hit potential in her and in ‘Walk On Water‘, so his reasoning for subsequently signing her was simple.
“The answer for why is because it’s a really, really, really good song, and [Ira is] a great artist. That together makes it a very strong competitor in the competition. We’re always looking for interesting artists and songs in the Eurovision Song Contest.”
And if those artists and songs seem like they’ll stream successfully on Spotify, Sweden’s dominant digital music source, then that’s an added bonus. Success in the Song Contest is perhaps not secondary, but certainly is just one piece in the puzzle.
Also motivating the international release of the Maltese entry was Molly Pettersson Hammar. Not only is the singer doing double duty as co-writer and Ira’s backing vocalist, but she too is signed to Warner Music. The label is keeping her talents close to home through Malta, Ira and #WOW.
Also as important as those aforementioned factors, Skowronski says, is the record label’s ability to spot a new star — albeit in this case a star who has been shining in her homeland for quite some time.
The Fruits of the Label’s Labour: What Warner Wins
There’s no doubt that Warner Music, like any other label, has a stringent screening process when deciding whether or not to take on a new artist, or to throw their weight behind a particular song. When a singer who appeals to Skowronski like Ira did is paired with a track written by another of their artists, a Eurovision presence becomes the ribbon wrapped round an already-attractive package. After all in Sweden the Contest is perceived as worth having a hand in.
“There is no other TV show in Europe where you get 200 million viewers at one time,”Skowronski explains, regarding the contest as a marketing platform. “It’s one of the best ways for us to try to promote an artist in the whole of Europe — outside of Sweden when we have Swedish artists, and for Ira, outside of Malta.”
Clearly, having an artist on their books who is competing at Eurovision is a definite win for Warner. But does it matter if that artist ‘wins’ in any respect on the ESC scoreboard?
Yes and no, according to Skowronski. “It’s a competition. Of course everyone wants to win. You always want to be number one — but also to have a life for the song on Spotify and on the radio.”
Again, there’s that emphasis on the digital appeal of the music in question, as well as how it will perform in that sphere after the contest. Publicising Ira via Eurovision is not only a perfect launchpad for her first international single release with Warner, but is also a chance to increase the longevity of her career in Sweden post-contest — which in itself is another win for Warner, further cementing their commendable reputation.
The label’s massive presence in Melodifestivalen has also increased their awareness of the power of TV as a promotional tool. In the Melfest 2016 final alone eight of the twelve artists — including Ace Wilder, Samir & Viktor, Oscar Zia, and Wiktoria — belonged to Warner. And all of those artists have had substantial Spotify success in the months since the show concluded.
“I think five or six of them have been huge hits even if they didn’t win, so we know the potential in the TV shows such as Eurovision,” says Skowronski. “My hopes are that Ira will get as high as possible, and then that we have managed to give her and the song a life after the TV show. That’s the main goal.”
Professional and Personal Benefits For a Eurovision Star
With that goal in mind, Ira Losco will benefit from her burgeoning relationship with Warner, and their willingness to support ‘Walk On Water‘, no matter how it performs in the contest. She already knows how valuable it can be to have such a label on her side, especially where making her music heard beyond Maltese borders is concerned.
“At the end of the day, every artist, every band, every musician, wants their music to be heard by as many people as possible,” Ira comments. “It’s nice to write music for yourself and to lock yourself in a room and listen to it yourself, but it’s also an amazing experience to share it with others.”
Having Warner feature prominently on her CV will certainly aid her in that area. Another coup for Ira’s career is the fresh of set of perspectives that accompanies working with an international team. It’s the sort of positive aspect of major record label backing that, when I asked her if she’d be interested in continuing her personal Swedish relationship in the future, made her quick to give an affirmative answer.
“Most definitely, yes. We’ve done it before, so it’s another time that it’s happening, because in the recent years I came up to Stockholm quite a few times to do songwriting with different songwriters here. So the connection we have with Sweden is quite a strong one. We inspire them and they inspire us, and essentially, that is what music is about.”
Music, and maintaining a long life in the limelight.
Could A Hand From The Hosts Give Ira A Eurovision Boost?
Before she thinks too much about her career after Eurovision, Ira has the task of competing to contend with and unlike in 2002, that includes singing Malta out of a semi final. For such a small island on such a big stage, having the support of the host country via Warner Music should give Malta an injection of confidence. Ira is feeling it.
“It obviously feels great to have a record company have faith in yourself as an artist. I’m sure that it will add to the experience that I am embarking on for Eurovision.”
With Swedish songwriters having their usual weighty influence at Eurovision this year Malta will have to work just as hard as usual to get past the Semi Final stage. Nonetheless Ira is happy to have Warner in her corner.
“I feel very proud to have them on board. I think that Sweden has a long-standing reputation in song-writing, and yes, in Eurovision as well, with them being winners for so many times. I’m sure it will bring something very positive in all of this equation.”
She doesn’t believe, however, that Warner’s Eurovision connection, specifically, their history with Loreen, Sanna and Måns, is a sign of things to come for Malta next week. “I don’t really believe in these signs, but I believe in positive vibes and good karma and all that, so I feel safe that a record company such as Warner, who are responsible for great successes and relevant artists, have taken me on. I feel good about that.”
Ultimately, it’s up to Malta to work for the reward of a final position, though with an impressive ally waiting in the wings. Ira is prepared to put in the effort. “I’ll be doing all it takes to leave a lasting impression, and to have a very memorable performance that hopefully Eurovision fans and other people who are watching the show will remember.”
Despite the fact that she (sadly) won’t be replicating her 2002 glitter-blow to camera, many of the millions watching on Tuesday — and perhaps Saturday — evening are likely to remember Malta. And if the Ira/Walk On Water marriage turns out to be as idyllic as Warner Music are hoping, then they’ll be just as unlikely to forget the island.