‘It’s a tastemaker’: how Love Island launches musicians’ careers

As a singer-songwriter, Hana Lili mines the depths of her emotions to write heartfelt acoustic songs in her bedroom about her personal relationships. So she found it surreal to watch as her latest single, Stay, was used as the soundtrack for a dramatic moment between the toned and tanned contestants of ITV’s Love Island villa.

But for the Welsh 21-year-old and emerging artists like her, it was a huge opportunity. Being selected to feature on a primetime reality TV show like Love Island can help launch careers – especially while the pandemic has put a stop to touring.

The show, which reaches 2 million young viewers nightly, is now considered the gold standard for record companies looking to promote new signings to a wider audience, since millions of viewers use the Shazam app to identify songs they like on the show, or search for them on its Spotify playlist.

Lili said she was approached by Love Island’s music supervisors on Instagram, and was keen to take up their offer.

“I rely heavily on being able to perform live and to an audience and connect with people that way. Because we’ve not been able to do that, Love Island can give an opportunity to up-and-coming artists to have that exposure and connect to new audiences,” she said.

“The past year where we’ve all been online, things have been released through Spotify, and finding ways to be heard is hard, because there’s so much music released every day.”

Moss Kena, an alt-pop singer-songwriter whose track Snakes and Ladders recently appeared on the show, said Love Island had become “one of the best promotional tools for new music”, especially since the show expressly sought out newer artists from both major and independent record labels.

He said the impact of being featured can be seen “immediately in the Shazam charts”, though to really benefit from the exposure, the artist needs to push the promotion forward, for instance by posting on TikTok. His clip of Snakes and Ladders appearing on the show was viewed 73,000 times, which he said was one of his most viewed TikToks.

Kena said that the Love Island music supervisors share a list of acoustic covers they are looking for, which artists can record and submit. Kena said he also submitted a cover track – Nothing Breaks Like a Heart by Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus – which topped the Shazam charts when it appeared on the show.

“Record labels used to always want to get the advert breaks between The X Factor to promote their music, that was the top spot, and now I think it’s probably the soundtrack of Love Island that is the new thing,” Kena said.

The impact of the show for some artists who have been featured in earlier series has been transformational. Tom Walker, a singer songwriter from Cheshire, credits Love Island, which used his entire discography in 2018, with catapulting him from penniless musician living in a 12-person flatshare to successful artist with a No 1 album and a Brit award.

But the ITV programme, now in its seventh season, is not the only TV show that artists want to be featured on. Channel 4’s Made in Chelsea, which follows the lives and loves of socially elite twentysomethings in west London, pioneered the practice of using reality TV’s faster production turnaround time to showcase the newest acts.

“We were one of the first to do something different for a reality show, we wanted it to have a strong musical identity,” said Andrea Madden, Made in Chelsea’s music supervisor. “It felt right to use new bands, new music, things people hadn’t heard on other shows”.

The show has spawned an impressive number of careers: M83, whose track Midnight City is played during the opening credits; Lizzo, whose first TV performance was in an episode filmed in New York; and the alt-pop band Oh Wonder, who were picked up by Island Records after an A&R rep heard their track on the show.

“Labels have told me there would be a little uptick in sales or interest in the bands once they’d been in the show. It’s nice, some people do see us as a new music discovery platform,” Madden said.

“People invest emotionally in a series like Love Island or Made in Chelsea, and they connect with songs when they’re played in an emotional scene.”

Madden added that there is no financial benefit to Made in Chelsea from using new artists, since it has open access to music from larger artists under Channel 4’s blanket agreements.

Alim Kheraj, a music writer, speculated that Love Island may benefit from cheaper syncs since the show is syndicated to the US.

“It’s also probably a bit of a business decision on Love Island’s part to become a tastemaker,” he said.

“Love Island can break an artist and that’s a good story for the show. Artists complain about streaming and how it’s difficult for people to break through on those platforms, so you need to think about syncs on TV shows and adverts and TikTok.”

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