Max Lousada is buzzing.

Warner Music Group’s CEO of Recorded Music is back in his hometown, London, and the sun has come out for what feels like the first time in a spectacularly sodden summer, even by dismal British standards. Both the rays and Lousada have returned just in time for Glastonbury, the legendary festival that attracts 200,000 fans and features hundreds of artists across a weekend of music, mayhem — and, in most years, mud.

“Glastonbury is one of the real pillars of the year,” Lousada enthuses from his London office. “I’m always there for all three days – it’s one of the truly magical music events in the calendar.”

This year, however, Lousada has even more reason to be excited about heading down to Worthy Farm. That’s because WMG provides two of the festival’s Pyramid Stage headliners, Dua Lipa and Coldplay (Sony’s SZA completes the line-up of bill-toppers). In a first for the festival, Coldplay and Lipa’s sets will be available on a global livestream on BBC.com.

Meanwhile, further down the bill, an array of other acts affiliated with WMG feature, including Burna Boy, Janelle Monáe, Anne-Marie, Rachel Chinouriri, Charli XCX and NewDad. And, Lousada claims with a mischievous smile, their dominance could have been even greater.

“I’m not going to say who the act was, but at one point it looked like we were going to have all three headliners,” he says. “That would have been amazing. I’m always greedy, so I wish I had three, but I’ll take two…” (He declined to comment further, but Madonna, who brought her back catalog to Warner in 2021, was a persistent rumor.)

Lousada can afford to be relaxed. Warner’s Glastonbury supremacy is emblematic of a major label operation that is firing on all cylinders. Its triumphs extend all around the world, with Lousada gleefully listing successes from Argentina (where Maria Becerra recently became the first female domestic artist to headline El Monumental, River Plate soccer team’s 70,000-seater stadium in Buenos Aires) to China (where Charlie Zhou has sold more than a million copies of his “Shenself” album), and most points in between.

Things are also looking good closer to home. Atlantic is starting to heat up with Charli XCX, Fred Again and Twenty One Pilots, with a new album from Coldplay – signed to Parlophone in their native U.K. – due on October 4. 10K Projects and ADA are seeing global success with Artemas’ “I Like the Way You Kiss Me”; 300 Entertainment took Gunna’s “One of Wun” album to No.2 on the Billboard 200; dance label Spinnin’ has scored double Spotify Global Top 200 success with CYRIL; and Bailey Zimmerman is a returning star for Elektra and Warner Music Nashville.

Perhaps most impressive, however, is the return to form of Warner Records. Almost seven years after Lousada, in one of his first acts as CEO of recorded music, installed Tom Corson and Aaron Bay-Schuck at the helm of the storied company, the label is red hot, with smash hits from Zach Bryan (“I Remember Everything”), Benson Boone (“Beautiful Things”), Teddy Swims (“Los Control”) and Dasha (“Austin”), as well as Lipa’s chart-topping success with her third album, “Radical Optimism”.

Such successes come after a period of upheaval at the major. Robert Kyncl arrived as Warner Music Group CEO in January 2023 and has wasted little time in changing things up. Earlier this year, he laid out a 10-year plan for the company, including refocusing its A&R strategy around “geography and genre.” Despite growing revenues, in February the company announced plans to cut 10% of its workforce to “free up more funds to invest in music”.

Defying the gloom that usually circles such announcements, Lousada – who has been at WMG since 2003 – fizzed with his trademark energy and optimism as he sat down with Variety to talk us through the importance of superfans, the renaissance of Charli XCX and, of course, Glastonbury…

Headlining Glastonbury Festival is a big moment for anybody, but it’s particularly significant for Dua Lipa, isn’t it?

Yeah. This was always one of her big aspirations. From the moment we signed her, she was like, “I want to headline Glastonbury”, so I’m thrilled for that dream to come true. She’s become a really dynamic and incredible performer. That has taken work and real dedication that materialized on the last cycle, when she became an arena act, and now she starts to progress from an arena to a stadium act. This show is going to have some incredible surprises and some unexpected moments – she’s just going to bring the party to Friday night. What I love about Dua as a performer is, her videos are strong, her songs sound great on radio but, live, you can really hear her voice – she has such resonance in her vocals. I’m really looking forward to seeing her play to an audience that hasn’t seen that. The great thing about festivals is, you’re playing to audiences you haven’t necessarily played to before. For Dua, this is going to be a step change and a key moment in her career.

Are you happy with how the “Radical Optimism” campaign is going?

Yes — she had her biggest week one in North America, “Houdini” is already over a billion streams, and this is going to be a long campaign. We had a different dynamic going into this campaign, because we were coming off “Dance the Night” from “Barbie.” The whole “Barbie” moment was just so much bigger than we anticipated. Normally, you build an element of space and we came off this huge franchise into the record. But it’s great that the album’s out and we see Glastonbury as a driver for the next bit of her campaign. She’ll smash it, because she’s got a catalog of wonderful records.

In contrast, Coldplay are Glastonbury headline veterans…

This is the fifth time they’ve headlined. For them to still be vital, to have converted from CD to downloads to streaming and compete in each horizon and keep reinventing new audiences, is brilliant to see. Glastonbury is part of the strategy of the “Moon Music” campaign. We just launched “feelslikeimfallinginlove” and it looks like it’s going to be one of their biggest singles, and they’re coming off their biggest tour of all time. I’m thrilled for them.

Warner Records is on quite a hot streak. What do you put that down to?

The team have been really thoughtful and patient about how they’ve curated their roster. There’s such a debate about the value of A&R and artist development and where labels sit in this modern music ecosystem. And the only way you answer that is by delivering artists, delivering hits and doing it on a consistent basis. The run started with Kenya Grace’s “Strangers”, went into Teddy Swims “Lose Control” and has exploded with Benson Boone. Now you’ve got Dasha, Michael Marcagi and you’re about to get a new Zach Bryan on July 4. There’s a diversity to that roster of both talent and voices, but they’ve all managed to become live acts and they’re delivering songs that not only work in North America, but in every market around the world. Their ability to ignite fanbases in different bits of the world and then join them up is really what global modern artist development is about.

It’s been nearly seven years since Tom Corson and Aaron Bay-Schuck took over Warner. Were you always confident they’d turn it around?

I’m fortunate to have experience of how the cycle of artist and label development work. I was pretty honest with them when I put them in the job about what I expected, and also how long it was going to take. Would I have liked this moment to have happened earlier? Sure. Is it appropriate it’s happening now? It’s probably the right sort of time. Whilst you’re developing a roster, you’re also developing teams, so the success is also a reflection of the evolution of the team. It’s not just the headline acts or headline executives, it’s all the roster and the processes that have worked together and that, for me, is the most rewarding thing. I’ve now got a differentiated label in the market both in terms of what they’re signing and how they’re developing, and that’s exciting. I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished.

And the other WMG labels are also doing well…

The reason you have multiple labels is so you can give oxygen to multiple genres and deliver the service the artists require. So I feel really good. [For Atlantic Records], Fred Again [represents] true artist development strategy. He just played the [Los Angeles Memorial] Coliseum stadium and sold it out within five, six days. We’re taking a very interesting view on how we’re building his body of work. We aren’t really defining it around traditional album cycles, you’re going to see a real freedom to how you put on shows and release records. And Charli [XCX] feels more relevant than she’s ever done. We’re always fighting against this demand that the fans have for “new,” but the real artists and the great artists can keep on reinventing and creating a new conversation around their art. Charli’s done that, and this is going to be the biggest album of her whole career. The caliber of music across the whole industry is starting to rise again. If we’d spoken 12 months ago, I might have had a different point! We talk about all of the potential threats but, actually, when you look at the music that’s starting to translate and be consumed, I feel pretty optimistic at the moment.

Many people in the industry say it’s harder than ever to break artists. What’s your view?

It’s brutally hard, but it’s always been hard! When I started in the music industry, you signed people off a CD. Yes, you might have had some data, because you’d gone to see the show and there was a queue around the block, or there was a context about the energy in the room and the sing-ability of the songs, but it was in Manchester, Glasgow or the East End. It wasn’t global data metrics. It has become more complex because of the volume and therefore, [having] experts around brilliant artists becomes more and more important. But you have to attack artist development with aspiration and romance. The reason it’s called breaking an act is because you’re breaking a ceiling of expectation. And that’s never easy. It’s much more challenging to release music for the artist, because of the noise of socials. But, if you can help navigate them through that, the world is actually much more dynamic and open to them.

How is Robert Kyncl’s 10-year plan for WMG affecting the way you do A&R?
I don’t think it’s affecting it in any way, really. Robert comes with a skillset and a breadth of understanding of [streaming] dynamics, consumer behavior and creator behavior. He understands both content from Netflix and algorithmic networks from YouTube and that technology has to play a part both in our offering and our understanding of what’s going on internally. But he also comes with an appreciation of music. Cooking the records is a messy business and he appreciates that we’re privileged to work with artists who aren’t straight lines.

He’s spoken about refocusing around geography and genre – are you seeing results from that?

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks in India recently, because that’s become a real focus of ours. The Indian diaspora is really being ignited by domestic music, which has predominately been on YouTube, but is now coming onto Spotify and therefore exploding out. If you think Latin America was the first [international market] to be truly globalized, then Korea, with a splattering of Africa, India certainly feels like the next [sub-] continent to come online. We live in a world where there’s a rise in domestic music in most markets, so we have to play a part where culture’s actually happening. And we also understand that there are new trade routes, and how India goes into Canada, then Canada goes into the U.K. for Indian music; or how R&B goes into the Philippines and Manila is a trigger city for it to be sold back into LA. Understanding the dynamics of how diasporas and genre communities work is represented both in what we’re seeing within the streaming platforms and what we’re hearing from fan consumption. Robert’s very supportive of us being in all the most important genres that are going to take up listenership in today’s market, and the future market.

“Superfans” are a big industry buzzword at the moment. How can focusing on them be done effectively?

When everyone was having data wars, the music industry wasn’t focusing on who was controlling the data, because we were just relieved that streaming was returning us to growth. It’s become increasingly important for labels and artists to have a direct relationship with communities that can drive behavior and monetization. That allows [artists] to have sustainable careers that aren’t just driven off programmatic playlisting and being at the whim of that ecosystem. We’ve seen the effectiveness in Korea and how they’ve built those audiences. That’s what’s so rich about being in this global ecosystem; you can start learning from these affiliates about behavior. We all believe that music is devalued and that artists are probably devalued compared to other consumer choices, and this is a way that we can take more control back for the artist.

So, is the industry moving away from a reliance on TikTok virality?

We’ll always have great media outlets, but we have to realize what purpose they serve. If their purpose is to ignite excitement around a sound or a song, that’s wonderful, but how do you capture that audience? On [Instagram] Reels it waterfalls into followers, it’s slightly more complicated on other platforms. Whilst you feel like you have the permission to speak to your audience directly, the ability to truly understand where they are and who they are for the artist’s purpose is not there. That needs to be balanced out.

And what else can we expect for later in 2024? Is new Bruno Mars and Lizzo music on the way?

That’s what we would hope for, but we’ll have to watch this space! There are many new stories, but also many stories that haven’t been fully told, so that’s what I’m focused on.

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