When TV special “Adele Live in New York City” landed four Emmy nominations last month, it was an affirmation for the singer and her longtime manager, Jonathan Dickins, who had made the December 2015 NBC special an integral part of the rollout of her album “25” and her world tour that began in early 2016.
But the special was also a way to recognize the current realities of the music industry, where artists and their reps must use every possible opportunity to extend the brand and keep the fickle pop audience interested.
“Music specials are not that popular anymore, especially on network television,” Dickins told TheWrap this week while in Los Angeles for Adele’s eight shows at the Staples Center. “But as soon as we knew the record was going to come out, we wanted to make some event television to go with it.”
It worked: “Adele Live in New York City” was the top-rated music special since 2005. Dickins said it also served the crucial role of showing off Adele’s onstage personality – where her powerful vocals and moody songs are introduced with long, chatty and charmingly scattered monologues.
“We wanted to get the totally unscripted and off-the-cuff personality across,” he said. “The show was just planned as a way to let Adele be Adele, which she always is anyway.”
The special was taped at Adele’s first real concert in four years, and, at the 6,000-seat Radio City Music Hall, her largest show in New York to date. (She’ll soon top it with six shows at Madison Square Garden.) “And it was absolutely her call to record the show as a gig, not as TV,” said Dickins. “Everything is one take, as if you’re in the room. It wasn’t broadcast live, but the show was recorded live, and it’s very real and undoctored. There was no ‘Let’s start again,’ and no doing four different versions of a song.”
Dickins said they opted for NBC, and for executive producer Lorne Michaels, because “Saturday Night Live” had been the key to Adele breaking out in the U.S. market in 2008. “‘SNL’ was instrumental in breaking ‘Chasing Pavements’ in particular,” he said of the singer’s first U.S. hit.
“And the timing of that show was crucial: It was the Sarah Palin show, so there were a lot of eyeballs on it, and her record and career really reacted.”
From a business standpoint, the special was simply a matter of increasing exposure to an artist who would have sold millions of albums regardless. “It’s about extending the reach of how great an artist she is,” Dickins said. “Ultimately, the business strategy is to make content as creative as you possibly can — and when you do that, things fall off the back of that and you get everything you possibly can.”
Dickins has been around the music industry his entire life: His grandfather founded the influential British music magazine NME in the 1950s, his uncle was the UK chairman of Warner Bros. and his father is a booking agent. So he’s seen enormous changes in the industry, which in the last two decades has seen the collapse of CD sales and the rise of streaming, which can provide substantially less income for an artist.
Hence strategies like the TV special to extend the reach of Adele’s tour — although he admits that she’s not exactly the right artist to use if you’re judging the current health of the record business.
“For sure, recorded-music income isn’t what it used to be in most cases,” he said. “I think Adele is a little bit of an outlier in that regard. But money is now made from touring — and, if you choose to, from all the other things you can spin off of that. And potentially, the biggest artists can make more money now than they could in the past.”