23 Feb 2020 Interview: GRM Daily has racked up 2.8 billion YouTube views while growing to be way more than just a hub for music videos
GRM Daily Interview – In the early 2010s, back when they were known as ‘Grime Daily’, only a handful of UK rap and grime videos would clear one million views. In 2020, it’s common for artists to reach that total in a matter of days. GRM Daily are a big reason why yesterday’s benchmark is now today’s norm.
Alongside platforms like Link Up TV and SBTV, Mixtape Madness, P110, Blackbox and Pressplay, GRM Daily has provided infrastructure to help the scene flourish. With over 2.8 billion video views, 2.6m YouTube subscribers and 1.3m Instagram followers, GRM have become the biggest provider of grime and rap music. Part of their growth can be attributed to how they’ve managed to diversify their portfolio to become more than just a hub for music videos.
The Rated Awards was launched in 2015 and ran for four years, bringing authentic accreditation to recognise moments other awards show wouldn’t seriously consider. GRM has also moved into festivals, hosting the VIP section at Wireless as well as stages at Parklife festival and Great Escape.
Releasing their own music has helped too. GRM Records also signed two debut projects from Jay1 and Slim in One Wave and Still Working respectively, both of which debuted inside the top 40. They also put together their own mixtape, Lets Work, which featured 24 artists across 10 tracks.
GRM has a second project on the way, GRM10, a compilation tape to celebrate spending a decade in the game. Plugsville caught up with Saquib B, A&R at GRM Records, to discuss what’s on the horizon in this exclusive GRM Daily interview.
Nowadays, GRM Daily has millions of followers, but what was it like growing the channel back when you didn’t have the status you have now?
We didn’t have the top videos back in 2015 when I joined. I remember the day we relaunched our website, that day we pretended that the brand was dying. Then we came back that day with the video for Abra Cadabra’s ‘Robbery Remix’ and a video from MoStack and Mist. Post worked really hard to secure those two videos, I think it was MoStack’s first video on GRM because he was mostly on Link Up TV before that.
What’s the process of securing videos from artists? How do you get an artist to give GRM Daily their video ahead of somebody else?
I think it comes down to relations and how hungry you are for the video and what you can sell to the artist in terms of ‘this is what we can do for you and this is how much I love the song’. A lot comes down to creating a personal relationship with an artist, believing in their talent and craft when maybe they don’t even believe in their own sauce yet, going out to meet the artists and taking time out of your day to spend time with them. That’s all super important.
It’s common for artists to release their music videos on their own channel, but some still continue to release their videos on GRM Daily. How have you managed to ensure that artists keep coming back despite that challenge?
There are a few reasons, I can’t let out all the secrets! If an artist doesn’t have somebody in their team who’s tech-savvy, that could prove to be a problem – you might upload it incorrectly or publish it on YouTube by accident before it’s meant to go live. Some people just feel safe giving it to us and knowing it’s going to be handled. If I say the video will be up on Wednesday at 6 pm, they get social media promo with it, which also helps. I think we’ve adjusted our model to this current climate as well. A lot of artists are signed to major labels now. Before, it was like a direct line, just the artist and their manager, because a lot of people were independent and all the money was independent. Once you’re signed, your revenues from YouTube and Spotify etc go to your label, so it’s about navigating a way through that.
If an artist is looking to sign with a record label, what are the benefits of signing with GRM Records?
If you look at how many artists were signed before this ‘boom’, only a few artists had a deal – Kano, Dizzee, Tinie, Tinchy, N Dubz, Pro Gree and label were kind of trying to do a similar thing – ‘let’s make a radio single and shoot a big video and hopefully that will connect’. I think labels have learnt it’s not always the right thing to do nowadays, but with GRM, it’s like, we’ve been doing this for 10 years. We know what our audience wants, we know what the kids are listening to, what the streets are listening to and how they want their music packaged. For example, we’d never shoot a behind the scenes video and upload it because we know nobody watches behind the scenes, but a major label might still think that’s a good idea. That’s just a poor quick example but that’s something I’d personally never want to do. Even when I was 16, I’d always wait until the official video is out, I’d never watch behind the scenes. But yet, for some reason, in some major marketing campaigns, some people think ‘let’s spend £5000 on a behind the scenes video’ and it only gets around 5000 views – what did it achieve? All these things that are important to our culture and how we consume music, maybe a major label wouldn’t understand as well as GRM does.
What is a GRM Premiere and how do the different YouTube thumbnails work?
So ‘GRM Exclusive’ is the pink thumbnail, that’s content, so that’s not a music video. We have the white thumbnail which is people who have come through a submission process to be on the channel. And then ‘GRM Premiere’, the gold one, is basically a thumbnail from us [GRM] to our audience saying ‘you should watch this’. We’re looking at the data and numbers, you see that an artist has a certain number of likes, comments and views so then naturally we put a ‘premiere’ on that video, so then we’re now telling the audience “you should watch this”. But we go off what they tell us. Sometimes there are videos we might’ve put a white thumbnail one, then it does 100 or 200 thousand views, then we realise the audience really want this video, so let’s make it a ‘premiere’ and a push it. The ‘premiere’ thumbnail means nothing unless the audience is already interested. It doesn’t actually create interest.
Do a lot of artists ask for a GRM Premiere?
It’s a daily conversation. But from the outside looking in, we already know our reasons, but the artist might not understand why we can’t give them one. But once you explain it to them, they get it. Nobody has ever put in a big complaint or made a big argument because they didn’t get one, once it’s explained everyone gets it.
GRM released their first project, Lets Work, back in 2019. What did you learn from that experience ahead of the release of your GRM10 mixtape?
I guess we learned that putting out music and singles isn’t that easy. Having subscribers and followers that are used to you doing one thing, doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to understand what the new thing is. I personally learned that you can’t just change what you’re doing and assume all your followers are going to understand and the audience is just going to switch over. It takes time to build that. It took three or four releases for them to understand what that it was GRM Daily as the ‘artist’ who put the track together. I think ‘London’s Calling’ is when it made sense for a lot of people.
What made you want to sign Jay1 and Slim over anyone else?
Jay1 was someone I had my eye on for a while before the label had even started. I was waiting for the label so I could sign him, but we did some work before that on ‘That’s My Bae’ and ‘Sweet One’ on GRM’s channel. As soon as I heard him the first time I just felt he had some star quality, on a track called ‘Like C4’. It was on another channel so I said to him ‘yo bro delete this off there and let’s upload this on GRM, it will do really well on our channel’. Straight away I just thought he has some kind of intangible star quality. So I reached out and that video [Like a C4] done like 50k views, then he did ‘That’s My Bae’, which got around 700k views, and then ‘Sweet One’. Then we signed a deal because the label was then formed and all the paperwork was done. I’d been telling him for like six months before that ‘I’m gonna sign you when the label comes’. We were always cool and we got along.
Slim came on the channel after being highly recommended by ‘the streets’, put it that way. His first video, ‘Magic’, got over a million views, and I was like ‘oh shit something’s going on here’, this kid has come out the block and done a million views on his first and second ever videos. That one just made sense straight away, because there’s clearly an appetite for Slim. Slim is very smart, he knows music. It’s all produced amazingly as well, shout out First Born, I think that was a very strong tape. He knew what he wanted to do from the start. He had his plan, this is where I wanna be by the time the tapes out, and he executed it. He was hands-on with everything, ‘this is how it’s gotta look, na change this bit, this single has to go out’. I remember with ‘Balance’, I said I don’t think we should go with ‘Balance’, he said ‘na this is the one’ and it done like two and a half million views. So he knew his audience, the rate his Instagram account used to grow was crazy. If Slim didn’t have this ‘little holiday’ now, I reckon he would be top five. He would be flying.
GRM Daily have also worked with festivals like Great Escape, Parklife and Wireless. How did you make that transition?
It was just a natural fit, to dabble into live. Shout out Beckie who does all the festival stuff, she’s sick. She’s grown relationships to the stage where we’re actually hosting stages, which is what happened at Parklife last year, which was amazing. We did Fresh Island as well and hosted the VIP area at Wireless three years in a row. I guess ultimately festivals want to sell tickets and raise awareness, so when a partnership makes sense, that’s naturally the end goal. We have followers and an audience interested in the music that is booked to play at these festivals. The bigger the music grows, naturally, there’s going to be rappers booked for nearly every single festival. Stormzy headlined bloody Glastonbury last year. It’s happening for everyone – Mixtape Madness are doing a Lovebox takeover, they did it last year as well I think. That’s a dope look for everyone.
Will we see the return of the Rated Awards soon?
No comment… I plead the fifth! We’re just going to have to wait and see.
Discuss the importance of the Rated Awards and what it brought to the scene
I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in every single one from the jump. It’s like my favourite time of the year. It’s so stressful but it’s so amazing as well. It’s definitely needed. Like we just talked about Slim’s mixtape, that deserved a nomination of some sort. It’s never really going to get a nomination at any other show at this stage of his career. If we have a best mixtape category and there were 8-10 nominations in there, Slim would’ve been in there. That’s some recognition that a tape of that quality deserves – that’s what the Rated Awards is for. To see it go from a church to three years at Roundhouse to Hammersmith Apollo, that’s some real growth in a short amount of time. Stormzy’s performed, Giggs’ performed, Dave’s performed, Kano performed the first year, that’s the crème de la crème. There’s a [Lethal] Bizzle quote, I can’t remember it word-for-word but it’s something like ‘this is everybody’s event’. Nobody made any money from it. Like the Giggs moment in 2016, Skepta’s on stage inventing the Skeppy Excursion, those moments there are priceless. I was on stage filming that and the energy was unreal.
Growing up, MTV Base was one of the main sources of new American hip-hop music for UK viewers. In some ways, GRM’s YouTube channel must occupy that same space for people around the world. What’s the reception like to GRM Daily outside of the UK?
That’s for the audience to say. I feel like, looking at the data and whatnot, Europe, especially Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Germany, have shown an appetite for our music. You can see by people’s bookings and tour dates, those countries are really buying into our market. Just the fact that artists like Dave, AJ Tracey, I think Jay1’s doing it now as well, to go to Australia to tour on the other side of the world, that’s amazing. Stormzy’s doing a nine-month global tour with rap music. So that clearly shows there’s an appetite for UK rap music. Whether GRM is perceived as the place to be or not for them abroad, who cares? As long as they care and it’s allowing artists to open up revenue streams abroad, hopefully, we can help with that.
Where will GRM Daily be 10 years from now?
Who knows? How many years old is MTV? At least 40 years old. If you look at us, we’re still in our infancy after a decade in. Half of that decade was spent rebuilding what was lost. If you consider that, what we can do with another 10 years, the possibilities are endless. There’s live, there’s releasing records, there’s a YouTube channel, who knows what else you can do? Posty could be retired in 10 years with a mansion, who knows? Back in 2010, not a single person I knew was using Spotify. CDs weren’t selling and you had to spend 99p on iTunes. Eight years later, they’ve killed iTunes off, so who says Spotify or Apple Music will be around? YouTube laws might change, anything could happen. Hopefully, we’ll still be here signing a light on the culture around us.