Ireland's Enya Strikes A Universal Chord
Billboard (USA) 23 July 1994
Warner Tallies Sales Of 7 Million Worldwide For 'Moons'
LONDON -- One of the more unlikely signings in the British music business in recent years has emerged as one of its most notable worldwide success stories, and has provided evidence of the continuing strength of Irish repertoire signed through the U.K.
The Irish singer and composer Enya, with an ethereal mix of ancient Celtic influences and modern synthesizer sounds, recently reached a global milestone of 7 million copies with her 1991 album Shepherd Moons, according to Warner Music U.K., which has a worldwide deal with the artist.
"It doesn't matter where it is -- Latin America, Australasia, Europe, North America -- there's not one major country where she's not selling records," says Rob Dickins, chairman of Warner Music U.K., who signed Enya and has worked closely with her collaborators and managers. Warner U.K. has released sales figures for Shepherd Moons in 25 countries, including the album's top 10 best-selling markets (see chart).
Along with its 1988 predecessor, Watermark, which has sold 6.5 million copies worldwide, according to Warner U.K., Shepherd Moons has helped reconfirm the ability of the U.K. to nurture new multiplatinum, international artists at a time when Britain's status as a pop A&R source has been in doubt.
Enya also is one of the most commercially successful examples of the trend toward spiritually soothing music, a trend that also embraces such internationally acclaimed artists as Enigma, Deep Forest, Loreena McKennitt, Enya's former colleagues Clannad, and the Benedictine Monks Of Santo Domingo De Silos.
"People are looking for some kind of spiritual root to hang onto," says Nicky Ryan, Enya's producer and co-manager. "And maybe they're completely overdosed with aggression and high-powered music, and they're starved for something more gentle."
Signed to EMI Music Publishing in the U.K. by managing director Peter Reichardt, Enya also has seen her evocative music used extensively in films, television, and commercials, adding significantly to the sales life of her albums.
"People are discovering this music through various forms," says Reichardt. "Various directors really want to use Enya's music, and it helps sales immeasurably."
With sales of 3 million in the U.S., according to its RIAA certification, Shepherd Moons, released in November 1991, has been on the Billboard 200 for 138 weeks. Watermark, a 1988 release, has tallied certified sales of 2 million, according to the RIAA, and has charted for 142 weeks, including its current tenure on the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart. (Watermark originally was released in the U.S. by Geffen Records when it was part of the Warner Music Group; that album, like Shepherd Moons, is now on Reprise/Warner Bros. in the U.S.).
Dickins recalls that he first became aware of Enya's music through her soundtrack for a BBC television special, The Celts, released by the BBC through EMI Records in 1987. A chance meeting followed at the 1987 IRMA awards in Dublin, where Dickins spoke with the singer and her collaborators and expressed his interest in signing Enya. The eventual deal was structured to allow a maximum degree of creative freedom for the artist.
"Sometimes you sign an act to make money, and sometimes you sign an act to make music. This was clearly the latter," says Dickins. "I would have been a genius if I knew this was going to sell millions of records. I just wanted to be involved with this music."
"One thing that Nicky Ryan said to me when we did the deal was, 'We don't want pressure to do singles,'" Dickins adds. However, after visiting the studio where Enya was completing Watermark, the Warner executive joked as he departed, "It's fantastic -- but where's the single?"
Unknown to Dickins, the threesome took his remark seriously. The result was 'Orinoco Flow', which was released as a single from Watermark and reached No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart. Its success served as a beacon, says Dickins, drawing the attention of Warner Music International affiliates worldwide and the Warner Music Group in the U.S. Watermark then debuted on the British album chart at No. 1, and went on to success in every major international market.
Several factors account for Enya's worldwide success, observers say. Because it was understood that Enya would not stage and international tour and would be available only for limited promotions, visual images for album covers and videos were chosen to play on the mythical feel of Enya's music, notes Dickins. And those images were bolstered, in turn, by the singer's absence from the touring and promotional circuit.
"People can conjure up their own way what she's all about," Reichardt says.
Since lyrics are used sparingly in the songs -- and because Enya sings in Gaelic and Latin as well as English -- "there's not a lot of English language coming at you," says Dickins. Listeners in non-Anglo-speaking markets from Asia to Latin America simply appreciate the beauty of the overall sound, he suggests.
Through the spiritual aspects of her work, ranging from her Celtic influences to her rendition of the Shaker hymn 'How Can I Keep From Singing?', Enya also appears to have struck a chord with worldwide audiences similar to the one struck by the Benedictine monks of Spain and their recordings of Gregorian chants. "There's something about Celtic mythology which is deep in the soul, and I just think that somehow she has tapped right into it," says Dickins.
On a more down-to-earth plane, Enya's record company and publisher have fielded scores of requests for use of her music in TV commercials and films since the breakthrough of Watermark. Her recordings have been heard as the musical tracks for commercials in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, France, Sweden, Australia, and Japan, EMI Music Publishing reports.
"Initially, we did worry very much about overcommercializing the music," says Ryan. "But we're in a business as well. We have the final say about what happens to the music. And if you refuse outright, you're running the risk of them using a soundalike. It's much more of a sellout when you allow those things to happen."
The films in which Enya's music has been featured include Green Card, Age of Innocence, L.A. Story, Toys, and Far And Away.
"Most directors who have asked to use the music have been very respectful of it," says Ryan.
In Dickins' view, despite the exposure of Enya's music through various channels, the most important factor has been the enthusiasm of her fans. "If word of mouth works, it's unstoppable," he says.
Enya is working again with Ryan and lyricist Roma Ryan on her third album for Warner Music U.K. As yet untitled, the album is expected to be released worldwide in 1995.
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