HOW TO SCORE: When Peter Edge and Tom Corson were handed the reins of RCA by Doug Morris four years ago, they inherited a roster with a handful of big acts and little else, the result of a longstanding lack of attention paid to the signing and developing of new artists. The label’s new co-heads immediately set about changing that, reinvigorating the roster and breaking such newcomers as Miguel, Ke$ha, Pitbull, Miley Cyrus, Sia, Pentatonix and, most recently, Mark Ronson and Walk the Moon, with Joe Riccitelli, one of the top promotion execs in the business, maximizing visibility on all of the above. Thus, RCA was in the vanguard of change when the market underwent a dramatic shift, with new artists becoming increasingly dominant as the careers of established artists have matured. Determined to stay ahead of the curve, Edge and Corson have teed up a brace of new and developing acts for the rest of this year, fully aware that an emphasis on forward-thinking A&R is the key to sustainability in the modern-day music business.
615 ACTION: The most-talked-about Music City-related topic has to do with when the new head of Sony Nashville will be named. For the last year, the name on everyone’s lips has been the highly regarded and forward-thinking Jason Owen, whose biggest issue would appear to be that his Sandbox Entertainment (which is now part of Scooter Braun’s management enterprise) manages several high-profile artists signed to Mike Dungan’s UMG Nashville, including Little Big Town and Kacey Musgraves, adding another layer of drama to the narrative. Dungan is hot and getting hotter as he partners with Capitol in trying to cross Sam Hunt’s genre-bending “Take Your Time” to Pop, and with Interscope in attempting to cross LBT’s provocative “Girl Crush.” It will be interesting to see the growth of these two records on the Pop charts; both appear to have real Pop potential. Many see Musgraves, meanwhile, as the next big thing; her sophomore LP Pageant Material (Mercury Nashville) arrives this summer.
There’s also drama surrounding the question of who will step up to buy Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group, which is making a new distribution deal with UMG. According to insiders, the Music Row establishment takes issue with Borchetta’s refusal to play by their rule book, as well as his fame and fortune—private jets and the other trappings. But he’s loved in New York by Monte Lipman and his Republic team, who have experienced enormous success with him, the latest example being the Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde, which debuts this week at #1 with a robust 217k in sales. The act was signed by John Varvatos’ label, in conjunction with Republic and Big Machine. There were those who scoffed at the Varvatos deal when it was put together by Republic EVP Charlie Walk last year, but they’re not scoffing now.
STREAM-O-RAMA: Despite all the talk about the majors’ desire to eliminate Spotify’s unlimited free streaming tier, their basic stance is simple: They want to be paid fairly so that they can pay their artists, and they don’t care how Daniel Ek accomplishes that goal, by premium, freemium or a combination of the two. Given the delicacy of the present situation, it seems counterproductive that Ek has dispatched lobbyists to the EU. He’s clearly trying to block Apple’s premium streaming entry, but by alleging collusion between Apple and the majors, he may be biting the hand that feeds him.
Rumor has it that Apple plans to offer a 90-day free introductory promo for its streaming service when it launches next month—assuming the deals are far enough along for the rollout to proceed. Apple/Beats is thought to be just part of a larger play centered on Apple TV, as the tech colossus continues in its efforts to control the living room.
Meanwhile, YouTube and Sony Music are on a collision course with the point of impact this summer, when the current licensing deal between the two companies expires. There are rumblings out of 550 Madison about the possibility of pulling all music from the Google-owned site.
Jay Z’s fledgling entry into the premium-streaming wars continues to be the object of a derision around the music business, with one prominent attorney asking everyone he runs into, “Are they saying Kaddish at Tidal yet?” Nonetheless, the majors hope that Tidal succeeds. At the same time, some industry observers are questioning whether Jay Z has his financing together yet, and if not, where did he get the money to pay the licensing fees to the rights holders?
On a related topic, why is Roc Nation’s Rihanna’s “American Oxygen” not exploding at retail? The track sold a meager 7k last week. Is it possible the botched Tidal launch put that big a stink on the record? But the Rihanna-Tidal relationship is pressing on, according to a recent rumor, which has the struggling service getting a window of exclusivity on her forthcoming album, tentatively titled R8. In other action, Kanye West has left Roc Nation for management, inside sources say.
NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Robert Kondrk, Ken Parks, Michael Lange, John Fleckenstein, Bernie Cahill and Jay Brown.
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