VIEWS FROM THE BANK: Drake’s latest surprise is an album containing 20 newly recorded tracks that will drop on 3/18. The new album will probably have its premiere on Beats 1, but will it be an Apple exclusive? Apple Music is at 20m subscribers, 10m in the U.S., still far below Spotify’s 50m paid, with 15m in the U.S., according to rights holders. While that is likely a non-issue for Drake, who is guaranteed a #1 album no matter what, it surely matters to Apple. Chatter has it that the Views two-week exclusive was responsible for 1m new Apple Music subscribers. If that’s true, Apple recoups that $20m they reportedly gave Drake in just 60 days—a win-win for all—making those big paydays to artists look like easy money.
#NEW-SCHOOL MO’ MONEY: While the world awaits Drake’s latest opus, his Young Money cohort Nicki Minaj is back in action with three new tracks, enlisting Drake and labelmate Lil Wayne on focus cut “No Frauds.” The tracks could conceivably appear on an album from Nicki, Drake or Wayne—anything is possible with this crew—and the fact that Drake teased a possible Young Money reunion tour during his sold-out six-show run at London’s O2 Arena further thickens the plot. All this interrelated action is a provocative example of new-school, streaming-age innovation, with built-in fluid marketing opportunities. Meanwhile, Frank Ocean, another urban superstar, dropped a surprise track of his own, "Chanel," Friday night.
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN: Ed Sheeran’s smash album had the third-biggest debut ever in the U.K.—only Adele’s 25 and Oasis' Be Here Now (1997) sold more. Like Adele and Sam Smith, Sheeran broke first in the U.K., where BBC Radio 1 plays a greater variety of music than does American Top 40. Divide’s first-week U.K. total of 672k is bigger than the U.S. number (445k), a rare occurrence with superstar releases, in that Britain is roughly one-fourth the size of the U.S. in population. This remarkable achievement fuels those rumors about Warner U.K. ruler Max Lousada getting a new worldwide position within WMG, possibly relocating him to NYC. Will all worldwide repertoire centers directly report to Lousada? Does he become the de facto music head of WMG, answering to Stephen Cooper? Recent speculation had rivals trying to lure away the highly regarded Lousada. Will a British exec soon be running each of the Big Three companies?
IT’S A RAP: L.A. Reid has aggressively refocused Epic as a hub for hip-hop, with Future, DJ Khaled and Travis Scott leading the way. Future has scored three chart-topping debuts, including two in a row in recent weeks; Khaled, Scott and A Tribe Called Quest have also debuted at #1. Reid’s relocation of the label from New York to L.A., where so much of the creative community is now based, has been part of the refocusing, as Epic becomes hip-hop ground zero for Sony Music. The much-sought-after DJ Khaled, meanwhile, is supposedly being pursued for high-level positions inside the machine, primarily because of his rarefied ability to make things happen—they say he’s the straw that stirs the drink.
TICK-TOCK: The latest word is that Spotify CEO Daniel Ek may be getting somewhat removed from frontline negotiations with the rights holders after being unable to cut new licensing deals, a prerequisite for the company’s IPO. What’s more, the 5% interest on a $1 billion loan doubles if the IPO is delayed another year. Given the urgency of the situation, many are asking why Ek hasn’t hired one of the big name-brand U.S. law firms to get the deal done.
SQUEEZE PLAY: As streaming grows, the most-streamed music is becoming increasingly aligned with Top 40 radio, causing themajors to double-down on the urban/rhythmic sector in terms of allocating A&R resources. But if the primaryrevenue from recorded music is now coming from streaming and nolonger from the one-time sales transaction, rock, country and other non-urban acts are going to suffer more because the bulk of streaming income is going elsewhere. Combine this growing imbalance in artist economics with an anemic radio ecosystem, and you have the perfect storm for a seismic shift in the A&R process.
Success in rock is judged by a far different standard than urban; nonetheless, who wouldn’t want to be in business with The Lumineers, on indie Dualtone, whose two albums have accrued a combined 3.3m in SPS, each yielding a pair of #1 Alternative singles? This new ecosystem is building a middle class composed of rock bands who sustain themselves through touring while they wait for that magic mass-appeal hit that can change everything, as happened for The Lumineers, The Black Keys and Kings of Leon. Another sign of life is SXSW, the biggest industry gathering of the year, which is still dominated by rock bands.
NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Oliver El-Khatib, Ben Cook, Stuart Camp, Roc Nation, John Branca and David Dorn.
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