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I.B. BAD: BUNDLE THIS

RESPECT THE GAGA: Industry folk agree pretty resoundingly that Lady Gaga is about to have a very big moment. A Star Is Born already looks gigantic as both movie (scoring a terrific $43m opening weekend on about 3.7k screens) and Interscope soundtrack (dominating at iTunes and opening #1 on our chart with a first-week total north of 220k). Both, it need hardly be added, are supercharged by Gaga’s charisma and talent.

In fact, this chapter is only the latest in a string of successful choices she’s made—none of them obvious. The idiosyncratic, glam-pop trailblazer who once rocked the meat dress claimed a whole new audience singing standards—and very much holding her own—beside the legendary Tony Bennett, snagging a Grammy. She had a riveting Oscars moment in 2016, performing “Til It Happens to You,” joined onstage by victims of sexual abuse. Then she made a splash as the vampiric lead on American Horror Story and earned a Golden Globe. In 2017 she offered one of the most satisfying Super Bowl halftime performances in recent memory. Now, with Star, she combines her superb singing with an acting performance that is an odds-on favorite for an Oscar.

Clearly, no matter what field Gaga competes on, she’s a champion.

VERTICALLY CHALLENGED: Among the exec producers on A Star Is Born is Live Nation boss Michael Rapino, whose name is on industry lips to possibly take on additional duties related to the merged SiriusXM-Pandora. Liberty Media has a 34% stake in Live Nation, and people close to the situation say that management has been trying to persuade Rapino to oversee the new construct. Adding a LN piece to the puzzle would open up vast new opportunities for sponsorship and ramped-up artist relations. Steve Blatter has done a great job programming Sirius, which undeniably moves the needle on a regular basis. But neither SXM nor Pandora has had a top CEO at the helm who’s connected to the music biz at the highest level, and Rapino would certainly fit the bill, and then some—but what’s his upside, given the massive compensation package he already commands? According to an SEC filing, Rapino’s 2017 comp package was valued at $70.6m, more than $50m of that from his stock holdings.

The purchase of Pandora by SiriusXM wasn’t exactly a surprise, as Messrs. Malone, Maffei and team attempt to construct an effective vertical with their various holdings. There’s something of a ticking clock hanging over the enterprise, some observers believe, as the race is on to create a zipless, integrated audio option for the car as well as mobile—and both Spotify and Apple Music have made major inroads in that direction. The SXM-Pandora combo will surely appeal to users who want their music either mostly or entirely “curated.”

HOSANNAS AND AMEN: Nashville’s airport was  extra busy for the last few weeks with traffic from NYC and LAX, as label heavies 
swarmed free agent Lauren Daigle and manager Leigh Holt of Redjett on the heels of the artist and her albums becoming available. She wound up signing with Doug Morris' 12Tone.

Word is the singer/songwriter can take both her prior albums with her after giving the label, Centricity, notice of the new deal. One can only imagine how many millions the deal is worth, considering that her prior album, 2015’s How Can It Be, has done about 1.2m in total activity RTD, and the smash Look Up Child, which has moved around 205k since bowing at #3 a few weeks ago, keeps selling briskly and has earned rapturous acclaim. Numbers of 4 and 5 million are routinely thrown around for artists who have barely sold 5% of what Daigle’s already done. She’s twice been nominated for Grammys in Christian Music categories.

MOVING THE GOALPOSTS: Inside scoop from Grammyland is that, after a heated battle on the screening committee, Post Malone has been kicked out of the contenders for Best New Artist. Why rule out Malone, the biggest breakout act in recent memory and a streaming goldmine, not to mention an artist who appeals to a broad demographic?

Compare Post to the most recent BNA winner, Alessia Cara. He dropped his first hit, “White Iverson,” in 2015; Cara released hers, “Here,” the same year. She wasn’t previously nominated ahead of her BNA nod, which would be disqualifying; neither was he. Neither has released three albums, which would also rule them out. What was the justification presented by the committee for ruling against Post in this virtually identical case? The “coming to prominence” clause. The argument is that Post has become much more prominent than Cara did before her nomination—ostensibly too big for thenewcomers category. Needlessto say, that’s a totally arbitrary determination. Why can’t the year’s Best New Artist be one who’s achieved great fame?

BNA is the only topline category the screening committee gets its fingerprints on, and the criteria for qualification are ever-shifting and seemingly arbitrary. And it appears that just as they wanted Cara in, they just as strenuously wanted Malone out—once again hiding behind the ever-shifting rules to justify removing a major young artist from consideration. Is this indicative of a feeling about Post on the screening committee’s part, and does it signal the possible mistake of a full-on snub by the Secret Nominating Committee? Several insiders say to expect blowback. Despite the much-ballyhooed diversity initiative led by task force head Tina Tchen, this committee is off to a disappointing start.

This news comes alongside scuttlebutt that James Corden will not return as Grammys host. Who has the finesse to step in as ringmaster in this contentious and fragile moment?

Speaking of the Grammys, it was hard not to view Taylor Swift’s opening perf at the American Music Awards on 10/9—her first awards-show spotlight in three years—as throwing down the gauntlet to Music’s Biggest Night. Tay’s star power gave the AMAs its only ratings spark on an otherwise dismal night (overall viewership took a 30% tumble from last year), challenging Grammy to nominate her or risk further viewership erosion of its own. Taylor never makes a big move that isn’t strategic. Look what you made her do.

CASH MACHINE: The saga of Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine continues to spark much chatter, as the Nashville label chief and entrepreneur is said to be entertaining bids in the vicinity of $300-350m for his company—with somewhere between half and two-thirds of the price based on the estimated value of Taylor Swift’s catalog. Borchetta’s empire also includes label hitters like Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett and Brett Young, as well as his Big Machine Music pubco. The company’s UMG distribution deal, by the way, continues regardless of the sale. How big might the price tag be if future Taylor projects are part of the package? What’s Taylor’s gambit in all of this?

NOT A MOOT POINT: With Jon Platt due to take over the big chair at Sony/ATV next year, who will succeed him at the reins of Warner/Chappell? As we mentioned previously, Sony/ATV Head of Worldwide Creative Guy Moot is thought to have a good shot at the gig. Moot enjoys the regard of some of the most important Brits in the business, notably top WMG record execs on both sides of the pond, and his SATV signings include Ed Sheeran—WMG’s most important act—as well as such heavy hitters as Calvin Harris, Amy Winehouse and Stargate. Moot, who supposedly has a lot of time left on his deal, won’t be going anywhere before the EU signs off on SATV’s purchase of EMI, at which time he’ll get a weighty check for his piece of the management incentive plan, which is said to be valued at $180-200m.

As for Marty Bandier, insiders believe it would be a mistake to hand him a gold watch just yet, and not just because the watch he’s already wearing is probably nicer. The King of Cohibas, whose deal is up in March, had planned to stick around atop SATV for a few more years before Tokyo nixed his succession plan, and the smart money says he’s already planning another chapter with a massive war chest. There’s a mountain of VC money out there ready to be snapped up by shrewd, enterprising publishers for catalog and other acquisitions, and what publisher was ever more shrewd or more enterprising?

A BUNDLE OF TROUBLE: So how do labels earn big chart debuts for titles outside the streaming/hip-hop sweet spot—established pop, rock and country acts, typically with upper-demo audiences? For any act that’s a substantial live draw, it’s the ticket bundle to the rescue. Ticket or D2C bundles can give even a floundering release enough extra traction to score big first-week numbers.

The antiquated Nielsen rules governing ticket bundles have some loopholes, but the ones surrounding merch are infinitely murkier and subject to much greater exploitation. Unlike ticket bundles, merch bundles don’t require redemptions—an arbitrary and inconsistent distinction that opens up huge opportunities for abuse. Insiders suggest that in some cases there are bundles for posters and T-shirts that were never printed, backed up only by bogus reports supported by lists of unsubstantiated email addresses. Theoretically, it’s possible no purchase is ever made—for music or T-shirts—on some of these fake bundles. What’s more, Billboard chart maven Silvio Pietroluongo has declined to put a swift end to the shenanigans, thereby encouraging them.

You can’t blame the players for playing according to the existing ground rules, but even those who are winning the game week to week agree that the situation has gotten out of hand. As one insider put it, “They don’t even make it hard to cheat.” It used to be that Billboard could point to its charts as the last vestige of its otherwise shredded credibility, but the widespread gaming going on nowadays puts even that in jeopardy. The Bible has been promising new rules for some time—when will it finally close the loophole that doesn’t require redemptions? We’re waiting.

NEAR TRUTHS YEAR-END WRAP UP, PART 1:
AROUND THE HORN
The "new prosperity." (12/18a)
MARTY DELIVERS A FINAL YEAR-END LETTER
A double corona for all! (12/17a)
NEW RELEASES:
ONWARD INTO THE
CHRISTMAS-VERSE (UPDATE)
Spidey and Springsteen. (12/17a)
CHART STORY: SKINS IN THE GAME
Triple X hits a homer. (12/14a)
REVENUE CHART: RED, WHITE, BLUE & GREEN
...i.e., "Rudolph," "Pure Cocaine," Ol' Blue Eyes and currency (12/14a)
GRAMMY NERDS BREAK IT DOWN
Wow, they really are nerds, huh?
REVERBERATIONS OF TAYLOR'S DEAL
What does it all mean? What did it cost? Answer the second question first.
IS IT COLD IN HERE?
It's fine, really. We'd just like to feel our extremities again.
EGGNOG
A sweet and creamy vehicle for the intoxicating liquor that blocks out the agony of the holidays.
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