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NEAR TRUTHS BY I.B. BAD

CONGRESSIONAL ACTION: Capitol Music Group ruler Steve Barnett had the good sense to hold his second annual Capitol Congress just as the label was releasing 5 Seconds of Summer’s debut album and as Sam Smith’s breakthrough single "Stay With Me" was poised to complete its climb to the top of the charts. Those two rookie acts—both of whom made appearances onstage at the Arclight Hollywood last Wednesday—have played major roles in propelling CMG to #3 year-to-date in TEA marketshare with 7.4%. This amounts to a remarkable achievement for a company Barnett had begun rebuilding from the ground up just 19 months ago. The execs who took the stage that day projected an array of statistics on the big screen to illustrate CMG’s dramatic gains, each of which was greeted with cheering by the company’s employees. The esprit de corps was sky-high during the Arclight presentation and the subsequent Capitol Congress gatherings at the Tower party Wednesday night, the Troubadour showcase the following evening and Friday’s softball tournament, making it readily apparent that Barnett and his EVP tandem of Greg Thompson and Michelle Jubelirer have succeeded in their determined efforts to restore morale at the formerly downtrodden company. Barnett has frequently used sports metaphors to describe these efforts, and from top to bottom, CMG’s staff looked and behaved very much like a winning team throughout the celebration.
 
STATE OF THE NATION: The seat of power in the music-management business suddenly shifted on New Year’s Eve of 2012. That was the day Irving Azoff delivered what’s known in music biz lore as the "Cabo surprise," abruptly stepping down from the chairmanship of Live Nation. Simultaneously, and even more significantly, Azoff resigned as CEO of Front Line, ceding oversight of the management colossus he’d built to Live Nation. With that move, LN CEO Michael Rapino, already the dominant figure in the concert industry, instantly became the most powerful player in the artist-management business as well.

Once he had direct oversight of the management company, which years earlier had been dubbed Artist Nation, Rapino acted quickly, talking to all the key managers who were now under his charge in an effort to restore their confidence and win their trust. In the months that followed, Rapino continued these discussions, calmly and carefully explaining his commitment to their continued success and laying out his vision for the future. Twenty months after the seismic shift, Rapino has won the universal respect of his managers and their artists in what both sides recognize as a synergistic relationship: The acts drive ticketing, putting asses in the seats of LN’s many owned and operated venues, and by extension they generate another sizable revenue stream from parking and concessions.

That synergy is working—Live Nation is having one of its most profitable years, and the company's strong earnings this year are reflected in a 47% year-over-year surge in the stock price, which is flirting with $24 as we go to press.
 
But now, change is apparently once again in the air, with rumors of a loose association of some of the management companies within Artist Nation under Maverick overlord/Madonna and U2 handler Guy Oseary. The first name mentioned in connection with this possible consolidation is red-hot Ron Laffitte, whose charges include Pharrell Williams, OneRepublic, that band’s leader, hit songwriter Ryan Tedder, and, in tandem with Oseary, the latest addition to his client list, Alicia Keys, whom Laffitte previously managed at Coran Capshaw’s Red Light. On that score, Capshaw is said to have issues with the fact that Keys is now managed by the world’s foremost concert promoter, with whom he does major business, but the consensus is that Capshaw was going to lose Keys in any case. A side note: Did Oseary have to clear the Keys pickup with Madonna before adding a second diva to his client list?

Also name-checked in this scenario is Larry Rudolph, who manages Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne, who had been rumored to be leaving Live Nation—having been courted by Scooter Braun for his own rollup of management companies—before renewing when Rapino wrote him a check said to be in the neighborhood of $10m.

Gee Roberson, who handles Nicki Minaj, among other acts, is yet another subject of speculation in terms of the purported Oseary coalition. There was even talk about other management companies Oseary might be considering rolling up from inside Live Nation, as well as non-LN outfits targeted on an acquisition list.

After these rumors were made public last week, Rapino’s office noted that Oseary runs Maverick only, but that Laffitte "or a couple of other separate management companies [may] decide to work together with him," though nothing is set. In other words, this is still a work in progress. All of the other LN-associated management companies report directly to Rapino, with the exception of Roc Nation, described as a completely separate venture in which Jay Z and Rapino are partners.

No matter how it is organized, Artist Nation is the most formidable entity in music management, as the sidebar of managers and their highest-profile artists indicates.
 
Roc Nation, led by Jay Brown, boasts a dazzling array of established and rising stars on the management side as well. These include Roc Nation owner Jay Z, Kanye West, Rihanna, Shakira, Timbaland, Calvin Harris (through the EDM-centric Three Six Zero Group), Kylie Minogue, Capital Cities and HAIM. Among the key players inside the company is Desiree Perez, who was one of two business managers before taking a bigger role following the recent exit of John Meneilly. Perez and her husband, Juan Perez, are also deeply involved in Roc Nation Sports, whose initial clients include Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, the Seattle MarinersRobinson Cano, the New York YankeesCC Sabathia, the New York GiantsVictor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, the New York JetsGeno Smith, WNBA star Skylar Diggins and NBA draftee James Young.

Meanwhile, the talent stable at Azoff Artist Management includes acts he chose to take with him when he left LN/Front Line, plus select subsequent signings, and it’s loaded with revenue generators. The Eagles and Steely Dan are doing brisk business on their current tours, while the demand for Fleetwood Mac tickets on their upcoming tour has never been higher, thanks in part to the return of Christine McVie to the lineup. Among Azoff’s newer clients, No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani (a coach on the upcoming season of The Voice) and Chelsea Handler (whom Azoff recently signed to a groundbreaking deal with Netflix) will benefit from their TV exposure as live draws. And Azoff MSG Entertainment, the multifaceted entertainment company he formed with James Dolan in September 2013, now has topflight venues in America’s two biggest markets, having upgraded the Forum in L.A. to a state-of-the-art dedicated concert arena (which the Eagles reopened in January during a multiple-night run of shows), joining New York flagship venue Madison Square Garden.

Azoff is seemingly everywhere these days, from having served as middle man in Dolan’s procurement of Phil Jackson as New York Knicks President to forming an upstart performing rights organization with former ASCAP exec Randy Grimmett. This newco, which bears the nameplate Global Music Rights, already has a pair of high-profile writers in the aforementioned Laffitte management clients Ryan Tedder and Pharrell Williams, the latter snatched away from ASCAP last week.

All of the above are in the vanguard of what is once again a growth industry, one of the few stable areas of the unsettled modern-day music business.
 
Names in the rumor mill: Will Botwin, Troy Carter, Cortez Bryant, Jim Guerinot, Sarah Stennett, Ethiopia Habtemariam, Richard Parks, Darcus Beese and Phil McIntyre.
 

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