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NEAR TRUTHS BY I.B. BAD
Signs of Trouble in Grammy Land; Two Labels That Are Hitting Q4 Running;
the Latest on Scott Borchetta and Jason Flom
GRAMMY DÉJÀ VU? The Grammy season is upon us once again, and NARAS chief Neil Portnow, show producer Ken Ehrlich and CBS-TV’s Jack Sussman are facing the challenge of getting it right this time following a series of shocking missteps a year ago. Among the most egregious moves were the snubbing of Justin Timberlake’s critical and commercial triumph The 20/20 Experience in the Album of the Year category, the absurd exclusion of Lorde and Imagine Dragons from the list of nominees for Best New Artist and the shunning of Jay Z altogether. These and other snubs combined to make a travesty of the music business’ annual celebration in the eyes of many, putting the spotlight squarely on an ongoing problem that Portnow, Ehrlich and Sussman need to fix if they want to restore the Grammys’ credibility. At issue is the widespread concern that some of those charged with selecting the nominees appear to be following their own agendas rather than striving to reflect the real picture in their decision making.

But trouble reared its head yet again during last week’s supposedly top-secret Screening Committee meetings at the Beverly Hilton, as word leaked out of another faux pas. It seems that the Alternative Committee, headed by industry veterans Andy Factor and John Kilpatrick, had rejected Beck’s Morning Phase from the field of potential nominees in the Alternative Album category. This is the same group of tastemakers that excluded the likes of The Shins, Bastille, The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons in recent years, causing even the casual observer to ask what planet these supposed experts are living on. Will this puzzling move prove to be an anomaly or a sign of impending disaster?
 
SPREAD OFFENSE: Columbia’s Q4 run is off to a great start, with Barbra Streisand’s overperforming Partners debuting at #1 and possibly headed for 1m by Christmas. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Rob Stringer’s label. Soulful Irish newcomer Hozier is approaching critical mass as his self-titled debut album hits this week following a yearlong, expertly orchestrated campaign, patiently overseen by EVP/GM Joel Klaiman, which included a breakout performance at SXSW in March, an ever-growing social footprint and a buzz-building club tour, and culminates this weekend with an SNL appearance. The album is projected to blow past 50k in its first week, rare for a new artist, the cumulative result of countless impressions during the course of the year. The artist’s carefully nurtured single "Take Me to Church" is #4 on the Alternative airplay chart with +146 spins after going #1 at Triple A, and promo head Lee Leipsner is taking the song to Pop this week.

With albums coming from the massively popular One Direction and rock icons AC/DC, the latter supported by what’s expected to be an elaborate marketing campaign, it appears that Columbia may make a late run for the second straight Q4; last year’s surge took the label to 7.6% in frontline share, tying it with RCA for #2. Presently, Columbia is in #3 in both frontline (with 6.9%) and TEA (7.2%). That run could be extended if talk from the Adele camp about the Q1 release of her as yet uncompleted follow-up to 21 turns out to be accurate.

Republic, 2013’s #1 frontline finisher with 9.1%, is presently second to CMG in frontline with 7.6%, but Monte Lipman’s company is this year’s TEA frontrunner entering Q4 with 8% thanks in large measure to an extraordinary singles run. The label has three of the Top 5 on the Top 40 chart in #2 Taylor Swift (Big Machine), #4 Ariana Grande and #5 Jessie J/Ariana/Nicki Minaj (Lava), with six in the Top 25 and real comers from Island’s Nick Jonas and Fall Out Boy. With Q4 albums scheduled from Scott Borchetta’s Florida Georgia Line (10/14), Swift (10/27) and Cash Money’s Lil Wayne (TBD), Lipman and EVP Charlie Walk seem poised to finish out the year on a tear.
 
On a related subject, Jason Flom’s JV deal is up, leading to the obvious question: What will he do next? At this point, the smart money is on the renowned A&R exec and his Lava imprint staying under the Republic umbrella. Lava’s Jessie J has a new album hitting on 10/14. Flom’s biggest success since coming to Republic in 2012 has been Lorde; his roster also includes rock band Black Veil Brides.

HEAVY MACHINERY: There’s talk that prospective suitors are eyeing Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group with the hope of acquiring the massively successful Nashville-based company. The talking points in any discussion about a possible purchase would likely include Taylor Swift’s move to pop and what it might mean down the line, given that the country market is far more loyal than the pop market. But it’s important to bear in mind that Borchetta has an uncanny knack for being ahead of the curve.

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Richard Griffiths
, Steve Moir, Ron Fair, Joel Katz, Candace Berry and Bill Freimuth.
 
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