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I.B. BAD LOOKS BACK ON THE YEAR IN THE MUSIC BIZ, PART TWO

Part Two: The Rest of the Story
NASHVILLE: Music City more than held its own in 2014, accounting for seven of the Top 25 albums, starting, ironically, with Taylor Swift’s self-described pop move, which wound up hurting her sales not at all, despite the dire predictions from the country establishment. So far, 1989 has sold 3.3m and its first two still-active singles are presently at a combined 4.6m. Mike Dungan’s UMG Nashville machine continued to roll out the hits, with the smooth Luke Bryan (1.2m this year alone) and the edgy Eric Church (952k) representing two commercially potent extremes. Gary O’s Sony Music Nashville was paced by Miranda Lambert (729k), country’s biggest female star now that Swift has abdicated her throne, while the latest LP from Broken Bow/RED’s Jason Aldean (787k) was Sony’s biggest country record. But the other three biggest sellers came from Scott Borchetta’s empire—a pair from the Republic Nashville JV’s Florida Georgia Line (a combined 1.6m this year) and another from Valory’s Brantley Gilbert (898k). So it appears that Borchetta is selling his Big Machine Label Group—with a reported price tag of $200m—at the perfect time. Swift owes one more album under her current deal with Borchetta, and if he can re-sign her, the BMLG’s already high value will go through the roof. The smart money says that both will remain in the UMG fold, but no matter how things play out, Borchetta has more than proved his own worth; he’s an entrepreneur with a remarkable track record and a big future, whether it’s in Nashville or elsewhere. He’ll raise his public profile further when he appears as a mentor on American Idol.

THE U.K.: The A&R landscape in Britain has shifted this year, and the competition to sign acts has ratcheted up considerably, as incoming Sony Music U.K. leader Jason Iley turned up the heat as soon as he started his new job in July. Since Iley’s arrival, Sony has become much more aggressive about signing artists; what used to be UMG U.K. chief David Joseph’s playground (with WMG U.K.’s Max Lousada also in the game) is now hotly contested territory. His most recent score was the label deal with highly sought-after indie Black Butter, home of U.K. breakout Clean Bandit. But the whip-smart Joseph leads a truly dynamic crew of creative execs in Capitol’s Nick Raphael and Jo Charrington (Sam Smith, 5 Seconds of Summer), Virgin EMI’s Ted Cockle (Bastille), Island’s Darcus Beese (Hozier) and Polydor’s Ferdy Unger-Hamilton (The 1975). London is also the HQ of the Max Hole-led UMG International, which has an immense footprint, commanding well over 40% of the global market. By aggressively bringing together hits from Sweden, Holland, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and other territories, Hole and President of Marketing Andrew Kronfeld are impacting the global music business in an unprecedented way.

RADIO: The basic tenet of the music business since time immemorial—that airplay begets sales—proved to be as true this year as ever, propelling 2014’s biggest hits and spawning the breakthroughs of a parade of new artists. There’s no point in citing specific examples because there have been virtually no exceptions. What was different about this year was the mutually beneficial partnership between big radio and the record companies forged by the iHeartMedia triumvirate of Bob Pittman, John Sykes and Tom Poleman, which was subsequently adopted by John and Lew Dickey’s Cumulus and CBS Radio’s Chris Oliviero, Michael Martin and Kevin Weatherly. This game-changer is explored in greater detail in Lenny Beer’s look back at the year.

PUBLISHING: Marty Bandier is still the undisputed king of publishing, boasting a who’s who of top writer/artists. But Cameron Strang and Big Jon Platt are on a roll at Warner/Chappell, taking the pubco to the lofty status of #2 in share behind Sony/ATV. When the biz returns from the holiday break, all eyes will be on Jody Gerson, Bandier’s star protégé (as was Platt), when she starts her new job as Chairman/CEO of UMPG. Most expect Gerson to bring new energy and aggressiveness to the pubco, which has been passive in recent years. In the indie sector, Matt Pincus and Ron Perry’s SONGS and Kenny MacPherson’s Big Deal Music are the happening new kids on the block.

MANAGEMENT: Modest Management’s Richard Griffiths will undoubtedly look back fondly on 2014, given One Direction’s massive stadium tour and fourth worldwide hit album, plus the breakthrough of Aussie boy band 5 Seconds of Summer. But no management company can match the size and reach of Michael Rapino’s Artist Nation/Roc Nation combine. Interestingly, a coalition of management companies within Artist Nation was assembled during the course of the year by Maverick overlord Guy Oseary. This assemblage includes Larry Rudolph, Scott Rodger, Gee Roberson, Cortez Bryant, Clarence Spalding, Adam Leber, Caron Veazey and the red-hot Ron Laffitte. The Coran Capshaw-led Red Light Management is arguably Artist Nation’s closest rival, although the aggressively acquisitive Scooter Braun could make a run at Rapino and Capshaw if he realizes his ambition of forming his own coalition of topflight management companies. Among the heavyweights already in the fold are Brandon Creed, Troy Carter, Jason Owen and Drake’s OVO. For the venture to succeed, however, Braun will first have to resolve reported issues with Waddell & Reed Financial, the primary investor in Braun’s $120m venture, and Thomas Tull’s Legendary Entertainment. The loss of Lady Gaga and questions about Justin Bieber’s continued viability are said to be stressing the economics of the deal. Incidentally, Braun pocketed $89m for his half of his company.

TECH: Without question, the biggest issue of 2014 has to do with whether streaming can be made to generate enough revenue to compensate for the declining digital download sector. Can Daniel Ek’s Spotify find a way to convert a good percentage of its tens of millions of free users to subscribers? Will the new deals being negotiated with UMG and Sony contain the triggering mechanism that will bring about this all-important transition—a time limit, a limit on number of plays or locking certain artists and records behind a paywall? Could new Apple music guru Jimmy Iovine have a wrinkle of his own to revolutionize the business, as the subscription-only Beats Music service is integrated into the iTunes ecosystem? Ultimately, will 2015 be the year the planets at long last align in the streaming sector? This year also saw the emergence of Shazam as a key analytic tool measuring the awareness and growth of potential hit tracks.

THE GRAMMYS: After taking heat for the several glaring omissions in the 2014 Grammys, which spawned the term "Timberlaked," Recording Academy chief and mouthpiece Neil Portnow can rest easy heading into the 2015 edition of Music’s Biggest Night. The nominating committee has provided executive producer Ken Ehrlich plenty to work with for the Feb. 8 telecast, while CBSJack Sussman has to feel encouraged by the prospect of a ratings windfall.

MUSIC TV: From awards shows to talk shows, TV series and commercials, the labels and managers now rely on TV to expose their acts and records. The Grammys consistently move the needle for certain performers, unlike the AMAs, and Saturday Night Live occasionally lifts a musical guest, as it did for Sam Smith. But the impact of music-reality shows continues to be spotty at best. No amount of tinkering by Simon Cowell could save the U.S. version of his U.K. hit show The X Factor, and American Idol continued to hemorrhage viewers in its 14th season, though it’s still ranked in the Top 20. NBC’s The Voice has been a Top 10 ratings hit since it debuted in 2011, but the series has yet to throw off a hit artist among its contestants.
56TH ACM AWARDS: THE WINNERS
Maren! Luke! Carly! (4/19a)
NEW & DEVELOPING ARTISTS: Q2 EDITION
Who's next? (4/16a)
STREAMING SONGS:
POLO'S SOLO
"RAPSTAR" is accurately titled. (4/16a)
HITS LIST: RULES
FOR ENTRY
It's exclusive, but you're invited to come on in. (4/19a)
CHART FINAL:
TAYLOR'S VERSION
"Fearless" takes flight. (4/16a)
RHYTHM, BLUES AND THE FUTURE
The musical tapestry we know as R&B.
WHO'S NEXT?
Predicting the next big catalog deal.
JUST THE VAX, MA'AM
Once we all get vaccinated, how long before we can party?
WORLDWIDE GROOVE
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?
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