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I.B. BAD: A NOVEMBER
TO REMEMBER

If anyone had predicted five years ago, when the business was circling the drain, that a new artist would appear with the potential to break NSYNC’s all-time sales record of 2.4m, set in 2000—a record that was thought to be untouchable—the forecaster would have been dismissed as deeply delusional. And yet, here we are at midweek, with Adele’s 25 presently projecting to 2.7-2.9m in first-week sales, blowing past NSYNC to set a new record—indeed, the record will fall today, with three days of sales still to come this week. With track sales included, 25 is within striking distance of 3m. Just as remarkably, roughly half of the first-week numbers are coming from physical retailers. Target, with its exclusive expanded version, is leading the way, with more than half a million CDs already sold. What’s more, Adele’s bravura performance on SNL, to be followed by a Today Show appearance on Wednesday, could push these mind-boggling numbers even higher. Clearly, this is a moment of unprecedented excitement and renewed optimism for all of us in this long-beleaguered industry, thanks to one formula-obliterating visionary artist.

There’s no question about it—Adele is the biggest game changer to hit the music business in this century, putting her in the rarefied company of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Nirvana. Since 21 began its ascent toward earth-shaking-blockbuster status during the course of 2011, this organically spawned megastar has been turning conventional wisdom on its ear, hitting sales numbers that were considered impossible before her arrival, and 25 is presently upping the ante into the stratosphere. Adele has attained this previously unimaginable level of popularity without an iota of compromise, and her integrity is one big reason she’s universally adored. For example, she turned down boatloads of cash in deciding to withhold the album from all streaming services—but that move is entirely consistent with the streaming strategy she employed on 21. While Adele and manager Jonathan Dickins believe unlimited free streaming devalues art for all artists, they don’t want her to be the new poster child for premium streaming, a la Taylor Swift, so they chose not to ballyhoo it.

Because Adele is perceived as existing above the fray, a standard modern-day setup for 25 featuring an all-out media blitz would have looked cheap, undercutting the unparalleled integrity she’s maintained throughout her career. Instead, the artist, Dickins and Columbia chief Rob Stringer have formulated a strategy in which there’s no wasted motion, with TV specials for the BBC and NBC doubling as hot-ticket concerts, morning-show and late-night appearances, Q&As with select gatherings of fans on Radio 1 and SiriusXM and a handful of high-end press profiles. She also covered a lot of ground with an hour-long special at Joe's Pub in NYC on street date that ran on every iHeartRadio Top 40/Hot AC station.

This sequence of impressions has been carried out with surgical precision and unerring classiness, perfectly in keeping with Adele’s music. Speaking of which, “Hello,” “When We Were Young,” “Water Under the Bridge” and “All I Ask” all sound like instant standards on an album of uncommon musical and emotional depth—an album whose nuances the whole world will be exploring in the months to come.

As the album makes history, wonderers are wondering how the millions of units 25 will sell during the next four weeks will impact the final marketshare standings for 2015.

How did Scooter Braun do it? Everyone in the biz has been asking that question since Justin Bieber’s Purpose blazed past One Direction’s Made in the A.M. in a win as surprising as it was resounding. How did Braun mobilize the fan base so effectively? Hypothetically, if he’d spent $1m to get Bieber a #1, what would be the multiple that would impact the value of the brand? 10x? 20x? At the same time, 1D’s lack of unity and purpose within the group itself resulted in a failure to compete at the highest level. Nonetheless, without the nontraditional sales resulting from Braun’s late offensive—which include an estimated 65k in ticket/download bundles and Lyft redemptions—the race might have been much tighter.

A month ago, when projections for Bieber fell behind those for One Direction 350k to 300k, based in part on preorder patterns, Braun was challenged as never before to think outside the box in order to regain lost momentum. And that is precisely what the master marketeer proceeded to do, in a cannily orchestrated sequence of innovative moves that included the Lyft promotion, a week on Ellen and a series of arena events that began on 11/13 with three fan gatherings at Staples Center. Braun’s offensive enabled his client to not only catch up with 1D but to forge ahead for a decisive victory. The album’s 504k in sales and 620k in SPS make it the biggest debut of the year so far in both categories—until Adele charts this Friday, of course. But Braun has a simpler explanation for this stunning outcome. “JB made the best record of his career,” he asserted. “The music speaks for itself.”

Braun’s star couldn’t be shining more brightly at this critical juncture, as massive negotiations are underway on several business fronts.

How much will Coldplay and Rihanna allow Tidal’s footprint to be part of their launches? Will other entities punish these artists for giving Tidal exclusive content, or have most stopped caring? Target has been extremely vocal in the past. Most attendees at Coldplay’s 11/13 KROQ-sponsored show in downtown L.A. (postponed to 11/21 following news of the Paris tragedy) didn’t realize Tidal had an exclusive livestream until they entered the theater. It was as if the band was trying to hide the Tidal connection.

Meanwhile, it appears that Roc Nation has finally settled on a strategy for the rollout of the upcoming album by management client and Westbury Road/Roc Nation artist Rihanna. The rumored Samsung tie-in was confirmed during the Samsung-sponsored AMAs Sunday night, followed by a tour announcement Monday morning. The smart money is on a 12/4 wide release of ANTI (possibly preceded by a window of exclusivity for Samsung and/or Tidal), with a ticket bundle likely in place to boost the first-week number. The AMAs, it should be noted, were down again this year, and once again failed to move the needle for any of those who performed.

Now that the ballots are in, the Grammy cabal is meeting behind closed doors to determine the nominees. How will the cabal ensure that the embarrassing Justin Timberlake diss in 2014 doesn’t happen again? Will they ever manage to apologize profusely enough to lure the great one back to Music’s Biggest Night? Have they become more conscious and calculating since that huge blunder? Historians want to know who was in the room when they made that decision; have they subsequently been banished to AMA purgatory?

CBS has pulled the plug on the Grammy-nominations show, which aired for six years before being replaced by a Christmas special with a Grammy-noms segment last December. The show consistently drew anemic ratings despite the star power it offered. The problem may well have been the timing of the broadcast, coming as it did soon after the AMAs and right in the midst of holiday-shopping mania.

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Don Passman, Joel Katz, Aaron Rosenberg, Lee Leipsner, Lucy Dickins and Jo Charrington.

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(Adele.)
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