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I.B. BAD WATCHES HISTORY BEING MADE

UNCHARTED WATERS: Adele is rearranging people’s heads. This extraordinary artist is in the process of pulling off a feat that is nothing less than inconceivable, with 25 on track to sell a monumental 7m+ by year’s end—which averages out to 1m+ units during each of the six weeks between Nov. 20 and Jan. 1. This revelation means that no other act with a scheduled of possible December release will challenge Adele for the rest of the year—not Coldplay, whose 12/4 release is projecting to just under 200k at presstime, roughly 450k south of Adele’s projection for the week. Not Rihanna —if this were a conventional physical/digital rollout, handicappers think it would debut with 150k. But has her team at Roc Nation figured out a way to make the Samsung giveaway count toward her sales total? Will these releases be subject to the “Tidal curse”?

So when Sony’s fiscal year ends on 3/31, Rob Stringer’s company will have sold a mountain of records, and 25 will have done record numbers without a streaming component. This has silenced streaming advocates, whose spin that streaming is good for sales has been shot full of holes. If streaming is supposed to be the best thing to ever happen to recorded music, how does a label exec sell that claim to an artist who is being paid a pittance in streaming income? But at the same time, all artists are not equal, and it’s inarguable that the streaming model has turned out to be just the thing for Justin Bieber. Considering how many singles and streams Bieber has, no one can reasonably claim that Bieber’s Purpose would have sold significantly more albums if it weren’t being streamed. The way in which people now consume music is a duality: it’s all about easy access, and people love Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and YouTube, just as they still love the iTunes Store. But bear in mind that Team Adele’s position on streaming the album could change at some point in 2016, possibly as early as the first of the year.

The competition points out that those gigantic checks from Spotify and other top streaming services are based on marketshare, and the absence of Adele streams, apart from the “Hello” single, means a greater share—and thus more cashola—for them. It’s an appealing spin if you’re not getting the $40-50m that 25 will throw off this year, revenue that will go a long way toward recouping that $20m advance the superstar was paid against the $50 million worldwide deal she signed with Sony for an additional three albums.

As the Adele numbers keep stacking up to previously unimaginable levels, XL’s Richard Russell and Beggars Group’s Martin Mills must be thinking of chartering private jets for their winter vacations in Barbados, as they participate financially in every worldwide sale of 19, 21 (which sold about 65% of its 30m outside the U.S.) and 25—while retaining their indie cred.

Adele will follow that astounding feat with a huge Grammy look. Though its impact will be somewhat limited by the fact that she won’t be eligible to take home multiple awards this time, her presence will be felt throughout the nominating and voting process. How powerful will the Adele halo effect actually be on Grammy voters? Will the achievements of the likely nominees now be viewed as less significant because they pale in comparison to her triumph?

The Adele phenomenon, some hypothesize, is about people wanting a piece of the artist, and in the case of this very special artist, it’s as much about Adele’s perceived humanity as it is about the music she makes, no matter how brilliant. The fact that she’s a worldwide phenomenon is a resounding reminder that music speaks to the strongest emotions of the human condition, and when presented with genuine feeling, it can be transcendental. This isn’t something that one can replicate in the recording studio, which is how so much of today’s mainstream music is created, and why so many contemporary hits seem interchangeable. The simple fact is, at any point in time and during any era, there are many hit records, but just a handful of truly great artists.

MONEYBALL: If it wasn’t for the Big A, the Justin Bieber comeback would be story of the season. Many had written off Bieber and Scooter Braun because of that string of PR nightmares, while Braun was said to have spread himself too thin, while some even questioned his A&R chops, as a number of his projects failed to ignite. Now it appears that the two of them have reinvented the wheel, as Bieber’s worldwide hot streak has made him bigger than ever, with the sales and streaming stats to back it up. Bieber and Braun came up with a plan for making an album more in keeping with the young artist’s taste in music, which just happens to fit into the sound of pop’s now-fashionable EDM-leaning sector. Following that revelation, when challenged by One Direction, the collaborators rewrote the marketing playbook, prioritizing the tactical use of social media and streaming, which took Bieber far past expectations. It was the polar opposite of the Adele less-is-more plan, and it fit Bieber like a glove. Both plans are being studied by those who formulate marketing campaigns for a living. These plans may as different in nature and style as the artists for which they were devised, but they’re comparably innovative, and they’re serving the respective needs of these two artists spectacularly well.

BIBLE THUMPING, CONTINUED: The Billboard decision makers have corrupted their most valuable asset—their chart credibility. The Bible brain trust has become even more out of touch now that its chart information is so far out of date, as is the editorial content, while they’ve jumped the shark with their tabloid cover approach, which only a handful of divas believe is a good look. The real power players— Grainge, Morris, Azoff, Blavatnik/Cooper, Bandier, Rapino and Iovine/Cue—continue to distance themselves from the Bible, either harboring ill will or dismissing the mag as irrelevant. Only the wannabes continue to curry favor, and it’s obvious to everyone in the business who those execs are, as the in-house BB gossip about who is hiring PR people to work them are now part of the cocktail chatter at SoHo House. It’s also common knowledge that certain major-label heads work BB to look better than their competition, while most realize that the Power 100 list is nothing more than a vanity play that nobody cares about. Real power is determined by what you’ve accomplished—how many records you sold, how many acts you broke and how much P is in your P&L. Try signing a hot act when your company can’t even break an egg. Try redoing your deal when your bottom line is red year after year. Those are the things that matter.

MARKETSHARE MANIA: Much has been made of the makeup of UMG and Sony’s label groups, and how each group’s sub-labels (or “level 3” labels in SoundScan parlance) beef up their respective marketshares. UMG, Sony and WMG assign each of their labels to a particular label group, in effect manipulating their internal marketshares, and SoundScan compiles the data accordingly, whereupon the Bible “interprets” said data. In the case of Columbia and RED, each of RED’s distributed labels had the choice of opting into the RED/Columbia combine, and the shares of those that did so count toward Columbia's share.

The value of marketshare to those who play the game is that a big percentage makes them look more important. Given the gamesmanship involved, it’s hardly surprising that the marketshare competition has resulted in some of the most heated rivalries in the history of the business, both between and within the music groups. This “mine is bigger than yours” one-upmanship spills over into the battling for position on the aforementioned Power 100, which is theoretically determined by marketshare standing. What’s ironic—some would say “silly”—about the whole thing is that those at the very top of the food chain care as much about marketshare as they do about Billboard, i.e., not at all.

TheYTD marketshare percentages in the graphic below include the contributions of sub-labels in the cases of Republic, CMG and Columbia—the top three labels in terms of TEA and frontline share thanks in part to those contributions. Monte Lipman has had a career-best year with his Republic juggernaut, an achievement that would have been more celebrated without Adele’s shadow looming over the entire landscape. She’ll likely give Stringer an additional percentage point of marketshare by year’s end, making it unlikely that Lipman can find a way to close the distance. CMG’s Steve Barnett, who has solidified his position in the top three, continues to cobble together pieces to make a big number. These three stand in contrast to RCA’s Edge/Corson tandem and IGA’s John Janick, who effectively compete without any help from friends, so to speak. Each of these five labels has its own distinct philosophy, but all of them have been consistently successful in recent years. They stand out from the rest of the field.

 

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