REELING IN THE YEAR: The biggest music-business stories of 2015 weren’t just headline-grabbing—they were history-making. This was the year Adele rearranged people’s heads, rocketing to an altogether unprecedented new level of popularity and sales success; that she did so during an era of dramatically diminished expectations renders her achievement downright miraculous. Indeed, Adele—whose 25 is projected to sell north of 7.5m by year’s end—has become so massive that she has in effect sucked all the air out of the room, marginalizing all the other superstars. It was in 2015 that streaming hit the mainstream, even as proponents of premium and unlimited free streaming endlessly made their cases, with Lucian Grainge, Doug Morris and Jimmy Iovine serving as the highly vocal flag bearers for the premium forces. Iovine’s premium-only Apple Music, which launched at midyear, took on long-dominant Spotify and is making some headway, though more slowly than many had hoped, setting up a possible two-horse race in the U.S., while the disastrous launch of Jay Z’s premium-only Tidal will go down as a case study in how to create an immediate and extreme backlash. And this fall, Scooter Braun drew up the blueprint for music marketing in the digital age, transforming Justin Bieber from damaged goods to full-fledged adult superstar and the biggest artist in the streaming sector by a mile. Not coincidentally, Bieber made by far the best album of his career, as Purpose nears 1.5m albums plus TEA in the U.S.

Michael Rapino’s Live Nation had another record-breaking year, as the concert power continued its dominance of the live sector. Rapino has the resources to write the biggest checks to talent, and he wields great power in the music industry as a whole because the live business is now the primary source of income for artists. Irving Azoff added Gwen Stefani, Jon Bon Jovi and John Mayer to his star-studded management stable, which boasts the Eagles, Don Henley, Steely Dan, Van Halen and Christina Aguilera, while the lavishly renovated Forum continued to attract the top acts in its second year of operation as a dedicated music venue. Major moves occurred at the top three pubcos, as Sony Corp. triggered the buy/sell on the Marty Bandier-led Sony/ATV, while Jody Gerson took charge at UMPG and Big Jon Platt was upped to the top slot at Warner/Chappell. The most upwardly mobile corporate exec of 2015 is UMG EVP Michele Anthony, whose sphere of influence has grown considerably, as Grainge has come to increasingly rely on her in a variety of areas. During her time at UMG, Anthony has once again risen again to prominence as one of the top record execs in the business.

Monte Lipman had a career-defining and career-best year, as the Republic promotion juggernaut put a chokehold on the radio charts throughout the course of 2015 in a show of sustained force rarely seen in music-industry annals. But it will be Rob Stringer’s Columbia, Republic’s chief competitor, that emerges triumphant in this year’s marketshare contest, championing those same old-school values of state-of-the-art record-making A&R and original artistry that have long made it the most prestigious label in the business, propelled by Adele, the modern-day artist who best exemplifies those values.

THE REIGNING QUEEN: Adele has attained a previously unimaginable level of popularity and sales success without an iota of compromise, and her integrity is one big reason she’s universally adored. The less-is-more marketing campaign she formulated with manager Jonathan Dickins and Columbia ruler Rob Stringer, carried out with surgical precision and unerring classiness, and best exemplified by her highly rated NBC in-concert special on 12/14, has been the polar opposite of the standard approach for superstar projects. This has been a classic old-school underplay that recalls the glory days of album rock in the 1970s, when artists retained an air of mystery, sharing little of themselves with the media. It’s the polar opposite of the American pop divas Katy, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Taylor, who compete at the highest level for media bandwidth. Adele is adored like no other artist of the current era, and her return satisfies a widespread and longstanding hunger for something undeniably real from an artist the whole world trusts to deliver powerful, universally relatable emotion. Adele’s appeal is imbued with such humanity that it stands out in sharp relief from the surrounding noise. Adele isn’t seen as a brand but as a female archetype.

THE HEART OF THE MATTER: If the lifeblood of the music business is the development of new artists, as has been stated since time immemorial, then the modern-day business is in good shape indeed. Artists on their first or second albums have dominated the narrative in recent years while older established artists have slipped, and this trend continued in 2015, as the year’s biggest breakthroughs set up careers as well as moving units. These include Epic’s Meghan Trainor (1.5m in TEA this year alone), Capitol’s Sam Smith (another 1.4m in 2015), XO/Republic’s The Weeknd (1.3m TEA), Capitol Nashville’s Sam Hunt (1.1m), TDE/Interscope’s Kendrick Lamar (815k), Columbia’s Hozier (760k on the year) and RCA’s Mark Ronson (690k), along with a pair of Album of the Year Grammy nominees in Mercury Nashville’s Chris Stapleton (585k) and ATO’s Alabama Shakes (340k).

The new establishment, meanwhile, held its own, as Taylor Swift (2.7m in TEA this year) became an international star, undeniably the second biggest on the planet, while Drake (1.4m, plus 570k on his mixtape with Future) cemented his status as the premier hip-hop artist, with Lamar and J. Cole (610k) his closest rivals. But Coldplay’s numbers in the U.S. were disappointing, as A Head Full of Dreams debuted with just 195k, compared to 383k for 2014’s Ghost Stories and 447k for 2011’s Mylo Xyloto. The group’s popularity in the U.K. is undiminished, however; the new album bowed with 236k in Britain, the band’s highest U.K. debut since 2008’s Viva La Vida, while exceeding the U.S. total for the first time ever. Rihanna is a no-show thus far, although that could conceivably change, as ANTI has bounced from one potential release date to another amid rumors that she’s still working on the album.

All of these projects, from superstars and newly minted stars alike, have been radio-driven, as the most traditional of approaches continues to be the primary driver of successful campaigns.

Producer Max Martin is the biggest star on the other side of the glass; his masterful touch was dramatically apparent on Swift’s 1989, The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness and a string of smash singles.

Note: All sales and marketshare figures are year-to-date TEA as of the week ending 12/10, except where noted.

I.B. Bad on the Year in the Music Biz: The Major Storylines

I.B. Bad on the Year in the Music Biz: Label Overview

The trip from awards show to intimate performances. (4/3a)
PoMo Goddess stuck inside of cesspool for 30 years now. (4/3a)
Deadlocks in the top tiers of the standings (4/3a)
Viewing the world through a webcam (4/3a)
Save your tickets. (4/3a)
Also known as back issues of HITS.
We turn out to be pioneers.
The music doc shows new muscle.
Not postponed yet.

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