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I.B. BAD LOOKS BACKWARD AND FORWARD

THE FINAL STANDINGS: Lucian Grainge’s UMG (38.4% overall plus TEA) dominated the charts for most of the year, led by Taylor Swift (2.9m albums plus TEA), The Weeknd (1.7m), Sam Smith (1.4m), Drake (1.4m) and Kendrick Lamar (850k), ending 2015 on a high note thanks to the Justin Bieber phenomenon (1.9m) and Chris Stapleton’s improbable breakthrough (770k). Adele made history for Doug MorrisSony Music (29.4%), selling 8m albums plus TEA in just six weeks—a mind-boggling feat that challenges present-day assumptions about marketing, A&R and streaming. Newcomer Meghan Trainor was next with 1.6m, but Sony got a surprising lift from Pentatonix, who sold another million-plus following 2014’s 2 million-plus to establish a bona fide franchise—and they pulled it off without a radio hit, a rarity in today’s music business.

Much has been made of the major music groups’ reshuffling of labels to enhance marketshare and gain competitive advantage over their rivals. Monte Lipman’s Republic was already a consortium of associated labels when David-Massey-led Island was moved to Republic with the dissolution of Island Def Jam in April 2014, whereupon Island got hot, giving Lipman his strongest contributor in 2015 with 2.1% in albums-plus-TEA share. Steve Barnett built Capitol Music Group in similar fashion when he took over the beleaguered company at the beginning of 2013, integrating indie distribution company Caroline, Blue Note and Capitol Christian, and picking up Motown from the IDJ breakup. Columbia’s Rob Stringer, who famously ripped the competition in 2013 for resorting to “bolt-on marketshare,” subsequently benefited from Sony Music’s shift of RED, the #1 indie distribbery, with 3.3% last year, under the Columbia umbrella.

Many industry observers have praised consistently successful labels like RCA and Interscope for the “purity” of their compositions—in that they’re standalone units rather than coalitions, but that view is simplistic given the recent histories of these companies. RCA is the product of the 2004 Sony BMG merger, which brought Sony’s RCA under one roof with BMG’s Jive/Zomba, Arista, LaFace and J Records. The combined company, representing BMG’s side of this uneasy merger of disparate cultures, was initially dubbed the RCA Music Group but was renamed the BMG Label Group in 2007. After BMG sold its half of Sony BMG back to Sony in 2008, the company was rebranded the RCA/Jive Label Group, headed, like its predecessor, by Barry Weiss. In a 2011 rebranding, the company was again rebranded as RCA under Peter Edge and Tom Corson, with its roster made up of remnants of Clive Calder’s Jive, Clive Davis’ J Records and L.A. Reid’s Arista and LaFace.

Likewise, Interscope, founded as a JV with WMG in 1989 by Ted Field and Jimmy Iovine and picked up in 1996 by UMG, has added numerous pieces over the years. Geffen and A&M were among the assets picked up by UMG when it acquired PolyGram in 1999, whereupon the company became Interscope Geffen A&M. MCA Records was absorbed by IGA in 2003, as was DreamWorks a year later.

The fact is, a number of major labels grew to their present forms through acquisitions and other pickups. Capitol Music Group, for example, rose out of the ashes of EMI, which was itself a combination of Richard Branson’s Virgin, Chris Wright’s Chrysalis and SBK, which had been formed by Marty Bandier and Charles Koppelman.

THE BROKEN BULLY PULPIT: The Bible’s label-marketshare rollout in 2014 was a shit show that alienated both UMG and Sony. Because those running the magazine don’t understand the nuances of a business they are not part of, they chose not to report on label marketshare at all last year, and they left it alone in their year-end wrap-up as well. Ironically, their annual Power 100, which is scheduled to appear around Grammy time, has been based in part on these very standings in the past. How will they choose to play it this year, given that certain Sony execs say they pay no attention to the list or to the publication itself, and thus refuse to lobby the Bible for higher placement? The latest nightmare has a BB rep going to a female superstar’s U.K. artist manager in a futile attempt to get said superstar on the cover of a special issue and telling him his client’s label wouldn’t buy an ad for another issue, end-around moves that infuriated Sony brass. Said manager refers to them as “beyond irrelevant wankers.”

Most Sony execs who made the 2015 Power 100 were listed lower than corresponding UMG execs, but they say they don’t care about this slight. What they care passionately about are their annual bonuses, which run from 75% to 125% of their base salaries, as we learned from Wikileaks’ 2014 hacks into Sony’s email archives. Those bonuses, they feel, are going to max out for this fiscal year, ending 3/31, as Adele’s 25 is sending an already solid year through the roof.

WHEELS, DEALS, SCHLEMIELS: Marty Bandier has closed a new multiyear deal to head Sony/ATV. This news once again leaves egg on the faces of the Bible’s editorial team, headed by Janice Min, who erroneously speculated otherwise. Insiders say that the Bible is considered persona non grata on both sides of 550 Madison, whose top execs take a dim view of the editorial prowess, or lack thereof, of the once-iconic trade rag. Min, who says she reads every inch of type, appears to be the primary culprit in Billboard’s dramatic fall from grace. It’ll be interesting to see where they place Bandier in the upcoming Power 100 in light of the current icy relations. Bandier, clearly the most powerful and influential publisher by a great distance, was ranked #4 last year and #5 in 2014.


Is Charlie Walk going to get a presidential title in his new deal, which is said to be nearly done? Walk was a huge contributor to Monte Lipman’s historic career-best year. Although many had doubted that his return would be as productive as it has been, Walk has clearly established his value to Republic and UMG on both sides of the pond. “Does Charlie like the record?” “Does he think he can get it?” These are among the questions frequently asked by artist managers and execs from associated labels. Big Machine and Cash Money both do their own thing in getting their records started on the radio, but when it comes to Pop radio, the Republic team is crushing it. Still unanswered is the question, will Island get its own radio promo? Many believe if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

With the Grammy votes now in, everyone wants to know who is on the secret committee that decides the winners, whose existence was confirmed in Paul Grein’s recent interview with Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow. This is the notorious group that chose not to give Justin Timberlake an Album of the Year nomination in 2014 and made Esperanza Spaulding Best New Artist in 2011. Who are the geniuses behind these and other bonehead moves?

CLOSING BLIND: Look for a major West Coast label chief to make an executive change at the highest level that hinges on the company’s radio promotion.

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: David Foster, Sarah Stennett, Martin Mills, Matt Pincus, Ethiopia Habtemariam, John Branca and Jeffrey Azoff

 

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