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I.B. BAD: WHO WILL SCORE THE BIG BREAKTHROUGHS OF 2016?

BROKEN/BREAKING: The most recent half decade has been dominated by a new generation of artists, whose breakthroughs have caused them to supplant many established stars as the prime movers of the music business. The old saying that viable new artists are the lifeblood of the industry is as valid as it has ever been at this transitional moment, because they bring freshness and excitement to a musical landscape desperately in need of just that. The graphic below lists the debut and/or career-establishing album releases from the beginning of 2014 onward, with a cutoff point of 500k albums plus TEA, illustrating the impact of new-artist breakthroughs on the business as a whole. Recently minted Epic star Meghan Trainor and former One Direction mainstay ZAYN, who’s signed to RCA as a solo artist, are among the leading representatives of this new generation, and both are in line to reach the next level of their careers.

There’s tremendous momentum behind Trainor leading up to the 5/13 release of her second album. She’s coming off the breakthrough January 2015 debut album Title (2.4m albums plus TEA), triggered by a pair of smash singles, and a 2016 Best New Artist Grammy, while the industry consensus is that “NO,” the just-released lead single from the upcoming Thank You, will be enormous. Todd Glassman’s promotion team is on fire, with 186 adds at Pop and nearly 300 including Hot AC and Rhythm.

ZAYN’s “PILLOWTALK” is at 700k and climbing, he has giant streams and two videos in rotation, generating intense heat for his 3/25 album MIND OF MINE. The preorder is nearing 30k, which RCA projects to a first week of 200-300k in sales plus streaming. The publishing deal for the Sarah Stennett-managed artist is expected to reach the elephant-bucks level; does Warner/Chappell have the inside track because of Stennett’s venture with WMG owner Len Blavatnik?

Republic’s Ariana Grande—a veteran at 22—also has a new single, while Def Jam’s Iggy Azalea, who broke off her 2014 debut album and teamed with Ariana on the chart-topping “Problem,” has a new track of her own hitting this Friday (3/18). We’ll be watching all of these projects closely during the coming months, because each has the potential to become one of the biggest stories of 2016.

So do several presently building projects. Valory/BMLG’s Thomas Rhett (with 560k TEA), RCA’s Elle King (445k) and G-Eazy (370k), Def Jam’s Alessia Cara (240k) and Republic’s James Bay (255k) were little-known when their debut albums came out last year, but these gradually developing projects have carried over into 2016 with accrued momentum. More recent projects from Capitol’s Troye Sivan, Republic’s DNCE, Island’s Mike Posner, Columbia Nashville’s Maren Morris, Warner Bros.Lukas Graham and Andra Day, and Interscope’s BORNS are cued up behind the above-mentioned acts, as their singles and albums grow through patient nurturing from their respective labels. Which of these acts will break, and which will fall short? It will be months before we know for sure, because new-artist breakthroughs typically take time these days—plenty of it. 

THE SON ALSO RISES: In a move that surprised no one who’s been following this developing situation, Jeffrey Azoff left CAA last week to launch his own Full Stop Management with Tommy Bruce, another member of the agency’s youth movement; music department head Rob Light was not happy to see his young Turks leave. Bruce’s clients included Trainor, Lukas Graham and Charlie Puth. Rather than moving into his father’s Westwood complex, the younger Azoff will set up his own offices on the West Side in an attempt to show a clear distinction between the newco and Azoff Management. Full Stop’s first client will, of course, be Harry Styles. Could Styles and ZAYN co-exist at the same label or publishing company? The word is that they’d both prefer not to.

MALPRACTICE? Dr. Luke’s predicament was further darkened last week by negative comments from Kelly Clarkson, who claimed to have been forced to work with him during the Clive Davis era. It’s worth noting that the support for Kesha from numerous high-profile female artists, including Taylor Swift and Adele, has followed the recent court ruling. They’ve called
 for Sony to release Kesha from her contract, but the company doesn’t have the authority to force Luke to give up his rights, while he insists that her allegations are false and dismisses them as negotiating tactics. Smart people in the business believe Luke should simply have let Kesha out of her deal in the first place, and by not doing so he’s jeopardized his career. Rumors circulated last week that Sony was ending Luke’s deal early, although no announcement had yet been made at presstime. In this scenario, would Kesha still be contractually tied to Sony? In any case, what will Katy do?

PUBFACEOFF: On Monday (3/14), Sony Corp. exercised the buy/sell on Marty Bandier’s Sony/ATV, acquiring full ownership of the world’s largest music publisher for $750m. Sony/ATV was set up as a joint venture, with Sony and the Michael Jackson Estate each owning 50%. Estate attorney Joel Katz and co-executor John Branca were believed to have amassed a sizable war chest with the aim of buying Sony/ATV themselves, and although Sony has come out on top, the Estate is getting an enormous consolation prize. A 2006 loan from Sony to a cash-strapped Jackson impacted the current deal in that its terms provided Sony with a discount of around $150m on the purchase price.           

The Estate retains its stake in EMI Music Publishing, which was acquired in 2012 by a consortium comprising Sony, the Estate and four other entities. The price tag was $2.2b, or just under eight times EMP’s net publisher share, which was then in the $300m range. But the acquisition impacts only Sony/ATV proper, not the ownership of EMP. 

Mechanical royalties have been hit hard by the decline in sales, but it’s hoped that the advent of mass-market streaming will offset this revenue loss.

More details on the relationship between Sony and the Estate can be found here.

RISING TIDES: Rights holders say U.S. streaming totaled just over 4b streams last week, with Spotify’s combined paid and freemium accounting for 65% of that total, Apple Music 25%, Amazon Prime 5%, Google Play 3.25% and Tidal 1.75%. They also note that the top 1,000 current hit songs comprise only 25% of the total, an indication that those giant catalogs are becoming increasingly valuable over time. Some pundits wonder why Apple doesn’t simply buy Tidal and put an end to the suffering. Having Rihanna, Kanye, Jay Z, Beyoncé and rest of the crew on the Apple team would seem to be a no-brainier.

CLOSING BLIND: A big shake-up is about to go down at the highest level of one major label.

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Mark Bevan, Jack Rovner, Danny Strick, Big Jon Platt, Scooter Braun and Desiree Perez.

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