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I.B. BAD ON THE COMEBACK, THE PUSHBACK AND THE BUZZ

CAPITOL’S BARNETT ERA: Capitol Records, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year—the perfect time for the return of Paul McCartney to the family—was the first West Coast major. Founded in 1942 by Johnny Mercer, Buddy DeSylva and Glenn Wallichs, the iconic Hollywood label predates Warner Bros. (founded in 1958), Reprise (1960) and A&M (1962). Capitol had a long and glorious run before hitting rock-bottom earlier in this century, but now, thanks to Steve Barnett’s ambitious plan, the company’s latest chapter could turn out to be one of its most memorable. And this year, refusing to rest on his laurels, Barnett has overhauled his A&R and promotion teams with the hiring of Ashley Newton and Greg Marella.

When Barnett began the revitalization of Capitol Music Group in January 2013, he was faced with a massive undertaking. The British company EMI, which had acquired Capitol in 1955, was in ruins, having been decimated by previous owner Terra Firma following on the heels of years of egregious mismanagement on the part of its former U.K.-based hierarchy. Because the cupboard was virtually bare in terms of the roster, Barnett initiated an A&R-focused rebuilding project, making label deals, targeting U.K. repertoire and establishing working relationships with his U.K. counterparts, Virgin EMI’s Ted Cockle and Capitol’s Nick Raphael and Jo Charrington. In year two, Barnett had a stroke of luck in triplicate, as U.K. signings Bastille, 5 Seconds of Summer and Sam Smith broke through on both sides of the pond. On the domestic front, the CMG ruler put a significantly increased emphasis on indie distribbery Caroline and threw his support behind the Bill Hearn-led Capitol Christian. Those moves and attendant successes enabled CMG to rise out of the pack, grabbing #2 in 2014 TEA marketshare. Capitol’s rise from the ashes had its symbolic culmination at the 2015 Grammys, as Smith and Beck swept the Big Four awards, setting a new industry record. At that point, it was dramatically apparent that the 2012 acquisition of EMI by Lucian Grainge had been a brilliant strategic move.

While Barnett held serve in 2015, as Smith and 5SOS continued their growth, CMG has been off-cycle in this, the fourth year of his reign, lacking new music from its biggest stars. Even so, the company is poised for a breakthrough with Halsey, whose burgeoning career was fast-tracked by her featured appearance on “Closer,” a Record of the Year Grammy contender from Columbia’s The Chainsmokers—somewhat ironic given the competitiveness between Barnett and fellow Brit expat Rob Stringer. CMG also has a number of buzzing new artists at various stages of development in Lil Yachty, Jon Bellion and Troye Sivan. What’s more, Beck’s next album will arrive at some point. And next year, Capitol will have new albums from Smith, 5SOS and Katy Perry, while the signing of former 1D star Niall Horan puts another artist with a huge upside in the mix for 2017—meaning the key pieces are in place for a blockbuster year.

STREAM WARS, CONTINUED: The battle between Spotify and Apple Music continues to intensify as Apple’s service hits 17m paying customers, with Spotify aggressively pushing back against Apple exclusives to maintain its dominance. In recent weeks, Spotify has punished Katy Perry and Florida Georgia Line for getting in bed with Apple by removing their music from key playlists. At the same time, however, Spotify has been strategically placing songs on those same playlists in order to help break new music—and by extension to warm relationships with the rights holders as their new deals with the service are being negotiated. On opposite sides of this tug of war are Apple’s Larry Jackson, whose visibility has increased exponentially for the role he’s played in nailing down exclusives, and Spotify’s Troy Carter, whom key label execs say is making a difference since becoming Global Head of Creative Services in June.

Several projects were already in the pipeline when Lucian Grainge called an end to exclusives across the UMG labels in late August. The most high-profile of these is an upcoming joint effort of some kind from Drake and Kanye West for Apple Music.

Unlike his counterparts at Columbia and RCA, Epic’s L.A. Reid has bought into Apple Music exclusives in a big way, and the gambit has worked extremely well for Future, DJ Khaled and Travis Scott, each of whom has topped the SPS charts with an Apple exclusive; Scott’s new album has a two-week window with the service. These wins have helped Epic to redefine itself as a hip-hop stronghold, while Reid has become the top major-label executive in the genre.   

METRIC-ULATION: Thanks to BuzzAngle’s breakout of streaming numbers on a daily basis, Jim Lidestri ‘s upstart music-analytics service is beginning to get real traction in the shifting of industry eyeballs from SoundScan. This daily streaming data has become absolutely crucial info for the majors, and SoundScan doesn’t have it.

CLOSING BLIND: Lots of chatter around Music City about the strained relationship between Nashville-based major and its NYC label counterpart.

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Ashley Newton, Greg Marella, Richard Griffiths, Adam Alpert, Sylvia Rhone and Martin Kirkup.

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