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NEAR TRUTHS: WHERE
THE ACTION IS

TASKING QUESTIONS: Grammy Land is under siege as it prepares to launch a task force that will ostensibly address a range of issues, including diversity in the organization and discontent with the awards and the way the secret nominating committee operates. There’s considerable frustration over the Grammys’ lack of transparency and relevance to current pop culture, not to mention the alienation of countless superstar artists.

At the center of the storm is Recording Academy boss Neil Portnow, a well-liked and prudent exec who’s under pressure to transform an institution known for its inertia and deference to the past. Portnow is the polar opposite of the man he replaced, Mike Greene, who became notorious for abusing his power. But the real power resides with the Academy Board—who are said to want to preserve the status quo and their own positions in the hierarchy. The Board’s membership is not a particularly contemporary list of names.

According to the Academy’s Form 990 filing, dated August 2015-July 2016, 40 of the 44 board trustees are elected by the 12 chapters—with the number of trustees from each chapter determined by the size of its membership. Nearly half of those are from the L.A. (7), New York (6) and Nashville (5) chapters. (For more details, go here.)

The filing notes the board has unfettered access to the Academy’s $100m+ net assets, including a $65m+ endowment, which grew by nearly $40m in four years. It also lists $6.1m+ in charitable grants, including NARAS Foundation, MusiCares, the Grammy Museum Foundation and more. It’s important to underscore that the Grammys remain the gold standard of music awards, and their enormous importance is the reason all this organizational drama is so high-profile.

Board Chairman John Poppo—another polarizing figure—and a group of supporters are angling to seize control of the nomination process and the show. Is Poppo seeking to expedite Portnow’s exit before his term expires at the end of 2019 and take the reins? Artists and rights holders are concerned at the thought, as many believe Poppo has neither the credentials nor the support of many of the top players in the business to succeed Neil.

It should be noted that CBS EVP Specials, Music and Live Events Jack Sussman could wield enormous influence on the Ken Ehrlich-helmed Grammy show, as it’s reasonable to assume that the network’s massive $600m check bought them a big seat at the table. Ehrlich is expected to continue his 30+-year run as producer for the next two years.

Will the Tina Tchen-led task force be able to take on not just diversity issues but also the key challenges related to awards and the Grammy show? The Academy’s choices as to task-force membership will likely provide some clues about whether this will be an effective counter to the old-school culture in Grammyville or just a PR band-aid. Tchen is undeniably smart, resourceful and connected, and known as a consensus builder. Still, her lack of experience in the business continues to fuel questions about how deep she can go.

In the midst of all of this, the Academy’s press strategy has been a nightmare since Grammy night, stumbling from the poor ratings and awards snubs of the show to Neil’s ill-advised “step up” comments to the misstep of his claiming his remarks had been taken out of context. Hiring Sitrick and Company—the same crisis-management PR firm that handles Harvey Weinstein—in the wake of these debacles is a very bad look for all involved.

DON’T CALL IT URBAN: While the Academy grapples with diversity, it’s virtually impossible to overstate the importance and influence of black music and culture in the marketplace. So where are the top black music executives in high-level positions in the business, and who might be the next ones? Warner/Chappell boss Jon Platt is the sole African-American head of a worldwide company; there’s one global legal head, UMG’s Jeff Harleston; one major-label president, Epic’s Sylvia Rhone; and such influential players as Roc Nation’s Jay Brown, Desiree Perez and Benny Pough, TDE’s Top Dawg and Dave Free, Spotify’s Troy Carter, Motown prez Ethiopia Habtemariam, Quality Control heads Coach K and Pee, Drake manager Future The Prince and Cash Money rulers Slim and Baby, among others. These professionals are shaping all of pop culture in profound ways. One prominent exec prompting much speculation is Apple Music’s Larry Jackson—what will he do when longtime boss and mentor Iovine exits later this year? Jackson says he’s staying, and those close to the situation say he has become tight with Apple exec and Duke basketball aficionado Eddy Cue. How will he play out in Robert Kondrk’s Apple Music?

Rumors were swirling over the past week about both Platt and former SONGS partner Carianne Marshall. Insiders say the respected Marshall will be tapped to serve as COO at W/C. For his part, Platt, despite rumors to the contrary—is not exiting his post, nor is he entertaining offers in the wake of a spectacular year.

COINCIDENTALLY: Doug Morris is taking his 12 Tone imprint to Warner Music Group. Steve Bartels is playing a key role already. A striking set of coincidences surrounds the new venture. The first signing is Anderson .Paak—now heard on a huge Apple Homepod ad—on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath (Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent). Meanwhile, Jimmy Iovine, who’s been thick as thieves with Morris for the last 35 years, happens to be leaving Apple Music in his official capacity during the same six-month period that Morris launches with a significant advance from Apple. Iovine claims he’s never going back into the label business, but insiders are betting he’s going to try to help his friend with a thing or two.

THE INVESTOR’S PLAYLIST: With Daniel Ek’s Spotify due to begin its direct listing on the NYSE on 4/3, the biz is abuzz about its opening stock price. Which current or former employees will benefit most from the stock rollout? Questions persist about the sustainability of its model: With a worldwide workforce (3,500 + employees), splashy digs and marketing spends, and most of its income going out the door in royalties, the streamery has a ways to go before reaching profitability. Some believe that a portion of the above overhead will need to be trimmed in the near future to make the company’s numbers look more appealing to investors.

Will Spotify counter Apple’s Morris move by making deals with content providers to improve margins? They might, though it seems like spit in the ocean. Wouldn’t Apple, Google, Amazon and/or Spotify be better off just buying deep catalog from the majors?

LAW AND SUITS: Word has it that more than one high-profile music attorney has been having drama at one of the major music groups. What gives?

 

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