VERY TASKING: Tina Tchen’s Recording Academy task force has announced its 16 members. They include UMG’s Michele Anthony, Sony Music’s Julie Swidler, ASCAP’s Elizabeth Matthews, BET’s Debra Lee, Friends at Work’s Ty Stiklorius and Creative Nation’s Beth Laird, as well as such creators as Jimmy Jam, Common, Sheryl Crow, Andra Day and Cam, among others. The group’s brief, according to the announcement, is to address “corporate governance, hiring and promotion, membership, awards, and the Grammy Awards telecast.” Its composition, 75% female and ethnically diverse—and also including USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative Founder Dr. Stacy L. Smith—looks ideally suited to address the inclusion questions that have dogged the Academy. But will it be able to make the necessary changes on the awards side? It would seem that while the industry believes the Academy is serious about improving diversity and representation within its ranks, anger about the Grammys continues to bubble.

Will Grammy chief Neil Portnow, whose deal is up in a year and a half, extend his rule? Scuttlebutt has him exploring the option to extend his tenure by a year or two. But he absolutely must effect change, not only with regard to inclusion in the wake of his regrettable “step up” comments (where the task force could well give him cover) but with respect to the thornier problem of making the Grammys transparent, relevant and reflective of the current state of music. Virtually no one in the biz believes the affable, prudent Portnow is a misogynist, only a bit out of touch; tackling the Grammys’ lack of transparency and snubbing of star artists will likely be his greatest challenge.

Another idea gaining some traction, besides freshening up the voting memebership, is bringing back gender-specific categories, which were abolished in 2011. Since then, only 21% of the nominees and 23% of the winners in all categories have been women (according to Glamour), with even lower percentages in several key races. Though it seems counterintuitive to segregate the genders as we talk about the necessity of empowering women—particularly in the wake of the “step up” flap—doing so could significantly increase the number of Grammy wins for female creators.

Meanwhile, there’s been some discussion about the possibility of splitting the Grammys into two shows—one mainstream, ratings-friendly pop-culture extravaganza for key genre categories and a more cutting-edge night showcasing some of the Big Four categories. This would give Grammy a second bite of the viewership apple. One thing’s for sure: The effort to be all things to all people in one crammed, highly politicized broadcast has seen diminishing returns, and it’s only going to get more difficult.

In any case, bold thinking and a commitment to change are clearly in order. Most of all, the shroud should be lifted and daylight allowed in.

ISLANDS IN THE STREAM: Inside sources say David Massey, whose decision to set sail from Island has been a hugely trending topic, will be dropping anchor at Sony, where he’ll lead a label for Rob Stringer. Their relationship began when Stringer was the head of Sony U.K. and Massey was on the U.S. International team. The planned label is said to be intended as a fourth Sony imprint, with promotion, marketing, A&R and other key departments, as Stringer continues to tweak his secret-sauce recipe for A&R/creative execs—such as Ron Perry and Peter Edge—to carry out his vision. Meanwhile, one of Massey’s key Island signings, Shawn Mendes, should have a big first week.

The anointing of Darcus Beese as Massey’s successor carries forward the eclectic A&R legacy of founder Chris Blackwell, for whom Beese started as a tea boy in London. Island U.S.’ newest Brit boss has shown real vision with such signings as Amy Winehouse, Florence + The Machine, Catfish & the Bottlemen, Hozier and Dizzee Rascal, and he’s partnered fruitfully with Republic on several projects. Ensconced in NYC, Beese will have full access to the label’s mighty promotion machine. His arrival also brings some needed shine to the Republic Group in the wake of the Charlie Walk drama. In any case, given the aforementioned ubiquity of hip-hop, one would expect Beese to delve into this world in his new post.

As for Island U.K., wonderers are wondering who will take the reins. It’s David Joseph’s call, of course, and given his successful tandem of Mortimer and March to succeed Ferdy Unger-Hamilton at Polydor, many are betting that Beese’s MD and longtime wingman, Jon Turner, and A&R head Louis Bloom could play significant roles in the new hierarchy.

HIP-HOP IS KING: Before the birth of Apple Music, Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre and team were laying the groundwork for a revolution with Beats Music and BeatsByDre. Noting early trends from their first-wave users, they made a big bet on black music and culture. When they moved to Apple, they intensified this focus and secured exclusives with, among others, Drake, Frank Ocean, Travis Scott, Pharrell Williams, Chance the Rapper and Future (as well as pop and rock luminaries like Taylor Swift and U2).

In building their new kingdom around hip-hop—with an all-you-can-eat subscription model vying for users alongside the ad-supported smorgasbords of Spotify and YouTube—these pioneers and their competitors helped democratize the marketplace in a fundamental way. The new mode of consuming music empowered a generation of kids who could never previously afford to buy all the music they wanted to hear; now they could consume it all. That’s fueled an economy of voracious, unparalleled consumption driven by the very young.

Meanwhile, artists who appeal to older demos, previously the back-bone of an industry, are becoming marginalized, as their audiences spend much less time consuming music. But hip-hop is a constant soundtrack for a whole generation of kids who are grooving to playlists 12 hours a day and leaving them on when they finally drift off into their Indica-fueled dreams. A seismic revolution is underway, as the hyperconsumption of hip-hop has the global marketplace by the earbuds.

This worldwide phenomenon is impacting the U.K. market hugely now as broadcast media, especially Radio 1, reflect the streaming-dominated sales charts. And while Britain has produced its own rap subgenres, notably grime, those acts have not traveled well outside the U.K.—although many believe Stormzy could be one of the first to do so.

And so the old order is in jeopardy of being dethroned, and Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone, J. Cole, Future, SZA, Migos, Cardi B, Lil Uzi Vert, Khalid, Lil Pump and XXXTentacion, among others, are the new royalty. In the sales-driven, pop-dominant world of a couple of years ago, Brits such as Adele, Ed Sheeran, One Direction, Sam Smith and Coldplay, as well as a few Americans such as Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry were the heavyweights. While Sheeran, Swift and Smith have shown resilience in the new economy, the balance of power has undoubtedly shifted in terms of region and genre.

Republic’s current amazing run bears witness to this phenomenon, with Post Malone already a blockbuster prior to dropping his sophomore full-length, beerbongs & bentleys (already 1.1m project RTD), which was platinum upon release based on massive tracks “rockstar” and “Psycho” alone (653m and 217m streams, respectively). The House of Lipman is also due to roll out new music from streaming colossus and world-ruling hip-hop god Drake in June. Along with Interscope’s huge J. Cole and Kendrick-led Black Panther, Capitol’s Migos and wildcard Kanye West (Def Jam) these UMG giants are likely to dominate the charts for the foreseeable future, as all of its affiliated labels place huge bets on black music. Sir Lucian Grainge’s streaming marketshare has lately gone through the roof, hovering around 40% weekly share and rising to 38% YTD.

THE NEW BOILER ROOM: Yes, we know—you’re still signing real artists with real vision based on your gut. But there’s no denying that the newest force in A&R, in these hip-hop-driven, stream-powered times, is the digital boiler room: a bunch of variously employed and freelance young hipsters on their phones, monitoring all digital platforms and kibitzing with their networks and then telling the gray eminences what’s up. Hundreds of small deals, fueled by their research, are getting done very quickly—and word is that these kids are the undisputed authority on whether something looks like it could go. In other words, any old-school exec who claims to be earpicking these signings is full of shit.

BURIED IN OVERNIGHTS: The price of station-by-station indie promotion is on the rise again. And although certain well-known national promo outfits, aka junk peddlers, are selling crap adds that serve little purpose apart from filling empty bowls with alphabet soup, the top label promo execs know there’s an art to buying that junk. If you cleverly layer in those otherwise worthless adds and spins after your every-hour-on-the-hour exclusive wears off, or you’re waiting for research or for chart traffic to clear, you can maintain altitude.

Building a powerhouse. (9/28a)
How do you follow an Album of the Year winner? (9/28a)
Channeling the stars. (9/27a)
Who would've thunk it nine months ago? (9/27a)
Wild speculation with extra mustard (9/24a)
A chronicle of the inexplicable.
We make yet more predictions, which you are free to ignore.
2022 TOURS
May we all be vaxxed by then.
Power pop, global glam and the return of the loud.

 First Name

 Last Name


Captcha: (type the characters above)