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NEAR TRUTHS: Q4 RECONSIDERED AND THE GRAMMY GAP

THE FOURTH QUARTER IS NO LONGER THE GAME: Q4, once the boiling point of yearly music-marketplace activity, no longer looks meaningful in the overall annual revenue picture. In fact, the goalposts have been moved and the two-minute drill starts now. Release dates now revolve around touring cycles—and acts that are hot at the top of the year can go wire-to-wire. With physical retail now a niche market and the holidays now dominated by gadgets and gift cards, the album as stocking stuffer is over. What’s more, artists have begun to embrace a new model of releasing music that conforms to a subscription-heavy and social-media-saturated world: doling out tracks periodically over the course of the year to maintain fanbase cohesion. Just take a look at Ariana Grande, who has dropped new music on a continual basis and will have a new album in the marketplace two days before the Grammys; her prior set remains a giant, and she has two songs in the Top 5 at Pop radio as well as a brand-new, apparently even bigger one at #1 on Spotify’s U.S. and Global charts and #2 at Apple Music and iTunes.

With Q4 so radically diminished in importance, Q1 now appears to be where the action is. Get out of the box early in the year, establish a lead and keep turning out music. Ariana, Drake, Post, Future and other recent market rulers understand that going “off-cycle” in the traditional way now looks like ceding the field.

So how does the field look with Q1 well underway? UMG (38%), Sony (25%) and WMG (17%) are roughly where they were at the end of last year; Atlantic remains up top on the label side with 10.8, Interscope moves up to second place with 9.5, Capitol slides into third with an 8, Republic dips slightly to 7.8, Columbia retains its #5 berth with 6.9, Warner Bros. is relatively flat with 6 and RCA is 5.4.

Breaking the world down by genre, hip-hop naturally rules the roost with a 21.7 share; pop has 20.1, rock 14, R&B 10.6, Latin 9.4 and country 8.7.

EYE EXAM: Is the Grammy telecast becoming less and less relevant to artists and labels as the consumer music experience moves ever further away from broadcast TV? Is there any way to stop the erosion of the show’s impact as Grammy continues to alienate the superstars it needs—more than ever—for ratings? It’s a deadly combination: artist disaffection, changing music-consumption behavior and new viewing habits. Do you think Drake, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and Childish Gambino are even remotely focused on the show’s impact on their careers? Once, perhaps, but not anymore. Insiders say Drake is disinterested in Music’s Biggest Night; will he stay in NYC for Raptors games instead?

Meanwhile, ongoing friction from last year between Kendrick Lamar’s camp and the show is said to have led to him opting out this year; Grammy insiders say that Kendrick demanded the opening spot on last year’s telecast, and his incendiary segment hurt the show’s ratings (look for him on the Oscars). Will the potential launch platform of Grammy night be impossible for Ariana and Scooter Braun to resist, since her album drops two days before? Will they give her the freedom to do it her way? As for Lady Gaga—one of the few superstar options left to this year’s show—she’s said to be mulling over a possible opening appearance. Would performing on Grammy night help her Oscar chances? Given that she tends to knock it out of the park every time she gets a big look, we’ll go with yes.

Noters note that if Ken Ehrlich exits in a year or two, he’ll take his bevy of relationships and his Grammy moments—like them or not—with him, leaving the show even further up Shit’s Creek as the awards’ pricey CBS deal obliges the team to keep trying to reconcile these opposing concerns.

These are the sorts of issues Recording Academy boss Neil Portnow won’t have to grapple with anymore, no doubt much to his relief. But the process of choosing his successor is itself loaded. Korn Ferry, the outside firm tasked with the candidate search, is expected to present a half-dozen or so candidates for consideration—likely sometime in the spring. Will the finalists come from inside or outside Grammy’s tight inner circle? Expect much agonizing over #GrammysSoWhite and #GrammysSoMale (and the ongoing repercussions of “step up”) as the process grinds on. Things could get worse. Might the Academy choose a civilian to run the show? Biz watchers can tick off the names of non-music execs who presided over shitshows like they’re programming a disaster-movie festival: Lack. Nicoli, Fifield. Hands. Morgado. Middelhoff. Messier. Fuchs. Zelnick. Schmidt-Holtz. Leoni-Sceti. Oy, vey. In the event of deadlock, could the controversial John Poppo exploit an opening to grab the ring? Is Tina Tchen involved in this process?

 

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