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NEAR TRUTHS: THE KNIGHT AND THE CASTLE

THE KNIGHT AND THE CASTLE: Sir Lucian Grainge has, since assuming the reins at UMG in 2011, increased the company’s asset value from $8b to a staggering $30b. The music division is unquestionably well-positioned for a proposed spinoff by Vivendi—but such a process raises a number of questions. Whether there’s a single new buyer or a consortium, how involved would the new board be in the company’s operation? Vivendi has made it clear it wants Grainge to have a strong role in the process leading to any sale; they’ve given him a free hand in building his music juggernaut, especially as music has become the French parent’s most valuable asset.

POP REP TWO-STEP: What hot female pop star is beginning to explore meetings with prospective new managers, now that her meteoric rise over the last few years has catapulted her into pop’s most rarefied air? No clear outcome is expected until after Grammys—could a compromise be struck with the artist’s current manager over the percentage of the cake take?

GEE, WE DON’T THINK SO: One rumor that never seems to go away is the one that has Gee Roberson’s Blueprint label coming into Sony under the Epic umbrella. We can assure you that this one is 100% untrue and has never been close to being true. Also, it’s wholly unfounded, fake news, ain’t happening. Also: uh-uh. Why does this rumor refuse to die? Who’s keeping it in circulation?

CAN’T BUY ME LOVE: Word has it that one highly competitive new signing contest ended with the act—which had gotten a fat offer from one major—deciding to go with another label at a lower price due to their copacetic rapport with the head of the latter company. How often does that happen? Deal-watchers say when it does, the money won’t make a huge difference for the act in question.

IN OTHER NEWS: Ron Perry’s Columbia recently closed in the fierce contest for Swedish House Mafia; it’s the latest of several highly competitive A&R signings he’s won recently (following Gesaffelstein, Lil Peep, Rosalía and Dominic Fike). We know from his tenure at SONGS that Perry can be highly effective in closing, as demonstrated by his prevailing in contests for Lorde, The WeekndDiplo and XXXtentacion, among other hot deals. Wonderers are wondering if, when Perry is talked about, the Ron Laffitte-managed SHM will be remembered as the act that signaled his Columbia regime’s first big worldwide smasheroo.

NOW MORE ABSORBENT: Spotify, with its 200m users, has become like Kleenex, as its name becomes interchangeable with “streaming service.” This week brings news that the Spot has 96m subscribers and is reporting profitability for the first time. Even with some of the air going out of its stock bubble, the streamery is currently valued at $24 billion. As for Apple Music, which has 50m paying subscribers? It’s undeniable that since Jimmy Iovine’s exit, there’s been a messaging gap from Apple to the biz. The latest from Tim Cook is that the company’s services division (which includes the streaming service and iTunes) was up almost 20% in the final quarter ending 12/31. At presstime, the company announced a new coup, as American Airlines became the first commercial airline to offer Apple Music as an in-flight amenity. Some reports say streaming is reaching a saturation point in the U.S. and U.K., and that growth this year will not reflect the streaming growth of the last two; furthermore, signs of further penetration in key European and Asian markets are murky. But odds that subscription streaming will continue to gain velocity overall are still good enough that big money is betting on music.

BIBLE STUDY: John Amato may have been gone since July, but Billboard hasn’t seen an end to the clusterfuck around its chart calculations. The 6ix9ine-Travis Scott kerfuffle brought a lot to the surface about the Bible’s chart difficulties, notably the lack of transparency among certain entities reporting to Nielsen. The rules of engagement are not the same for all as regards capped streams, with SoundCloud by far the worst offender. Meanwhile, YouTube will probably end up reporting video streams (though not views of user-generated content) to the album chart, weighted in a way that’s comparable to Spotify’s ad-supported tier. Many in the industry are concerned that Lyor will jack the algo to juke his cronies’ chart stats, but there’s also considerable scuttlebutt that he’s probably out. In any event, many wonder how Team Bible continues to get manipulated so easily. Meanwhile, meetings are ongoing between rights holders, the Bible and Nielsen to come up with rules for making the sausage, which Nielsen has thus far been unwilling to explain (or perhaps they’re contractually unable to be forthcoming). It’s believed that parent company Valence Media’s Managing Director, Deanna Brown—one of the grown-ups in the room and widely viewed as smart and capable—is getting into the mix; does she have the macro and micro chops to fix this?

WHEELS AND/OR DEALS: What’s up with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine? Rumors have been flying around Nashville for the last two weeks that a new deal for the company—for some $300m—was all but done with UMG. But this is emphatically not the case. Will another suitor swoop in at the asking price? Joel Katz has the leadposition in the hunt for the right buyer; inside word is that he has multiple offers for $300m+. If that’s accurate, why has nothing closed yet? Is Scott not loving any of these offers? Are they from strategic partners or financial players?

All of the above seems to suggest that Scott is content to ride Big Machine’s current wave. Ignore the haters in Music City; his lavish lifestyle may be antithetical to the down-home style preferred by local traditionalists, but the exec’s got big plans and thinks he’s going to knock it out of the park once again. In addition to his established country hits, he believes several projects he has in development are primed to break wide open. Don’t bet against him.

Meanwhile, Republic no longer gets Borchetta’s marketshare, which intermittently went into Monte Lipman’s column during Taylor Swift’s years on the label, but this has nothing to do with any rancor over Big Machine losing Tay to Republic, regardless of Nashville gossip. That’s not to say Borchetta wasn’t surprised by the bombshell announcement of Taylor’s move, but it was the megastar herself who imposed the Cone of Silence before the news went out—and nobody understands better than he does that the first rule of Taylor Club is: Don’t talk about Taylor Club. When Taylor had a current record, because Republic provided label services (most notably promo), BMLG marketshare fell under Republic’s. BMLG’s year-end marketshare was 1.1, which is where it remains in 2019. Even without BMLG, Republic could be a challenger for the top marketshare spot if some of their superstars deliver this year.

GRANDE, EXTRA SWEETENER, THANK U: Could Ariana Grande be on her way to challenging the reigning queen of pop? There’s no question that she’s undergone a compelling image change, morphing from a pure pop siren into something cooler and more of the moment. In doing so, she’s broadened her audience in a huge way and cracked the code of the streaming world. Her Sweetener set on Republic bowed in August with 232k (her biggest debut up to that point) and has racked up 1.2m in total activity in less than six months, with 1.14 billion streams; she’s already coming with another wildly anticipated new album on 2/8, led by a track that’s broken all manner of streaming records. If she matches the last album’s debut week and you add the 350k+ her last three singles have racked up in consumption, she could have a RTD total in the neighborhood of 600k at the end of her first week. Ariana is now a dominant force on pop radio and the DSPs—and is set to captivate new audiences as a Coachella/Lollapalooza headliner—as she continues to drop one hot single after another, leaving most of the pop pack in the dust. Her 2017 tour grossed about $67m, and her next one will be considerably more massive. There’s no question that AG is the story of the year so far with all this momentum; will she go wire-to-wire as the biggest star of 2019? Meanwhile, with her new set due just before Music’s Biggest Night, she won’t be appearing on (or even attending) the show after refusing to let the Grammy team determine which material she’d perform. Meanwhile, in much better news for Team Grammy, it's been confirmed that Lady Gaga will bring her Star power to the telecast.

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