THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED (BUT IT WILL BE STREAMED): In a sense, the technology is secondary. Yes, the complex of mobile devices, streaming platforms and social media has entirely transformed cultural consumption (and everything else). But like every transformation in the sphere of popular music, what we’re looking at is a youthquake. It is the young who drive new musical forms, and it is the young who lean on the button. The smart phones in the hands of today’s kids, like the transistor radios clutched by their rock & roll-loving ancestors, are candles to light the rituals of youth. It’s not that adults don’t make use of new tech, and it’s not that adults don’t love music; it’s simply that they don’t have the time, the bandwidth or—any longer—the inclination to immerse themselves in music. The 24/7 earbuds, the all-night playlist, the all-day scroll—this is the exploration, by kids, that is driving a business predicated on nonstop consumption.

As a result of the changes wrought by the new order, the A&R pendulum continues to swing away from its traditional role, pointing to the expected turnover of older, experienced, big-salary-earning A&R execs, who seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, any one of the millions of kids soaking up bedroom trap from streaming playlists and memes from social media can—using the same tools available to everyone else—create a track that turns the world on its ear. It might achieve virality on TikTok or some other UGC-based platform.

This is the new, data-based reality. Daniel Ek and his Spotify team—including head of music strategy (and former Interscope CFO) Jeremy Erlich—seem to be looking to push the envelope of new-artist discovery through their extensive analysis of the marketplace. This benefits the whole ecosystem, majors included—they know what’s working, and know it earlier and earlier in the process—and are being aggressive about exploiting it.

Two indie rocket ships to explode out of the new ecosystem in the last few weeks, Arizona Zervas and Ant Saunders, have both flown up the streaming charts—the former hitting #1 U.S. at Spotify and Top 5 on the global side. Expect more as new indie acts get more traction than ever before and this thirst to sign these artists reaches a high-water mark.

The price of poker for Zervas (whose team is led by manager Quentin Gatto and attorney Josh Kamen) was rumored to have reached the eight-figure range. Columbia’s Ron Perry closed the deal at presstime; the signing adds to the ongoing metamorphosis at the label, which began when Perry inked another viral project that was pinging the radar, Lil Nas X.

When Zervas’ “ROXANNE” zoomed into the 20s, Spotify got behind the song, adding it to high-profile playlists and demonstrating that the execs and curators are especially eager to claim some responsibility for the tracks that explode.

“ROXANNE” is a one-listen smash; radio is already moving on the song, with Kid Kelly at SiriusXM’s Hits 1 firing the first shot across the bow. If you can’t hear this one, a label CEO recently remarked, it’s time to get your real-estate license.

Ant Saunders’ “Yellow Hearts,” like Zervas, hit critical mass via TikTok before ascending at Spotify. He’s just inked a deal with David Massey’s Arista. Unlike “ROXANNE,” the potential for success at radio is less obvious, and its movement at DSPs has been somewhat more gradual. But it’s a measure of how big Zervas is that indie Saunders’ Top 25 success at Spotify isn’t quite as mind-blowing. The young artist, managed by Nick Mueller, is repped by Sebastian Zar at Theo Sedlmayr & Associates (whose clients include Post Malone, Drake and Eminem) for legal. The noise was that they were asking for a $2m guarantee just for the single rights.

ALL STREAMS LEAD TO THE OCEAN: How has Spotify helped shape the new narrative? The globally focused Spotify world went all-in on playlisting from the start—and its highest-profile playlists are among the most coveted real estate in the biz.

VIVA LA REVOLUCIÓN: The dominance of streaming has also highlighted a Latin music revolution, which is visible on a global level, as the promise demonstrated by Luis Fonsi’s giant “Despacito” f/Daddy Yankee (which was supercharged by Justin Bieber) is followed up by big records from the likes of Camila Cabello, J Balvin, Bad Bunny, Ozuna, Rosalía and more. Camila picked up Record of the Year and Best Pop Song at the Latin Grammys, while Rosalía took Album of the Year and two other trophies, including one for her hit collab with J Balvin, “Con Altura.” Bad Bunny and Juanes also got big looks. How might the outcome of the Latin Grammys be predictive of the visibility of Latin music in the upcoming nominations and on Music’s Biggest Night? We shall see. Sony Music Latin boss Afo Verde, who holds a mighty 48% marketshare in the sector, is poised for a new plateau. Video is a dominant factor in this particular explosion—will we see that change as the subscription pie grows?

Music’s ubiquity in the Spanish-speaking world is something that has to be experienced firsthand; the public squares, cafes and bars of Mexico, Central and South America and the Iberian peninsula are ringing constantly with live performance. Until the digital revolution, however, the Latin market was hamstrung by bootleg, counterfeit product. Once mobile phones reached saturation, this changed. Streaming and social media have effected a powerful democratization. The marketplace has taken off, multiple flavors of Latin pop are bubbling on global streaming charts and key playlists, and Latin style now informs virtually every popular genre, including but not limited to pop, hip-hop and R&B. Just ask Latin lover Shawn Mendes.

FISHING IN THE STREAM: Country’s biggest streaming success story—and biggest breaking-artist story—is Luke Combs. The River House/Columbia Nashville star and his team (including managers Chris Kappy and Lynn Oliver-Cline) are blazing a new streaming path for the genre and demonstrating what’s possible when an artist really connects. The breakout star’s This One’s for You is now at 3m and has been a streaming mainstay since its release in June of 2017, and he had a terrific showing on CMA night, alongside labelmates Maren Morris and Old Dominion. Sony Music Nashville boss Randy Goodman’s stable of young artists (which also includes top-streaming Kane Brown) is setting the bar for country action in the new marketplace. Combs, Brown and Dan + Shay are unquestionably moving the needle at the platform (Thomas Rhett and Sam Hunt have shown the ability to stream big, if less consistently, and Morgan Wallen may be next to join that small group). As you’ll note in the graphic representing activity for all of 2018 as well as 2019 YTD, Chris Stapleton’s four-year-old album Traveller has done 1.2m in 2018-19, 900k of which is streaming.

The radical change taking place thanks to Combs, Dan + Shay and Brown is sending dramatic signals inside Nashville—the recorded-music economy of which has been built on artists of the last generation who appeal to an older demo that simply isn’t leaning on the button.

This is creating a problem as regards renegotiating record deals for acts that are generating millions on the road and have grown accustomed to collecting fat, multimillion-dollar advances for their albums. Smart managers and lawyers are working with biz affairs in hopes of ironing out more modern deals that can accommodate the new economy, but some artists are pushing back and telling them to shove it.

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