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NEAR TRUTHS: YEAR-END WRAP-UP, PART 1

KNIGHT FEVER: No music group in the last three decades has so fully dominated the biz like Sir Lucian Grainge’s UMG—not only in marketshare (once again a leonine 38 overall YTD, with $5.66b in revenue for the first nine months, up 15%+) but in terms of an ever-expanding, ever-scaling, ever-aggressive global leadership. The 24/7 competitive cauldron stirred by Sir Grainge keeps everyone focused, and the company’s culture and relentless drive have made Uni the most effective player in these youthquake times, where streaming rules. Uni’s publishing boss, UMPG Chairman Jody Gerson, having already built her own behemoth while her competitors took on new leadership, enjoyed another record year; she also nabbed longtime Sony/ATV Nashville boss Troy Tomlinson to run her Music City operation.

Grainge’s instinct for opportunity has been unfailing, and he seized those opportunities while many of his peers shied away from risk. He set the template for the entire industry amid the transition to digital and forged a global model for acquiring talent and bringing it to the marketplace via streaming. Now, with a Tencent partnership in the offing, he is on the verge of opening up what could be the biggest music market ever—China. All these smart bets have spiraled the label group to a mind-bending valuation ($33.6b per the Tencent talks). UMG had four of the year’s Top 5 albums and seven of the Top 10, as well as seven of the Top 10 songs.

A STAR IS BORN AND GOES SUPERNOVA: Interscope (9.7) has become the hottest label in the business, and John Janick and his Interscope crew—led by Steve Berman, Brenda Romano and MVP Joie Manda—are enjoying the biggest year in the last two decades for the House That Jimmy Built. Having cultivated successful projects in every genre from hip-hop to pop to rock, they are now growing into Latin and film, with word coming of them expanding their footprint. Meanwhile, Janick continues to fine-tune his staff in all major departments while cannily picking off top execs from the competition.

He and his team have also, after much patience and dedication, broken one of the most influential new acts in ages with marketplace giant and Grammy anointed Billie Eilish (#2 album with 2.2m; #3 song with “bad guy,” 6m song activity; six Grammy noms including all top categories). Eilish’s arrival occasioned genuine excitement across the board, broadening the sound of modern pop and streaming as much as any trap record. Her story accompanies the latest huge chapter in the staggering saga of Gaga, A Star Is Born (#8 album, 1.1m, #20 song, three Grammy noms); another exceptional year for J. Cole (#10 song “Middle Child,” #23 album with Dreamville comp, five Grammy noms) a breakout for DaBaby (#13 song “Suge,” two Grammy noms); and standout numbers for Summer Walker, Ella Mai, Benny Blanco and roster stalwarts Maroon 5 and Imagine Dragons, among others. Interscope scored the #2 overall rank at radio with a 13 share and the #3 spot at Pop and Rhythm radio. This is what a label firing on all cylinders looks like. Expect a fearsome beast in 2020 as well.

WHALE WATCH: Republic (8.1) boss Monte Lipman, the only major-label CEO who came up in the radio-promo silo, had another blockbuster year, with three of the Top 4 albums and four of the Top 10 songs of 2019 and #1 at radio overall (with a 19 share) as well as at Pop and Rhythmic. He signed Taylor Swift and accompanied her to the biggest chart bow of the year (an 885k #1, followed by Grammy SOTY love) and #4 album YTD with about 2m; he helped make Ariana Grande a true superstar and streaming giant (in league with her low-profile, publicity-shy manager, Scooter Braun); Ari had the #3 album, also around 2m, and multiple huge singles, led by “7 rings” with nearly 6m in song activity, making it Top 5 for the year. One can only imagine Monte navigating the tightrope between Ari, Scooter, Taylor and Scott Borchetta with his confident, upbeat rap—“Don’t worry, this record is a smash and we’re going to do everything we possibly can to make it your biggest of all time.”

And then there’s Post Malone, who must’ve guzzled Monte’s Kool-Aid along with his Bud Light. Post moves from one career milestone to the next and remains hands-down the biggest earner in the record biz, having racked up an unbelievable 5.5m in total activity on three albums in 2019. His recent set, Hollywood’s Bleeding, is the #1 album YTD with 2.6m+, and his prior two releases and songs are prime beneficiaries of streaming’s long tail. All this success was capped with a Grammy ROTY nom.

Add the triumphant return of the Jonas Brothers (with a Top 15 album and a monster cut in “Sucker” with nearly 3.5m) and the breakout of hip-hop wunderkind Lil Tecca (a Top 10 track with 3.8m+), and it all adds up to a colossal year. Bolstered by this powerhouse roster, the hottest promo crew in the game—helmed by the estimable Gary Spangler—and a senior cabal featuring Avery Lipman and Jim Roppo, the House of Lipman is poised to tear shit up once again in 2020.

CONTROL TOWER: The composition of Steve Barnett’s Capitol Music Group (7.5) is reflective of one of the most brilliant marketing strategies of the modern era. Bringing a diverse group of A&R sources—including the U.K., Quality Control/Motown, Blue Note, Capitol Christian and Caroline—under a central command center run by Barnett and team added up to another superb year for a company that regularly knocks it out of the park. Barnett’s elite executive crew includes right hand Michelle Jubelirer, and the freshly appointed Capitol Records President Jeff Vaughn. Of all the majors, the Tower has been singularly effective in breaking pop and adult records, as the explosive success of Halsey (#7 song YTD “Without Me,” 4.8m in song activity), Marshmello/Bastille’s “Happier” (#11 song, 3.8m), Song of the Year nominee Lewis Capaldi (whose “Someone You Loved” has 450m streams), and prior Grammy champ Sam Smith (nearly 450m streams) amply demonstrate. In addition to Capaldi’s SOTY contender, Capitol has a horse in the BNA race with the celebrated Maggie Rogers. The label’s successes hinged on the Greg Marella-led promo team, which simply crushed the ball in 2019 (Capitol was #3 overall at radio with a 12 share and #2 Pop). In tandem with Motown chief Ethiopia Habtemariam, QC’s Coach K and P proved integral as well, notably with breakout Lil Baby. Jacqueline Saturn (2.5) rolled out a number of major successes, including NF and Elliot Grainge/10K Projects’ first #1 debut, from Trippie Redd.

REBUILDING: Def Jam’s (2.1) year was highlighted by the mind-boggling adventures of Kanye, who showed that he can rock the marketplace—and pop culture—no matter what direction he takes. Now Def Jam has two of the biggest stars in the biz, Bieber and Rihanna, on deck—which suggests a bright possible future as the label takes shape in year two of the Paul Rosenberg era. Meanwhile, boss Rosenberg continues to manage Eminem, one of the most important artists of the modern era.

BALMY WEATHER: With a year under his belt, expect Island boss Darcus Beese (1.8) to follow in the creative footsteps of mentor and label founder Chris Blackwell, signing and developing cutting-edge acts while expanding the pop beachhead established by Shawn Mendes, who reached superstar status this year with another megahit (#16 “Señorita,” 3.4m, one Grammy nom). Darcus and his team are ready to define their own lane and carry the Island flag forward.

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...must go on.
POLITCS
Oy vey.
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