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NEAR TRUTHS: YEAR-END WRAP-UP, PART 2

UNITED: Rob Stringer’s second full year atop the Sony Music empire saw a historic consolidation, as recorded music and the Sony/ATV pubco, the latter led by the culturally transformative Jon Platt, were at last brought under one roof. This consummation should be a boon for a variety of reasons, notably leverage in negotiating vital deals with DSPs. Platt’s SATV continues to enjoy the biggest publisher marketshare and took home Pubco of the Year honors at both the BMI and ASCAP Pop Awards. With a team in place, Platt is transforming the company’s culture.

Meanwhile, Stringer has been busily cultivating a new creative culture throughout the group; a decidedly global focus has resulted in major strides in the giant Latin and Asian markets, helping SME maintain a 25.6 marketshare; the company recently announced its strongest-ever Q2, with recorded-music sales hitting $1b for the second straight quarter and the forecast raised for the fiscal year ending in March.

His low-key exterior and backstage presence in the artist community have helped make the chief and his team absolutely formidable when it comes to signing talent—while having the luxury of time for development. Stringer’s bet on the A&R bona fides of Ron Perry as his successor at Columbia has been rewarded with the biggest song of the year; an Adele record should further lift the company boat in 2020. His empowerment of Sylvia Rhone as Epic Chairman and ongoing support of Peter Edge at RCA have allowed those labels to play to their strengths. Meanwhile, the Brad Navin-helmed The Orchard consolidates indie distro and label services worldwide for Sony and is making major maketshare gains in the U.S.

THE RETURN OF BIG RED: Ron Perry started year two of his tenure as Chairman of Columbia (7.3) with something to prove, and in early 2019 he bounced one off the upper deck. Leading the pack to sign Lil Nas X, the artist behind the viral phenom “Old Town Road,” the year’s biggest single in a walk with 2.35 billion streams (12m+ in total activity, motherfucker), he flashed exactly the A&R acumen that caused Stringer to lay his chips down in the first place.

Lil Nas’ eight-song EP is the #7 album of the year with 1.2m+. The “Road” led all the way to a big batch of Grammy noms, including BNA, ROTY and AOTY.

Perry is 24/7 and obsessive about winning; with his closing chops and ability to read the tea leaves, he’s producing the hits that have made Columbia a leading destination for top acts once again. He also made further strides in assembling his team, adding promo ace Peter Gray late in the year. The Stringer/Perry signing combo is nowone of the toughest teams to defend against, as their victories in highly competitive signing contests for Arizona Zervas (which already looks like a smash), Dominic Fike, Polo G and Swedish House Mafia attest.

The label has a number of high-profile Grammy noms to add to Lil Nas X’s haul. Acclaimed breakout Rosalía, another Perry signing—also landed among the BNA finalists. The label also celebrated an Album spot for Vampire Weekend and Pop love for Beyoncé.

“TALK” OF THE TOWN: Peter Edge’s A&R-driven RCA (5.2) is one shop that artists, producers and managers alike all love to work with—creators often reference the culture within its walls, where discussions about music border on the Talmudic. That goes for new-school giants like Grammy darling Khalid (who had a Top 5 album with 1.5m and a Top 20 song YTD with “Talk,” which totted up 4m+ in total activity), unshakable R&B standbys like Chris Brown (who had a Top 20 album and continues to earn huge streams) and established pop luminaries like Pentatonix, P!nk, Miley Cyrus and Justin Timberlake. Edge’s deep A&R bench, led by Prexy Keith Naftaly and prominently featuring Keep Cool chief Tunji Balogun as well as veteran/ByStorm head Mark Pitts, is strongly complemented by the dynamic marketing/promo tandem of Co-Presidents John Fleckenstein and Joe Riccitell.

That the label declined to pressure Childish Gambino, one of the most exciting creative minds of our era, to deliver his long-awaited album coming off last year’s Grammy windfall is strongly indicative of how Edge and company roll—though not having that hotly anticipated project has to have been disappointing. Still, there was still plenty to celebrate, with Khalid’s chart and Grammy heights, Brown’s big numbers, a strong bow from U.K. fave Rex Orange County and impressive streams from new signing Calboy.

ALL RISE FOR THE CHAIRMAN: 2019 was the year Epic’s (2.7) Sylvia Rhone became the Chairman/CEO of Sony’s West Coast label, and was duly feted as City of Hope honoree. With second-in-command Rick Sackheim and team, Rhone continues to fortify Epic’s strong foothold in the streaming ecosystem thanks to superstars Camila Cabello (whose Shawn Mendes duet “Senorita” is Top 20 in song activity with 3.8m) and Travis Scott (#11 in album activity with 1.1m and a Top 10 streaming song with about 900m streams), canny impresario DJ Khaled  (whose set is Top 50 YTD) and hip-hop hitters like Future and 21 Savage, both of whom scored #1 debuts. The year was capped by Grammy noms for Cabello (who dropped a new album at presstime), Scott (whose recent “Highest in the Room” has the #2 bow for a 2019 single with 402k first week), Khaled, Rick Ross, Sara Bareilles and Savage.

HIGH HOPES: Davis Massey’s new-model Arista is up and running after its first year, having just locked down a major competitive signing in viral sensation Ant Saunders. Massey’s squad is starting to put some runners on base with its pop-leaning roster. Expect 2020 to be a breakout year as he continues to build a strong team; the man’s ability to find a lane in the pop universe should never be underestimated.

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