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NEAR TRUTHS: THE DISRUPTIONS OF 2019, PART 1

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Mollie Gershon, Dylan Shanks, Brandra Ringo, Derrick Aroh, Audrey Benoualid, Nick Jarjour, Jodie Shihadeh, Tyler Arnold, Julian Swirsky, Jeff Vaughn, Arjan Timmermans, Marc Wilson, Moe Shalizi, Ryan Murphy, Justin Lubliner, Jennifer Knoepfle, Baroline Diaz, Aaron “Dash” Sherrod, Ziggy Chareton, Courtney Stewart, Lillia Parsa, Rocío Guerrero, Sara Bollwinkel, Eesean Bolden, Alaysia Sierra, Chris Morris, Gabz Landman, Tunde Balogun, Jen McDaniels, Simon Katz, Andres Nieto, Jared Sherman, Imran Majid, Clio Massey, Ryan Chisholm, Amanda Berman-Hill, Junia Abaidoo, Damon Bunetta, Miles Beard, Ashley Calhoun, Rhea Pasricha, Sean Famoso McNichol, Amanda Samii, Danny Rukasin, Josh Kamen, Sebastian Zar, Lulu Pantin, Jeremy Vuernick, Marian Dicus, Ned Monahan, Lizzy Szabo, Carl Chery, Mjeema Pickett, Becky Bass, Mary Catherine Kinney, Taylor Testa, Kate Loesch, Zack Cole, Isabel Quinteros, Mary Rahmani, Tiana Lewis, Chris Jordan, Ryan Thompson, Candice Dorsey, Kylen Sharpe, Elliot Grainge, Silke Lorenzen, Nate McCartney, Jonathan Strauss, Alexandre Williams, Carlon Ramong, Austin Rosen, Markell Casey, Tyler Childs, Nima Nasseri, Dre London, Brandon Goodman, Andrew Gertler, David Stromberg, Brandon Phelps, Justice Baiden, Lucas Keller, Brandon Silverstein, Giuseppe Zappala, Kevin Beisler, Chris Zarou, Matt Graham, Quentin Gatto.

YOUNG AT HEART: It bears reiterating that the financial rebound of the biz powered by streaming would not have happened without the ginormous youthquake. Once again in 2019, it was the kids leaning on the button who produced the billions and billions of streams for the Post Malones, Billie Eilishes, Lil Nas Xs and Travis Scotts that kept the industry’s engine hot. What’s more, tracks are now leaping up the streaming charts after achieving viral lift-off on sites like TikTok, where the median age skews even younger. While the prosperity born of the youth-powered streaming cornucopia has label execs giving thanks, the new marketplace is proving more challenging for rock, country, indies and U.K. acts.

Some, like Ariana Grande, have truly cracked the code and amassed the same massive stream counts as the newbie hip-hop sensations crowding the top Spotify playlists. But for many others, particularly acts that primarily appeal to listeners over 30, it can be harder to achieve the high chart berths to which they were once accustomed. Thus the bundle, which allows these stars to leverage their strong touring and merch sales toward a possible big chart debut. But the system has enabled all manner of shenanigans and fueled plenty of questions about verification—not to mention the more macro question of what a chart #1 reflects if it mostly comes from ticket or T-shirt sales with an album attached. Billboard’s year-end attempt to adjust the rules was little more than a damp squib; expect the controversy to rage on in 2020, and by adding YouTube, it’s only going to get worse for rock, country, et al.

SPOT CHECK: But back to streaming. As the Arizona Zervas and Ant Saunders contests underlined simultaneously, action on the key Spotify charts by an unsigned act injects nitro into the signing process—and the House of Ek, with new music co-leads Jeremy Erlich and Marian Dicus playing a substantial role, is feeling its power as an A&R source. While the two aforementioned acts had a velocity no one could miss, Spotify is said to be refining its data analysis to spot below-the-radar anomalies long before they ping the boiler rooms of the labels. How else might the Spot leverage its copious trove of data in the coming year and help monetize its platform?

The changing landscape has also naturally enforced a changing of the guard in the A&R world, as the well-compensated pros who flourished under the prior model find their multimillion-dollar packages not getting renewed—it’s the younger (and far less expensive) digital natives, after all, who are guiding the majors in navigating the new world.

PUB DISRUPTION: The major-pubco business model has been seriously disrupted, to say the least, by the hard-charging, big-spending onslaught of Merck Mercuriadis and Hipgnosis. Merck’s infiltration of the scene and the monster checks he’s been writing to acquire hit catalog (deals for Jack Antonoff and Jeff Bhasker were announced at year’s end) are said to have created no small amount of consternation in the big pubberies, as deals rise to gargantuan new heights and songwriters expect ever-larger advances and other tasty points. It’s all part of the rearranging of the landscape wrought by streaming’s long tail. Expect his presence to cause yet more sturm und drang in the year to come. 

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