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NEAR TRUTHS: A BIGGER PIE

POINTS IN THEIR FAVOR: IGA’s historic run as marketshare leader for the past year has carried on through the first 10 weeks of 2021, as House Janick maintains a 10.2 share while breaking new acts like Olivia Rodrigo, Kali Uchis and SpotemGottem and remaining hotter than hot. Monte Lipman’s Republic, meanwhile, knocks one homer after another out of the park and leads current marketshare with 12.0. Sultan of Swat Drake begins his run at the top in the wake of stellar stamina from Morgan Wallen (close to 2.2m ATD), Pop Smoke (2.7m ATD), The Weeknd (2.5m), Ariana Grande (closing in on 1m) and Taylor Swift (evermore, 900k; folklore, 2.4m), who have five of the six top-performing albums of the present year.

Yet in the absence of a dramatic change, the comparatively new Republic—with an 8.7 overall share—may never be able to catch Interscope or Atlantic (9.2), both of which continue to rule in overall marketshare (the golden crown of the marketshare race) with a mix of big current records and deep catalog. Over the past 12 months, catalog recordings have come to represent nearly 70% of the business. This furnishes an advantage to labels like IGA and Atlantic, which can attribute a hefty chunk of their totals to their catalogs. We’re talking 60-70 years of pop, rock, classical, jazz and blues records.

IGA and Atlantic’s catalog holdings include (among countless others) Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, Herb Alpert, Elton John, Steely Dan, the Eagles, The Police, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, blink-182, Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre and Eminem. Republic has enjoyed a staggering run of late. But compared to its rivals, the label doesn’t have significant catalog.

CATALOG SHOPPING: Speaking of catalog, as the publishing marketplace continues to mushroom—and creative deals for song portfolios proliferate—there’s much speculation about the biggest fish in this particular pond and what needs to be on the hook to reel them in.

Conventional wisdom has long held that pub rights were to be retained at all costs. But had you waved one of today’s checks under the noses of even the most doctrinaire pub-keepers, you’d likely have seen their resolve buckle somewhat. Skyrocketing multiples and an array of changing circumstances (including the Biden stance on the capital gains tax) have made the sale of writers’-side rights more attractive than ever. Indeed, any rights that can be negotiated can also be sold, which everyone always knew but most didn’t often consider before the current gold rush.

It would be foolish to pretend that the spendy sprees of Hipgnosis, Primary Wave and assorted others haven’t changed the game. Merck Mercuriadis, a true disruptor in a world of pretenders, hasn’t merely reconfigured the calculus surrounding catalog valuation; he’s helped make the notion of the song as first-class asset a reality, as his thesis of an ever-growing revenue pie driven by streaming proves solid.

And then there are Irving Azoff’s recent Beach Boys and David Crosby pacts.

Expect Swirv to continue cutting these deals, with more big names soon to be announced. His model is tailored to artists from the ’60s and ’70s—most of whom have relied on touring for 90% of their revenue since the streaming revolution took record sales off the table. After what will end up being a full two years with no live income for these acts, Irving will endeavor to flow some heavy bread their way by leveraging their music and brands to launch biopics, documentaries, Broadway shows, top-tier syncs and more.

If Big Shorty’s efforts on behalf of the artist community sound strangely noble, remember that these artists are really the foundation of his empire, legacy and enormous wealth. Irving, long seen as the ultimate dealmaker, has diversified over the years. But underneath it all, you would always find an artist manager working the levers. Still, it’s hard to miss the irony in his burnished rep; now the elder statesman, he was once the most notorious win-at-all-costs, take-no-prisoners, scorched-earth figure of the era stretching from the rollicking ’70s to the turn of the millennium.

But enough foreplay. What are the biggest prizes in this Cracker Jack box, and what might they fetch? We’re talking about writer’s-side rights for Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, various Eagles, Billy Joel, Pink Floyd, Carole King, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Page/Robert Plant, Elton John/Bernie Taupin, Queen, Taylor Swift, Eminem, Brian Wilson and James Taylor. In short, the most influential songs of the last 50 years. What is “overpaying” for these catalogs? $300m-500m valuations are regularly floated for several of the above, which only get hotter as upper-demo integration into the streaming universe expands that pie we keep talking about.

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