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NEAR TRUTHS: SECRETS AND BUYS

THE SECRET’S OUT: And just like that, the Recording Academy announces that it’s doing away with the Secret Committees. It’s huge news, of course, and to some extent reboots the Grammy conversation. But why now?

We note that the Academy is due to hire a new CEO—with a decision likely at its May board meetings, being conducted via Zoom (and not in Hawaii or Laguna)—and very much hopes that whoever next occupies that chair will have the requisite gravitas. But the headhunters we’ve spoken to said recruitment efforts had been hampered, to say the least, by the scandalous news that surrounded and followed the Deborah Dugan debacle. Tales of backroom wheeling and dealing, they relate, were scaring off more than a few prospects. The fact is that past CEOs have had little or nothing to do with the voting process—as Dugan herself learned in the harshest possible way—and the turmoil surrounding that process since her departure has been nonstop. This, of course, culminated in the outrageous exclusion of The Weeknd from this year’s awards.

Will the new CEO demand at least some oversight of the voting process? Is this new approach just another attempt to throw some shade on the Secret Committees’ chronic abusers and manipulators? The bylaws have allowed for “review” by some designated “inspector or inspectors” and “counsel and staff personnel to the extent required and authorized by the Executive Committee or any other committee designated by the Board of Trustees.” Traditionally, such review has been invoked to abate “egregious omissions.” Said language has essentially given Academy leadership carte blanche as regards the process. Has it now been totally removed? Or is the “review” simply due to take some other form, with perhaps fewer hands doing the reviewing? One Nashville insider said a wink is as good as a nod to a blind horse and predicted business as usual would carry on—it was just a question of how.

LATEST ENDEAVOR: The second time was the charm for the WME IPO. Silver Lake CEO Egon Durban drove the final acquisition of the remaining 50% of UFC, which enabled the agency to pull this off (after a 2019 offering went bust)—and retrieve the billions Silver Lake had invested. WME CEO Ari Emanuel and exec chairman Patrick Whitesell pocketed $900 million; they, along with Silver Lake, now hold 89% voting control in the company. WME’s market cap has jumped north of $18b.

Apart from the aforementioned, who are the winners in this IPO? Insiders point to President Mark Shapiro; two key behind-the-scenes guys, CFO Jason Lublin and head of legal Seth Krauss; and the top agents who bought into the Emanuel plan, choosing equity in the company instead of salary boosts and bonuses. They should be able to score once the lock-up on their stock begins to expire over the next few years. Those who didn’t buy in? Not so much. As for music, big-name agents like Sam Kirby Yoh, Marc Geiger—who was fired—and Brent Smith (who left) were given big payouts well before the IPO. How big a leadership role will Kirk Sommer play in the new reality?

Amid the ongoing tumult, rival agencies have been hovering to pick off key players. CAA, in a coup, has snagged Nashville-based Adam Voith, who’ll bring big acts Vampire Weekend and Mumford & Sons with him.

The past two years have seen the once-mighty WME, which still retains many great clients, struggle with key personnel before and during the pandemic. Now what? How will the workplace culture evolve in the wake of this big-money play?

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