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NEAR TRUTHS:
SHARP ELBOWS

WHO HAS THE LEVERAGE? This very question has been the backbone of negotiations for new artists in the modern era, when 4% deals and giving up 100% of one’s publishing have been standard. Over the years, 4% became 8%, then 12, then 15 and now the low 20s if the deal is super-competitive.

Meanwhile, the 360 deal, proffered frequently when labels were struggling, now earns pronounced eye rolls, as the pendulum has swung dramatically. Such deals are today usually only floated when the act across the table has little to no leverage. More than one aggressive lawyer refuses to pay the 360 monies due, while others claim to inflate costs so much that the monies due are negligible.

Now that rights holders have more leverage than at any time since the CD-spurred gold rush of the ’90s, one issue sticks in the craw of many bizniks: Negotiations between rights holders and talent (artists and hot execs alike) are hitting new speed bumps as the chasm between them deepens and attorneys and managers grow more aggressive—or more resentful, depending on the talent they represent. The hot, top-streaming artists who have become superstars over the last five to 10 years—many of them near the end of their contract terms—are asking for larger splits on JVs, lower distribution fees and reversion of their recordings. Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott are two such artists, represented by Don Passman and David Lande, respectively. But Drake, Beyoncé, The Weeknd and Taylor Swift are all said to be packing new deals. And then there’s the ongoing Kanye story.

The labels have mollified artists in these changing times with big cash advances for future recordings and increased splits on the hugely valuable catalogs that streaming’s long tail is creating. That’s why we’ve seen so little movement from big acts in the three major-label groups. When was the last time one of these stars moved from one major music group to another? Case in point: YoungBoy Never Broke Again, who’s repped by attorney Hector Baldonado and recently inked a JV deal with Motown, supposedly just delivered his last album to Atlantic (though some say he owes one more); the label acquired the rights from APG when they bought Mike Caren's company for a boatload of cash late last year. YBNBA has had significant success over a brief period. (Speaking of Caren, the exec has been the subject of considerable chatter recently. Is he on the verge of making another headline-grabbing move?)

When we consider the branding deals for apparel, kicks, jewelry, perfume, dental floss, etc., ad nauseam, and the millions these add to artist coffers—plus touring’s 95% take of the gross—it’s surprising we haven’t seen more defections, or at least more threats to go indie, however hollow. The few big acts that have taken the indie plunge have come upon hard times, and most are no longer moving the needle. Add the increased revenues and valuations of rights holders (per the latest reports) and you have a recipe for some of the most aggressive negotiations for talent in recent memory.

BALL-BUSTING BARRISTERS: Speaking of deals, rights holders are complaining loudly about some overly zealous representation of talent by certain attorneys, whose combativeness is making negotiations vexatious for labels and pubs. Rumors have circulated that one top label exec asked, during early deal talks, that top talent not hire Theo Sedlmayr (Eminem, Drake, Post Malone, DJ Khaled) in hopes of making negotiations go more quickly and smoothly. Other attorneys earning rights-holder rancor over their aggressiveness and sharp elbows include Aaron Rosenberg, Kenny Meiselas, the aforementioned Lande, Damien Granderson, Jess Rosen, Laurie Soriano, Dina LaPolt and Josh Binder.

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