GOT LIVE IF YOU WANT IT: Omicron has certainly thrown a wrench into the works, but if arenas are open for the NBA, there's a good chance music will not see a dramatic change, apart from case-by-case cancellations due to one COVID-related issue or another. A wholesale shutdown doesn't seem likely at present; conventional wisdom holds that local and state officials will not take such a drastic measure at this time, for political as well as economic reasons.

Even with the variants, surges, stumbles and missteps that marked this pandemic year, live music unquestionably returned and saw exceptional demand. Projections for 2022 are through the roof. Michael Rapino’s Live Nation once again saw historic stock gains this year and bought itself a striking holiday gift: a majority stake in Mexican mega-promoter OCESA, the third-largest such entity on the planet. Jay Marciano’s AEG Presents opened new venues (including in Vegas) and rolled out monster shows and festivals, with Adele in Hyde Park and Coachella among the big dates marked on his 2022 calendar. It’s also noteworthy that the company rebounded after the ASTROWORLD tragedy with the highly successful and decidedly positive Day N Vegas, with Post Malone subbing for Travis Scott.

Speaking of Adele, her Las Vegas residency sold out immediately, and it’s estimated that she is raking in about $2.2m per show. This, along with the boffo chart performance of her album, demand for her Hyde Park shows next summer (requests exceeded ticket availability by a factor of 10) and strong ratings for her CBS TV special featuring Oprah are a reminder that the British megadiva remains an overwhelming cultural force.

CAA’s Rob Light-led music division continued to rule, and the larger agency expanded its footprint with the purchase of ICM. Its parent, TPG, reportedly plans an IPO. UTA added former WME agent Scott Clayton to form a music triumvirate and grew its profile significantly. Wasserman also gained ground post-COVID, having come out of the gate with a strong organization. WME’s door is still revolving, with its various losses its competitors’ gains.

Irving Azoff continues to build a giant company from his Oak View Group, Full Stop Management and Global Music Rights and remains a titan of the biz. Jay-Z and Roc Nation have grown their sphere of influence exponentially, with the Super Bowl just one piece of their massive cultural reach. Scooter Braun had a decidedly newsworthy year, having sold his Ithaca to South Korean giant HYBE. His impact, too, keeps growing. Crush Management likewise had a phenomenal year, as the Hella Mega Tour provided shining proof of its skill in furthering the careers of established acts.

Lollapalooza’s successful run with strong COVID protocols gave the entire live biz a shot in the arm, so to speak, and Rolling Loud in Miami had similarly strong—and safe—results. In certain regions of the country, restrictions were fewer and fans piled in anyhow, notably for country and EDM shows. New variants brought new uncertainty, but overall demand for tickets has been robust. The live year’s true low point came not from infections but from the lethal crowd surge at ASTROWORLD in Houston that left 10 people dead.

The Rolling Stones, despite the loss of Charlie Watts, had the top-grossing tour in the U.S. and worldwide (presented by AEG; $115m+). The aforementioned Hella Mega Tour (67m+) was a smashing success, as were treks by Harry Styles ($87m), The Eagles ($59m+), Dead & Company ($50m+) and Guns N’ Roses ($47m+), among others.

CATALOG ROLLING: The publishing world as a whole has benefited from the dramatic spike in valuation, but it would be pointless to pretend that the landscape hadn’t been radically transformed by players outside the major pubcos—notably Hipgnosis disruptor supreme Merck Mercuriadis and (in a gentler fashion) Primary Wave’s Larry Mestel. Merck’s frontal assault on the old model of publishing, with its touted “song management” and mountains of capital, has netted him catalog from Neil Young, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac, Shakira, Carole Bayer Sager, Andrew Watt and countless others. His blockbuster deal with Blackstone found him investing his first billion on about 75 deals, with plenty more cash where that came from.

With a focus on extending iconic artist brands, Mestel and team added a James Brown deal just before presstime to prior pacts for catalog by Prince, Boyz II Men, Luther Vandross, Bing Crosby, Toto, Teddy Pendergrass, Chris Isaak, Gerry Goffin, Sun Records and many more.

It’s hard to deny that while the new game has driven the price of catalog to stratospheric heights, even the most traditional players have benefited from that valuation spike. A gargantuan deal for Bruce Springsteen with Sony was leaked at presstime, coming in the wake of a huge Paul Simon agreement. UMPG enacted a major compact a year ago for Bob Dylan and has a Sting arrangement pending. And WMG is said to be close to finalizing its mega-deal with the David Bowie estate. UMPG’s Jody Gerson, Sony Pub’s Jon Platt and Warner Chappell tandem Guy Moot and Carianne Marshall have all been expanding their dealmaking amid the new reality while also continuing to ink and develop hit writers. They have the advantage of being in the new-artist business during an era in which new and developing artists fully dominate the marketplace.

It’s interesting to note that some (though not all) high-profile artists have preferred to keep their massive new deals out of the public eye—particularly those whose cultural profile is not typically associated with vast wealth.

Challenges abound and uncertainty persists, but players in every aspect of the biz are raring to go for what promises to be an extremely busy year. Until then, stay safe and have yourselves a merry little Christmas break.

Who's flying high right now? Take a look. (8/9a)
Lots of suitors for the stat monster (8/8a)
The stars of tomorrow—and one star of the moment (8/9a)
Irresistible force now filling stadiums (8/8a)
Available online for the first time (8/3a)
How they're reshuffling the biz deck.
Thoughts on a changing landscape.
It's everywhere.
Another stunning return.

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