NEAR TRUTHS: COMING TO TERMS

Much buzz surrounds Capitol’s tough decision not to renew the label’s deal for Halsey, with whom it had significant success in pre-COVID times. Her deal was renegotiated by the short-lived prior Capitol administration when the artist was still hot.

Halsey’s 2020 album, Manic, did almost 3m in activity and was the justification for an expensive re-up; 2021 follow-up If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, by contrast, has done just under 600k. Many gatekeepers considered that album, helmed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, a major misstep, an ill-fated attempt to be cool that alienated fans. A $25m+ unrecouped position, according to the scuttlebutt, was the straw that broke the camel’s back with respect to an artist who hasn’t streamed strongly for the past few years. Halsey’s UMPG deal was also discontinued, and she subsequently signed with BMG for publishing.

When the artist and label are no longer on the same page and collaboration is at a dead end, those unrecouped monies leave a decidedly bitter taste—and render labels inclined to write the whole thing off and move on rather than throw more money at the problem. These are simply more unintended consequences of the new ecosystem, combined with the rise of social media as a means to publicly air one’s dirty laundry.

“It’s been an incredible eight years,” read a statement from Halsey issued when the news of her exit broke. “We wish everyone the best.”

Most believe Halsey will have a hard time getting a rich new deal with a major label and/or pubco.

The free agency of Halsey, Anitta and Miranda Lambert foreshadows a new era in which the majors part ways with acts when the deal or the relationship becomes untenable.

The Anitta situation is fairly unique. Before inking with Republic, we're told, she was offered multiple strong eight-figure deals (this after allegedly paying Warner millions to get out). The Brazilian artist has done 208k+ in U.S. ATD and about 318m U.S. streams (24.5m YTD). Although her stateside numbers aren’t enormous, her biggest global tracks are north of half a billion streams on Spotify, where she has close to 23m monthly listeners. What’s more, she sold out multiple stadiums in Brazil in 2022.

Lambert, who continues to earn critical acclaim and major awards and is a healthy live draw, has seen diminishing numbers with each release. The disparity between her last two was the most pronounced; 2019’s Wildcard has amassed north of 900k in activity, while 2022’s Palomino has done just over 350k.

Some artists may feel they’re victims of this new paradigm, but labels aren’t to blame for underwhelming streams, no matter what the stans on the socials may say. Managers have been filling artists’ heads with such notions since the ’60s, but the transparency of today’s marketplace make those arguments look silly. Up until a few years ago, it was very relevant if the label wasn’t getting your record played. Now? Not so much, because it’s not hard to tell what the real hits are—you need only look at the Spotify, Apple and Amazon charts. If you want big money spent on marketing and radio promotion, you can’t expect a big advance when times are slow—particularly when ticket sales are robust and there’s plenty to eat.

Could BMG or Concord be in the mix for other artists not performing strongly in the streaming marketplace who can’t negotiate the marketing and promotion dollars they seek from the majors?

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