NEAR TRUTHS: YEAR-END WRAPPING, PART ONE

MANY MILLIONS: The business is up across the board as streaming continues to lift most (if not all) boats and an explosion in Latin and country consumption drives yet more growth.

As many as 27 albums are due to log 1m or more in activity in 2023; eight of them belong to Taylor Swift, but more about that in a future installment. All this occurs as the rate of growth begins to flatten somewhat in a challenging global economy.

Sir Lucian Grainge continues to set the pace of the biz with his aggressiveness and dealmaking, leading the way in moving the needle in the evolving transactional world as the Lipman brothers’ Republic and John Janick’s Interscope become this year’s two most dominant labels—quite the 1-2 punch for their pugilistic leader.

Grainge’s advocacy for fair compensation for artists in the streaming marketplace has helped create the changes now underway as music is properly prioritized over noise (rain on rooftops and whatnot) and stream farms and other bad actors are called to account.

With a new five-year deal in place, Sir Grainge has also helped shape the industry narrative regarding AI, guiding the biz to a tough but thoughtful stance of engagement.

The modern thinking of highly regarded Virgin co-heads Nat Pastor and JT Myers reflects the bet UMG has made on the developing ecosystem, and Jesús López’s UMLE has become increasingly vital as the global picture comes into focus. UMG revenue through Q3 hit €7.9b (north of $8.5b, up 9.4% YOY).

Rob Stringer, meanwhile, remains a champion of A&R, empowering the creative execs at his labels and earning the love of artists—from the superstars to the young breakouts. Stringer has also been an ardent champion of new technology.

Peter Edge’s RCA enjoyed a killer 2023, extending Sony’s multiyear hot streak. Meanwhile, SME’s global reach, particularly in the Spanish-speaking world, is enormous, with Afo Verde-led Sony Latin earning killer marketshare and The Orchard dominating with RimasBad Bunny, Prajin’s Peso Pluma and more.

An increasing focus on emerging streaming markets like China, India, Southeast Asia and Brazil, meanwhile, is bearing fruit. SME revenue hit a record 408b yen ($2.83b) in its fiscal Q2 (+13.7% YOY) and adjusted operating income grew 10.9%.

The biz-wide growth coincides with Robert Kyncl’s first year in the big WMG chair. The former YouTube exec has made a number of shrewd moves since his arrival, and his productive partnership with Head of Recorded Music Max Lousada has been integral to the reimagining of the company.

Expect Kyncl to bring a whole new level of innovation to (please don’t call it distribution) with his massive investment in technology and programmers.

Beyond the expected forward-looking tech plays, the deal to bring Elliot Grainge’s 10K under the WMG umbrella—spearheaded by Lousada—was particularly canny.

Grainge, whose 10K artist Ice Spice (who remains with Capitol) was hip-hop’s rookie of the year and is a BNA contender, is part of an injection of youth into the company that also includes his friend Val Blavatnik, who is ensconced at Warner Chappell (where he’s doing a deep dive on valuations and asset targeting) and sits on the WMG board; he will likely figure prominently in the company’s future.

Country and Latin are showing real growth, as is Aaron Bay-Schuck and Tom Corson's Warner Records. Atlantic, meanwhile, appears to be rebounding from a rare cold streak. WMG revenue hit $6b+ in its fiscal year for the first time in its history.

VICTORY SONGS: Jody Gerson’s UMPG, Jon Platt’s Sony Music Publishing and Guy Moot-Carianne Marshall-led Warner Chappell have all had exceptional years, as the figures for their respective music groups confirm.

There’s been a complete change in leadership at the major publishers over the last decade, part of a true modernization of direction for the companies. Each pubco has benefited from solid, effective and forward-looking leadership as the streaming revolution and ongoing globalization expand the marketplace.

Gerson, whose UMPG has racked up $2b+ in revenue over the last 12 months and $1.5b in the first three quarters of this year (+11.1% YOY so far), has been a tireless advocate for songwriters and has deepened Uni’s global focus as she flexes her superstar roster. Over the summer her huge contribution was recognized in the bestowal, in London, of the prestigious ICMP Ralph Peer II Award for her “outstanding contribution to global music publishing.”

Like Gerson, Platt has emerged as a true industry leader—reflected in the recent announcement that he’d be honored at the Grammy Salute to Industry Icons next year—and has been quietly firing on all cylinders (with revenue up 12.6% YOY) as he continues to redefine SMP’s company culture and sees phenomenal growth in Latin and country.

Moot and Marshall, meanwhile—now locked in with WCM through 2028—hit a new level this year with a deep A&R bench and splashy signings. They also saw a big 15% spike in revenue.

Publishing, in large part as a result of efforts by these players, has a bigger place than ever at the table.

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