BIGGER AND LOUDER: After much chatter about a possible sale of Nashville disruptor Big Loud, boss Seth England has announced a big new distro deal with UMG's Mercury/Republic for the home of Morgan Wallen, whom England also manages. The company is believed to be valued at around $1 billion.

Wallen’s One Thing at a Time was the #1 album of 2023 and continues to rule the chart and earn billions of streams; it’s currently approaching 6.6m ATD U.S. (His 2021 set, Dangerous: The Double Album, is at 9.2m ATD U.S. and keeps racking up big numbers.) More than 80% of his global streams, it should be added, are domestic. Big Loud's affiliation with Monte Lipman’s Republic (via Mercury) has coincided with tremendous growth for House England and Wallen during the last 2 ½ years.

FISHIN’ AND CHIPS: Speaking of Wallen, the Nashville superstar is one of several country artists who are enjoying major success in the U.K. Having sold out his show at London’s O2 in December, Wallen, who’s booked by Austin Neal, will perform at Hyde Park BST on July 4—a mind-boggling development that surely has King George III rolling in his grave.

2024 will also see splashy U.K. stops from the likes of WME-repped Chris Stapleton (five arenas, including O2, which is already sold out), Wasserman-booked LeeAnn Rimes (also at the O2), Kacey Musgraves (CAA, with sold-out doubles in theaters), Darius Rucker (CAA) and Lainey Wilson (WME), the latter two with multi-theater runs.

While Luke Combs doesn’t presently have any Blighty stops on his itinerary, the demand is definitely there. The WME-booked Combs’ success across the pond has been indisputable; he’s got two Top 5 albums in the U.K. at present, he concluded his European run last year with two O2s and he headlined 2023’s C2C (Country 2 Country) fest at the O2 with 20k+ tix sold. This year’s C2C was headlined by Kane Brown, Old Dominion and Brad Paisley.

Demand is also strong for Zach Bryan, though the WME-booked star’s present routing, which includes 80 arena and stadium shows, takes him no further from the U.S. than Vancouver. His U.K. tour in the spring of 2023 was sold out.

Traditionally, country music hasn’t traveled well outside the U.S., with the exception of Australia (where country acts have done strong live business). So with the success of these country acts in the U.K., which is so often a doorway to the rest of Europe for new Anglophone repertoire, the genre’s future looks rosier than ever.

BUNNY IN HEAT: Aaron Bay-Schuck and Tom Corson’s Warner is blazing hot. The label has had #1 global Spotify smashes from two new artists, Benson Boone and Teddy Swims, both of whom got huge boosts from TikTok; Zach Bryan, meanwhile, continues to throw off huge streaming numbers as his 80-date stadium and arena tour marches on. Then there's newcomer Michael Marcagi, who has the #15 track at Spotify U.K. and is #6 on the Spot’s Ireland chart. The Alex Brahl-managed Marcagi is also feeling the TikTok love, and fans are eating up his live act. Has Warner got more rockets on the launchpad?

While we’re on the subject of TikTok, will the platform’s touchy-feely ad campaign featuring farmers, ranchers, spiritual leaders, healthcare providers and a bakery in Haven, Idaho, convince John Q. Public—and, by extension, the U.S. Congress—not to try to force a sale by Chinese parent ByteDance on pain of a stateside shutdown?

REASONS TO BELIEVE: WMG’s recent announcement of its intention to bid for the French digital-music company Believe—which had assembled a consortium to take the Denis Ladegaillerie-led company private—was apparently motivated in large part by the fact that it enables Warner to take a look under the hood and do its due diligence. Regulators frown (to put it mildly) on the tactic that the Bid Co. (aka the consortium) seemed to be pursuing, which would have shut out competitive bidders. But the publicly traded Believe’s board has asked regulators to rule on the Bid Co. plan; the consortium’s bid values the company at around $1.6b, while WMG’s number puts the valuation in the neighborhood of $1.8b.

In any case, Believe is in the indie-distribution business, owns some labels of its own and has a significant presence in India. It's a substantial player in the global independent marketplace. Will House Kyncl bring it into the fold?

A recent speech by Kyncl at a Morgan Stanley-backed tech conference exemplified the exec’s approach. Kyncl spoke of “positive ecosystem evolution” with respect to DSP fees and payout models and addressing the challenges of AI. “I've refreshed the leadership team, roughly half of it, brought in lots of new blood… [and] expanded the culture, basically, inside the company,” he said, adding that it’s “gelling quite well” and pointing to the company’s current chart heat as confirmation.

The exec’s experience “straddling Silicon Valley and Hollywood” in his stints at Netflix and YouTube, he further noted, has enabled him to bring considerable insight to the needs of a modern label and the balance of creativity and technology. WMG had a surplus of ability in the former and a deficiency in the latter, he said, an imbalance he has been working assiduously to correct. And that correction has extended well beyond beefing up tech specialists and resources; Kyncl is practically evangelical about the need to merge creative and tech into a single, cohesive company culture.

Music people, he cannily pointed out, have become perfectly accustomed to the benefits of digital technology in their personal lives but have been largely without those tools in their work. Once properly integrated, he said, tech is going to “supercharge their skills.” The WMG chief, when asked about the relevance of labels in the present ecosystem, insisted that they are particularly relevant precisely because of technology. “When everyone can publish,” he said, the noise level is so high that it's really difficult to stand out from the clutter.” A granular understanding of global markets and ARPU differentials, meanwhile, underscores an array of fresh possibilities for deeper and more effective monetization of music.

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