|THURSDAY 12 JANUARY 2023||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Universal Music boss Lucian Grainge has confirmed that a big old rejig of the way streaming monies are allocated to individual tracks by the digital platforms each month is a key priority for the biggest music rights company in the world. This confirmation came in a start-of-the-year memo to the major's workforce... [READ MORE]|
Universal boss says streaming needs to shift to an "artist-centric" model
While subscription streaming may have taken the record industry back into growth after fifteen years of decline, "every blazingly transformative technological development inevitably creates new challenges for us to confront", Grainge writes in his memo.
The main challenges at the moment, Grainge reckons, are the sheer quantity of music now available on the streaming platforms; the nature of some of the music that is being uploaded and the intent of some of the uploaders; how that music is presented and pushed to consumers by the streaming services; and how that all impacts on the way streaming money is shared out.
"Today, some platforms are adding 100,000 tracks per day", Grainge notes. "And with such a vast and unnavigable number of tracks flooding the platforms, consumers are increasingly being guided by algorithms to lower-quality functional content that in some cases can barely pass for 'music'", he adds, somewhat judgementally.
"In order to entice consumers to subscribe, platforms naturally exploit the music of those artists who have large and passionate fanbases", he goes on. "But then, once those fans have subscribed, consumers are often guided by algorithms to generic music that lacks a meaningful artistic context, is less expensive for the platform to license or, in some cases, has been commissioned directly by the platform".
"Just witness the thousands and thousands of 31 second track uploads of sound files whose sole purpose is to game the system and divert royalties", he then muses.
"The result? A less fulfilling experience for the consumer, diminished compensation flowing to artists that are driving the business models of the platforms, and fewer cultural moments that fans can collectively share, all of which undermines the creativity and development of artists and their music that the platforms were, in part, designed to foster".
Under the current system, pretty much anyone can push audio into the streaming services, because the DIY distributors will provide basic distribution to anyone who wants it. The services then operate a revenue share based on consumption share model.
First, in each market each service's monthly income is divided up across its vast catalogue with each track being allocated a percentage share of the money based on what percentage of total consumption it accounted for in that market. Each track's allocation is then shared with the label or distributor that delivered the recording, and whichever publishers or collecting societies control the accompanying song rights.
That system led to a widely documented scam where rogue entities would upload nonsense music that no one is interested in, but then buy a load of subscriptions and set a warehouse of computers off listening to that music. Using a trick that Grainge notes, because for royalty purposes a play is counted at 30 seconds, that nonsense music would usually consist of relatively short tracks, boosting the overall play count.
With all those computers set to stream the nonsense music, and the short track length boosting the play count, the level of consumption gained by the scammers means that they can get more out in royalties than they put in by buying all those subscriptions. Now, the services, under pressure from the music industry, have been seeking to identify and block the scammers, though some reckon a lot more work needs to be done in that domain.
However, that's not really the "gaming of the system" that Grainge is talking about here. Other players have entered the market uploading music that some people do actually want to listen to, but not conventional pop music. That includes the kind of mood music that fills relaxation playlists and which some people have playing as they fall asleep. Mood music of that kind gets a lot of plays and can often be split up into lots of smaller tracks to further boost the play count.
The streaming service's playlisting operations and algorithms do then further boost this kind of music. Though the services would almost certainly argue that that's because its users want to hear that music and not because it gets to keep more of any money allocated to those tracks at the end of the month. Even though the companies that control a lot of the playlisted mood music probably have agreed to a lower revenue share rate.
But even if Grainge's argument that this negatively impacts on the consumer experience can be disputed to an extent, it's not only the major labels that are increasingly concerned that certain kinds of music which are cheap to produce and serve a specific purpose are grabbing an ever increasing share of streaming income each month.
Some have noted that, in the physical era, mood music - and things like generic kids songs - would be sold on super cheap CDs, often at the pound shop, and then be played on a very regular basis but basically as background noise. Yet under the current system that music is allocated a share of streaming income in the exact same way as the biggest pop releases. And plenty of people in the wider music community agree with Grainge that, in hindsight, that was a mistake.
And with that in mind, Grainge is keen to stress that majors, indies and even DIY artists all have an interest in addressing this challenge. "In the past, music industry conflict was often focused on 'the majors versus the indies'", his memo continues. "Today, however, the real divide is between those committed to investing in artists and artist development versus those committed to gaming the system through quantity over quality".
"The current environment has attracted players who see an economic opportunity in flooding platforms with all sorts of irrelevant content that deprives both artists and labels from the compensation they deserve", he goes on.
With that in mind, "what's become clear to us, and to so many artists and songwriters - developing and established ones alike - is that the economic model for streaming needs to evolve. As technology advances and platforms evolve, it's not surprising that there's also a need for business model innovation to keep pace with change".
And what might that innovation involve? A shift to an "artist-centric" model, of course! Grainge adds that such a model should not "pit artists of one genre against artists of another, or major label artists against indie or DIY artists". Instead we "need a model that supports all artists - DIY, indie and major".
"An innovative, 'artist-centric' model", in fact, which "values all subscribers and rewards the music they love. A model that will be a win for artists, fans, and labels alike, and, at the same time, also enhances the value proposition of the platforms themselves, accelerating subscriber growth, and better monetising fandom".
That sounds great doesn't it? If somewhat lacking in specific detail. Though, Grainge assures his staff, "this year, we will be working on the innovation that is absolutely essential to promote a healthier, more competitive music ecosystem, one in which great music, no matter where it's from, is easily and clearly accessible for fans to discover and enjoy".
In terms of what that absolutely essential innovation might involve, it's not clear to what extent shifting to a user-centric approach of track allocation - as has been widely proposed - would help. Although it would combat much of the more overt scamming.
Having length of track impact on the pay out would potentially help, however, and that would also be a good development for those genres like classical music that tend to release longer tracks.
Distinguishing between push and pull streams might also have an impact, so that tracks that a user specifically selects to play get a higher pay out than tracks pushed to a user by a playlist or algorithm. Though the majors that often get a lot of support - and therefore plays - from the biggest streaming service playlists might not agree on that.
So probably the most obvious innovation would be to segment the catalogue by some set of criteria, and have more money flow to some segments than others.
Though setting that criteria would prove controversial and could also create a whole new set of transparency issues for artists and songwriters who have been repeatedly kept in the dark about the specifics of the music streaming business model.
Plus - despite Grainge's efforts to rally the wider music community behind his cause - once you're segmenting the catalogue, at what point does the corporate end of the industry push to segment music released by DIY artists and hobbyist musicians into a lower paying segment?
In addition, some mavericks might argue that - the outright scammers aside - the people and companies creating mood music, and other background sounds that the data tells us streaming subscribers actually want, are just clever creative entrepreneurs who spotted a gap in the market. And established artists and labels could have also filled that gap had they spotted it soon enough.
Indeed, it will be interesting to see if those people and companies stand up to object to Grainge's proposals and, if so, to what extent they receive a backlash from the wider music community.
So, fun times ahead for sure. I'm off to stream three hours of white noise to celebrate.
PRS sues LIVENow over unlicensed livestreams
According to Law360, in a lawsuit filed last month and just made public, PRS cites in particular the big Dua Lipa livestream in November 2020 which LIVENow delivered. It reckons that one show - which was also available on-demand for a time after the initial airing - was viewed in over 150 countries and attracted 285,000 ticket sales.
The society also points to a Rolling Stone report that claimed more than five million people had watched the show, suggesting that it was possibly made available to access for free in some markets.
When livestreamed concerts became big news during the COVID pandemic - as many artists looked into livestreaming as an alternative to real world gigs - there was much debate about how such events should be licensed. Which is to say, what licences do the organisers of a livestreamed show need in order to cover the performance and streaming of the songs contained within their show.
With real world live shows, a promoter usually gets a licence from the local song rights collecting society, so PRS in the UK. The society usually owns the performing rights of its members' songs, so has the exclusive right to license unless any one writer chooses to opt out of that system, as they sometimes do.
PRS also represents songs controlled by other collecting societies around the world through its reciprocal deals with those other societies.
However, in the digital domain the licensing of songs is more complicated for a variety of reasons, not least because streaming also exploits the mechanical rights in the songs which, with Anglo-American repertoire in particular, are controlled and often licensed by music publishers.
Plus, a livestreamed show is global and PRS is generally only able to offer a blanket licence covering something nearing a global repertoire within the UK.
Then there's the difference in rates. In the UK, 4.2% of box office takings usually goes to PRS. But with streaming, it's more common for services to pay up to 15% of revenue to the societies and publishers that control the song rights. So is a livestream more live or more stream?
As the number of livestreamed shows increased during the pandemic, PRS announced a new licence covering such events with the aim of removing as many of those complexities as possible. Although there was plenty of criticism regarding the 10% rate the society set and the ambiguities regarding the limitations of that licence.
Some argued that - because most of the livestreamed shows taking place during the pandemic were an attempt by artists, and their partners and suppliers in the live sector, to compensate for some of the income that they were losing due to lockdown - PRS should treat those events more like a real world live show and set a 4.2% rate.
Others also pointed out that the costs of staging livestreamed gigs - especially major events like the Dua Lipa show - were particularly high, and that should be factored into any PRS rate.
It remains to be seen if any of those complexities and arguments form part of LIVENow's defence.
In its lawsuit, PRS says it has made "repeated attempts" to get information about the revenues generated by livestreamed shows hosted by LIVENow, so that it can work out what licensing fees are due. But so far that information has not been forthcoming.
To that end, it is also seeking an injunction ordering the livestreaming outfit to provide that data. And another injunction ordering LIVENow to refrain from livestreaming any future shows containing performances of songs PRS represents.
Once real world live shows started to return as the COVID lockdowns ended, the at one point lively debate around the licensing of livestreamed concerts died down somewhat. It remains to be seen if this legal dispute reignites the debate within the music community.
Dr Dre close to completing $250 million deals around his music rights
According to Billboard, included in the two deals are Dre's artist royalties from his solo albums and the NWA recordings; his producer royalties; his writer's share on songs where he doesn't own the publishing; the recording rights to his 'The Chronic' album, which will revert to Dre later this year; and his share of the Top Dawg label that came via a joint venture between that label and his Universal imprint Aftermath.
It's thought the bigger chunk of rights will be acquired by Shamrock Holdings, the equity fund which was newsworthy in music circles in 2020 when it acquired the rights in Taylor Swift's first six albums off Scooter Braun's Ithaca Holdings.
The good news is that, assuming those deals go through, neither Universal nor Shamrock will have to worry about often controversial US Congress member Marjorie Taylor Greene doing her best to devalue the Dre oeuvre by using it to soundtrack her bizarre political videos.
Dre's lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to Greene earlier this week after she posted a video to social media of her stomping through the halls of Congress accompanied by his track 'Still DRE'.
After Dre hit out at the use of his track in said video, Greene initially hit back, telling TMZ that she'd deliberately only used the instrumental element of 'Still DRE' because - while she appreciates the "creative chord progression" of the track - she would never endorse Dre's "words of violence against women and police officers" and "glorification of the thug life and drugs".
However, the Donald Trump ally has now complied with the terms of Dre's cease and desist letter, which stated: "We think an actual lawmaker should be making laws not breaking laws - demand is hereby made that you cease and desist from any further unauthorised use of [Dr Dre's] music".
In a response letter, Greene's lawyers state: "We are in receipt of your correspondence of 9 Jan 2023. On behalf of Congresswoman Greene, please be advised that no further use of [Dr Dre's] copyright will be made by a political committee or via social media outlet she controls".
Though, presumably aware Dre could still sue for copyright infringement despite her ceasing and desisting, Greene's legal rep added that the agreement to cease and desist is not "an admission of any fact or waiver of any rights or defences".
Get Physical Music to manage Definitive Recordings catalogue
Get Physical will now manage the recording and publishing catalogues of Definitive, although Acquaviva will continue to be involved in an A&R capacity, while Mark Quail - who joined the Definitive team in 2004 - will also have an advisory role.
Confirming the deal, Get Physical's Roland Leeskers says: "It is a huge honour to have the trust of John and Mark as we bring Definitive Recordings into the Get Physical family".
"I have been in love with the label from day one. Releases such as Jetstream's 'Seriously', Dance Fever's 'A Woman In Love' or Robot Man's 'Do Da Doo' were essential in defining my very personal taste", he adds. "To have John and Mark on our side as future advisors in A&R and other matters is a huge plus on top of it. We are highly motivated to make this new era a definitive success".
Meanwhile, Acquaviva and Quail say in a joint statement: "We are extremely pleased and excited that Roland and the Get Physical team will be the stewards of this catalogue going forward to rejuvenate those masters and keep those artistic legacies alive".
Jeff Beck dies
In a statement yesterday, the guitarist's family said: "On behalf of his family, it is with deep and profound sadness that we share the news of Jeff Beck's passing. After suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis, he peacefully passed away [on Tuesday]. His family asks for privacy while they process this tremendous loss".
With a career spanning nearly 60 years, Beck first came to prominence with The Yardbirds - replacing Eric Clapton in that band in 1965. He also had success with the Jeff Beck Group and as a solo artist, and performed and recorded with numerous other musicians, including Stevie Wonder, Kate Bush, Jon Bon Jovi, Joe Cocker, Morrissey and Ozzy Osbourne.
Beck was recommended to The Yardbirds by Jimmy Page - both guitarists then working as session musicians. Although his time with the band lasted less than two years, he performed on several of their most successful singles, and recorded one album with them, 1966's 'Roger The Engineer'.
While a member of The Yardbirds, Beck also made his first solo record, 'Beck's Bolero', on which he was backed by Page, Keith Moon, John Paul Jones and pianist Nicky Hopkins.
Pleased with the results, the musicians talked about forming a new band, which Moon quipped would "go down like a lead zeppelin". Something Page filed away for later. The song was eventually released as the b-side to Beck's first solo single, 'Hi Ho Silver Lining', which went to number fourteen in the UK singles chart.
He then formed the Jeff Beck Group, which included Hopkins, as well as Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass. The band released two albums - the first billed as a Jeff Beck solo record - before splitting in 1969. The following year, Beck formed a new version of the group with a different sound, with whom he recorded a further two albums.
Beck released eleven solo albums during his career - the most recent, 'Loud Hailer', arriving in 2016. His final album, released last year, was a collaboration with actor Johnny Depp, titled '18'. Depp also joined Beck on stage at a number of live shows immediately following his defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard.
Paying tribute to his former bandmate last night, Rod Stewart said on Twitter: "Jeff Beck was on another planet. He took me and Ronnie Wood to the USA in the late 60s in his band the Jeff Beck Group and we haven't looked back since. He was one of the few guitarists that when playing live would actually listen to me sing and respond. Jeff, you were the greatest, my man. Thank you for everything".
James Holden announces new album
Out now is new single 'Contains Multitudes'. The ten minute track is actually split into two parts, starting out with fast-paced synth and tabla before slowing down to a sombre piano and violin piece.
"I'd been looking at John Stezaker's collages", he explains, "where things collide and it feels like it opens a window into them, thinking a lot about musical approaches to that idea, then the end part of this just appeared in my head as I listened to the loops of the beginning part. The two songs are opposite musics but also completely contained inside one another".
Of the album more widely, he says: "I wanted this to be my most open record, uncynical, naive, unguarded, the record teenage me wanted to make. I used to balance my clock radio on a wardrobe to catch the faint pirate FM signals from the nearest city, dreaming of what raves would be like when I could finally escape and become a New Age traveller".
The album is out on 31 Mar, and Holden will perform live at EartH in London on 13 Apr. Listen to 'Contains Multitudes' here.
TikTok has signed a new licensing deal with the Rotana Music Group, the record label owned by Saudi Arabia's Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, into which Warner Music invested in 2021. The music firm's CEO Salem Al Hendi is "very THRILLED with this licensing agreement", which, he says, "will facilitate Arab music reach into the Middle East and North Africa music industry and young communities".
AEG Presents UK has hired Lee Laborde - who was previously with Live Nation - to be Senior Vice President of its Promoting Division, reporting into CEO Steve Homer, who says: "Lee is someone I have known for many years and simply put he is one of the best in the business - the roster of artists he works with are testament to that".
Bauer Media Audio UK has appointed Lucie Cave to the new role of Chief Creative Officer - Podcasts And Commercial Content. She says: "This is a brand new era for podcasting as we move beyond 'format' to atomised content across multiple platforms. As an editor, journalist and host myself I am massively excited by the opportunity to develop talent into transmedia brands and find new ways of reaching fans and building audiences".
The UK's Music Venue Trust has announced fourteen more recipients of grants via its Pipeline Investment Fund. The venues receiving funding this time are: Cloak And Dagger (Bristol), Coda (Colchester); Faith In Strangers (Margate); Fiddlers Elbow (London); Fighting Cocks (London); Folklore Rooms (Brighton); Hot Box Live (Chelmsford); Meraki (Liverpool); Patriot Home Of Rock (Crumlin); Suburbia (Southampton); The Lughole (Sheffield); The Tin Music & Arts (Coventry); Westgate Hotel (Newport); and Sally Browns (Bradford).
U2 have released a new version of 'Pride (In The Name Of Love)', featuring new lyrics, which will appear on their upcoming 40 track album, 'Songs Of Surrender'.
John Cale has released new single 'Noise Of You'. "I don't tend to romanticise the idea of love", he says. "It represents 'need' and that's not something I'm particularly comfortable with. When it gets ahold of you though - don't let go - no matter how many times you mess it up!" His new album, 'Mercy', is out next week.
Liturgy have released new single 'Angel Of Sovereignty'. Their new album, '93696', is out on 24 Mar.
Tennis have released new single 'Let's Make A Mistake Tonight'. Their new album, 'Pollen', is out on 10 Feb, and they will play a two night residency at London's Islington Assembly Hall kicking off on 14 Feb.
Wesley Joseph has released new single 'Hiatus'. The track, he says, "is the narrative and conclusion of growing pains, a teenager talking to his future self and his future self talking back". His new album, 'Glow', is out on 17 Feb.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Eurovision hopeful John Lydon brands competition "disgusting"
Lydon and his band Public Image Ltd are down to the final six being considered to represent Ireland at this year's Contest in May, with the final decision set to be announced next month.
Speaking to RTE's Radio 1 about Eurovision, Lydon said: "It's absolutely awful, the songs. The whole thing of it is disgusting to me. I'm a songwriter, I perform live, and these shows just come across as so dreadfully phoney to me. But look, we're giving it a chance to break out of that mould".
How big of him. He added that representing Ireland in the big Contest would be a "fantastic opportunity" for him, although he's not yet entirely sure what playing at the grand final would entail. Asked what his performance would involve, he said: "I've no idea. Apparently, I have to do karaoke over a backing track".
Now I'm imagining doing karaoke with John Lydon. Would that be fun? Maybe. Maybe we should reframe the question. How much would you like to be stuck in a small room with John Lydon?
Anyway, I don't think that's an option right now. But it is still a possibility that he will appear on the Eurovision stage in Liverpool on 13 May. Though first he must compete for the honour of representing Ireland against Wild Youth, Adgy, Connolly, Leila Jane and K Muni & ND.
They will all play on a special edition of RTÉ One's 'The Late Late Show' on 3 Feb, with Ireland's Eurovision entrant then selected by regional jury votes and a public phone poll.