TODAY'S TOP STORY: The battle for control of K-pop company SM Entertainment is officially over with South Korean internet firm Kakao the winner. Its rival in that battle, Hybe, has now decided to sell its SM shares to Kakao... [READ MORE]

TOP STORIES Hybe confirms it will sell its SM shares to Kakao
LEGAL Sony Music again argues that UK legal battle with Jimi Hendrix Experience members should be paused pending US case
3lau close to reaching settlement on lawsuit over NFT auction

DIGITAL & D2F SERVICES TikTok boss faces five hour grilling in US Congress
BPI says streaming is helping more musicians to become successful

MEDIA BBC "suspends" decision to axe BBC Singers
RELEASES Ed Sheeran releases new single Eyes Closed
AND FINALLY... Neil Young declares touring "broken" as ticketing controversies continue
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Hybe confirms it will sell its SM shares to Kakao
The battle for control of K-pop company SM Entertainment is officially over with South Korean internet firm Kakao the winner. Its rival in that battle, Hybe, has now decided to sell its SM shares to Kakao.

The management team at SM Entertainment originally agreed a deal that would see it issue a bunch of new shares that would be bought by Kakao, kicking off a wider alliance between SM and Kakao's own entertainment division.

However, that proposed deal was opposed by SM's founder and then biggest shareholder Lee Soo-man. He went to court to block the issuing of the new shares, while also persuading Hybe that it should try to push Kakao out of the equation and take control of his company.

To that end, Lee sold most of his SM shares to Hybe, which then announced plans to buy more SM stock from existing shareholders until it had a 40% controlling stake in the company. Meanwhile, Lee's legal bid to block the issuing of new shares was successful, forcing SM to cancel its original deal with Kakao.

Which meant, for the briefest of moments, it looked like Lee and Hybe could win this battle, and that the partnership with Kakao supported by SM's management - including Lee's nephew Lee Sung-soo, who is the current co-CEO of SM - had been well and truly scuppered.

But that moment was indeed brief. Kakao announced that it was also now interested in buying SM stock from current shareholders. And it also wanted to secure a 40% controlling stake. And it was offering more money than Hybe.

The latter was in no mood to enter a price war with Kakao in a bid to get control of SM and so pretty quickly bailed on its share-buying plan, with Hybe founder Bang Si-hyuk then telling journalists his company's focus was now back on buying up American music companies.

It wasn't immediately clear what Hybe planned to do with the SM shares it had acquired by that point. But earlier today it confirmed it will now sell its 15.8% stake in SM to Kakao, basically accepting the latter's tender offer.

The whole thing means that Lee - who presumably hoped he'd continue to have an influence over SM if Hybe was in control - is now a relatively small shareholder in the business. Meanwhile, the SM management team, including his nephew, will get to pursue a plan for the company that they call SM 3.0 with the support and backing of Kakao.

And so, it seems, the recent corporate dramas in the world of K-pop are now at an end. I look forward to someone turning it all into a K-pop musical.


Sony Music again argues that UK legal battle with Jimi Hendrix Experience members should be paused pending US case
Sony Music again this week argued that a copyright dispute with former members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience should be pursued in the courts in New York not London.

Lawsuits have been filed on both sides of the Atlantic, but - Sony's legal rep said - the US case should be prioritised, because the outcome in that will "save time, money and resources" when it comes to the UK litigation.

This dispute is between Sony Music and the Jimi Hendrix's estate on one side, and UK-based companies representing the estates of the other two members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience band - Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell - on the other.

The latter claim they control rights in relation to the Experience catalogue which are being infringed by the Hendrix estate and its music distribution partner, which is Sony Music.

The Hendrix estate counters that, after Hendrix's death in 1970, both Redding and Mitchell signed agreements via which they basically gave up any copyright or royalty claims in relation to recordings made by the Jimi Hendrix Experience in return for "significant monetary consideration".

Neither Redding nor Mitchell ever subsequently raised any issues with those agreements while they were still alive.

But the Redding and Mitchell companies argue that the 1970s agreements didn't actually see the two musicians assign any rights and only related to revenues generated by the recordings at that time, which obviously didn't include any digital income.

Anticipating that the Redding and Mitchell companies were prepping legal action in the UK, the Hendrix estate and Sony Music filed legal action in New York seeking court confirmation that the 1970s agreements were still in force. The Redding and Mitchell companies then subsequently filed their own lawsuit with the courts in London.

Sony wants the UK case stayed pending the outcome of the US case. The Redding and Mitchell companies say that a legal battle involving British musicians enforcing rights under British copyright law shouldn't have to wait for a US court to go through the motions.

But Sony and the Hendrix estate say that the dispute here is really about the 1970s contracts, which were signed under American law.

The major also contends that insisting that the UK litigation should advance without obtaining a clear understanding from US courts about the implications of the 1970s contracts within the context of the modern music industry - while concurrently attempting to apply UK and European copyright laws to agreements under US jurisdiction - is neither efficient nor fair.

In the latest court hearing to consider those respective arguments, Sony Music's legal rep Robert Howe said - according to Law360 - "this is a case where the New York court should be given due deference to proceed with and try the issue about the meaning and effect of the [1970s agreements]".

"You will have a definitive ruling on what rights the estates have, and that will save time, money and resources here", he added. "It is throwing sand into the eyes of the court to say that the releases must accept concepts of consent from EU law".

Meanwhile, the legal rep for the Redding and Mitchell companies, Simon Malynicz, again stressed that digital exploitation of the Hendrix recordings was out of the scope of those old contracts, while adding: "There's something unattractive about the New York court deciding the copyright claim of citizens of the UK purely because of the convenience of the US parties".

Judge Edwin Johnson is expected to rule on whether or not the UK case should be stayed by late April.


3lau close to reaching settlement on lawsuit over NFT auction
DJ and producer 3lau - real name Justin Blau - is close to settling a lawsuit with former collaborator Luna Aura over the earnings from an NFT auction of his album 'Ultraviolet'. It specifically relates to a song the two collaborators worked on together for the album, 'Walk Away'.

The producer's NFT auction, which coincided with the third anniversary of the record, offered buyers various products and perks, all linked to his 2018 record, and some specifically to 'Walk Away'.

In her lawsuit Aura - real name Angela Anne Flores - said that, while Blau owns the copyright in the recording of 'Walk Away', she has a 30% stake in the song copyright, and was also due a 50% artist royalty under contract from the exploitation of the recording.

She then claimed that Blau did not properly license the inclusion of 'Walk Away' in his NFT release and, rather than paying a proper royalty, offered her a standalone payment of $25,000. The lawsuit did not stipulate how much she believed she was actually due from the auction.

Blau denied Aura's accusations, with him and his manager saying in a statement at the time that they would "vigorously defend the lawsuit". However, now, according to Billboard, both sides have tentatively agreed a settlement.

Neither side has commented on the reports of the settlement, and no details of what might have been agreed have been confirmed. If the settlement is not finalised within 30 days, the case could still continue.


TikTok boss faces five hour grilling in US Congress
Someone should tell American lawmakers that if they want kids in America to share their concerns about all those shady and no doubt sinister Chinese government officials monitoring their every move via the TikTok app, they need to say so in 40 seconds while dancing to the hook of a buzzy pop hit.

Sitting down in Congress and moaning on about it for five hours straight isn't going to cut it I'm afraid. Even if you do have the boss of TikTok on the other side of the table, desperately trying his best to stick to a pre-rehearsed list of statements that are all basically different ways of saying "we're not that evil, honest guvnor". Or, perhaps, more realistically, "we're definitely no more evil than Google and Meta".

But still, for those following the political story around TikTok, the stern questioning of the digital firm's previously low profile CEO Shou Zi Chew yesterday was something of a big event. Given the pressure that has been building on the social media app in multiple countries over the relationship between its China-based owner Bytedance and the Chinese government.

And the pressing need to do something about evil TikTok and all of its evil shenanigans is something that actually unites politicians across the super-divided and partisan American Congress of 2023. Even if that means Democrats are essentially agreeing with one of Donald Trump's policies from back during his presidency, specifically his failed TikTok ban.

There were few surprises during Chew's lengthy grilling by members of the House Committee On Energy And Commerce. We knew that Chew would insist that the Chinese government does not have access to TikTok user-data; and that TikTok is in fact a global company with much of its operations outside of China.

And that TikTok takes data security very seriously indeed; that it's already working on a big old project in America to address all the concerns of Congress and other American political types; and that extra measures are already in place to protect young people using the app. So, actually, all those TikTok-addicted kids in America are just fine.

And we knew Chew would also stress just how popular TikTok is within the USA, how many people use it everyday, how many creators and businesses rely on it as a monetisation and marketing platform, and therefore how catastrophic it would be if President Joe Biden, empowered by new laws in Congress, was to ban use of the app within the country.

Of course, TikTok's critics argue, a compromise would be for Bytedance to sell TikTok, maybe via an initial public offering on an American stock exchange. But no need, according to Chew, because all the concerns raised by his company's critics are already being dealt with.

We also knew that the committee members would be forthright in expressing their various concerns while questioning Chew about what access Bytedance staff in China currently have to US user-data; and about the day-to-day relationship between TikTok and its owner, and its owner and the Chinese government.

And also whether that big data security project in America - dubbed Project Texas - will really solve the problems, and if so, how soon; and whether Chew and his team are really doing enough to protect those all-important kids in America.

Chew conceded that Bytedance staff in China do indeed have access to TikTok data from around the world, for now at least, because "we rely on global interoperability". But nothing dodgy is going on with the data they can access, he insisted.

Asked if he personally had shares in Bytedance, Chew reluctantly admitted that he did. But, he was keen to stress, TikTok nevertheless operates quite autonomously from its owner, despite Chew himself having moved over from a senior role at Bytedance into his current TikTok job.

And when questioned about whether or not he lets his own kids use TikTok, Chew said no, but only because in Singapore - where they live - the kid-friendly version of the app isn't currently available. That version is available in the US, so - you know - kids in America are still doing fine.

Although not part of the official script, Chew did mention that plenty of data issues have been raised with American digital platforms, so it's not like only foreign social media apps have caused concern.

Though one Committee member, while acknowledging that is true, observed that his colleagues in Congress weren't particularly impressed when Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg addressed those issues in Washington in 2018, and they were unlikely to be any more impressed by Chew's arguments yesterday.

So, everyone said what we expected them to say; it just took them five hours to do it. What now? More political and media organisations are likely to restrict use of TikTok on their networks and official devices - the UK Parliament did so yesterday.

Meanwhile, unless Biden is actually willing and able to instigate a full-on TikTok ban which, unlike Trump's, doesn't get caught up in legal wrangling, all those kids in America will keep on TikTokking. What fun!

Hey kids in America. Speaking as a former member of the Kim Wilde fan club, here's a suggestion for you: some sort of TikTok fad using a sneaky clip of 'Kids In America'?

And then we could get the Chinese government's data spies to pick the best one, on the promise they'll delete all the personal TikTok data they've gathered about the winner. Which is no data at all, I'm sure Chew would want you all to know. Yeah, maybe.


BPI says streaming is helping more musicians to become successful
The streaming era has democratised the music industry, spreading success across a larger number of artists compared to those CD-selling days of old. Or so says UK record industry trade group BPI based on its crunching of Official Charts Company data.

According to its study, the top ten leading streaming artists made up just 4.9% of the UK audio streaming market in 2022. Whereas back in 2007, when CD was still the dominant format, the ten biggest artists of the moment accounted for 10.9% of album sales.

So, artists everywhere will be pleased to have it confirmed that they're all doing much better these days. That's what they're always saying, isn't it?

Sophie Jones, BPI Chief Strategy Officer and Interim Chief Executive, says of the new stats: "The streaming market is enabling more artists to achieve real success and earn a meaningful living by opening up huge opportunities in the recorded music market. It enables artists from all genres and backgrounds to instantly reach a global audience".

Widening out the analysis, the figures make it even more apparent how things have shifted in the last fifteen years. In 2007, the top 100 artists claimed 45.1% of artist album sales, while the 100 leading streaming artists in 2022 made up just 19.0% of the audio streaming numbers.

Furthermore, 87.8% of artist album sales in 2007 were achieved by only 1000 artists, compared to 2022, when the top 1000 streaming artists claimed a mere 50.1% of streams.

So that leaves more space for other artists to find at least moderate success. Of course, they're also competing with far more other artists now as well, not to mention a much more accessible catalogue of old recordings, so that space is still fairly cramped.

Still, in 2022, more than 2000 artists each generated at least ten million audio streams of their music in the UK. Additionally, over 200 artists generated at least 100 million UK streams of their music last year.

So plenty of streams going on in the UK, plus the BPI also says that, on average, 80% of the leading UK artists' streams come from international listeners. As a result, their UK stream counts should typically be multiplied by five to produce their global stream total.

These stats also provide a guide to how many streams of a track are required to enjoy chart success. And while chart rankings are no longer as important as they once were, that does provide a steer on how many streams are needed to make a mark. And it's a lot.

The UK's 5000th most popular track in 2022 was streamed more around five million times across the year. But on average 1.3 million audio streams a week are required to break into the Top 40. So in chart terms, as well as commercially, artists really need millions of streams a month, and preferably per week, to enjoy chart success and decent financial returns.

While the BPI is obviously presenting these stats to talk up just how great everything is going with streaming - particularly as the economics of streaming debate continues in political circles in the UK - artists and their managers would probably put a different spin on the figures.

Although there are an increasing number of mid-tier artists, some of them releasing music independently, that are enjoying commercial success, even if they are in the minority overall.

"This includes a blossoming generation of talent who are developing dedicated and enthusiastic fanbases alongside artists with mainstream followings", argues Jones. "They are generating many millions of streams, as well as significant royalties each year".

"While streaming has created unparalleled levels of competition, given the tens of thousands of new tracks that are uploaded to the main digital services every day, it is also providing opportunities for more artists than ever before", she continues.

The BPI's report also notes that, in addition to streaming, artists have a variety of income sources that are evolving and growing over time, such as broadcast and public performance revenues via PPL, merchandising, sync revenue from film, TV and games soundtracks, advertising, brand partnerships, sponsorships, touring income, and the sale of physical recordings. Although, again, many artists would argue that this is not bringing in enough overall to sustain a career.


BBC "suspends" decision to axe BBC Singers
The BBC announced this morning that it has decided to reverse its decision to disband the BBC Singers, its in-house chamber choir that was first launched in 1924. In a statement, the broadcaster said that it "will suspend the proposal to close the BBC Singers while we actively explore" alternative funding models for the choir.

While criticism of the decision to close the choir was far-reaching across the classical music industry, the decision to reverse the plan specifically comes following "intense discussions" with the Musicians' Union.

"The BBC has received approaches from a number of organisations offering alternative funding models for the BBC Singers", says this morning's statement. "We have agreed with the Musicians' Union that we will suspend the proposal to close the BBC Singers while we actively explore these options.

"If viable", it goes on, "these alternative options would secure the future of the ensemble. We can also confirm the Singers will appear in this year's BBC Proms".

So, not an entirely secure future, but certainly a more positive outlook than before. Commenting on the decision, the MU's National Organiser For Orchestras, Jo Laverty, says: "The weeks since the BBC's announcement have impacted all the individuals affected in the most brutal way".

"We are right behind every member affected, and as we enter negotiation we will be consulting our members in the Singers and BBC orchestras to ensure the outcome is as positive as possible for them all".

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl adds: "The outpouring of love for the BBC Singers and orchestras over the past few weeks has been incredible and we know our members are hugely grateful for all the support they've received".

"We hope the BBC recognises the real quality and value they bring to the UK's music industry, international music makers and fans, and BBC licence fee payers who will be keener than ever to see them in action live and via broadcast", she goes on. "The work they do in music education is also crucial. They are frankly irreplaceable".

Earlier this week, a group of over 18,000 amateur choir members added their names to the list of critics of the plans to shut down the BBC Singers, saying that "by killing off the UK's leading professional choir, you will diminish us all".

Acknowledging the strong feeling surrounding the proposals, the BBC's statement continues: "We know that the BBC Singers are much loved across the classical community and their professionalism, quality and standing has never been in question. We have said throughout these were difficult decisions".

"Therefore, we want to fully explore the options that have been brought to us to see if there is another way forward. The BBC still needs to make savings and still plans to invest more widely in the future of choral singing across the UK".

"The BBC, as the biggest commissioner of music and one of the biggest employers of musicians in the country, recognises it has a vital role to play in supporting orchestral and choral music", it goes on.

Of course, there remain proposed cuts to three BBC orchestras too, which have also drawn criticism. Commenting on this, the BBC says: "We will continue to engage with the Musicians' Union and the other BBC unions about our proposals on the BBC's English orchestras. We are committed to meaningful consultation and to avoiding compulsory redundancies, wherever possible".

Also commenting this morning was Independent Society Of Musicians' Chief Executive, Deborah Annetts, who states: "We are delighted and relieved that the BBC Singers are not facing immediate closure. This is the right decision and we thank the BBC for listening to the sector".

"The international outrage over the decision shows just how popular the BBC Singers are across the globe. We are concerned about the proposal to look at new models of funding and urge the BBC to find a solution that secures the long-term future of the group".

"There are also other issues to resolve, including the decision to cut the three English BBC orchestras by 20%, which the BBC's own previous reports have shown to be unviable, but this is a positive step", she goes on. "We thank all the organisations and musicians and audience members who have taken the time to stand alongside the ISM and help to save the much-loved Singers".

It remains to be seen what the "alternative funding models" on offer are, and if they can secure the future of the BBC Singers long-term.


Playlist: Brand New On CMU
Every Friday we round up all the new music we've covered over the preceding week into a Spotify playlist.

Among the artists with brand new music to check out this week are Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding, Rina Sawayama, The National, Mammoth WVH, Yunè Pinku, James Holden, Meshell Ndegeocello, NCT Dream, Jpegmafia & Danny Brown, Shygirl & Björk, The Japanese House and more.

Check out the whole playlist on Spotify here

Ed Sheeran releases new single Eyes Closed
Ed Sheeran has released his latest single 'Eyes Closed' along with its official music video, which serves as a metaphor for the themes of loss and grief contained in the song's lyrics.

Directed by Mia Barnes, the video shows Sheeran being followed by a blue monster, symbolising grief, which grows bigger and bigger as the song progresses.

Originally written several years ago as a break up song, the track took on new meaning following the death of two of Sheeran's friends - SBTV founder Jamal Edwards in February last year, and cricketer Shane Warne a month later.

"This song is about losing someone, feeling like every time you go out and you expect to just bump into them, and everything just reminds you of them and the things you did together", says Sheeran. "You sorta have to take yourself out of reality sometimes to numb the pain of loss, but certain things just bring you right back into it".

On the video, he adds: "When I was thinking of concepts for the 'Eyes Closed' music video, I wanted to make a video inspired by movies like [1950 film] 'Harvey', where the main character has an imaginary friend who's a giant rabbit that no one can see".

"There's also a book I read my daughters where sadness is encapsulated by an imaginary creature", he continues. "Often sadness is something that follows you around, engulfing the rooms you're in, and you can feel and see it, but no one else around you can. So I decided to create my own big blue monster for the video. He gets bigger and bigger as the video goes on, til he takes up whole rooms and is all I can see, just like sadness".

The song is taken from Sheeran's new Aaron Dessner-produced album '-', which is set for release on 5 May. Earlier this week, Sheeran revealed that he has already recorded a second album with Dessner, as well as another with J Balvin. Plus, he's working on another that he says will not come out until after his death.

And if that's not enough Ed Sheeran for you, he will also appear in a new four part documentary called 'Ed Sheeran: The Sum Of It All', which is set to appear on Disney+ on 3 May.

Meanwhile, here is the video for 'Eyes Closed'.


Neil Young declares touring "broken" as ticketing controversies continue
Neil Young has weighed in with his views on the recent controversies around Ticketmaster fees and secondary ticketing, saying that "concert touring is broken".

Writing on his website, Young proclaims: "It's over. The old days are gone. I get letters blaming me for $3000 tickets [being sold on the secondary market] for a benefit I am doing. That money does not go to me or the benefit. Artists have to worry about ripped off fans blaming them for Ticketmaster add-ons and scalpers".

In particular he highlights the recent row over the fees charged for tickets on The Cure's upcoming US tour. Frontman Robert Smith said that the band had chosen to use Ticketmaster's Verified Fan system for the ticketing on those shows in order to reduce the number of tickets that ended up being touted - or scalped if you prefer - on the secondary sites (although Vice reported this week that touts are already finding ways around this).

The band had also ensured that prices for the actual tickets were kept low, so that as many fans as possible could afford to see them play. However, Ticketmaster's subsequent fees meant they weren't actually as big a bargain as the band had hoped. Some fans found that, once fees were added, four $20 tickets cost them $172.

Fielding complaints from fans on Twitter, Smith went back to Ticketmaster to question the fees and convinced the company to give ticket buyers partial refunds, as well as dropping the fees for tickets still on sale.

This all comes at a time when Live Nation-owned Ticketmaster is facing heavy criticism in US political circles for some of its ticket-selling practices.

That criticism spiked after all the issues that occurred when tickets for Taylor Swift's upcoming tour were put on sale via the Verified Fan system last year - an incident that resulted in a hearing in US Congress where the ticketing business in general and Ticketmaster in particular were both in the spotlight.

Although in Europe Ticketmaster is no longer involved in secondary ticketing, it remains part of its business in the US, which adds to the controversy. Seeing tickets hoovered up by touts before they can be bought by actual fans is frustrating for those fans and the artists themselves.

Another point of criticism is Ticketmaster's dynamic ticketing system, which adds variable pricing to primary ticketing, seeing prices increase when there is high demand.

This was implemented in response to high prices on secondary ticketing sites, but when talking to fans last week, Smith said that this system was a "scam" and that The Cure had refused to allow it to be applied to their tickets and urged other artists to do the same.

It's all those various ongoing issues around ticketing that leads Young to conclude in his blog that "concert tours are no longer fun".


ANDY MALT heads up our editorial operations, overseeing the CMU Dailywebsite and Setlist podcast, managing social channels, reporting on artist and business stories, and writing the CMU Approved column.
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CHRIS COOKE is co-Founder and MD of CMU - he continues to write key business news stories, and runs training, research and event projects for the CMU Insights consultancy unit and CMU:DIY future talent programme.
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SAM TAYLOR leads on the commerical side of CMU, overseeing sales, sponsorship and business development, as well as heading up training, research and event projects at our consultancy unit CMU Insights.
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CARO MOSES is Editor of CMU's sister media ThisWeek Culture and ThreeWeeks Edinburgh. Having previously also written and edited articles for CMU, she continues to advise and support our operations.
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