Apr 29, 2024 12 min read

📑 CMU Digest: Co-op Live has been having a pretty bad week...

Gedagedigedagedago! It's not often that you see a major live venue do a reverse Rickroll, but Co-op Live pulled it off.

📑 CMU Digest: Co-op Live has been having a pretty bad week...

This week:

🎪 Manchester's new arena venue Co-op Live had a pretty bad week. They're currently down one general manager and two "grand opening" shows, so let's hope this week goes a little bit better. Maybe they could get a grassroots music venue in to show them how to run things properly...

🐘 Hipgnosis is the gift that just keeps on giving. Bids - and drama levels - look set to continue to climb, with Blackstone lawyering up over its call option and apparently considering whether to top Concord's $1.25 per-share offer. With a general meeting set for 10 Jun that will decide the future of the music rights investment fund, a LOT could happen before then.

🥊 Maybe Spotify could rename itself 'Spatify' given its seemingly never-ending spat with Apple... and anyone else within reach. Or maybe 'Stopify' to match its growth, which has pretty much stopped. Or 'Stupify', to match Daniel Ek's apparent bemusement that firing 1700 people might have some sort of operational impact on his business. Or... well, you get the idea.

🗓️ TikTok would rather quit the US than be forced to sell itself - and there's a 270 day deadline ticking (yes, tocking too) away. Rumours that one L. Grainge was seen doing joyous cartwheels remain entirely unconfirmed.

💩 The UK's government has shown just how much they care about the fact that many women in the music industry are treated appallingly by doing... absolutely nothing.


🤡 Pharrell Williams seemingly wants to trademark everything. Watch out, your dog could be next.

🤖 Do AI companies have a slapdash attitude to copyright? Don't ask Amazon!

🥸 Everyone's heard about the fake Drake. Now get ready for the Drake fake.

🤪 Pandora - somewhat whimsically - has accused the MLC of pursuing "legal frolics and detours”. Let's hope everyone packed nice sandwiches.

💸 If you thought festival tickets were getting a bit pricey look away now. Festival owner Superstruct is getting ready to sell itself, and the price tag could be as much as £1.5 billion.


🪕 Everyone loves a hoe-down. Can you say Gedagedigedagedago? No? Well nor can we.

🫣 A reverse Rickroll kicked off a really bad week for Manchester’s Co-op Live arena venue

Almost everyone knows what a Rickroll is: a comedic bait and switch where, scrolling through social media you click something interesting looking, only to land on Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ video on YouTube. But what does that have to do with Manchester’s new arena venue Co-op Live? 

A test event on Saturday 20 Apr was meant to host an audience of 11,000 people who thought they were going to see Rick Astley perform live. At the last minute, 7000 people found out that they’d been reverse Rickrolled by Co-op Live, and instead of seeing Astley perform in person they’d be sitting at home scrolling through social media. For Co-op Live - and General Manager Gary Roden - things only got worse from there.

The excuse given by Co-op Live for the last minute cut back on capacity was that power issues at the venue were a safety concern. Shortly after the Astley test event was scaled back, the venue announced that the first official shows - from comedian Peter Kay - scheduled for the Tuesday and Wednesday just gone would need to be pushed back a week. That meant the opening show for the venue would be a smaller scale performance from The Black Keys, due to take place on Saturday 27 Apr. 

On Friday morning that show was also pulled, and Peter Kay’s shows were rescheduled yet again as power issues at the venue continued. Co-op Live said that the further postponements were necessary “to ensure that we can run all shows safely”, while Peter Kay said “I know, I can’t believe it either”. 

This probably wouldn’t have attracted quite so much censure if the new venue’s General Manager, Gary Roden, hadn’t mouthed off about a proposal to apply a £1 ticket levy to arena show tickets to help support grassroots music venues. In a BBC interview about Co-op Live’s opening he called the levy plan “simplistic”, the campaign  “aggressive” and said the reason grassroots venues struggle is because some of them are “poorly run”.

In the context of Co-op Live’s chaotic opening, those comments took on a hubristic weight all of their own and by Thursday night Roden had resigned. His replacement is Rebecca Kane Burton, formerly GM at London’s O2 Arena, now interim General Manager of Co-op Live.

🌚 Hipgnosis is headed to the moon as bid price seems set to go higher still

It’s sometimes hard to believe that the current drama at Hipgnosis Songs Fund - or SONG - has only been going on for around six months. However, over that brief period so much has happened that it sometimes feels like time has slowed down

In those six months we’ve seen one Hipgnosis board initiate a “strategic review” to examine the behaviour of another Hipgnosis company, before almost immediately being ousted, to be replaced by a new board, headed by a new chair, Rob Naylor - formerly chair of another music rights merry-go round, the Round Hill Music Fund, now owned by music rights investor Concord. 

On 18 Apr Concord announced that it was going to acquire the full share capital of SONG, had a bunch of irrevocable commitments from shareholders keen to see the deal happen, and the board was recommending their offer which was fair but not excessive. Job’s a good ‘un, thank you very much ladies and gentlemen, the show is over, please leave your seats, we’ll be passing round a bucket at the end.

At the time CMU said “as things stand - bar a last minute bid from HSM-associated Blackstone - it seems likely that the deal with Concord will go through”. And, of course, two days later - on a Saturday! - up popped Blackstone to say that it was thinking about bidding $1.24 a share for SONG. 

By Wednesday Concord had upped its offer to $1.25. More irrevocable commitments and the offer “unanimously recommended by the Hipgnosis board” who had also thrown their 379,796 shares into the irrevocable commitments pot. The future of SONG will now be decided at a General Meeting to be held on 10 Jun. 

It's now almost certain that we will see more movement from Blackstone, whether in the shape of an increased offer of its own, or throwing in the towel. However, the latter option seems unlikely. Blackstone and its subsidiary Hipgnosis Song Management are already talking up the prospect that they will fight any attempt to go round the ‘call option’ held by HSM, which lets HSM acquire all the SONG-owned music rights in the event of a sale. 

With a number of large shareholders consolidating their positions in the fund at prices higher than Concord’s $1.25 bid, it seems very likely indeed that the price will go higher - validating Hipgnosis founder Merck Mercuriadis’ long-held stance that the catalogues of music rights owned by SONG held far greater value than that placed on them by the stock market. 

🥊 Spotify hits out at Apple, publishers hit out at Spotify, CEO failed to anticipate impact of Christmas lay-offs

Spotify hit out at Apple again, accusing the tech giant of “defying” European law by refusing to approve the latest updates to the streaming service's iOS app in Europe. Those updates were made after the European Commission ordered Apple to allow app developers to sign-post within their apps payment options elsewhere on the internet, so to avoid using Apple's commission charging in-app payments platform. 

Apple is allowing that to happen, but only if a developer agrees to pay a commission on payments taken elsewhere if a transaction started in an iOS app. But that's a sneaky trick, Spotify reckons, and - it said this week - the EU should tell Apple that that approach does not comply with its previous order. 

Talking of sneaky tricks, Spotify has been again criticised for reclassifying its main premium subscription product as a bundle so that it can pay lower royalty rates to music publishers and songwriters under the terms of the US compulsory licence. It has been able to do that by adding audiobooks to the main product while also launching a standalone audiobook subscription. By making that move, said the Association Of Independent Music Publishers this week, Spotify “shows a remarkable lack of appreciation for music rightsholders and the value of music”. 

Meanwhile Spotify CEO Daniel Ek repeatedly focused on the “value” that Spotify could offer consumers, and how that was going to help the business, during the company’s Q1 earnings call this week. Despite his best efforts to put a positive spin on things during the call with investors, if you move beyond the top line Spotify’s numbers make pretty grim reading. Growth has stalled, total revenue is down, ad-supported revenue has fallen off a cliff, and monthly active users in North America have dropped. But Spotify made €168 million in profit - so everyone, please, focus on that.

And don’t worry! All of this can all be explained because firing a bunch of people and putting the squeeze on marketing spend had - inexplicably to Ek, it seems - major impacts on growth. “The impact of our December workforce reduction”, said Ek, “did disrupt our day to day operations more than we anticipated”, before adding, “Although it took us some time to find our footing, more than four months into this transition I think we're back on track”. Let’s hope he’s also putting in the extra hours.

🗓️ 270 days to sell TikTok - but sources say ByteDance would rather quit US than sell

The sell-or-be-banned law first passed as standalone legislation by the US House Of Representatives last month was added to a bigger bill that also included aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The House passed that bigger package on 20 Apr and the Senate did likewise days later. US President Joe Biden then signed it all into law. 

TikTok has vowed to fight the measures in the courts arguing that the law is unconstitutional on free speech grounds. If that fails, sources say that ByteDance will bail on the US market, despite American politicians insisting that their law would result in a change in ownership rather than an actual ban. 

Meanwhile, in Europe, regulators took issue with the launch of the TikTok Lite app in France and Spain. It's the first time the Lite version of TikTok, made to perform better over slower internet connections, has been available in Europe. Regulators raised concerns about one specific feature, a rewards programme which allows users to earn points in return for watching videos and fulfilling other tasks. 

The European Commission said that, under the new EU Digital Services Act, TikTok should have first undertaken a “diligent assessment of the risks that feature entails, in particular those related to the addictive effect of the platforms”, which it failed to do.

💩 UK government rejects all legislative reforms proposed by Misogyny in Music report

The report, published in January by Parliament’s Women And Equalities Select Committee, said that discrimination against women who work in the music industry is “endemic”. 

It made numerous recommendations for both the industry itself but also on how government could change the law to address some of the issues. However, in its response to the report, the government rejected all the proposed legislative reforms. The Musicians' Union urged a rethink, adding that it was "deeply disappointed in the government’s response ... and shocked that the select committee’s recommendations have been rejected in this way”. 

Black Lives In Music CEO Charisse Beaumont added that the dismissal of the recommendations to strengthen discrimination legislation in the UK “reveals a grave misunderstanding or, worse, a blatant disregard” for the issues highlighted by MPs. 

The F-List's Vick Bain stated “that the UK government has the ability to update the Equalities Act in order to give greater protection to these women and yet is choosing not to, speaks volumes”. And Nadia Khan, founder of Women In CTRL, said the government's decision “reinforces the invisibility of women in the industry, and sends a clear message that nothing will change for women”. 


🤡 Pharrell Williams is facing another legal battle over a trademark he has tried to register in the US. This time it's Pink who is objecting to Williams’ attempt to secure exclusive use of the brand P.INC within music and various merchandise categories. It follows a recent legal filing made by Chad Hugo who hit out at Williams’ bid to trademark the name of their collaborative production outfit The Neptunes. 

🤖 An AI researcher who worked for Amazon is suing the company over allegations of harassment and unlawful dismissal - and in her lawsuit she claims that she was told it was fine to breach copyright rules when developing AI models in order to keep up with competitors. The claim is made in a discrimination and unlawful dismissal lawsuit filed by AI researcher Dr Viviane Ghaderi. Although it’s a small part of the litigation, the allegation seems to confirm concerns in the music and wider creative industries that those developing AI models are being very slack when it comes to their copyright obligations.

🥸 Last year’s big voice clone track was fake Drake. And now we have a Drake fake... in that a new diss track released by Drake as part of his ongoing feud with Kendrick Lamar includes a verse by an unauthorised AI Tupac, and the Tupac estate is not impressed. Drake has been told to pull down the track or the estate will “pursue all of its legal remedies”

🤪 A lawsuit filed against US streaming service Pandora by the MLC is “a wild overreach” of the US mechanical rights collecting society’s remit. Or so says Pandora, in its response to that lawsuit. As well as disputing the claims made against it - the MLC “apparently thinks it knows better than the entire music publishing industry”, it says - Pandora reckons that the society, paid for by the digital platforms, isn’t meant to use its funding to “pursue legal frolics and detours”. 

🎪 The private equity owner of festival operator Superstruct should formally launch a sale of the business in the next month, according to sources who spoke to Reuters. The festival business could be valued at £1.5 billion. Providence teamed up with Creamfields founder and former Live Nation exec James Barton to launch Superstruct in 2017. It has become a major player in the festivals market through a long series of acquisitions of existing events in Europe and Australia.  According to Reuters’ sources, Providence has been planning a sale since last year, seeking to capitalise on the bounce back of live music following the COVID-19 pandemic.

🎙️ Setlist Podcast: Hipgnosis v Hipgnosis - the saga continues...

In this week's Setlist Podcast: Chris Cooke and Andy Malt discuss the bidding war compounding the latest in a long line of dramas at Hipgnosis, the faltering start for Manchester’s new Co-op Live arena and more. Click here to listen - or search for 'Setlist Podcast'

🪕 I still vividly remember the first time I heard ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ by Rednex. I’m sure the same is true for all of us. Such moments in culture do not arrive often, and when they do you just have to grab hold of them and enjoy the ride. 

There’s no reason I should remember that and there’s no reason that any of us should be talking about the song at all three decades later. And yet, this week, in the year 2024, ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ has once again shown its strange and mysterious power by becoming the most popular song in the world. 

This week, the group pronounced themselves record breakers, sharing the news that ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ had received over three billion views on YouTube in just 26 days. To put that in perspective, Adele’s ‘Hello’ currently holds the record for the fastest time a song has taken to hit its first billion views on the platform. It took her a fairly laid back 87 days. And that was just one billion - Rednex just managed three billion in less than a third of that time. In fact, the first billion in this current spike came in just eight days.

The vast number of plays is seemingly down to the song’s use in Razi Irawani’s ‘Gedagedigedagedago’ viral meme, which has spread across the the internet like wildfire, and seen its audio reused in millions of videos. The sheer number of uses is what has caused overall plays of the song to spike so hard.

Check out this and more of this week’s funniest music news stories in this week's And Finally!

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