|CMU Daily - on the inside Friday 22nd December
Ladies and gentlemen, one and all, welcome once again to another rather lengthy CMU review of the music year. Oh yes. It's our now actually traditional ramble through all the things that have happened in the last 12 months in the good old world of music. Well, those things that have lingered in our memories long enough to feature in a pre-Christmas retrospective anyway. If any of you make it through to the predictable 'these are exciting times you know' conclusion, well, have yourself an extra mince pie on us (not that we'll pay for it, you understand). Given most of you won't get that far, let's wish you all a fulfilling Yuletide and suitably excessive Hogmanay right now. And, following on from this, our most successful, exuberant and rant filled year to date (we've just passed the 12,000 subscriber mark, don't you know!), we look forward to seeing you back here, in your in-box, on Tuesday 2 Jan for another year of CMU-style music news nonsense. Can't wait.
CMU TRACK OF THE YEAR 2006
So, the votes are in, the count has been done, and here it is, the CMU Daily readership's top ten favourite tracks of the year, in order of preference. And hurrah for this - thanks, I'm sure, to some proactive lobbying on someone's part (but not ours, I should stress, that would be cheating) - long long term CMU favourites Misty's Big Adventure top the poll with their wonderful Sunday Best release 'Fashion Parade', very closely followed by Kanye West's personal favourite, Simian v Justice's simply brilliant 'We Are Your Friends', which could have been track of the year for the last two years, but which was finally formally released in 2006. Let's not forget, CMU enjoys the most knowledgeable, insightful, intelligent and well rounded readership of all the music media (look at me, getting all sycophantic), which means that all of these ten tracks should feel honoured to appear on this list (if a 'track' was capable of 'feeling honoured'). What I'm saying is, well done one and all.
1. Misty's Big Adventure - Fashion Parade (Sunday Best)
2. Simian v Justice - We Are Your Friends
3. Nelly Furtado - Maneater
4. Jarvis Cocker - Running The World
5. Gnarls Barkley - Crazy
6. Arctic Monkeys - When The Sun Goes Down (Domino)
7. Amy Winehouse - Rehab (Universal/Island)
8. Hafdis Huld - Tomoko
9. Jim Noir - Eanie Meanie
10. The Rapture - Get Myself Into It
CMU REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2006: THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
LOTS OF MERGER TALK, BUT NO MERGERS
So, it was another good year for fans of major label mergers - with loads of talk and chat and news about major record companies combining their operations. Though in the end no majors merged and, in fact, one may as yet have to demerge.
The two record companies that got closest to merging were, of course, EMI and Warner, both now dwarfed by rivals Universal Music and SonyBMG. Both companies see the potential benefits of combining their operations to create a new enterprise of similar size to those aforementioned competitors, though neither can quite agree on how that should be done. Neither is interested in a joint venture like that which created SonyBMG (owned 50/50 by Sony Corp and Bertelsmann), probably because that arrangement led to so much tension in the SonyBMG board room back in 2005. But neither EMI nor Warner is especially interested in completely selling out to the other either. It was thought Warner Music, led by Edgar Bronfman Jnr and his investment buddies, would be more likely to sell, but when EMI made an offer for his company Bronfman Jnr quickly turned them down, and made a counter-offer to buy EMI. In the end, both sides resisted the other's advances and while EMI has had subsequent takeover talks with a third party private equity firm (not officially named, but thought to be Permira), as far as we know neither Warner nor EMI are currently in talks with each other or third parties regarding merger or takeover. Meaning there has been no radical change of major label ownership in 2006.
Although, a decision in the European Courts this year might lead to a radical change in the ownership of SonyBMG next year (as well as arguably stopping EMI and Warner from considering future thoughts of merger). Pan-European trade body IMPALA's case against the European Commission decision to allow Sony and Bertelsman to merge their record companies back in 2004 finally got to court this year, reaching a verdict in July. In a surprising move, the Court ruled in favour of IMPALA and said that, on the evidence available to it at the time, the Commission should not have allowed Sony and BMG to merge. The ruling means that the Commission will now have to reconsider the merger proposal, even though the company has now operated as one entity for nearly eighteen months. SonyBMG remain confident their merger will be approved for a second time, though it is not at all clear what the company would be obliged to do if it was not. IMPALA insist it would have to split off into two separate companies again. In the meantime, the ruling meant that both EMI and Warner had to put their merger thoughts on hold - because an EMI Warner merger was unlikely to get EC approval while the SonyBMG merger remained unresolved.
Of course this time last year gossip suggested that SonyBMG might split back into two companies of its own accord anyway, as a result of the continued tensions in the board room, where former Sony people and former BMG people seemed to disagree about pretty much everything. Although I suppose what they really disagreed about was whether or not former Sony Music chief Andy Lack should have the top job at the merged record company - the Sony guys said 'yes', the BMG guys a resounding 'no'. All of which meant that once Lack and former BMG chief Rolf Schmidt-Holtz swapped jobs at the start of this year - so that Lack took a back seat Chairman role while Schmidt-Holtz took over the more proactive CEO role - many of those tensions seemed to go away, and SonyBMG chiefs could put post-merger issues behind them and concentrate on growing their business. And fighting European court attempts to split them up. And dishing out large sums of money to all sorts of people in the ongoing fallout from the embarrassing rootkit debacle of 2005 (as I write this I hear they will pay out $4.25 million in rootkit compensation in the next month after 39 US states followed Texas' lead and took action against them). In the UK, however, the SonyBMG team were quite far removed from all this politics and litigation, concentrating instead on an internal restructure early in the year which saw SonyBMG UK, which had operated as one unit since the 2004 merger, split back into two distinct divisions - Columbia and RCA. They also got a new boss, after Rob Stringer took a job running the Sony Label Group in the US, and Ged Doherty took over the top job in the UK.
This section is headlined 'no mergers', which is true in the major label domain, though in the indie world PIAS and Wall Of Sound merged their operations right at the start of the year. Elsewhere in the independent sector, the Virgin Group sold off its remaining shares in V2 to merchant bank Morgan Stanley, although Richard Branson kept a tiny stake in a personal capacity. Right at the end of the year Warner announced it was buying a majority stake in metal label Roadrunner, while earlier in the year the Beggars Group had announced a partnership with Warner in order to launch a Japanese operation.
Cross-sector music company the Sanctuary Group continued to struggle along following its financial woes of recent years - and after allegations of dodgy financial reporting somewhere along the line, the company's top man and co-founder Andy Taylor was kicked out. Further statements from the company's board admitted that the financial situation at the company remained bleak, though they nevertheless knocked back a takeover approach from their smaller rival cross-sector music company, the MAMA Group, owners of the Channelfly empire.
Talking of financial woes, certain independents, especially in the dance sector, could as yet be facing hardships following the collapse of indie music distributor Intergroove this Autumn - though it is as yet unclear how much Intergroove's clients will lose as a result of the collapse, and whether it will be enough to prove fatal in some cases.
Actually, despite this section's headline, there was, in fact, a merger in the major music company domain this year, albeit one still requiring regulator approval as we speak. Quite early on in the year rumour had it that the Mohn family, majority shareholders in German conglom Bertelsmann, who own half of SonyBMG of course, were planning on buying out one of their minority shareholders - GBL - in order to stop them from floating their share on the stock exchange. In order to do that Bertelsmann needed to sell one of its assets to raise some cash, and for a while everyone thought they might sell their 50% share in SonyBMG, possibly to Sony Corp, possibly to someone else. In the end, though, they announced they would sell off their music publishing company instead, and so the bidding began for BMG Music Publishing. Bertelsmann picked Universal Music as its preferred buyer - with Universal planning to merge BMG's publishing house with its own publishing company. But, in the light of the European court's ruling on SonyBMG, that announcement led to much debate as to whether a merger in the music publishing sector would be allowed, given the concerns of consolidation in the recorded music sector. Bertelsmann and Universal reckon it will be, but the European Commission has said it will need to undergo an in-depth investigation of their proposals before it can form an opinion, which means no decision will be reached until the middle of 2007. And you can bet IMPALA, still in a buoyant mood following its victory in the SonyBMG case, will do everything it can to block this merger too.
YOU CAN'T PLAY THIS ON THAT - DIGITAL MUSIC THING
While all the major record companies reported that digital music was becoming an increasingly important revenue stream this year, a lot of debate on the digital music sector in 2006 centred on interoperability, or rather the lack of it. The problem hit the agenda early on in the year thanks to a debate in the French parliament. At the end of 2005 a bill originally designed to tighten laws on online piracy was hijacked by those with the opposite agenda while much of the French political community was on its Christmas break. As a result proposals were put forward that would legitimise file sharing in return for a levy on internet access and, more importantly, rules were proposed that would stop technology companies from operating proprietary file formats that stop their competitors from selling music that is compatible with their digital music players.
In the end, subsequent debate and compromise in the French parliament meant that the legislation that was passed contained little of the radical proposals, but the whole debate did throw the spotlight on Apple, still by far the dominant company in the digital music space. The interoperability rules proposed by the French would have jeopardised Apple's business model which means that iPod users can only buy DRMed music from iTunes, and iTunes users can only play music they buy on iPods. There was talk of Apple leaving the French market if such rules became law though, in the end, they didn't, so such dramatic measures were not needed. Nevertheless, Apple continues to be criticised by key players in the music space over the lack of interoperability of its business model, although that doesn't seem to stop the majority of consumers opting to buy iPods over rival digital music players. That said, reports published in December suggest the sale of downloads across the board was declining, and a key reason for that might be the lack of interoperability of tracks bought from legitimate download platforms. All of which means that in the end Apple et al might yet have to move on this issue or, alternatively, the major labels will have to accept that the future of digital music might be selling non DRM protected MP3s. I wish they bloody would - because doing so would overcome many interoperability issues and end Apple's dominance of the market overnight.
But despite that seemingly obvious fact, the major record companies remained insistent on the use of DRM in the distribution of their music in 2006. I suppose that's because of the fact that, despite the arrival of legitimate download platforms and a number of legal victories against the makers of P2P software, huge amounts of music continued to be illegally shared between users online every day of 2006. Yep, P2P is not dead. The 'victories' included the closure of a number of once popular P2P companies, mainly in response to the landmark MGM v Grokster ruling of 2005 which made those companies' legal defence against the record companies' litigation less strong. Most notably the once mighty Kazaa finally gave in and agreed to compensate the major record companies for the copyright violation their software had enabled. Nevertheless, the record industry's dispute with the most popular P2P of the day, Limewire, is still ongoing and so file sharing continues. And with the increasing popularity among young music fans of sharing music files between mobile phones via Blue-Tooth, it is likely to continue in 2007, even if the record industry continues to be successful in the courtroom. Which is why key decision makers in major label board rooms continue to insist on DRM, even though everyone else knows DRM is a useless weapon in the fight against P2P.
Despite those reports that digital music sales were slowing down, more digital music platforms came than went in 2006. Coke closed down their download shop, which had been one of the first to launch in the UK, but others arrived to take its place. Most notably in the US, Microsoft's Zune MarketPlace. This is all part of the IT giant's re-entry into the digital music market, after various false starts and unsuccessful partnerships had allowed their usually pretty insignificant competitor, Apple, to completely dominate this particular sector. Their strategy now seems to be to pretty much copy Apple's model - by launching their own proprietary player, the Zune player, which is fed music by its own proprietary download platform, the aforementioned Zune Marketplace. The main distinguishing feature between Zune and iPod/iTunes is that the Microsoft device allows users to share music with friends via a limited-play wifi shared listening thingimy. Whether that is enough to allow Microsoft to properly compete with Apple remains to be seen - with Zune only just launched, and only in the US, it is far too soon to tell. So far the only really interesting thing related to Zune is the deals they have done with the major record companies with regard to licensing music for their Marketplace. They have pledged to pay the majors a share of revenues from the sales of the hardware, ie the players, as well as their cut on download sales. It's an interesting deal which could change the future relationships between the majors and the technology sector - especially if the majors allow non-DRMed music to be sold, which would suddenly give them the upper hand in negotiations with Apple.
With the jury out on whether Microsoft can take on Apple in the digital domain, some reckon that if anyone can compete with the iPod it will be the mobile download companies. With an increasing number of people acquiring phones that double up as MP3 players in 2006, the mobile music download services, while still lacking user-friendliness in the main, might just be the big success story in the digital music world in 2007. Or perhaps that will be the independent download platforms, who again gained more ground in 2006 - eMusic in particular, which started to grow outside the UK - but also newer indie players like the new download platforms launched by the Rough Trade record shops or Ministry Of Sound. Or perhaps it will be the subscription style download services like that of Napster that eventually capture mainstream popularity. Or the new advertising funded free download platform Spiral Frog, announced this year but due to launch next year. Or the much rumoured Amazon download platform that is expected to launch in 2007. Or the also rumoured though denied from within download ambitions of Google. Time, I guess, will tell.
This time last year we would probably have said that the company most likely to succeed would be Russian download platform AllofMP3.com, which certainly had a good year in 2006, until the Autumn that is. AllofMP3.com became increasingly popular at the start of the year, mainly because it sold chart music at cut price rates by using loopholes in Russian copyright laws that meant it didn't have to pay a great deal back to the record labels. Because it did, technically speaking, obey Russian laws, AllofMP3.com claimed to be a legal concern, but the International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry disagreed. Fortunately for the IFPI, US trade authorities were supportive of their cause, so much so they told Russia that if they wanted to join the World Trade Organisation (which they did), they would have to revamp their copyright laws so that companies like AllofMP3.com could not claim to be legitimate. By the end of 2006 Russian authorities had essentially agreed to do just that, though AllofMP3.com is less of a pressing issue now anyway, because in the Autumn the credit card firms announced they would no longer accept payments for AllofMP3.com purchases, meaning the vast majority of the service's non-Russian customers no longer have access. That said, AllofMP3.com haven't given up completely as yet, and may find some other clever loopholes to stay in business in 2007.
Talking of Amazon, which we were, briefly, despite all this talk about download platforms, actually, the big business in online music in 2006 remained the mail order set ups of the likes of Amazon and Play.com. Many of them continue to benefit from that much reported VAT loophole that comes about if you base your operations in Jersey. Despite promises from the government on the channel island and here in the UK, the loophole remains, much to the annoyance of independent record retailers who can't possibly compete with their offshore big boy rivals. Perhaps the authorities will finally close the loophole in 2007.
Interestingly, though, the company possibly hit most hardly by the growing popularity of low cost mail order operations is one of the independents' big boy rivals - HMV - who reported this year that increased competition from the etailers and the supermarkets were having a serious impact on their financial performance. Nevertheless, HMV bosses resisted a takeover attempt, again by Permira, and with the appointment of a new top guy the retailer hopes it can find new ways to compete in the increasingly competitive music retail space. Unlike Tower Records in the US, which closed down operations this year, unable to find new ways to compete with younger rivals.
COPYRIGHT SHENANIGANS - HOW LONG, HOW BIG?
Don't worry, we won't ruin your Christmas festivities too much with long summaries of this year's Copyright news. But, aside from the merger of the UK's three recorded royalty collection bodies - PPL, PAMRA and AURA - three copyright stories deserve mention.
Firstly, the discussions in the EU regarding the so called iPod tax, where a levy is charged on the sales of CDRs and MP3 players which is passed on to royalty collecting societies to compensate artists and songwriters for the private copying of their music. These levies exist in most EU countries (though not the UK), but the technology sector has been busy lobbying to have them axed. A decision on the future of the levies was expected from the European Commission this month, but in the end officials said they needed more time to consider the issue. Needless to say the royalty bodies who benefit from the levies continue to speak in favour of them, while in the UK the Association Of Independent Music says that, far from abolishing the levies, European governments should consider setting up a wider levy system whereby technology, media or communication companies who indirectly benefit from music (by selling gadgets, or internet services or whatever) should have to pay a cut of their revenues to the music community. Which is an interesting proposal, though possibly a difficult one to implement.
Though 2006 was the year to be raising new ideas regarding copyright, because Chancellor Of The Exchequer, Gordon Brown, had commissioned former Financial Times chief Andrew Gowers to undertake a complete review of intellectual property law in the UK. The big issue as far as the record industry was concerned, of course, was the extension of recorded copyrights, currently 50 years, up to 95 years, to bring them in line with the US. This is important to the long established record labels, who are currently seeing valuable catalogue from the 1950s coming out of copyright. Hoping the Gowers Review would be a good opportunity to get such an extension on the government's agenda, the labels, supported by a string of artists though, most notably, Cliff Richard, began their 'Extend The Term' campaign. But alas, without result, because Gowers said he could see no case for extending the recorded copyright, despite the inconsistency between UK (or actually European) and US copyright terms. Despite Gowers' conclusion, labels and artists will continue to lobby government in a bid to secure a longer copyright - and sooner rather than later, what with the even more valuable 1960s catalogue due to come out of copyright in the next decade.
Finally in copyright news, there was the big Copyright Tribunal or, rather, there wasn't. The long running dispute between the record labels and digital music companies on one side and the music publishers on the other, was due to go before the Copyright Tribunal courts this Autumn. The debate was what percentage of digital music revenues should go to the publishers and songwriters. The publishers wanted more because, they argued, the record labels' cost in selling digital music were so much smaller than in physical CD sales. The labels argued that, especially because of the set up costs they had incurred in getting the download sector established, their costs remained high, so the publishers shouldn't be due a bigger cut of the pie than they were currently getting (about 8%). In the end most parties involved in the dispute reached an out of court agreement so that, while some issues regarding the streaming of music by digital media companies remain unresolved, the big Copyright Tribunal that had been due to take place never actually occurred.
WILL THE LIVE SECTOR EVER STOP BOOMING?
The live music sector had another good year in 2006. Despite some reports that highly priced tours from premiere league artists were underperforming, reports which led to speculation that the live industry was in danger of pricing itself out of the market, in the end the majority of those tours went on to sell out, many securing record revenues. So much so that the biggest tour of the year, The Rolling Stones' A Bigger Bang tour, was declared the top grossing tour ever, despite a number of dates being cancelled, initially after Keith Richards had a run in with a palm tree, and subsequently when Mick Jagger was told to rest his voice. The live sector across the board seemed healthy, with an ever growing number of music festivals seemingly able to find a sufficient chunk of the market to be viable. Nevertheless, as has become the norm, the biggest grossing tours came from long established artists like Madonna, Bon Jovi, U2, Barbra Streisand, Kenny Chesney and Aerosmith.
At a corporate level many eyes in the live sector remained on Live Nation, which continued to expand following its separation from the rest of the Clear Channel empire in 2005. In the US it acquired the House Of Blues network of clubs and arenas, while in the UK it announced its intent to acquire a 53% stake in the Academy Group of venues. The former went ahead without incident, but competition concerns have been raised about the latter with independent promoters claiming that, because Live Nation are both promoters and venue owners, if they acquire the Academy concert halls they will be far too dominant in the London market (given they already own several key venues in the capital, as well as managing the revamped Wembley Arena, which reopened this year). The UK's Competition Commission earlier this month said Live Nation will have to agree to sell off one or more of Academy's venues in order for the deal to get regulator approval. But Live Nation bosses have said they will lobby against that ruling, possibly by pointing out that the biggest music venue currently in development in the UK capital, due to open next year, is the rebranded Millennium Dome, operated by their main rival AEG, who also grew through acquisition this year (most notably in the UK by acquiring a stake in promoter Marshall Arts).
Elsewhere in the live sector another cause for concern was the growth in ticket touting allowed by online auction sites like eBay. An increasing number of promoters called for moves to stop individuals from being able to sell tickets to sell out events at considerable profit via online auctions, although the auction sites seemed generally unwilling to act - except last week when tickets for the charitable concert due to take place in London next year in memory of the late Princess Diana were put up for bid. But in the main, the auction sites stress that it is perfectly legal for gig tickets to be auctioned off, and therefore there is no need for them to stop such auctions. Politicians and promoters seem divided on what, if anything, can be done about the growing community of online touts. A possible solution is mobile ticketing, pilots of which proved generally successful in 2006. Of course touts could include a pay as you go mobile in the price of the ticket they are selling on, but doing so might be enough of a hassle to put most casual touts off. With that in mind those companies investing in mobile ticketing could find their technology is much in demand in the coming year.
And while we're on live music, let us remember the comedy that was Wembley Stadium, still not open for business even though a string of gigs were originally scheduled to take place there this summer just gone. Who knows if the stadium will finally be ready for those Muse gigs and the big Concert For Diana due to take place there next summer? Surely it will be - though I'll believe it when I see it.
CMU REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2006: THE MUSIC MEDIA
2006 was all about user-generated content. Well, probably not really, though everyone says it was. But you cannot deny the impact MySpace and YouTube have had on the media space in 2006. Both were minority interests this time last year, especially outside the US, but now they are hugely significant online services, offering everyone free tools to publish their own thoughts, musings, music, video or content. MySpace, YouTube and their similar rivals may genuinely mean the media in 2007 is increasingly dominated by free thinking independent individuals generating totally original content and distributing it to mass global audiences over the net. Or, perhaps, the same old multi-national conglomerates making vast advertising profits without having to pay any creators, while those creators produce mediocre content because they have no budget to develop their work. Depends how you look at it I suppose.
And of course, a lot of the content on MySpace and especially YouTube is less 'user-generated' and more 'user-nicked'. That is to say, many people simply nick music videos or TV shows they like and post them on their YouTube page. This was, of course, not without controversy, with the music and TV companies whose content was nicked understandably not very impressed with this latest turn of events. A few threatened legal action, Universal Music the most proactive in this domain in the music space. The content sharing platforms stress they don't condone copyright theft, and that all content is streamed (not downloaded like the P2P networks) and therefore supply can be cut off if a content owner points out their copyright content is being distributed without permission. Because of that they claim they are in line with current US copyright law. Not all the content owners agree and Universal has launched several lawsuits - which, assuming they get to court, should provide a test as to whether that defence is valid at some point in 2007. YouTube, of course, managed to avoid litigation from the major labels by giving them a stake in the company, just before Google took them over. All except EMI, that is, who are still to be completely convinced a stake in the company is sufficient compensation for the high number of EMI music videos currently available via the YouTube platform.
MUSIC MEDIA STEADY - THOUGH WITH TWO OLD TIMERS OVERBOARD
Despite all this potential new competition from bloggers and bedroom media stars, much of the traditional music media managed to keep hold of a sufficiently large audience to ensure sufficient revenues to keep afloat or, in some cases, to expand their operations. NME in particular capitalised on recent successful years to expand its operations and brand spin offs in 2006, most notably setting up news desks and an events programme in the US. Despite fluctuations in the ABC figures, most of the other main music titles also maintained a decent market share - Q, Kerrang!, Uncut, Word, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Rocksound, Touch, Hip Hop Connection and The Fly among them. And online, most music websites also stayed their ground - from the big guys like Yahoo Music and NME.com to independent players like Click Music, Gigwise and Drowned In Sound, the latter celebrating its sixth birthday this year.
But not all was good in the world of music media - which lost two of its most legendary pop brands in 2006 - Smash Hits in the print domain, Top Of The Pops in the TV world. EMAP closed down the former in February, while the BBC finally axed the longest running pop TV show in July, telling us that in the multi-music channel internet age their was no place for a weekly chart based live music show, though we all knew TOTP's demise was as much down to terrible producer, presenter and scheduling choices over the last few years as any change in the music and media world. Ironically, although Smash Hits ceased to exist in print, its spin off TV and radio stations remain, while as Top Of The Pops ceased to exist on the air, its magazine spin off survived.
2006 wasn't a good year for pop telly all round really. ITV's chart show CD:UK quietly disappeared off our screens before TOTP's demise, while my personal pop show of choice in 2005, Channel 4's Popworld, went all rubbish following the departure of presenters Simon Amstell and Miquita Oliver. Still, Amstell showed up as a replacement for Mark Lamaar on pop quiz show Never Mind The Buzzcocks, to all round joy here in the CMU office, while Channel 4 did their bit to ensure popular music still appeared on terrestrial TV by launching a new music programme more or less every week (or that's how it seemed). And of course music still played an important role in reality TV with even more music based talent shows on our screens in 2006 (Just The Two Of Us, Soapstar Superstar, X Factor, that Sound Of The Music thing) while music stars often dominated other celeb based reality shows - Preston boosting Ordinary Boys record sales through his stay in the Big Brother house, and pop stars Jason Donovan, Mylene Klass and Matt Willis gaining the most votes in the latest outing of I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. Oh, and elsewhere in TV world, Charlotte Church got her own chat show. She's sort of a pop star.
ITV GETS GRADED
On a corporate level, one of the big continuing stories in the media world this year was ITV, the once mighty name in UK commercial television, that continued to struggle, despite now being one commercial entity (in England and Wales at least). Top man Charles Allen was basically pushed out by increasingly tetchy shareholders, leaving the broadcaster without a credible chief. It was then that cable company NTL, having merged with Virgin Mobile and about to be rebranded Virgin Media, approached ITV with a takeover offer. A merged ITV/NTL would be a formidable force in UK TV - and a definite threat to rival BSkyB. Which is why the latter quickly bought up a 17.9% stake in ITV just as NTL made its takeover approach. It is unlikely ITV would have accepted NTL's approach anyway, but with BSkyB now an influential shareholder the commercial broadcaster's board were even less likely to do business with NTL. Which pissed off NTL and its shareholder Richard Branson rather a lot. After all that ITV announced it had poached Michael Grade off the BBC to become its new chairman - meaning despite everything that happened in 2006 more or less everyone seems quite optimistic and possibly even rather excited about the immediate future of ITV. Which means the broadcaster is unlikely to merge with anyone. So no mergers in this domain either - though the ITV companies in Scotland and Ulster (STV and UTV) did get close to merging and, despite initially calling off merger talks, are reportedly now again considering combining their operations.
If STV and UTV did merge they would create a company quite powerful in radio as well as TV, given that the former owns Virgin Radio and the latter TalkSport and a load of other regional stations. As it was, there was no earth shattering ownership changes in the UK radio sector in 2006, although some stations did change hands. Commercial radio continued to face a significant fight for audience with the BBC, who still have a bigger audience share, though talk of the commercial groups collaborating on big name networked shows in order to better compete with the Beeb never really came off, despite the creation of a new body to represent the commercial sector - Radiocentre. In fact the name once linked to such a collaborative show - Chris Evans - signed up to present the afternoon show on the BBC's Radio 2 (though not without controversy - quite a few Radio 2 listeners didn't approve of the choice). Elsewhere in the world of radio the Xfm network grew with its new station in Manchester going live and with parent company GCap's Beat 106 outlet rebranded under the Xfm banner. Elsewhere at GCap, London's once flagship commercial station Capital Radio continued to struggle to compete with younger rivals Heart and Magic, despite a revamp. While over at EMAP, Kiss FM got a radical overhaul (as well as getting rid of its flagship breakfast presenter Bam Bam after they received a record fine from OfCom in relation to rule violations on his show). And across the board more time and effort was put into digital radio - both DAB and online (especially in the domain of podcasts) - which continues to grow in terms of audience share and potential ad revenues though, in the online domain, much debate continued between the radio firms (especially the independents) and the music companies over what kind of royalties online broadcasters should be paying - especially with on demand services. Don't rule out a Copyright Tribunal on that issue in 2007.
CMU REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2006: ARTISTS
IN THE POP COURTS
So, yet another busy busy year in the pop courts, even though there was nothing on the scale of the Jacko child abuse trial of 2005, and Phil Spector's long awaited murder trial got postponed into 2007. Nevertheless, there was plenty for CMU's court reporters to report on, and not just because of Pete Doherty's frequent visits to Thames Magistrates' Court to face all sorts of drugs and related charges, none of which got him locked up.
The hip hop world provided plenty of court reporting, of course. Foxy Brown was in and out of court after accepting and then un-accepting a plea bargain in relation to that run in with two manicurists in 2004. Snoop Dogg had various runs in with the authorities, mainly in airports, including one at Heathrow which means the rapper may well be refused entry into the UK should he wish to come back here next year. DMX was also arrested over a fracas in a British airport, and also later in the year in the US over drugs charges. Busta Rymes was in court in October over allegations he assaulted a man in New York in August. On a sadder note, court time was spent analysing the fatal shooting of D12 member Proof, though in the end his killer, Mario Etheridge, was not found guilty of murder, the court ruling he only shot Proof because the rapper had shot his cousin, Keith Bender. And, of course, investigations continued in regards to, and further court hearings considered, the never solved murder of the Notorious BIG. Whether we will get any closer to settling that unhappy era in hip hop's history in 2007 remains to be seen.
UK artists in trouble with the law, other than Doherty, included Gary Glitter, jailed in Vietnam over allegations he committed obscene acts with minors (though he avoided rape charges, which could have resulted in the death penalty). In the US Boy George was forced to sweep the streets for a week after those rather odd drugs charges of 2005 (he said he enjoyed it, even though he initially refused to go through with the sentence, leading to a New York judge putting out an arrest warrant). While back in the UK, So Solid Crew's Megaman was back in the criminal courts, though in the end he was cleared of involvement in the murder of Colin Scarlett - a crime which his former friend Carl Morgan was imprisoned for last year.
In the corporate world, the Californian courts threatened to bankrupt Death Row boss Suge Knight over his failure to pay a court ordered settlement to fellow Death Row founder Lydia Harris - but Knight bankrupted himself before the courts could do it for him. Elsewhere Apple Computers and Beatles company Apple Corps squabbled over the use of the 'Apple' name (the iPod makers won), MP3 player makers Creative sued Apple claiming the iPod breached one of their patents (an out of court settlement was reached) and the surviving Beatles accused EMI's Capitol division of depriving them of royalties (the dispute is ongoing I think). US band Hawthorne Heights tried, unsuccessfully so far, to get out of their recording contract with Victory Records alleging the rock label was in breach of contract, while MeatLoaf sued former collaborator Jim Steinman in a bid to get the Bat Out Of Hell trademark (though they reached a settlement and MeatLoaf subsequently dedicated 'Bat Out Of Hell 3' to Steinman). Disputes over royalties were heard involving Procol Harum and Bob Marley and the Wailers, while two former members of boy band Busted took their claim to certain Busted hits to the High Court in London - that case is pending. While Ashanti and Seal were both ordered to pay settlements to former producers/managers who claimed a stake in their respective early work.
Finally the divorce courts, who this year had visits from Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson, Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston, Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, Paul McCartney and Heather Mills-McCartney and Eminem and Kim Scott/Mathers - the latter have only remarried at the start of the year. The Spears/Federline and McCartney/Mills divorces were the big news stories, of course, and with both likely to go to court proper in 2007 should provide plenty more column inches in the coming year.
IN THE TABLOIDS
Generally outside of the pop courts, but filling the tabloids nonetheless, were Guns N Roses, who returned to the stage in 2006, even though we still didn't get to hear long long awaited comeback album 'Chinese Democracy'. Nevertheless, Axl Rose kept himself in the headlines, whether it be through brawls in Swedish hotels or public feuds with support acts or by publicly sacking his manager.
Madonna courted more controversy, firstly by writhing around on a large crucifix as part of her Confessions Tour show, a routine that caused outrage amongst various Christian groups, though Madge kept it in the show, despite protests and, in Germany, the threat of criminal charges. And then by adopting a young sort-of orphan from Malawi - a move that led to criticism partly because of the speed with which the adoption seemed to have been arranged, and also because the 'orphan' actually had a dad. Said dad, of course, was in favour of the adoption, despite some confusion as to what exactly 'adoption' means, though groups that oppose the adoption in Malawi continue to fight it through the courts.
Michael Jackson continued to create tabloid interest in 2006, despite staying out of the public eye in the main. Though his custody battle with ex-wife Debbie Rowe continued, and there was talk of Jacko being back in the studio, much tabloid interest in Jackson was in his financial affairs. As it was revealed Neverland employees were going unpaid, and that employee liability insurance there was no longer valid, there was much speculation as to if and how Jackson could pay off his much reported debts. In the end a deal with Sony - his business partners in the Sony/ATV music publishing empire - seemingly put things back into order, for the time being at least, and the Neverland staff were paid and the liability insurance renewed, though the workforce at his former home was downsized. After that Jacko stories centered on the star setting up and then seemingly closing down a new record label, on the never ending wait for that post-Hurricane Katrina charity record, and on his somewhat bizarre performance at the World Music Awards in London.
Guns N Roses, Madonna and Michael Jackson, not to mention George Michael's 'asleep at the wheel' and 'found on the Heath' incidents. Was it all old timers in the pop tabloids this year? Well, not all. Keane's Tom Chaplin and The Darkness' Justin Hawkins joined Doherty in rehab, which created quite a few headlines, and led to the cancellation of the former's tour, and pretty much the end of the latter's band. Meanwhile, with a greatest hits album to promote, the Gallaghers returned, ready to badmouth pretty much anyone bar new mates Kasabian, though you often didn't notice because fans of pop bitching were too busy waiting to see who new-on-the-scene Lily Allen would slag off next.
And of course, when it came to bitching, Girls Aloud, also with a greatest hits album to promote, were always good for a quote. Especially about reformed-this-year rivals All Saints - who the Girls Aloud unfairly accused of nicking their sound, although given how lack lustre the All Saints reunion turned out to be, at least that got Shaznay et al in the papers.
Take That's return to the stage, and record, however was a huge success, encouraging of all sorts of teen bands of old to have another go, even East 17, albeit for a one off gig. Four of 5ive also announced a reunion though we haven't heard much since that announcement. And of course five former boy/teenband stars took part in MTV's Totally Boyband to create a new uber-boyband, the dreadfully named Upper Street. Not sure what happened to them - the four of the five that made it to the end of the series seemed very enthusiastic with their new venture, though their debut single didn't exactly top the charts, so I don't know if we'll hear from them again in 2007.
LIFE GOES ON
Or the Death Parade, as some people round here like to call it. These, ladies and gentlemen, are the music names that sadly appeared on the obituary pages in 2006. There's a lot of them this year, so much so they won't all fit here in the email - but you can check the list at this URL:
But what about the music? Well, what indeed. 2006 was another good year for music - if not quite as good as I expected it to be. Nevertheless, there was a lot of very good stuff out there.
Of course it was all Arctic Monkeys at the start of the year and, because they, like most of their contemporaries, had built a fan base through online activities before getting a record deal everyone said that their success was a sign that DIY bands - bands who operate without a traditional record label - were an increasingly powerful force in the internet age. Of course that ignored the fact that Arctic Monkeys owed much of their success to a traditional recording contract with a traditional (albeit independent) record label, and to excessive amounts of support from the traditional media. But whatever ... no one can question how good a year it has been for the Arctic Monkeys, even if their album, while being really good, wasn't quite as really really good as many journalists would have had you believe.
After the Monkeys, came indie-rave, or whatever you want to call it. While the London scene led by incredibly-high-profile-given-they-haven't-released-an-album-yet The Klaxons was probably not as big as NME might have made you believe, electro infused indie music was in fashion in 2006, and about time too, and I hope it's a scene that continues to prosper in 2007 - although involving the wider community of bands who mix electro sounds with guitar music, rather than just those who make the specific kind of indie-rave that has been mastered by Klaxons.
In terms of units sold, the big album of 2006, of course, was Snow Patrol's 'Eyes Open' - and another about time too, given how long these guys have been making great music. Meanwhile Keane, The Killers and Scissor Sisters all returned with big new albums which all seemed to be well received, though perhaps not quite as much so as each artists' previous long players. Razorlight's return was probably much better received than what went before, they certainly seemed to get plenty of media attention (much to the annoyance of Mary here at CMU!). Justin Timberlake returned as well, of course, though to a very mixed critical reception - though I'm not sure whether that affected sales (he certainly has done OK in terms of Grammy nominations all things considered). Robbie Williams returned with a much more eclectic long player which seems to have sold well, despite many of the tabloids (the 3am girls in particular) predicting his demise, which will please EMI who didn't have a big Coldplay release to boost their revenues this year (though the sort of new Beatles album, 'Love', will have also helped). Elsewhere, pop-classical combos continued to be popular - Simon Cowell's Il Divo outfit in particular on a global scale. And of course bloody Westlife continue to shift mega units.
But enough about record sales. How about a list of the artists that got CMU exciting in 2006? Well, where to start? With our previously reported list of our ten favourite albums of the year I guess...
Infadels - We Are Not The Infadels (PIAS/Wall Of Sound)
Big Strides - Cry It All Out (Tall Order)
Jeremy Warmsley - The Art Of Fiction (Transgressive)
Plan B - Who Needs Action When You've Got Words (679)
Max Sedgley - From The Roots To The Shoots (Sunday Best)
Matt Willis - Don't Let It Go To Waste (Universal/Mercury)
Amy Winehouse - Back To Black (Universal/Island)
The Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes (Memphis Industries)
Akira The Don - When We We're Young (Something In Construction)
Coldcut - Sound Mirrors (Ninja Tune)
Every one simply brilliant. And don't forget you can check interviews with all of them at http://www.thebeatsbar.co.uk/albumsoftheyear. Also contenders for that list were the new long players from Barefoot, Delays, The Fratellis, Bell X1, Gnarls Barkley, Bob Dylan, Lazy B, Hafdis Huld, Thom Yorke, Hyper, and, of course McFly, who came back with another great collection of pop in 2006.
And while we're doing these long lists of bands we liked in 2006, let's not forget Justice, Kid Carpet, Noisettes, Dirty Pretty Things, Hot Chip, Adam Freeland, Pendulum, Ashok, GoodBooks, Good Shoes, Soulwax, Depeche Mode, Goose, Jim Noir, The Knife, Trivium, The Streets, The Furies, This Is The Kit, Adam Green, Sway, Captain, Krafty Kuts, Archie Bronson Outfit, Art Brut, Space Cowboy, Misty's Big Adventure, and, of course, all those brilliant mash up makers like IDC, Team 9, Loo & Placido, Freelance Hellraiser and the mighty Go Home Productions. And plenty more we've forgotten I'm sure.
And that is definitely that. Except to say, despite the cynicism we might have shown towards MySpace, YouTube and the whole DIY media and music thing here and in the past, we do recognise that all that stuff is part of why we maintain that this is the most exciting time for the music business in its entire history. The impact of such phenomena are frequently exaggerated, and the down sides (major corporations using free content sources to fill their ad funded media) are too often ignored. But it is true that the music and media space will continue to go through significant change in the coming years, and that that change will provide many opportunities, for existing music, media and technology companies and, more importantly, for new independent players and indivudals - whether they be of the creative or entrepreneurial kind. And personally I find that very very exciting.
Of course it also makes the music business more chaotic, confusing and unpredictable than ever before. But rest assured, you will always be able to rely on CMU to survey the chaos and to provide you with a concise independent summary on a daily basis. Not to mention the very latest signings, releases, mixes, mash ups, rehab news, celebrity divorces and Lily Allen's latest bitching. See you in 2007.