|CMU Daily - on the inside Thursday 20th December
So, hello there everybody, and welcome one and all to this, the now traditionally over long CMU Review Of The Music Year. Hurrah! Yes, team CMU have been diligently digesting everything that has happened in the world of music over the last twelve months, and here we present our round up - the best bits, the big bits, the most important bits. Yes, that's right, turns out you needn't have been reading the CMU Daily from Top Bit to credits every single day just to stay in touch, just reading this handy review while eating your Christmas pudding would have done. Though I have it on good authority that seventeen pretty good gags appeared in the CMU Daily this year, and they're not included here, so we're assuming (and hoping) that will make it worth it.
If you only remember one thing about the music world in 2007 it should be this - this was the year we finally started to get rid of the strategically pointless cash-guzzling consumer-losing PR disaster that was digital rights management, and thank the great Fuck in the sky for that. There are now just fourteen dumb-ass executives at Warner Music and SonyBMG between us and a totally DRM-free music world - and they'll probably all be out of work by this time next year for wasting their shareholders money on a costly, pointless technology for way longer than was necessary. So hurrah for that.
Of course the end of DRM isn't the only thing 2007 will be remembered for. There was Britney and Amy and Phil and Mark and Paul and Heather and Lily and Prince and Madonna and Morrissey and Klaxons and The Gossip and Led Zepp and Radiohead and Geri and Vicki and Emma and Mel (x2) all making their mark on the musical year. And then there were those things some people like to call 360 degree artist deals. And what I like to call the artist/label paradigm shift, which means nothing and sounds like something an idiot would say, but which I like nevertheless. But I'm getting ahead of myself now.
All of that and more to come. But first, a few words to the effect of have a happy Christmas, a Merry Hogmanay or a damn fine whatever it is you choose to celebrate. And we will see you on Monday 7 Jan 2008 for more of these CMU Daily things. Or on Tuesday 23 Dec 2008 if we've just accidentally convinced you to switch to a 'once a year digest' subscription.
CMU TRACK OF THE YEAR 2007
The votes are in, and, we might add, no one got an engaged tone from our voting system, oh no, so our survey is sound. And here they are, the top ten most popular tracks of the year according to the CMU readers. And extra well done to Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip who didn't come top in stage one of the vote but who - through, I suspect, some lobbying on the part of these guys' increasingly dedicated fans - stormed it in stage two of the vote. Well done also to long term favourites Biffy Clyro, who had a brilliant year, and to relative newcomers Reverend And The Makers, who also scored handsomely in the final vote. All three are worthy of the title CMU Track Of The Year as far as I'm concerned.
1. Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip - Thou Shalt Always Kill
2. Biffy Clyro - Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies
3. Reverend And The Makers - Heavyweight Champion of the World
4. Bloc Party - Flux
5. Foals - Hummer
6. Cajun Dance Party - Amylase
7. Arcade Fire - No Cars Go
8. Feist - 1 2 3 4
9. The Wombats - Let's Dance To Joy Division
10. Late Of The Pier - Bathroom Gurgle
CMU REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2007: THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
THE EMI SAGA
So, if we had to pick which corporate entity has secured the most CMU time in 2007 it would have to be the United Kingdom's very own major record company, Electric And Musical Industries. Yes, it's been a busy year at EMI. And the EMI07 file started to fill out almost as soon as the year had begun, when the boss of EMI Group Eric Nicoli announced he was firing the two chiefs of the major music firm's recorded music business - Alain Levy and David Munns. Nicoli, previously chief of the EMI Group parent company, took personal control of EMI Music and began a pretty radical restructure of the major's recorded music operations. The suddenness and nature of their departure was pretty embarrassing for Levy and Munns, though to compensate they got the thrill of watching Nicoli himself being axed just eight months later, after new boys on the block - private equity outfit Terra Firma - moved in. It's still not clear if Nicoli knew he was for the axe when he and his board approved Terra Firma's offer to buy the EMI Group, but the new owners were barely through the door before his departure was announced, and leaked documents from the equity chiefs since their arrival at EMI have been pretty damning of Levy, Munns and Nicoli's leadership.
Terra Firma's purchase of EMI brought to an end one of the long running CMU stories of recent years - the will they won't they EMI Warner merger story. After various attempts by EMI to buy Warner, and vice versa, in 2006, there was more talk of the two smaller majors merging in the early part of the year - with Warner chief Edgar Bronfmann Jr seemingly pretty confident such a merger could gain approval from European Commission competition officials, despite the 2006 European Court ruling that criticised the earlier merger of Sony Music and BMG. But Nicoli never seemed so convinced an EMI Warner merger would jump the regulatory hurdles and so sought other ways to tackle his company's continued financial woes. Among the strategies considered were mortgaging the more profitable EMI Music Publishing to help fund the development of the flagging recorded music business, and also finding an investment outfit willing to take the major out of public hands and provide some direct investment. In the end it was the latter that Nicoli and the EMI board went for - approving a buyout deal proposed by private equity firm Terra Firma. It took a while for EMI's existing shareholders to sell, and rival bids from other consortiums and long time suitor Warner Music were much rumoured, but in the end Terra Firma succeeded, their top man Guy Hands took the top job at the major, and Nicoli was gone.
But it's since Hands arrival at EMI that things have got interesting. He quickly discovered what those of us in the music business but outside the major record companies have been saying for some time - that the major labels are sitting on some brilliant assets, but trying to capitalise on those assets with a business model that has long been on the slide. It's interesting to see an outsider who is so openly critical of the outdated record industry sitting at the top of a major record company. The challenge for Hands, though, is to identify how a record company should be capitalising on its assets, and quickly. And that will no doubt prove to be the tricky bit. I mean, it's not like EMI's rivals haven't been trying to find the business models for a while now, and with only limited success. Is that because old school record industry types just aren't up to it, and what is needed is a totally new approach? Quite possibly. Though whether a man from an investment background is the right guy to be leading a radical overhaul in a company that needs to be able to deal with unpredictable artists remains to be seen. Many aren't convinced.
And that includes the artists. And their managers. Since Hands took over at EMI some artists have expressed concern about the new regime at the major - most notably Radiohead who, out of contract, chose to take their new long player not to their old label but to independent XL, seemingly because of concerns regarding Hands' leadership. And last week the manager of one of EMI's biggest artists, Robbie Williams, implied that Robbie was quite likely to not renew his deal with the major when his current contract expires next year. Though to be fair, those comments had nothing to do with the new leadership at EMI, and more to do with a power shift that is currently occurring in the music business, and which seemed to gain pace in 2007. The shift of power from the labels to the artists and management. And to be fair to Hands, he, more than anyone, seemed to be very aware of that shift.
A CHANGING INDUSTRY - 360 DEGREES AND ALL THAT
The shift is happening because artists, and especially established artists, are increasingly able to release their music without the help of a record company. Traditionally artists - even big name artists - needed record companies to provide initial funding to produce and manufacture CDs, and then a global network to distribute, market and sell them. But in the digital age music production is cheaper than it once was. And there may be a time in the not too distant future when artists don't need to manufacture or distribute any CDs. And when they do, alternative sources of funding are now increasingly available - from specialist investment houses or consumer brands or major media. So Radiohead are able to do a major global digital release off their own website, and then do a number of deals around the world with independent labels regarding physical releases. And Prince is able to release his album in the UK, and earn from it handsomely, by doing a covermount deal with the Mail On Sunday.
Of course, most artists will probably still want to work with music companies most of the time, but 2007 also showed that that still doesn't offer much security to the major record companies, because they are not the only major players in the wider music business. One other major player is Live Nation, traditionally a venue owner and tour promoter, but they showed they could just as easily operate in recorded music too by signing an unprecedented new deal with Madonna, which gives them a share not only to Madge's live activity, but also in her recording work - audio and video. The landmark ten year deal, worth a reported $120 million to Madonna, saw the singer end her career long relationship with Warner Music, and saw the live music major create a brand new division called Artist Nation to manage this and future similar relationships. Some said Live Nation had bid too high in order to secure such a high profile first signing to its new division, and most seemed to think Warner had been right to resist the temptation to get into a bidding war. But the Madonna deal showed that major artists now had even more choice in terms of corporate partners, tipping the power balance further in their favour.
Quite what is the dream business model that will enable the record companies to properly maximise on their assets, and to regain some power over artists and management, no one is completely sure as yet, though the consensus is that it will be one of those 360 degree business models. The idea of record companies securing their investment in new talent on more than just recordings (eg also taking a cut of live, merchandising and management revenues) has been around for a while now, and those kinds of deals are now being done more frequently, though it is still early days. What happened this year was that we saw the major record companies start to diversify - recognising that if in the future they will have interests in the live, merchandising and management sectors, they better make sure they have people who know something about those sectors in their workforce. The majors started to do just that, partly by appointing people with a live or management background to senior roles, or by buying up smaller companies that already work in those sectors. Universal Music was probably most proactive in this domain, and most obviously through their acquisition of the Sanctuary Group, the original 360 degree music company, whose live and management assets proved attractive to Universal bosses keen to diversify. That takeover brought to an end another long running CMU story - that of the continued financial hardships at the then indie Sanctuary Group. The takeover brought with it a lot of cuts - especially in Sanctuary's own record labels - but those that survived the cull are certainly in a more secure position now that they are within Universal.
MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS
Universal Music, in fact, had quite an acquisitive year, and not just for the purposes of diversification. Their other high profile purchase was of V2, the former record label of Richard Branson which had been in the hands of bank Morgan Stanley before being flogged to the major. They merged it in with their Mercury division and cut most of the former indie's staff in the process.
Needless to say, the largest major record company in the world swallowing up two of the UK independent sector's biggest companies did not go down well with the indie community, though both acquisitions got past UK competition regulators with relative ease. Universal Music's other big purchase - on the music publishing side of the business - went ahead but didn't get past regulators with quite so much ease. Universal bought BMG Music Publishing from German conglom Bertelsmann last year, but European competition authorities invested much time in considering the merger of the Universal and BMG publishing enterprises meaning they only gave it their approval in May of this year. Despite both Universal and Bertelsmann initially predicting the merger would get the regulator green light without any problems, mainly because market leader music publisher EMI Music Publishing was already about the same size of the combined Universal BMG enterprise, in the end European Commission officials forced Universal to sell off several bits of BMG's publishing catalogue to get permission for the merger. While pan-European indies body IMPALA didn't really approve of the merger, they welcomed the conditions EC officials enforced.
IMPALA was less impressed with the other major music business decision to come out of the European Commission this year - the one relating to SonyBMG. 2006, of course, had been a good year for IMPALA when the European Courts ruled that EC officials should never have let Sony Music and BMG to merge back in 2004 - basically siding with the indie trade body who had gone to court to fight the EC approved merger. In the 2006 ruling the European Court said EC officials had not conducted a sufficiently detailed investigation of the impact of a SonyBMG merger in order to let it go ahead. So this year EC officials reinvestigated the merger proposals, in much more detail, and, erm, reached the same conclusion - that a merged SonyBMG did not have a detrimental effect on the wider music industry. No conditions were attached to that ruling - ie SonyBMG weren't forced to sell off anything in order to satisfy the regulator. IMPALA were not impressed, and are now talking to the European Ombudsmen about the whole thing. SonyBMG, meanwhile, continues to trade regardless.
The European Court's 2006 ruling on SonyBMG had also had an impact on various proposals for an EMI Warner merger, something which had seemed quite likely at the time. In theory the second EC ruling giving the SonyBMG merger the green light could have reignited EMI Warner merger talks, though by that point Terra Firma had bought the former and all merger talks were off. And anyway, prior to all that Warner had done a deal with IMPALA which had seen the indie body pledge to support a Warner takeover of EMI, should such a takeover be attempted (in the end it wasn't) in return for a commitment by the major to support a thing called Merlin.
Merlin is a new globally focused digital rights organisation founded by the indie movement at the start of the year. It isn't entirely clear what Warner would have done for Merlin in return for winning IMPALA's support for a merged EMI Warner, though the arrangement between indie trade body and major record company was not without controversy. Not every indie label supported the move, most vocally Ministry Of Sound, who were of the opinion that a handful of indies who had most to gain from the Merlin proposals had misused their influence over the trade body and had prioritised the success of their new digital rights venture over the interests of the wider indie sector. In the end most indies said they supported IMPALA, though not after a very public squabble between Ministry and the UK's Association Of Independent Music (who had backed the IMPALA plan). Of course all of this proved to be irrelevant because by August Terra Firma had secured ownership of EMI and any talks of a Warner merger were off.
While Terra Firma's EMI purchase, Universal's various acquisitions, and the ongoing debate over the SonyBMG merger grabbed most headlines, other deals were done in the world of recordings and music publishing. Most notably the Beggars Group bought Sanctuary Music's stake in legendary indie Rough Trade (before Universal bought Sanctuary) while in the publishing world a newly acquisitive Sony/ATV bought the much sought after Famous Music off Viacom.
THE N WORD DEBATE
So, what else happened in the world of major music companies? Well, aside from all the attempts at new business models, and all the mergers and acquisitions, and the continued decline in CD sales and resulting job cuts (especially in the latter part of the year) the chiefs of the big music firms in the US suddenly found themselves accused by black community rights groups of profiting from racism and sexism. That happened because an old debate became news again - the inclusion of racist and sexist language in hip hop. Ironically, that happened because of the decidedly un-hip hop American radio DJ Don Imus, who caused outrage by referring to a mainly black female basketball team as "nappy headed hos". While CBS cancelled Imus' radio show, some in the US media pointed out that artists in the black community regularly use words like 'nigga' and 'ho', causing black community groups who had hit out at Imus to put new pressure on the hip hop community to clean up its act. Keen not to be seen to censoring popular rap stars directly, much of the pressure was put on those people who ran major music firms who released the rappers' work, with some calling on shareholders in those firms to put similar pressure on CEOs and VPs at the majors. Some within the hip hop community threw their weight behind a campaign to remove the 'n' and 'h' word from the genre, then those CEOs and VPs all attended a few meetings with the concerned groups in a bid to find a way to not be portrayed as racists or sexists, but without being seen to censor rap stars signed to their label. In the end, despite a very high profile campaign, not much really changed - and while some rappers did pledge to not use offending words in the future, Nas announced his next album would be called 'Nigger' and talked at length as to why the black community should celebrate and not oppose his decision to do so. Meaning, despite a lot of noise, little was really achieved in addressing this tricky issue.
On Monday 2 Apr, between axing Levy and Munns and being axed himself, then EMI chief Eric Nicoli did something special - he announced the entire EMI catalogue would be made available without DRM, initially exclusively via Apple iTunes, and then via all download platforms. The DRM free music would be slightly more expensive, though it would come in a higher audio quality too. It was a big development, and the beginning of the end for restrictive digital rights management software, the technology which aimed to restrict the distribution of digital music, but which achieve little in that domain, and which simply pissed off consumers and gave the IT companies that made the DRM far too much power in the digital music space.
It was that latter point that persuaded Universal Music to follow EMI's lead and, as of August, start to experiment in making its music available without DRM. Unlike EMI who launched its DRM free catalogue with Apple, Universal made it available to everyone but Apple. Universal chief Doug Morris is known to resent just how powerful Apple have become in the digital music space - something that happened because of DRM, because it is DRM that locks iPod users to the iTunes Music Store and vice versa. Because the iPod plays the universal but DRM free MP3 format as well as Apple's proprietary and DRMable AAC format, if Universal went DRM free Apple's hold over where iPod users can buy major label downloads would end. So that's what they did. And while Universal's DRM moves are in theory still in an experimental phase, everyone now expects them to continue DRM free once their six month trial is over. And hurrah for that. Meanwhile, slow to respond to the inevitable, SonyBMG and Warner Music are expected to follow suit in early 2008, SonyBMG first.
NEW TO THE DOWNLOAD SPACE
Universal's decision to go DRM free conveniently coincided with the launch of a pilot MP3 download service from Amazon, the one company that people believe could be a serious competitor for Apple iTunes. Amazon have decided to only sell DRM free MP3s, meaning their service is iPod compatible. That fact coupled with a large existing base of online music consumers and sensible integration between MP3 and CD sales means that Amazon downloads, while still in its early stages, could become a powerful force in digital music in 2008. Which is of great interest to Morris, and quite possibly the key reason why Universal went DRM free.
That said, Morris isn't relying on Amazon to single-handedly take on Apple, and in the latter part of the year he started talking to the other majors about them launching their own rival download platform, something the record companies tried in the very early days of digital music, though somewhat unsuccessfully. Though if Morris's own download store could be the first to sell music from all four majors without DRM, then this time it could work.
Morris's plans are, as yet, still in the pipeline. And while download sales continued to grow, there actually seemed to be more download store closures than launches in 2007 - with the Virgin Group's attempts at a download platform and Sony's once much hyped Connect store the two highest profile closures. HMV revamped their download offer, dropping the subscription package, while Napster and, in the US, Real's Rhapsody continued with the subscription system, though with only modest success. The much hyped (in 2006) ad funded free download systems didn't really develop a great deal, though the highest profile one - Spiral Frog - did launch in North America, eventually, after various executive departures and much rumour of an early demise.
The man behind one of the early download platforms - MP3.com - arrived with an interesting new venture called Anywhere CD which sold you albums as a physical CD/MP3 bundle, and which seemed to have Warner Music onboard despite the digital bit being DRM free, though that quickly materialised to not, in fact, be the case, and legal wranglings followed. Anywhere CD soon disappeared from the net. Something called Lala launched in the US which I still don't really understand. And as for Microsoft's much hyped Zune player, there was little to report, and the player remained a US only device. There was quite a bit of chatter about new mobile music services - in particular a subscription based service called MusicStation available via Vodaphone over here - though I can't help thinking that twelve months on, the mobile music industry is still to really find its feet.
In fact most of the big stories in digital music - Amazon aside - continued to centre on Apple. And the biggest story, of course, was the arrival of much hyped iPhone. I'm not sure how many people have actually bought one - reports vary - but the hybrid iPod/mobile device, available via O2 over here, certainly got everyone in the techy world and beyond very excited.
THE BAD BOYS
Despite all this growth in legitimate download platforms, a lot of digital music is still acquired, of course, via illegal P2P file sharing. Lawsuits against individuals who downloaded continued, mainly in the US, but also increasingly in Germany, and elsewhere too. Litigation continued also against those who supplied P2P software, though many of the big names in that domain have long since disappeared, and Limewire remained the biggest enemy, and the record industry's lawsuit against them continued to work its way through court (though Limewire's countersuit against the labels was dismissed). The bigger stories in this domain this year didn't involve P2P software makers or individual downloaders but so called BitTorrent trackers, online communities that provide members with links to BitTorrent sources of music and movies, often before official release. The industry turned its attention to these big time, most notably in the UK closing down one called OiNK. However, it remains to be actually tested in court whether the people who run these communities can themselves be held liable for copyright infringement, though they're generally quite blatant about why they exist - ie to illegally share music - so there is a strong case for so called authorising infringement. Of course, even if they are liable, each time one community gets closed down another one springs up somewhere on the net more or less immediately. And despite their threats, it's harder for the record labels to track these things down than they suggest. One of the most high profile and blatant guides to illegal music sources - The Pirate Bay - remained at large throughout 2007 despite various attempts to have them closed down.
NOT A GOOD YEAR FOR...
Unfortunately the continued decline in CD sales started to really take its toll on certain parts of the music business this year - and it was the independents who suffered. Right at the start of the year indie record chain Music Zone announced it was going into liquidation. Fellow indie Fopp stepped in and took over their stores, but it proved to be a very bad decision, and sent Fopp out of business too. They started suspiciously only accepting cash in mid-June, and had closed down by the end of the month. HMV have since taken on a handful of the Fopp stores and will continue to operate them under the Fopp name, but basically speaking, two indie record brands went under in 2007.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes in the indie retail sector, CD sale declines took their toll on certain independent distributors too - and in the latter part of the year both Amato and Goya announced they were closing down. Things ain't good for independent distributors and retailers. Though, in a bid to end this section on an up note, let's remember that iconic indie record store Rough Trade opened a new store in East London this year. An indie in expansion mode - hurrah!
HIGH STREET CHANGES
The big boys of music retail struggled too, and HMV did quite a bit of restructuring in a bid to adapt. Richard Branson couldn't be bothered with such things, and set about offloading one of his Virgin Group's very original businesses, the Virgin Megastore chain. Despite some talk of an HMV/Megastore merger, in the end Branson sold his high street chain to its management, who immediately announced a name change to the rather uninspiring Zavvi. The rebrand is underway, and it remains to be seen if the new high street music brand manages to gain momentum before high street music starts to die out.
These review of the year things always seem to include a sentence were we remark what another good year the live sector has had. And what another good year the live sector has had. Despite the terrible weather meaning many open air music events were complete wash outs.
There were quite a few corporate manoeuvres in the live sector too - and not just Live Nation's expansions. In the UK the MAMA Group, owners of the Barfly network, expanded somewhat by acquiring two London venues from the aforementioned Live Nation (which LN were forced to sell by competition authorities to enable them to buy a stake in the Academy Music Group) and then by acquiring most of the venues owned by Mean Fiddler, which moved out of venue management to concentrate on festival promotion - changing its name to Festival Republic in the process. And, of course, the UK saw two big new music venues open this year. The Wembley Stadium finally opened its doors, and played host to various gigs, while on the other side of the capital AEG's The O2 opened on the Millennium Dome site, quickly turning one of the UK's biggest laughing stocks into a rather credible entertainment centre.
But the ongoing story in the live sector was the secondary ticketing debate. The live sector was already getting edgy about the growth in tickets being resold for profit by fans and tours on the net, and they got edgier this year as the secondary ticketing phenomenon further grew. The whole thing got more exposure thanks to Michael Eavis and Harvey Goldsmith's attempts to fight the touts - by introducing strict ticketing rules on Glastonbury and the Led Zepp reunion concert respectively. But things go more confusing this year because a number of new websites took off, specifically designed for secondary ticket sales, but claiming to be more music industry friendly than say eBay. There was divided opinion among the music business as to whether they should be working with these sites. Late in the year the artist management community suggested they should - but only if those sites agreed to pass a portion of their profits back to the industry through a 'Resale Rights Society'. That proposal is yet to get the approval of many of the big resale sites and major players in the live sector, so this debate, methinks, will continued well in to the New Year.
CMU REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2007: THE MUSIC MEDIA
So, 'social networking' and 'user generated content' remained buzz words in music, marketing and media circles in 2007. The main difference in social networking, though, was that where as in 2006 everyone socially networked via MySpace, now everyone used the more user-friendly Facebook. Though, that said, in the main bands and labels continued to use MySpace because of their artist page MySpace Music platform. Though, that said, Facebook have just moved into that area themselves, so it will be interesting to see if bands follow their fans into the Facebook domain in 2008. Elsewhere in music related social networking, a social network service with a music bias called Imeem gained momentum, and secured licensing deals with the major labels along the way (after initially garnering some legal letters from the labels' lawyers). Also last.fm, the song recommendation services with social networking aspects, continued to grow, and was snapped up by American media conglom CBS. No media conglom managed to acquire Facebook, it should be noted, though some tried and Microsoft succeeded in getting a stake.
While YouTube was in most cases one of the legit operations, that's not to say it managed to avoid all litigation from content owners (though it is generally on good terms with the major record companies). Some content companies didn't do deals with the Google service, and argued that it wasn't enough for YouTube to simply pledge to take down videos that infringed their copyright on demand, and that they should be stopping those videos from getting online in the first place. The most high profile of those content companies was MTV, whose lawsuit against YouTube is ongoing, and could prove to be an interesting test case if and when it gets to court.
ON THE BOX
But what about the traditional music media? Well, let's do TV first, and aside from the bespoke music channels, which continue to multiply, the general entertainment channels continue to fail to deliver any really inspired music programming. No replacements for 'Top Of The Pops' or 'CD:UK', which both disappeared in 2006 of course, were particularly forthcoming. Channel 4, in their defence, did launch numerous new music programme formats, though generally they were the same format with different names and sponsors. Some were quite good, but none caught music fans' imagination like its 'Popworld' show had in its heyday. 'Popworld' had lost Simon Amstell and Miquita Oliver as presenters in 2006, and under new presenters Alex Zane and Alexa Chung it was, frankly, a bit shit. So it came as no surprise when it was quietly axed in July. Elsewhere on the telly, with the exception of 'Later With Jools Holland', which is still brill, the best music programme on the box was probably a show that is more comedy and quiz show than music show - BBC2's 'Never Mind The Buzzcocks', now back in its prime with its newish host, the aforementioned Amstell. Preston walking off it was a true moment of telly gold.
Elsewhere in TV land, CMU time was spent admiring just how vindictive the fall out between Virgin Media and Sky became - with the latter pulling its channels off the former's cable TV network. Plus we also enjoyed greatly all the dodgy phone in scandals - when it turned out numerous TV shows had been encouraging viewers to call premium phone numbers for competitions that were closed. Brilliant. Those scandals led to other revelations about the ways in which TV producers sometimes fix things (though no real surprises there, surely) and of course led many viewers to doubt the reliability of phone in polls, seen this week by all the hoo haa about the final 'X-Factor' phone vote.
ON THE PRESSES
In the print side of things, it was a relatively uneventful year, though newcomer PlayMusic bit the dust early on, and there was the brilliant launch of the magazine spin off to the soon to be axed Popworld. Popworld Pulp lasted for just one issue. Elsewhere in print, the NME continued to grow, launching a TV station and announcing plans to launch a radio station. In amongst all that, the magazine's editors managed to piss off Morrissey big time by allegedly misrepresenting him in an interview where he rambled into the tricky issue of immigration. The defamation case is pending. I can't wait.
Probably the biggest story regarding music in the media didn't involve the music media at all, but rather the Mail On Sunday, who scored a couple of real coups with their covermount giveaways which got them lots of press, but pissed off a lot of music people. Most notable were the EMI arranged give away of Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells' (much to the annoyance of Mr Oldfield) and the exclusive release of Prince's new album 'Planet Earth' (much to the annoyance of everyone in record label and record shop land).
In radio land there were ownership changes - Chrysalis selling its radio stations to new firm Global Radio, and EMAP announcing its intent to sell its radio business (and its consumer magazine business for that matter) to German firm Heinrich Bauer.
Elsewhere, those OfCom chaps handed Channel 4 the second national digital radio multiplex, which could prove to be quite exciting when it launches next year. Gcap won the Cardiff FM licence for a Welsh outpost of Xfm, which launched a few weeks back, and elsewhere in the world of Xfm the alternative station announced it was axing daytime presenters and going with a back to back music format in that slot.
Elsewhere at Gcap there was yet another relaunch at still struggling flagship London station Capital Radio, and there could as yet be another one because after all that the radio group poached Paul Jackson from Virgin Radio to run Capital, and he has already started making lots of changes at the station. Jackson's departure from Virgin meanwhile meant that its owners, SMG, but a proposed sale or flotation on hold - difficult times in the city had already made a sale of the national station trickier than had been originally thought.
CMU REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2007: ARTISTS
IN THE POP COURTS
It always starts in the pop courts, have you noticed that? And it's been a busy year in the Courts Of Pop this year. By far the biggest story to keep our court reporters busy, of course, was the long awaited, somewhat gruesome, occasionally bizarre and ultimately unresolved Phil Spector murder trial. The legendary music producer is, of course, accused of shooting dead actress Lana Clarkson at his Beverly Hills home back in February 2003. After many delays, the trial finally began in March, with Judge Larry Paul Fidler in charge, and the TV cameras allowed in. It became apparent early on how each side would fight their case.
The prosecution would try to portray Spector has having a split personality - one minute charming music man, next minute gun wielding loon. They presented various women who said that Spector had pulled guns on them when left alone with him late at night. Spector, the prosecution had argued, had pulled a gun on Clarkson and, deliberately or otherwise, had pulled the trigger killing the actress immediately. That theory, prosecutors argued, was backed up by the testimony of Spector's former driver, who had been outside the producer's house at the time of the shooting, and who claimed the accused's first words after Clarkson's death were "I think I killed somebody".
Spector's defence team questioned the Brazilian driver's grasp of English, before launching their own character assassination of Clarkson, portraying her as being deeply depressed with her life, and on the verge of being suicidal in the weeks before her death. Clarkson, the defence argued, had shot herself.
Both sides claimed the forensics in the case proved their argument, and presented various experts to say so, cue lengthy discussions of how Clarkson's blood had splattered around the room where she died, and what that told us, or not, about where Spector was at the time - ie was he close enough to have pulled the trigger? After a lengthy distraction over allegations that one of Spector's former defence team had removed a bit of evidence from the crime scene without permission, the case slowly reached its conclusion. A conclusion of sorts, that is. After much deliberation the jury failed to reach a unanimous decision, though the majority reportedly thought the producer was guilty. But without a proper ruling Fidler had to call a mistrial. Meaning we'll all have to go through the whole thing again in order to resolve this thing. Though with Spector having changed lawyers since this year's trial, it could be sometime before the next one.
Compared to the drama of the Spector trial, everything else in the pop courts seemed a bit hum drum. But other music stars took their seat in the criminal court room. Rapper Foxy Brown continued to have anger management issues, and ended up in jail after one violent run in with another woman was deemed to be a violation of probation conditions set after another violent fracas. Another hip hopper in trouble with the authorities was TI who was arrested on all kinds of illegal firearms charges in October. He managed to secure bail but is under strict house arrest and will return to court to face the charges, which he denies, next year. G-uniter Tony Yayo got into trouble, and got quite a bit of bad press, over allegations he assaulted the fourteen year old son of the boss of a rival hip hop label, Czar Entertainment's Jimmy 'Henchmen' Rosemond. And finally from the hip hop division of the pop courts, Remy Ma is facing charges that she shot a woman in a dispute over money.
Elsewhere in the criminal courts Boy George faces charges relating to those slightly bizarre allegations that he falsely imprisoned a male escort at his London home. And former Radio 1 DJ Andy Kershaw appeared in the news several times over a restraining order that stops him from contacting his former partner, or more to the point, his inability to comply with it.
In the civil courts Akon faces a lawsuit relating to that slightly bizarre incident where he threw one of his fans into an audience (the fellow gig goer the fan landed on is suing), Dame Kiri Te Kanawa had to go to court in Australia to explain why she pulled out of a co-headline tour with John Farnham (she was worried his fans might throw underwear at her), Robbie Williams had to retract remarks made about former Take That manager Nigel Martin-Smith in a version of the song 'The 90s' that was never actually released, and Prince threatened to sue, erm, his fans, for violating his copyright on message boards where fans went to adore him.
On business matters, there were various further disputes relating to the Hendrix and Marley estates, and emo types Hawthorne Heights continued their ongoing litigation with label Victory Records, a record contact with whom they are trying to get overturned (though in late November the band's attention became more focused on the tragic death of the band's guitarist Casey Calvert from an accidental drug overdose).
IN THE TABLOIDS
Though Pete Doherty still provided some entertainment in 2007, with his admirable attempts to properly kick the drugs this year, and him being slightly more reliable at showing up to gigs (not that he showed up to the one I went to), less CMU time was dedicated to all things Mr Babyshambles. Which was just as well, because we were far to busy monitoring the exploits of Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears, both of whom went into meltdown in 2007.
The former took over from Doherty as the artist constantly pictured off her face, and prone to miss gigs or fuck them up if she did show up. Things came to a head when her slightly dodgy husband Blake Fielder Civil got locked up for allegedly perverting the course of justice in relation to an assault charge. Amy didn't respond well to the news, and to say the strain showed as she embarked on her UK tour is something of an understatement. With fans openly booing Winehouse's shoddy performances, the tour was promptly cancelled, and she is meant to be trying to sort out her life, while preparing to spend Christmas sans-Blake, who is still locked up pending trial.
But next to Britney, Winehouse had quite a normal year. Spears went loopy in the fallout from her split from husband Kevin Federline. She shaved her hair, she crashed her car, she fell over, she looked, frankly, like a woman on the edge of a hellish looking pit. Things went from bad to worse as her custody battle with the Fed over their two children started to go in his favour, and courts ruled that Britney could only have limited supervised access to them. In amongst all this she attempted a musical comeback. It got off to a bad start, with a much mocked shambolic performance at the MTV awards. But when the new album was released it got some positive responses, though Spears' continued personal woes prevented her from capitalising on that. It's easy to make fun of Britney, but she's clearly in a bad way and you can only hope she somehow gets things together in 2008.
Also filling column inches this year... Lauryn Hill, for also going a bit loopy, and being criticised by former bandmates Wyclef Jean and Pras for the loopiness. Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, for their ongoing divorce disputes, and Mills for her painful to watch TV rants about why she's great and we're all evil. MeatLoaf after he announced his retirement midway through and gig in England, though he later retracted his resignation, citing illness for causing the initial comment. Kanye West and 50 Cent for releasing their albums on the same day, and proclaiming a made up battle for the top spot in the album chart, with Fiddy declaring he'd quit music if he lost the battle, which he didn't even though he did. Lily Allen and Girl Aloud Cheryl Tweedy for partaking in quite a bit of bitchy bitching. And I seem to have written about Fall Out Boy Pete Wentz a lot, though I'm not sure why.
It seems these days that every other day we're talking about some reunion or another - you start to wonder if one day we'll run out of bands to reform. I'm not sure what was the bigger reunion this year - Led Zepp or the Spice Girls. The former, a headline set at a concert held in honour late Atlantic Records chief Ahmet Ertegun, probably enjoyed the most hype, with tickets becoming like gold dust given the 'one off' nature of the event, and no word on whether another reunion gig or tour is in the pipeline. The long awaited Spice Girls reunion was certainly a bigger venture though, with a sell out world tour, greatest hits album and comeback single. The latter didn't seem to impress, but the tour has been garnering generally positive reviews and, despite talk of back stage tensions, the Girls themselves seem to be happy to be back.
Elsewhere in reunion news, and more exciting than all that if you ask me, Rage Against The Machine and The Jesus And Mary Chain reunited for Coachella, The Verve staged a very popular reunion tour and headed back into the studio, The Smashing Pumpkins returned after a seven year break, My Bloody Valentine announced they too were going back into the studio, and Portishead announced they were putting the finishing touches to their first new album in a decade. Oh, and The Police reformed to stage the highest grossing tour of the year. And Genesis, reunited in late 2006, also enjoyed another one of the highest grossing tours of the year with their reunion. And after much speculation and various delays, David Lee Roth reunited with Van Halen and is currently on tour with the band. Oh yes, and who could forget, the Boyzone boys also insisted on inflicting themselves on us once more, using the guise of charity (Children In Need) as an excuse for the reformation.
FALLING OUT/SPLITTING UP
To have reunions tomorrow, bands need to split today, and various bands called it a day this year, some on good terms, some otherwise. The Cooper Temple Clause, Rooster, The Beautiful South, Electrelane and Liberty X all split or went on hiatus seemingly on good terms. Less so New Order, who lost Peter Hook this year. He insisted the band had split, but his former bandmates Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris announced plans to continue to record under the moniker, something Hookie doesn't seem to approve of. Elsewhere, Morning Runner announced they were calling it a day, blaming pressure from their label to make a more commercial second album as forcing them to quit.
Some bands continued but lost some members along the way. Motley Crue lost Tommy Lee as the rest of the band sued Lee's manager Carl Stubner over allegations he jeopardised the band's future and reputation by picking conflicting projects for Lee. The band have resisted suing Lee himself, and it is unclear what relations between him and the rest of the band might be like, though for the time being I think its fair to say he's not an active Crue member. Elsewhere, Automatic lost jumpy boy Alex Pennie, buzz band Bonde Do Role lost Marina Ribatski, Towers Of London lost The Rev and Snell, The Offspring lost Adam Willard to Angels & Airwaves, !!! lost John Pugh who wanted to concentrate on his new band Free Blood and Ian Astbury quit The Doors to reform The Cult. And My Chemical Romance had to tour with three fifths of their line up after Bob Bryar and Frank Iero had to drop out for illness reasons (the former a strained wrist, the latter an illness in the family). And there were reportedly tensions in the Wu Tang Clan after it looked like the release of their new album would clash with the release of Clan member Ghostface Killah's new solo project. Release dates were changed, but there was still rumours some in the outfit were not on good terms with main man RZA. All that said, as far as we know the Clan is still together as we go into 08.
LIFE GOES ON
Putting all that into perspective, the music world again lost lots of it's people this year. That is to say, they died. Caro CMU has been busy putting together that list of people who died since this time last year who we should all probably spend a few seconds thinking about this year end. She likes to call it the Parade Of The Dead, but she's very sick. You can check it at this URL. Every one of them will be missed, though music industry maverick Tony Wilson's premature passing is still the most depressing for me.
But hey CMU, what about the music itself? Well, what indeed. First, may we just say, well done music types for another year of fine releases? So called nu-rave came of age, even if that is just a made up genre we still don't really know what it means. The interest in all things rock and indie - big and small - continued, some of it influenced by the nu-rave movement, and coming with an added electro element, that was usually more than welcome. Hip hop may have been dominated by the big Fiddy v Kanye thing, but there was plenty of other fine music of a hipperty hopperty kind coming out on both sides of the Atlantic. Dance music seemed to have a very healthy year and, again thanks to the buzz around nu-rave, may just be due a more mainstream comeback. Within the dance genre, breaks may not have got quite as big as I'd hoped, but it still rocked big time. And was it just me, or were there more quite hard to genre-ise artists and all round quirky nonsense this year? I thought so.
But what about some names hey? Well, perhaps we should start by reminding you of the CMU albums of 2007, the ten long players that got Team CMU most excited. And what a fine bunch they are.
Scouting For Girls - Scouting For Girls
Roisin Murphy - Overpowered
Dub Pistols - Speakers & Tweeters
Chromeo - Fancy Footwork
Bishi - Nights At The Circus
Simian Mobile Disco - Decay Sustain Release
Shy Child - Noise Won't Stop
Electrelane - No Shoots, No Calls
Little Barrie - Stand Your Ground
Girls Aloud - Tangled Up
Other artists who got us excited this year included The Gossip (yes, even despite Channel 4 playing 'Standing In The Way Of Control' to death), Klaxons (yes, despite all the hype), Radiohead (yes, despite all the 'is this the future of music distribution' nonsense), Rihanna (yes, despite her long stint at number one), Babyshambles (yes, despite everything), Justice, iLikeTrains, MIA, Arcade Fire, Super Furry Animals, The Good The Bad And The Queen, Bonde Do Role, Battles, Jamie T, Does It Offend You Yeah, The Shins, Patrick Wolf, Underworld, Reverend & The Makers, South Central, LCD Soundsystem, Soulwax, Pendulum, Hard-Fi, The Rumble Strips, Beirut, Panda Bear, Dizzee Rascal, The Macabees, The Hoosiers, Hot Chip, A Human, The Wombats, Foals, !!!, Bjork, Mark Ronson, Bright Eyes, Biffy Clyro, Robyn, Modest Mouse and loads more I've forgotten I'm sure. Oh yes, and McFly were still great. We'd have liked to have been getting excited about Guns N Roses' 'Chinese Democracy', but despite some early promise, it still didn't arrive this year. And personally I'm still looking forward to that all-star charity record Michael Jackson promised after the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is it. It's been a busy year, a mad year, an interesting year and a great year. The music business remains unpredictable, and we should expect more turmoil in 2008. But I maintain my standpoint that these are exciting times in the history of the music business. And besides, without the turmoil what would we describe, dissect and mock everyday in the CMU Daily? We're back on Monday 7 Jan for another year of CMU type nonsense - including our tenth birthday no less - so do tune in, because however tumultuous this industry proves to be next year, you can rest assured we'll keep each and everyone of you in the loop. See you in 08.