TODAY'S TOP STORY: SoundCloud yesterday announced that it had axed 173 jobs at the company, which equates to about 40% of its workforce. The firm's albeit modest London office is also closing, with the focus now on Berlin and New York. It was a dramatic move that will make it all the harder for the digital business to find a positive spin whenever it is responding to those occasional predictions of SoundCloud doom that do the rounds from time to time... [READ MORE]
VIGSY'S CLUB TIP: Yoruban Records boss Osunlade jets in to play a set a Phonox tonight. This NYC-based house guru will be demonstrating his well-honed skills - playing selections from deep soul to tribal rhythms - that have kept him in the limelight for years. Osunlade's 'Paradigm' album put him firmly on the map in 2001, but he has been producing music since the early 1990s. [READ MORE]
BEEF OF THE WEEK: Jay-Z has released a new album. Everyone knows that. And there's been much talk of the beefs contained within its lyrics, calling out both Kanye West and possibly Future. But that album came out last week and those digs were not well masked. That makes them beefs of last week. Get with the programme, granddad. It's lucky you're not in charge of this column or it would be chaos. [READ MORE]
LATEST CMU PODCAST: CMU's Andy Malt and Chris Cooke review key events in music and the music business from the last week, including the music industry's joy at a landmark ruling in Canada ordering Google to delist an entire website from its search results worldwide, Universal's renewed bid to cancel its Prince recordings deal, and new rules in the UK singles chart designed to stop Ed Sheeran hogging it all. The CMU Podcast is sponsored by 7digital. [READ MORE]
LATEST CMU TRENDS: Rarely a week goes by in the music business news these days without at least one catalogue acquisition. But who - other than labels and publishers - is buying music rights, and why? Are there opportunities for individual artists and songwriters to do deals with professional investors? And how do you even value music rights? Ahead of a Music 4.5 event exploring all these topics, CMU Trends reviews the music rights market - past, present and future. [READ MORE]
TOP STORIES SoundCloud axes 173 jobs, closes London office
LEGAL Stream-ripping now "most prevalent" form of music piracy, says new report
Australian regulator writes to accountants group about Guvera fundraising
Google has now de-listed 2.5 billion piracy URLs
Justin Bieber no longer wanted for graffiti crimes in Brazil
LIVE BUSINESS Manchester Arena gives update on plans to re-open
Glastonbury responds to criticism of zero hours contracts for clean up team
RELEASES Kesha announces new album, releases new single
Muse announce daily AI-created music videos
AND FINALLY... Beef Of The Week #362: 50 Cent v Jay-Z
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25 Sep 2017 CMU Insights Seminar: Making Money From Music
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16 Oct 2017 CMU Insights Seminar: The Music Rights Sector
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30 Oct 2017 CMU Insights Seminar: Building A Fanbase - Social Media Tools
6 Nov 2017 CMU Insights Seminar: Building A Fanbase - Music Media
13 Nov 2017 CMU Insights Seminar: Building A Fan-Orientated Business

SoundCloud axes 173 jobs, closes London office
SoundCloud yesterday announced that it had axed 173 jobs at the company, which equates to about 40% of its workforce. The firm's albeit modest London office is also closing, with the focus now on Berlin and New York. It was a dramatic move that will make it all the harder for the digital business to find a positive spin whenever it is responding to those occasional predictions of SoundCloud doom that do the rounds from time to time.

It's no secret that the streaming firm has been struggling for a while now as it tries to pivot its business away from primarily selling storage and bandwidth to content makers to becoming an advertising and subscription-funded streaming platform, more in line with Spotify and Apple Music but with a wider catalogue of tracks from grassroots artists.

It had already spent an awful lot of money before moving into the ad-funded and subscription streaming space via long-negotiated deals with the record companies, music publishers and collecting societies. And, of course, by that point the streaming market was an incredibly competitive place led by the deep pocketed Spotify and Apple.

Which isn't to say that SoundCloud doesn't have its USPs. Its freebie userbase is bigger than that of its competitors, and the platform remains a go-to-destination for early-adopters and opinion formers looking for new music. But the big question is: can you monetise that?

It's widely believed that SoundCloud can only really work long-term as part of a bigger business. Various companies have been linked to a possible SoundCloud acquisition, last year mainly Spotify, of late mainly Deezer. Though any such deal would likely require SoundCloud to accept a much lower valuation than it has enjoyed in the past.

It remains to be seen whether any such deal can be done, though in a statement on the down-sizing yesterday, founder Alex Ljung talked about the cutbacks being required to achieve "long-term, independent success".

Ljung wrote: "In the competitive world of music streaming, we've spent the last several years growing our business, and more than doubled our revenue in the last twelve months alone. However, we need to ensure our path to long-term, independent success. And in order to do this, it requires cost cutting, continued growth of our existing advertising and subscription revenue streams, and a relentless focus on our unique competitive advantage - artists and creators".

Honing in on the jobs cull, he continued: "With more focus and a need to think about the long term, comes tough decisions. Today, after careful and painful consideration, we took the difficult step to let go of 173 SoundCloud staffers and consolidated the team into two offices: Berlin and New York. We are extremely grateful for the contributions of each and every staff member who will be leaving SoundCloud, and we wish all of them the best. Without them, we would not be where we are today".

Seeking that positive spin, Ljung concluded: "By reducing our costs and continuing our revenue growth, we're on our path to profitability and in control of SoundCloud's independent future". Though, for many in the music industry, yesterday's announcement was seen as yet further proof that SoundCloud's future will never involve both "profitability" and "independence".


Stream-ripping now "most prevalent" form of music piracy, says new report
Time to update your piracy charts everybody, according to a new study by the UK's Intellectual Property Office and collecting society PRS For Music, stream-ripping is now the "most prevalent and fastest growing form of music piracy".

Stream-ripping, of course, is where you use an app, browser plug-in or website to grab the content of a stream and convert it into a downloadable file. So in music a particularly common form of stream-ripping involves stripping the audio from a YouTube video and outputting it as an MP3. And when you can do that so easily, why bother with old-fashioned P2P file-sharing?

Far from a new method of illegally building a collection of content, there have been various calls over the years for platforms like YouTube to try to implement measures to make it harder to pull content out of a stream. Though this particular kind of piracy has been working its way up the music industry's gripe list of late, with the UK and US record industries launching legal action against stream-ripping site last year.

According to the new study commissioned by the IPO and PRS, use of stream-ripping websites increased by 141.3% between 2014 and 2016, "overwhelmingly overshadowing all other illegal music services". Perhaps unsurprisingly, YouTube is the most popular source of content that is stream-ripped, though streaming services SoundCloud, Spotify and Deezer are also tapped by some stream-ripping platforms.

In a survey of 9000 UK consumers, 57% of people said they were aware of stream-ripping services, while 15% confessed to using them. Reasons given for engaging in a little stream-ripping included that: a user already owned the music in another format; or they wanted access to some music offline; or they felt legal music services were overpriced. As for how the stream-ripping services make money, advertising was the primary model.

Commenting on the research, PRS CEO Robert Ashcroft said: "We hope that this research will provide the basis for a renewed and re-focused commitment to tackling online copyright infringement. The long term health of the UK's cultural and creative sectors is in everyone's best interests, including those of the digital service providers, and a co-ordinated industry and government approach to tackling stream-ripping is essential".

Meanwhile Ros Lynch, Copyright & IP Enforcement Director at the IPO, added: "It's great that legal streaming sites continue to be a hugely popular choice for consumers. The success and popularity of these platforms show the importance of evolution and innovation in the entertainment industry. Ironically it is innovation that also benefits those looking to undermine IP rights and benefit financially from copyright infringement".

She went on: "There has never been more choice or flexibility for consumers of TV and music, however illicit streaming devices and stream-ripping are threatening this progress. Content creators deserve to be paid for their work - it is not a grey area. This government takes IP infringement extremely seriously and we are working with our industry partners and law enforcement to tackle this emerging threat".


Australian regulator writes to accountants group about Guvera fundraising
The Australian Securities And Investments Commission has sent a letter to the country's Institute Of Public Accountants expressing concerns about the kind of fundraising methods allegedly used by failed streaming music firm Guvera.

As previously reported, it emerged last month that ASIC was investigating the approach of Amma Private Equity, which raise millions for the Guvera company from grassroots investors. It is alleged that Amma didn't follow rules designed to protect unsophisticated investors who don't necessarily understand the risks associated with the investments they make, and who often can't afford to lose the money they invest.

According to The Courier-Mail, the letter from ASIC outlines a process where accountants advise their clients to establish a company trust via which to invest, which is then run by a third party, possibly the accountant themselves. Because that trust is run by someone with an accountancy background they qualify as a sophisticated investor, meaning that the company being invested in no longer has to provide the extra documentation required under law when you are tapping grassroots investors for cash.

The letter says that "ASIC is concerned that this structure is being used in an attempt to circumvent the prohibition on offering shares to non-sophisticated investors without a disclosure document", before specifically stating that the regulator was "concerned that Amma is utilising a network of accountants" to pursue a scheme of this kind.

As well as Guvera, Amma has also raised finance for video messaging app Kwickie, another start-up which - until recently - Guvera had equity in. In its letter, ASIC specifically states that shares in Kwickie must not now be offered to less sophisticated investors via a trust structure.


Google has now de-listed 2.5 billion piracy URLs
Google has now removed 2.5 billion URLs from its search engine database on copyright grounds, Torrentfreak has noted. According to the copyright section of what Google calls its Transparency Report, 1.11 million websites have now been targeted with link removal requests on the grounds of copyright infringement.

As much previously reported, with so many people finding illegal sources of content via the Google search engine, the content industries - and the record industry in particular - now submit a constant flood of takedown notices to the web giant requesting that links to copyright infringing material be removed from the search database. Google is obliged under copyright law to remove such links when made aware of them.

Although many record labels now issue takedowns to Google as a matter of course, the record industry generally reckons that the web firm could be doing more to remove piracy links from its search engine, and that the total number of URLs removed is only so ridiculously high because it resists taking a more proactive approach.

In particular, labels would like Google to delist entire websites - rather than just individual URLs - where a site primarily exists to facilitate copyright infringement. Google has always resisting site-wide delisting, though that recent case in the Canadian Supreme Court - where an injunction was upheld that ordered a site-wide delisting in a dispute between two tech companies - could possibly force the web giant's hand on this issue.


Justin Bieber no longer wanted for graffiti crimes in Brazil
Justin Bieber is no longer on the wrong side of the law in Brazil after a $6000 charitable donation brought to an end a legal case that has lingered on since the popstar's infamous naughty period.

In 2013, Bieber was charged in Rio De Janeiro with "defacing a building or urban monument by graffiti or other means" after being photographed spray-painting onto the wall of an abandoned hotel. The story went that the pop boy had been given permission to paint on the wall of a nearby sports facility, but decided to graffiti the hotel instead in order to avoid fans, who would just get in the way as he employed his arty skills.

Police weren't impressed with that excuse, hence the charges, which could have led to jail time under Brazilian law. Though the case is now closed thanks to Bieber committing to donate six grand to a cancer hospital in Rio.

In case you wondered, yes, that was the same Brazilian trip where Bieber was spotted leaving a brothel under a sheet, and then stormed off stage when someone threw a bottle at him. They were happy days weren't they? It all went wrong when Bieber grew up.


Manchester Arena gives update on plans to re-open
The Manchester Arena has issued a new statement confirming that it is still aiming to re-open in September, as renovations begin in the wake of the bomb attack that occurred at the conclusion of an Ariana Grande concert there in May.

As previously reported, although it had been hoped that the venue would be able to honour most of its summer bookings, it soon became apparent that damage to the building was greater than initially thought. As a result, it was announced that the venue would remain closed until at least September.

In a new statement, operators say: "The renovation work has now started in the main public area outside the arena and we are working extremely hard to ensure our re-opening in early September. We will continue to keep you informed as much as possible on our official re-opening date and up and coming show information. We still have some great events for 2017 and of course 2018".

They add: "We also want to express our thanks to all those who have contacted us with their kind wishes and support. Our ongoing thoughts and prayers still remain with all those affected by the atrocity that happened".

The first music event expected to take place at the re-opened venue is a John Legend show on 16 Sep.


Glastonbury responds to criticism of zero hours contracts for clean up team
The Glastonbury Festival has responded to criticism of its use of zero hours style contracts for workers involved in the clean up operation after this year's event.

The criticism began with a piece by The Independent, which said that workers had travelled from all over Europe to join the 700 strong clean up team, expecting two weeks of work. However, around 600 were apparently told that their services were no longer required after two days. A video shows workers complaining that they would not be fed over the weekend before being able to find more work.

Later this week, a spokesperson for Glastonbury headliner Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke about workers' rights in his speech at the festival and committed to ban zero hours contracts in Labour's manifesto, said: "Jeremy and the Labour party have taken a very strong stand against the use of zero hours contracts, and the exploitation of migrant and other workers, and the spread of all manner of insecure agency working, and we would take that view wherever it happened. That goes not just for zero hour contracts but other forms of exploitation - bogus self-employment, fake agency working and so on".

In response to all this chatter, Glastonbury has now issued a statement, saying: "The length of the clean-up varies considerably from year-to-year, based largely upon the weather conditions before, during and after the festival. This is something the litter pickers - many of whom return year after year - are made aware of in their worker agreements (which assure them of a minimum of eight hours' work)".

It continued: "This year was an unusually dry one for Glastonbury. That, coupled with a fantastic effort from festival-goers in taking their belongings home, meant that the bulk of the litter picking work was completed after two and a half days (in 2016, a very wet year, the equivalent period was around ten days)".

Glastonbury also disputed the claims that the laid-off workers were not fed, saying: "All but a core crew of litter pickers were advised that there was no further work available after Friday (30 Jun). Those who weren't able to leave the site over the weekend were given further meals, plus assistance with travel to nearby towns with public transport links".

Next year, of course, is a fallow year for Glastonbury, giving the farmland on which the event takes place a year to recover from five years of festivals.

Vigsy's Club Tip: Osunlade at Phonox
Yoruban Records boss Osunlade jets in to play a set a Phonox tonight. This NYC-based house guru will be demonstrating his well-honed skills - playing selections from deep soul to tribal rhythms - that have kept him in the limelight for years.

Osunlade's 'Paradigm' album put him firmly on the map in 2001, but he has been producing music since the early 1990s. The man really knows his stuff, meaning this night is sure to be an education - and an awesome night out in Brixton.

Friday 7 Jul, Phonox, 418 Brixton Road, Brixton, London, SW9 7AY, 9pm-4am, £5adv. More info here.

Kesha announces new album, releases new single
Kesha will release her first album for nearly five years, titled 'Rainbow', on 11 Aug. Collaborators on the record include Dolly Parton, Ben Folds, Eagles Of Death Metal, Ryan Lewis and her mother Pebe Sebert. Ahead of the release, she's put out new single 'Praying'.

Since her last album - 2012's 'Warrior' - Kesha's career has effectively been on hold as she became embroiled in a number of lawsuits against her label boss and former producer Dr Luke. The main case, and the last one still ongoing, called for her to be released from her contracts with the producer's various companies on the grounds that he raped her as a teenager. He denies this, and has continued to fight hard in the courts throughout.

Certain concessions have been made along the way, but Kesha's deals with Dr Luke remain, meaning that this new album will be released through his Sony-affiliated Kemosabe label. Although it does seem that she has been granted more creative control than on earlier releases, which is one of the things she had been pushing for.

In an article for Lena Dunham's Lenny website, Kesha wrote: "'Praying', my first [solo] single in almost four years, comes out today. I have channeled my feelings of severe hopelessness and depression, I've overcome obstacles, and I have found strength in myself even when it felt out of reach".

She goes on: "I've found what I had thought was an unobtainable place of peace. This song is about coming to feel empathy for someone else even if they hurt you or scare you. It's a song about learning to be proud of the person you are even during low moments when you feel alone. It's also about hoping everyone, even someone who hurt you, can heal".

Watch the video for 'Praying' here.


Muse announce daily AI-created music videos
Muse have announced that they will release a new music video, created using artificial intelligence, every day for a month.

Very similar to a project set up by Manchester band Shaking Chains for their debut single 'Midnight Oil' earlier this year, each new video will see the lyrics to Muse's latest single, 'Dig Down', voiced by a collection of different videos sourced from the internet and cut together by AI over the band's music.

The company behind Muse's video, Branger Briz, says in a statement: "AI is so often deployed in a very invisible way, so it was exciting to collaborate on a project with the band that brings it to the fore. We think it's important to have public discourse about the promise and perils of these emerging and incredibly influential technologies and it's great to work with Muse to instigate those conversations".

Watch each day's new video here.


Beef Of The Week #362: 50 Cent v Jay-Z
Jay-Z has released a new album. Everyone knows that. And there's been much talk of the beefs contained within its lyrics, calling out both Kanye West and possibly Future. But that album came out last week and those digs were not well masked. That makes them beefs of last week. Get with the programme, granddad. It's lucky you're not in charge of this column or it would be chaos.

It's alright though, more has happened in the days since existing Tidal users were given access to '4:44'. First, it emerged that Snoop Dogg had given the album a listen, but he's not really on board with streaming, so he'd pirated it. Or at least, he'd got someone to pirate it for him. Snoop's complaint was a legitimate one though. He wanted to give Jay-Z money for his record, but that record was only available via a single platform, and one that he doesn't use and has no intention of using.

"I'm on iTunes and shit", said Snoop in an Instagram video. "I don't understand [Tidal] - y'all gotta explain that to me. I went to iTunes looking for his album and I couldn't find it. But my homie sent it to me, you understand me?"

But Snoop hadn't downloaded the album so that he could speak ill of it. '4:44' is, he said, "a motherfuckin hot album". Because Snoop has no interest in disparaging the art of others. Anyone deserves a chance, whether they're an old hand or a new kid on the block.

"I ain't no hater", he said. "I love the game for what it's worth - the young niggas and the old niggas. Practice that. Practice showing love. Practice supporting other muthafuckas other than yourself. Yeah, do that".

I think that message was pretty clear. But when 50 Cent had a go at providing his own review of '4:44' on Instagram a few days later, it didn't go quite so well. Actually, it started just fine. "I thought the shit was alright", he began. "I liked the shit".

Shit has been approved. Fine. Leave it there.

Does shit require nuance? Well, let's continue.

"I'ma keep it 100: The shit was a little... the shit was too smart", he added, on reflection. "I felt like I was supposed to be wearing glasses and shit, and tie a fucking sweater around my waist. It was like Ivy League shit. I ain't gonna hold you up. Some of that shit was like golf course music".

Golf course music! What is golf course music? I found this playlist on Spotify which suggests Maroon 5 feature heavily in that category. But it was Big Boi who crossed the line and allowed Adam Levine on his album, not Jay-Z. I also found this, which doesn't sound right either.

There's not time to ponder on this though, because 50 Cent also quickly broke Snoop's second very clear rule for commenting upon the work of others by saying that he reckons Jay-Z is too old now and should let some younger rappers have a go. Perhaps this is why Fiddy's 'Street King Immortal' album has been shelved since 2011, rather than the various label issues that are assumed to be behind the delay.

"I'mma tell you the truth: Niggas hot out here", he went on. "They don't wanna hear that shit. They just wanna have a good time. Fuck that. You can't be the best rapper at 47, because the new niggas is here".

Whether or not you can be the best at something deemed inherently youthful at 47 years old is a debate we could all have. Or you could ask whether it is even possible for one person to be the single best at doing anything? Especially something like music, which must be judged on numerous different qualities, most of them immeasurable.

The one thing you can measure, however, is popularity. Which means that the suggestion that people simply don't want to hear Jay-Z's 'too smart golf course music' is something we can check. Unfortunately for 50 Cent, he made his (now deleted) comments just as it was announced that '4:44' had gone platinum in the US - making it the country's sixth best selling album of the year, and a million seller, in the space of five days.

That news came via an official proclamation from the Recording Industry Association Of America, complete with an exclamation from its CEO Carey Sherman that "he's done it again! Another platinum album adds to an already iconic career".

But, hey, there may be some reprieve for 50 Cent yet. Because while those '4:44' achievements sound very impressive, something does seem a little odd about it all. The album is only available to stream on Tidal. Let's say that Tidal has a million active users - according to chart rules, each of them would have had to play the album in full 1500 times in order to push the record up to platinum status.

Then there's the more curious revelation that a photograph of Jay-Z and Cary Sherman with the rapper's brand new platinum disc was taken before the album was even released. Either there's something extremely fishy going on here or there's more to this than meets the eye. Or both. Probably both.

Actually, there is more. I was hiding some information from you in order to build up the drama, even though the information I was hiding is more interesting than the build up. Sorry. This has ended up a bit like the worst documentary of all time, 'Searching For Sugarman'. Seriously, that's a fucking terrible film. Stop saying it's good, you idiots.

See, it turns out '4:44' was not only made available to stream on Tidal; there was also a download promotion via Tidal's newish shareholder Sprint, the US mobile phone company, which offered a million downloads to its customers for free.

Since the announcement of the platinum certification, Jay-Z's Roc Nation company has confirmed that it was downloads in the Sprint promotion that got the album its platinum certification. In fact, Tidal streams weren't even factored into the calculation.

So, it seems, the taking of that photograph before the album's release wasn't an astonishing case of wishful thinking. The album had actually already sold over a million copies at that point - just to a single customer, which planned to hand them out for nothing. Which you could, just possibly, argue is cheating.

Though we've had that argument before, of course.

This is all a re-run of what happened with Jay-Z's last album 'Magna Carta Holy Grail', which was given out for free by Samsung. That time different rules were applied by the music industry's different stat counters, meaning the record was deemed to have quickly racked up a million sales and therefore platinum status, but none of those 'sales' were counted towards the record's chart position.

'Magna Carta Holy Grail' still went to number one in the Billboard 200 in its first week. But those were different times. By which I mean pre-Tidal times. The record was available from various places where there were sufficient sales to top the chart.

But if we ignore the Sprint give-aways and just count Tidal streams, '4:44'' would need to clock up 792 million plays in order to match the chart-recorded first week sales of its predecessor. Though the good news is, it'll only have to get 223.5 million plays to beat the sales of this week's US number one, DJ Khaled's 'Grateful'.

Either way, I suspect Jay-Z may have been slightly less quick to have his photo taken with Billboard Editor Mike Bruno ahead of Tuesday's chart publication. So maybe, when we look back in years to come, it will appear that 50 Cent was right.


ANDY MALT | Editor
Andy heads up the team, overseeing the CMU bulletins and website, coordinating features and interviews, reporting on artist and business stories, and contributing to the CMU Approved column.
Email (except press releases, see below)
CHRIS COOKE | MD & Business Editor
Chris provides music business coverage and analysis. Chris also leads the CMU Insights training and consultancy business and education programme CMU:DIY, and heads up CMU publisher 3CM UnLimited.
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SAM TAYLOR | Commercial Manager & Insights Associate
Sam oversees the commercial side of the CMU media, leading on sales and sponsorship, and advising on CMU Insights training courses and events.
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CARO MOSES | Co-Publisher
Caro helps oversee the CMU media, while as a Director of 3CM UnLimited she heads up the company's other two titles ThisWeek London and ThreeWeeks Edinburgh, and supports other parts of the business.
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