TODAY'S TOP STORY: A new possible bidder has emerged for HMV as administrator KPMG battles against the clock to find a buyer able and willing to rescue at least some of the UK's final nationwide music retail chain. Joining the bidding is Canadian company Sunrise Records, which bought up a significant number of stores in its home country when HMV Canada went into administration two years ago... [READ MORE]
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TOP STORIES New bidder emerges as decision on HMV's future gets closer
LEGAL Campaigners call for an end to 'gang injunctions' against drill artists
Tekashi 6ix9ine admits gang membership
21 Savage arrested, accused of being British
Code-sharing community questions if Deezer can force block of stream-ripping tool
DIGITAL & D2F SERVICES Spotify in talks to buy podcasting company Gimlet Media
PledgeMusic issues new statement over ongoing late-payment issues
AND FINALLY... Maroon 5's Super Bowl performance happened as planned
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New bidder emerges as decision on HMV's future gets closer
A new possible bidder has emerged for HMV as administrator KPMG battles against the clock to find a buyer able and willing to rescue at least some of the UK's final nationwide music retail chain. Joining the bidding is Canadian company Sunrise Records, which bought up a significant number of stores in its home country when HMV Canada went into administration two years ago.

HMV UK went into administration for a second time over the Christmas break, of course. Most recent owner Hilco, which bought the retailer out of administration back in 2013, said that a combination of high business rates, slumping DVD sales and tough trading conditions on the British high street had made running the retailer as a viable concern impossible.

KPMG has confirmed that it has received a number of bids to buy some or all of the HMV business. The most high profile bidder to date has been Mike Ashley of Sports Direct fame, who has acquired a number of other UK retailers on the brink in the last year, and who also has an existing stake in another entertainment retail business in the form of Game. It's thought senior execs at HMV itself may also be attempting a management buy-out.

Now there is also the bid from Sunrise Records and its owner Doug Putman, reports of which first surfaced in Music Week over the weekend. Putman significantly expanded his Canadian business after the collapse of HMV Canada, which was also owned by Hilco. He presumably reckons that if he can make a success back home of stores on which Hilco had already given up, why not in the UK as well?

When negotiating to buy 70 of HMV's old Canadian stores in 2017, Putman told reporters: "With HMV leaving, it leaves a big hole in the marketplace, so we just thought it was a good opportunity and the timing was right. So we are going to jump on it and do what we can. The reality is there is a large amount of customers that want that physical product that they can touch and hold and have".

Bidders have seemingly been meeting with suppliers in the entertainment industry to discuss their respective plans, both informally and via sessions facilitated by KPMG. It is likely all bidders will be looking for cost savings to make the HMV network of stores viable. Though Hilco did that six years ago, so the question is are there further economies of scale to be achieved this time round, beyond reducing the number of stores?

Needless to say, employees of HMV urgently await some clarity of what the near future holds for the business. As do those labels and distributors owed money by the company, who need to understand what hit they may have to take from the latest collapse of the retail firm, while also wanting some assurance about the future so they can make decisions on whether or not to provide new stock to HMV's stores.

All of which means KMPG needs to make a decision pretty damn quickly. It was thought there might be some news on a decision last week, but none was forthcoming. Some kind of update this week is now widely expected.


Campaigners call for an end to 'gang injunctions' against drill artists
A total of 65 musicians, lawyers, academics and representatives of human rights organisations have signed an open letter to London's Metropolitan Police, calling on them to stop using injunctions against rappers in the UK drill scene as a means of reducing gang violence. "These injunctions are demonstrably ineffective at tackling youth violence and present a threat to all our civil liberties", the letter states.

The Met began securing injunctions against various drill musicians last year, restricting their ability to perform or in some cases even make music at all, based on claims that their output has or could incite violence between rival gangs in London. Then, last month, rappers Skengdo and AM were given suspended prison sentences of nine months, after being found to have breached an injunction by performing their track 'Attempted 1.0' at Koko in Camden last December.

The signatories of the new letter, published by The Guardian - and who include grime rapper Saskilla, Index Of Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg and Black Lives Matter's Joshua Virasami - say that they "wish to register our serious concern at the increasing use of so-called 'gang injunctions' as a means of policing artistic expression".

"These injunctions are demonstrably ineffective at tackling youth violence and present a threat to all our civil liberties", the letter goes on. "The injunction that precipitated the conviction of these two artists was alarming in its breadth. As with other injunctions used against 'gangs' and 'gang-related' activity under the Policing And Crime Act 2009, it did not simply prohibit incitement to violence but banned references to individuals, events and places".

"We've seen other injunctions used to ban musicians from even making work that could be seen as 'encouraging' violence, again under threat of criminalisation", it added. "How many now-celebrated artists and poets and polemicists would survive such limitations?"

"Incitement to violence is rightly an existing offence", it continues, "but these injunctions go much further than this. We condemn this suppression: silencing one of the few avenues, through threat of criminalisation, by which young people can discuss the reality of their lives with any hope of being heard".

It concludes: "The heavy-handed policing of music, and the structurally racist outcomes that follow from it, are not new. There is also a wealth of evidence to prove that limiting civil liberties in an attempt to appear tough on crime does not work. We call on the Metropolitan Police to stop seeking these repressive and counterproductive injunctions. All artists should be afforded the same rights to freedom of speech and creative expression".

Another of the letter's signatories, drill artist Drillminister, who writes politically driven lyrics, last week released new track 'No Deal Brexit'.


Tekashi 6ix9ine admits gang membership
Rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine has admitted to nine of the criminal charges filed against him as part of a plea deal. It is hoped that, by pleading guilty, he will receive a much more lenient sentence than the minimum 47 years in prison he is currently facing.

Having previously maintained his innocence of all charges, the rapper - real name Daniel Hernandez - now admits to having been a member of the New York street gang Nine Trey since 2017. Among the nine crimes he has pleaded guilty to are helping gang members to try to kill a rival last year, helping others to rob people at gunpoint, and being involved in a deal to sell a kilogram of cocaine.

"I did this to maintain or increase my own standing in Nine Trey", the rapper told the court, according to the Guardian. "I apologise to the court, to anyone who was hurt, to my family, friends and fans for what I have done and who I have let down".

Although he had publicly identified himself as a member of the gang before, Hernandez then argued that that was simply bragging in his rap persona and not a reflection of his real life. Following his arrest in November, his lawyer Lance Lazzaro said in a statement: "An entertainer who portrays a 'gangster image' to promote his music does not make him a member of an enterprise".

Representing him in court last week, another attorney, Dawn Florio, said that her client's safety was now in danger, leading to the location of the prison where he is currently being held being kept secret. She added: "In the very beginning of the case when we found out that my client's security was at risk because of threats by his co-defendants, we have done everything to protect himself and his family. He has to be separated from the people who threatened him".

Hernandez has a significant wait to find out if admitting his crimes will reduce his eventual prison time. The date for his sentencing has been set for 23 Jan 2020.


21 Savage arrested, accused of being British
Rapper 21 Savage - who has previously spoken proudly of his roots in Atlanta - has been arrested by US immigration officials who say that he is a UK national in the States illegally.

A spokesperson for Immigration & Customs Enforcement said that the rapper - real name
Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph - is an "unlawfully present United Kingdom national". He is believed to have entered the US legally in 2005, aged twelve, but has allegedly been in the country without a visa since 2006.

Abraham-Joseph is now awaiting a court appearance and faces deportation to the UK. However, his lawyer, Dina LaPolt, says that there has been a misunderstanding.

"We are working diligently to get Mr Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with the authorities to clear up any misunderstandings", says LaPolt in a statement. "Mr Abraham-Joseph is a role model to the young people in this country, especially in Atlanta, and is actively working in the community leading programmes to help underprivileged youths in financial literacy".

Thanks to his appearance on Post Malone's 'Rockstar', 21 Savage is nominated for two Grammy Awards this year. Meanwhile, his latest album, 'I Am > I Was', went to number one in the US last month.


Code-sharing community questions if Deezer can force block of stream-ripping tool
An interesting side-debate is occurring on the issue of stream-ripping as Deezer seeks to block access to tools that allow users to grab permanent downloads of tracks streaming on its platform. One code-sharing community that hosts one such tool - an app called Deezloader Remix - has argued that it shouldn't have to remove said tool on Deezer's say so, because it isn't infringing any intellectual property owned by the streaming firm itself.

Stream-ripping, of course, has been at the top of the music industry's piracy gripe list for a while. Music rights companies have pursued legal action against the operators of stream-ripping sites and sought web-blocks - in those countries where such a thing is an option - ordering internet service providers to block access to stream-ripping tools.

Meanwhile, Deezer has been trying to cut off access to stream-ripping apps that specifically hack into its platform to allow users to download tracks as MP3 files. It correctly states that these tools exploit Deezer's publicly available API in a way that breaches its terms and conditions for developers. Therefore, it argues, code-sharing websites like Github and NotABug shouldn't host said tools.

In a notice sent to NotABug, Deezer wrote that the community currently "makes available an application which uses illegal methods to bypass Deezer's security measures to unlawfully download its music catalogue, in total violation of our rights and those of our music licensors (phonographic producers, performing artists, songwriters and composers). I therefore ask that you immediately take down [that] application".

According to Torrentfreak, Github complied with similar demands from Deezer, but NotABug is currently pushing back, arguing that the streaming firm hasn't explained how its IP rights are being infringed by the Deezloader Remix app.

There are probably two elements to this argument. First, the claim put forward by most stream-ripping apps and sites that they never actually copy or host any copyright infringing content. Which is the same argument always made by the makers of P2P file-sharing tools. This argument rarely works in court because - under most copyright systems - by facilitating and/or encouraging others to infringe, you can yourself be held liable for that infringement.

However, a possible second element to the argument is that, even if apps like Deezloader Remix are liable for 'contributory' or 'authorising' infringement for facilitating the unlicensed downloading of music, the copyrights being infringed are owned by the labels, publishers and collecting societies, not Deezer. So, therefore, Deezer can't sue over that infringement, and instead can only take action over the breach of its API terms and conditions.

That is annoying for the labels, publishers and societies, which would much prefer the streaming services take responsibility for cutting off sites and apps that enable people to illegally grab downloads of tracks on their platforms.

According to Torrentfreak, when asked about Deezer's demands by NotAHub, the developer of Deezloader Remix responded thus: "This project uses a publicly available API from Deezer to get tracks information and create a download link to their official servers".

Arguing that tracks on Deezer's server use a form of encryption that was "cracked many years ago and they don't bother fixing", the developer goes on: "The only thing that could be seen as copyrighted material in this project could be the encryption key, as no tracks and no Deezer code is directly inside this project". Torrentfreak then adds that it seems unlikely said encryption key would qualify for copyright protection.

Which means that both the developer and NotABug are basically saying that there isn't a legal case for blocking access to Deezloader Remix and that the streaming company should instead close the loophole in its encryption system that allows streams to be ripped.

Though Deezer and its music industry partners would likely argue that that would result in yet another game of anti-piracy Whack-a-Mole, as each development in Deezer's encryption system would likely be hacked in time. Which isn't to say that the streaming services shouldn't undertake such development work, but cutting off access to tools that employ encryption hacks is another necessary tactic in trying to restrict the unlicensed distribution of music online.

The developer of Deezloader has actually told Torrentfreak that he has already stopped making any new updates to his app, so that if Deezer did evolve its encryption systems, it is unlikely that particular tool would be altered to deal with any new security measures. But there are probably plenty of other stream-ripping tools that would make the effort.

And so the battle between music rights owners and piracy tool makers continues.


Spotify in talks to buy podcasting company Gimlet Media
As Spotify increases its reach as a podcast provider, the streaming service is reportedly in talks to buy podcasting company Gimlet Media. The deal would be worth more than $200 million, according to Recode.

Founded in 2014 by former 'This American Life' producer Alex Blumberg, Gimlet's first show was 'Start Up', which documented the company's launch. The show proved a hit, which helped, and the company has since gone on to launch numerous shows - one of which, radio drama 'Homecoming', was developed into a TV series for Amazon last year.

In 2016 it also moved into creating branded content and has since worked with companies including Microsoft, Mastercard, eBay, Virgin Atlantic, and more.

When it last raised funds in 2017, Gimlet was valued at $70 million. Since Recode reported news of the pending deal to acquire the company, other sources have said that the specific amount Spotify is offering is $230 million.

Spotify has been gradually increasing its podcast offering for some time and has started to claw at some of Apple's dominance in the field. There are a number of benefits to this strategy.

First, by providing people with different types of audio to listen to, the company can grab more attention from its users. Secondly, serving podcasts instead of music can save Spotify money. And thirdly, as Spotify seeks to grow its ad income, possibly by moving more into branded content, it's much more cost-effective to involve brands in spoken-word output than linking them to music, which will require the involvement of featured artists and any business partners which have a stake in their recordings and songs.

If the Gimlet deal goes ahead, it would be the first time that Spotify has acquired a content creation company.


PledgeMusic issues new statement over ongoing late-payment issues
PledgeMusic has issued another statement as it continues to deal with financial issues that have resulted in the late payment of monies to artists whose fans have pledged cash via the direct-to-fan and crowd-sourcing platform.

It follows an initial statement from the company last month, which was issued as an increasing number of artists went public about the late payment issues and the impact they are having on their own artist businesses.

The payment problems first came to light last year, but Pledge said in October that an executive rejig and new finance system should address the issues. However, that didn't happen. The company is now looking for a strategic partner or buyer which could safeguard the future of the Pledge business while also assuring that all artists currently owed money would get paid in full.

Apologising again to all the artists affected by the payment problems, Pledge said in a new statement on Friday: "We are in discussions with several interested parties about a potential partnership with or acquisition of PledgeMusic. These conversations, if successful, would lead to a transaction which would allow us to meet all of our outstanding obligations. As a result, we are hopeful that, as long as the company is given some breathing space to operate, a solution to these current problems will be found".

The statement added that details of these discussions cannot be made public at this time, due to "commercial sensitivities", but that updates will be issued as soon as there are concrete developments. Many artists and managers with current Pledge campaigns are eager for news as soon as possible, so that they can decide whether or not to call off those campaigns and find an alternative way to take pre-orders and allow fan-funding.

Pledge's statement also confirmed that co-founder Benji Rogers has returned to the company as a "volunteer strategic advisor". Rogers hasn't had a formal role at the firm since last February, but is still often linked to it because he was very much the frontman of Pledge in its early days. Rogers is advising the business alongside his current full time role at music data start-up DotBlockchain Media.

Finally, the statement also confirmed something that Rogers himself had mentioned in a recent blog post, which is that in the future a third-party would hold any monies pledged by fans to an artist's campaign. Pledge itself would only take its fees out of that fund.

Such a move will be necessary to reassure artists and mangers that, if they set up new campaigns on the Pledge platform, said campaigns will not be affected by any further financial issues at the direct-to-fan company.

Similar measures were widely discussed in the very early days of fan-funding, when artists started using companies like Slicethepie, Bandstocks and Sellaband which - as unproven start-ups - needed to reassure artists and fans that any money collected would be protected if those companies hit the wall.

Pledge's statement on Friday said that the company was now "in advanced discussions with an independent third-party company to manage all artist funds going forward".

It then concluded: "The board and management team's priority remains settling any and all back payments that are owed. We ask for patience. We know that for a lot of you this must be wearing very thin, but we can only reiterate that we are fully focused on making this situation right".


20 years of CMU – Spotify and streaming revolution
This week's episode of Setlist is another marking CMU's 20th birthday, the eleventh in a series of special editions reviewing the 20 biggest stories CMU has covered over the last two decades. In this edition we look at the history of Spotify, from plucky young upstart to the thing propping up the entire recorded music industry. Setlist is sponsored by 7digital.

Listen to this edition of Setlist here, and sign up to receive new episodes for free automatically each week through any of these services...

Acast | Apple Podcasts | audioBoom | CastBox | Deezer | Google Play | iHeart | Mixcloud | RSS | SoundCloud | Spotify | Spreaker | Stitcher | TuneIn

Listen to more from the 20 Years Of CMU podcast series here.

Maroon 5's Super Bowl performance happened as planned
So, the Super Bowl half time show went off without a hitch. Once Maroon 5 were up and running everyone seemed to forget the controversy surrounding the show and concentrated instead on how boring the band's performance was. Almost as if that was the plan all along.

There was plenty of controversy ahead of the event, of course. Many felt that Maroon 5 should have joined other artists - including Rihanna, Jay-Z and Pink - in turning down the gig, in protest over Super Bowl owner the NFL's treatment of American football player Colin Kaepernick after he protested police brutality.

In a pre-show interview, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine insisted that "no one thought about it harder than I did", but suggested most of the naysaying about his band's booking was because people just have an "insatiable urge to hate a little bit" when it comes to the Super Bowl's half time entertainment. The band, he said, just wanted to "move on" and let their music do the talking.

In a subsequent interview with 'Good Morning, America', Kaepernick's lawyer Mark Geragos said that Levine's defence was weak at best. "If you're going to cross this ideological or intellectual picket line, then own it, and Adam Levine certainly isn't owning it", he said. "It's a cop-out when you start talking about, 'I'm not a politician; I'm just doing the music'. Most of the musicians who have any kind of consciousness whatsoever understand what's going on here".

Meanwhile, another artist who turned down the event, Cardi B, said that she'd had "mixed feelings" about doing so. It was a big show - and a big pay-cheque - to say no to, she said. However, she felt it necessary to "stand behind" Kaepernick, as did her husband, Migos rapper Offset.

"My husband, he loves football", she told the Associated Press. "His kids play football. It's really hard for him. He really wants to go to the Super Bowl, but he can't go to the Super Bowl, because he's got to stand for something. You have to sacrifice that. I got to sacrifice a lot of money to perform. But there's a man who sacrificed his job for us, so we got to stand behind him".

However, while other artists boycotted the Super Bowl entirely, Cardi B did not. She appeared in an advert for the half time show's sponsor, Pepsi, aired during the sports game's broadcast, and also performed at other Super Bowl-related events. This was entirely justified, she insisted.

"I hear people saying like 'oh, y'all are saying all this stuff about the Super Bowl, but you're doing all these parties'", she said. "And it's like, well, if the NFL could benefit off from us, then I'm going to benefit off y'all. Y'all make the most money off our people. Why am I not going to take advantage of y'all and take money from y'all too? Because of y'all, we are getting these parties. OK, thank you".

So that's that cleared up. Now, back to the actual half time show. Maroon 5 played it, and the main thing everyone talked about was that Adam Levine took his shirt off. Because otherwise there wasn't really much to talk about.

The music, which was supposed to have been "doing the talking" remember, didn't seem to have much to say. Luckily, the band had bolstered their lacklustre songs by having lanterns with various words written on them, intended to convey some sort of meaning.

That meaning apparently not having been conveyed to anyone watching, Levine posted on Instagram after the event to explain why it was all so bloody deep.

"When we accepted the responsibility to perform at the SBHTS, I took out my pen and just wrote", he explained. "Some of the words that came to me in that moment eventually made their way onto the incredible lanterns that flew high and low tonight. We thank the universe for this historic opportunity to play on the world's biggest stage. We thank our fans for making our dreams possible. And we thank our critics for always pushing us to do better".

He then published his whole list of words, which is roughly as enjoyable to read as watching Maroon 5 perform: "Forgive, laugh, cry, smile, share, live, endure, embrace, remember, enlighten, preserve, inspire, sweat, fight, express, give, receive, elevate, climb, unify, fortify, soften, dance, scream, dream, educate, provide, inhale, exhale, persevere, stand, kneel, overcome, love, listen".


ANDY MALT | Editor
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