|MONDAY 18 NOVEMBER 2019||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Both artists and politicians have intervened in the latest bust up between Taylor Swift and her former label Big Machine, mainly taking the former's side. Meanwhile, the label has insisted that Swift has misrepresented its recent dealings with the star. .. [READ MORE]|
Artists and politicians intervene in Taylor Swift v Big Machine beef
Swift, of course, has been involved in a war of words with Big Machine ever since its founder Scott Borchetta announced earlier this year that he was selling the record company - and with it Swift's master recordings - to Scooter Braun's Ithaca Holdings. Swift quickly declared that the deal was her "worst case scenario", adding that her only experience of Braun to date was "the incessant, manipulative bullying I've received at his hands for years".
Since then Swift has talked about recording new versions of her old albums in a bid to devalue the masters now owned by Braun. Record contracts usually restrict such re-records for a set time. But Swift has said that she will be legally allowed to start putting out new versions of her earliest LPs as soon as next year and that she plans to do so.
However, last week she took to the socials to claim that Big Machine has been trying to force her to abandon those plans by threatening to screw up various other projects she has on the go unless she complies with its demands. In particular, she went on, it's refusing to license footage to a Netflix documentary that is in the works and is also blocking a plan for her to perform a medley of her hits at the upcoming American Music Awards.
If the producers of the Netflix documentary felt that the inclusion of tracks or videos owned by Big Machine was essential to make their programme work, that would definitely give the label bargaining power. Unless said producers were willing to argue that the inclusion of such content was 'fair use' under US copyright law and therefore a licence from the label was not required. But that's a very grey area.
The AMA veto is more complicated, as a live performance of Swift's former hits would not exploit the Big Machine recordings, and the label has no stake in the separate song copyrights. However, the AMAs are broadcast, which technically constitutes a recording.
That's why TV shows often have to get waivers from labels when they broadcast performances by signed artists. Because - under most record contracts - said labels have the exclusive right to make recordings of their artists' performances. So the broadcaster must get permission from the label to record a set by broadcasting it. A similar principle could be applied to any re-record restrictions in a record contract.
It's almost unheard of for a label to veto TV appearances in this way, because labels want their artists to get media exposure, even if they are no longer actively work with (or talking to) those artists. After all, TV airplay will likely result in a spike in streams for those tracks, which financially benefits the label. However, contractual rights of this kind could provide a label with leverage if it's involved in tricky negotiations with an artist.
After Swift went public about the latest phase of her beef with Borchetta and Braun - calling on her fans, Braun's management clients and the financial backers of his Ithaca company to all support her cause - Big Machine issued a statement denying her allegations.
"As Taylor Swift's partner for over a decade", it said on Friday, "we were shocked to see her statements yesterday based on false information. At no point did we say Taylor could not perform on the AMAs or block her Netflix special. In fact, we do not have the right to keep her from performing live anywhere. Since Taylor's decision to leave Big Machine last fall, we have continued to honour all of her requests to license her catalogue to third parties as she promotes her current record in which we do not financially participate".
Some noted that Big Machine's denials seem carefully worded. It does not specifically deny having refused to allow Swift to perform her Big Machine released songs at the AMAs or to having specifically refused to license content to Netflix. Doing either of those things would essentially block the AMA performance and the Netflix special, but without Big Machine having technically blocked either project.
Among those noting this was a spokesperson for Swift who, responding to Big Machine's statement, told reporters that "yesterday Scott Borchetta flatly denied the request for both American Music Awards and Netflix. Please notice", they then added, "in Big Machine's statement, they never actually deny either claim Taylor said last night in her post".
The label's missive then went on: "The truth is, Taylor has admitted to contractually owing millions of dollars and multiple assets to our company, which is responsible for 120 hardworking employees who helped build her career. We have worked diligently to have a conversation about these matters with Taylor and her team to productively move forward".
"We started to see progress over the past two weeks and were optimistic as recently as yesterday that this may get resolved", it then added. "However, despite our persistent efforts to find a private and mutually satisfactory solution, Taylor made a unilateral decision last night to enlist her fanbase in a calculated manner that greatly affects the safety of our employees and their families".
Addressing the star directly, Big Machine went on: "Taylor, the narrative you have created does not exist. All we ask is to have a direct and honest conversation. When that happens, you will see there is nothing but respect, kindness and support waiting for you on the other side. To date, not one of the invitations to speak with us and work through this has been accepted. Rumours fester in the absence of communication".
"Let's not have that continue here", it concluded. "We share the collective goal of giving your fans the entertainment they both want and deserve".
Elsewhere in Team Swift's response to Big Machine's response, the spokesperson cited emails from the label that seemed to back up the musician's claims that vetoes had been exercised. They then concluded: "Big Machine is trying to deflect and make this about money by saying she owes them but, an independent, professional auditor has determined that Big Machine owes Taylor $7.9 million dollars of unpaid royalties over several years".
Beyond the back and forth between Swift and Big Machine, everyone had an opinion on the latest dispute on Friday. Including members of the American political community. Democrat presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren noted that Ithaca's acquisition of Swift's catalogue was financed by private equity outfit The Carlyle Group.
Warren then tweeted: "Unfortunately, Taylor Swift is one of many whose work has been threatened by a private equity firm. They're gobbling up more and more of our economy, costing jobs and crushing entire industries. It's time to rein in private equity firms - and I've got a plan for that".
Now, it's debatable whether a squabble between two sets of multi-millionaires over the intellectual property rights in some pop songs is really a good illustration of Warren's wider concerns about the conduct of unregulated financial institutions and investment funds, and the mega-rich that they often represent.
Plus, stupidly structured private equity-led deals have actually had a much bigger impact on the corporate side of the music industry, fucking up both EMI and iHeartMedia. But Warren's tweet was a sneaky way for her to get some political capital out of the big entertainment story of the moment.
Warren wasn't the only politician supporting Swift via a dig at private equity. "Private equity groups' predatory practices actively hurt millions of Americans", said high profile Congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. "Their leveraged buyouts have destroyed the lives of retail workers across the country, scrapping one million+ jobs. Now they're holding Taylor Swift's own music hostage. They need to be reined in".
Meanwhile, back in the music community, the recently created US Music Artists Coalition also came out in support of Swift. "Taylor Swift should be allowed to perform her songs where she wants and when she wants", it said in a statement on Friday. "And she should be allowed to use her music to tell her story through her documentary".
"For a label to take positions contrary to that would be unprecedented", it then added. Correctly noting that - while the re-record restrictions in Swift's contract are very common in the music industry - it's very unusual for them to be exploited in the way that has been alleged in this dispute. The Coalition concluded: "We applaud Taylor for reminding all artists to be aware of their rights and to stand up for themselves".
So, clap, clap, clap Ms Swift. Plenty more commentary has appeared over the weekend too, of course. In fact, all we need now is a Kanye intervention, given that it was Braun's role as West's manager that originally escalated tensions between him and Swift. West would presumably tell us that God moves in mysterious ways. Though whether by God he means Swift, or Braun, or West himself we don't know. Maybe all three. A holy trinity. Hallelujah!
Big Hit responds to BTS concert scam
Korean news outfit The Fact last week reported that several entertainment industry insiders had taken part in the scam. The accused claimed to represent Big Hit's biggest client and faked contracts relating to made-up shows. The fraudulent paperwork was then used to get promoters in various Asian countries to commit to invest in a series of non-existent BTS concerts, in one case to the tune of $1.2 million.
One of the victims of the scam is quoted by The Fact as saying that, while one man in particular instigated the fraud, various others music industry execs helped in its implementation. The victim then adds that: "I was deceived by documents that used Big Hit Entertainment's document format".
The scam seemingly fell apart after investors in a fake BTS show in Hong Kong, due to take place last month, finally realised the concert wasn't happening. According to reports, investors visited the offices of the scammers to reclaim their money and, during that visit, police were called. The accused were then arrested, in part because they were already wanted by the authorities in relation to another fraud.
Commenting on all this, a spokesperson for Big Hit Entertainment said that the company only became aware of the fraud "after seeing a screenshot of a fake document from an industry source. Big Hit Entertainment has never signed such contracts. They are fake contracts and documents". The spokesperson added: "In a situation like this, we take legal action when we find out that actual crimes and damages have been done".
Among those linked to the scam is an unnamed Korean actor and his manager. It's claimed that that manager met with Chinese investors at a BTS concert in Thailand and falsely introduced himself as a board member of Big Hit Entertainment.
That actor and manager have now denied the allegations, with a legal rep insisting that his clients do not know the person who is said to have instigated the scam. Accusing The Fact of reporting "fake news", the lawyer added that a libel action would now follow.
RSK Entertainment announces a Proper alliance
Proper says that, under the new deal, it will "pick, pack and ship" physical releases for RSK "throughout the British Isles", while also acting as a logistics hub for its new partner's "third party relationships, delivering physical music globally". RSK previously had a partnership with Sony DADC to deliver many of these services.
The new arrangement will see Proper work with a wide assortment of labels who utilise RSK's sales, marketing and distribution management services. That includes a number of key independent classical music labels, RSK being particularly prolific in that space.
Confirming the deal, RSK's joint MD Simon Carver said: "Joining Proper's wider distribution fold for pick, pack and ship feels like a very natural move for RSK at this juncture, with all of the recent changes to the landscape and the need for ever consolidated supply. The physical market continues to be a good one and there is a synergy between our companies which will work well for a very positive future together".
His co-MD Rashmi Patani added that the Proper team "have an ethos that is very similar to our own and it is good to have at last concluded a long term courtship that will prove effective for our labels in joining a forward thinking and committed pipeline to market".
Over at Proper, the firm's MD Drew Hill added: "It's great to be working with Simon and Rashmi and RSK's whole network of like-minded music lovers. This deal will be to the benefit of both our companies and partners, retailers, and - most importantly - fans".
ByteDance's planned streaming service close, says FT
It emerged earlier this year that not only was China-based ByteDance busy trying to secure licences for the music that swims around its video-sharing app, it was also seeking to license tracks for a more conventional streaming service that would see it compete head on with Spotify, Apple and its big Chinese competitor Tencent.
According to the FT, licensing talks with all three majors are ongoing but "the Beijing-based technology company aims to launch as soon as next month, initially in emerging markets such as India, Indonesia and Brazil, before a future opening in the US".
ByteDance would obviously seek to use TikTok as a platform to promote its new music service, with sources saying that the plan is to closely integrate the standalone music set-up with the insanely popular video-sharing app. Most likely by making it easy to sync music you listen to on the former into videos you share on the latter.
Quite how it will all work - both in terms of functionality and pricing - remains to be seen. Although the music industry is keen to see more services enter a market that is currently dominated by a very small number of players, record labels and music publishers also still prefer paid-for platforms that generate much more income for music rights owners.
And while in emerging markets the music industry is still often more open to any experimentation that might generate revenues where previously there were none, it tends to be more conservative in more traditional markets. After all, no one wants new free or low-cost services that might take people away from the ten pound/dollar/euro Spotify or Apple subscriptions that have been behind much of the streaming boom to date.
So, we await more official information about ByteDance's plans with interest.
Capital FM set to expand on the FM dial after Quidem deal gets OfCom go-ahead
Global and Quidem announced a new alliance in September under which the latter will replace its Touch FM, Banbury Sound and Rugby FM stations with output pumped out by the former. It's similar to Global's existing deal with Irish broadcaster Communicorp Media, which operates a number of local stations in the UK which simply utilise the brands, format and much of the programming of Global's Capital, Heart and Smooth outlets.
Quidem's new arrangement needed OfCom approval because it will reduce the amount of locally-made programming and change the format of the company's various stations from that previously described in their respective licences. The regulator put the latter shift out to consultation, but last week confirmed that it was approving the change.
OfCom said in a statement that it had "decided to approve the format change requests submitted by Quidem relating to the FM commercial radio licences for Banbury, Coventry, Rugby, South East Staffordshire, Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick".
Although it's not been confirmed which Global brand will arrive on Quidem's frequencies, the OfCom statement said: "The 'character of service' contained in the published format for all [Quidem] licences will change to: 'A rhythmic-based music-led service for 15-29 year-olds supplemented with news, information and entertainment'". Which sounds like Capital.
The deal between Global and Quidem is further proof that it is becoming increasingly difficult for smaller independent radio businesses to operate in a market where they increasingly compete with online services for both listeners and advertisers. It will also continue a long-running trend for locally based radio stations to become part of national networks where most programmes come out of one national hub.
Under pressure from the commercial radio sector, OfCom has repeatedly reduced the obligations for local radio stations regarding locally made programmes. To that end it confirmed last week that, in that respect, Quidem's Global alliance is "consistent with the minimum expectations set out in OfCom's localness guidelines", which is why that element of the change didn't even go out to consultation.
Bauer launches Absolute decade stations for the 2010s
And here comes the latest. Because Bauer is launching yet another Absolute outlet for all those people who like to reminisce about the heady days of old when Tones & I spent seven weeks - yes seven weeks - at the top of the chart with 'Dance Monkey'. Because who can forget the glory years when music was music, and proper songs were performed by proper artists like, erm, Drake, Rihanna, Ed Sheeran, Adele, Coldplay and Imagine Dragons.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this morning Bauer launched Absolute Radio 10s. Because the 10s are nearly over, see. And soon we'll all have to endure all the shit pop music of the 2020s. And once that musical sewage is filling your ears, some classic Drake from 2018 will be blessed relief.
"Digital product development has always been at the core of what Bauer stands for", says the media firm's Group MD Steve Parkinson, in a bid to make working in radio sound like the most fucking awful job in the world. "Ten years after the launch of the original game-changer Absolute 80s, we launch Absolute Radio 10s which anticipates a new listener need".
As with its other decade stations - and its Classic Rock channel - Absolute's flagship shows, like Dave Berry's breakfast show, will also air on Absolute 10s, but with different music.
Berry says of the new addition: "I'm like the Dr Who of radio as the only breakfast presenter at the helm of parallel universes. My one live show is now partnered with no fewer than eight playlists to give listeners their favourite songs, no matter what their favourite decade is or what mood they're in, I'm 'Jumping Jack Flash' in the 60s, I'm 'Into The Groove. in the 80s, I'm 'On Fire' in the 10s!"
Ariana Grande cancels show due to ill-health
According to People magazine, she initially told fans via Instagram: "I've been sick since the last London show. I don't know how it's possible but my throat and head are still in so much pain. I sound OK, I'm just in a lot of pain and it's difficult to breathe during the show. I just really don't know what's happening with my body right now and need to figure it out".
Posting shortly after playing a show in Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday she added: "I've been coughing and had this like crazy sinus infection thing that has not gone away for a really long time. I haven't been able to really get better and tonight during the show tonight my head was really splitting and heavy and my glands really hurt and I'm trying to figure out what's going on".
Grande subsequently further updated fans, saying that she had woken up "ten times worse" and would therefore not be able to make a scheduled show in Lexington, Kentucky. I am so sad and sorry. I'm so upset but of course obviously, you will be refunded," she continued. "I'm just really devastated. Thank you for understanding and sending love".
The pop star has further dates scheduled this week as part of her Sweetener US tour, which is set to run until the end of the year. It remains to be seen if any further dates are affected.
Kanye West announces his first opera
The rapper has shared the Nick Knight-designed cover artwork for an opera he's knocked together, titled 'Nebuchadnezzar', who was a Babylonian king with which West identifies for some reason.
The show will premiere at the Hollywood Bowl on 24 Nov. Directed by Italian performance artist Vanessa Beecroft, it will feature music by West's Sunday Service performers, Peter Colins and Infinities Song.
West recently discussed his affinity with Nebuchadnezzar in his latest waffley interview with Zane Lowe. Talking about his 'Yeezus' tour, he said: "[God] is saying, let me take this Nebuchadnezzar-type character - Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon, and he looked at his entire kingdom and said, 'I did this'. [So] I stood on the top of the mountain talking about 'Yeezus', saying, 'I'm a god'. I had a guy dressed as Jesus".
So, I think you can expect this opera to be a bit over the top. But that's what opera is, right? Maybe West has finally found a genre that can contain him. Or maybe it'll be fucking terrible. Tickets for the show are on sale now, if you fancy finding out first hand.