|FRIDAY 24 JANUARY 2020||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: As the big bust up between the US Recording Academy and its ousted CEO Deborah Dugan continues, the people who led the music industry organisation's diversity taskforce have issued their own statement. Although not specifically commenting on Dugan's numerous allegations against the Academy, the taskforce reps say that the fallout following her ousting reinforces how "important and urgent" their proposed reforms are... [READ MORE]|
Diversity taskforce calls for "urgent" implementation of its proposals, as Recording Academy defends its Grammy voting process
The back and forth continues between Academy bosses and Dugan, with the latter appearing on US TV show 'Good Morning America', while the former issued a statement defending the Grammy Awards nominations process. This all began last week, of course, when the Academy said it had put Dugan on "administrative leave" after a staff member accused the CEO of bullying. Dugan responded with a 46 page legal document containing numerous allegations of corruption and misogyny against the Academy and its board.
Dugan's appointment as CEO last year was seen as an attempt by the Academy to demonstrate it was ready to instigate reforms after eighteen months of criticism over diversity issues at the organisation and its annual Grammy Awards.
Although the Academy had faced years of criticism for failing to represent and celebrate all corners of the music community, calls for a more diverse approach escalated after Dugan's predecessor, Neil Portnow, clumsily responded to criticism about the lack of female winners and performers at the 2018 Grammy Awards.
It was following those remarks that the Academy set up a diversity taskforce to review its operations and make proposals for reforms. That taskforce was headed up by lawyer Tina Tchen, also the current CEO of the Times Up campaign that seeks to end sexual harassment in the wider entertainment industry. The taskforce team have made various presentations to the Academy board, including making eighteen specific recommendations last month.
In a statement yesterday, that team said "we want to speak in our own voice about our shock and dismay at the allegations surrounding the Recording Academy and its leadership that surfaced this week".
The recommendations made last month, they added, are "needed to improve diversity and inclusion at the Academy, and drive constructive change across the music industry". And, the events of the last week "reinforce just how important and urgent it is that the Academy implement all of the changes in the report that we delivered - without any delay".
Since the Dugan fallout, the Academy has announced two independent investigations, one into Dugan's many allegations against the organisation, and another into the claims by her former Executive Assistant of bullying. You sense that in part the taskforce is urging the Academy board not to now use those investigations as an excuse to delay the implementation of its recommendations. It also calls for transparent reporting on said investigations.
The taskforce's statement went on: "The Academy's board of trustees and leadership must immediately commit themselves to real reform, take concrete steps to implement all of the taskforce reforms, and transparently and regularly report on their progress - including transparently reporting on the pending investigations they have announced are underway".
Setting a deadline, the statement declares: "The taskforce will be reconvening in 90 days and expects to hear progress from the Academy by that time".
With the big Grammys weekend getting underway, the Academy remains in damage control mode. While Dugan's legal document earlier this week included a plethora of allegations, of most interest to those beyond the music industry are the claims that the Grammy nominations process is basically rigged.
Therefore, the latest bit of damage control from Academy HQ is a statement aiming to stop those who watch the televised Grammys show this Sunday from wondering, "which of these winners are only on stage because of some dodgy dealings behind the scenes?"
Dugan's legal filing claims that, while 12,000 members of the Recording Academy vote for who should win the Grammys, longlists from the voting process are then filtered by secret committees. During that process artists are bumped up the longlists - or even added - by committee members who may or may not have commercial links to said artists. In one case, Dugan claimed, an actual nominated artist was in the room to do the bumping.
Not so, say Academy chair Harvey Mason Jr and Chief Awards Officer Bill Freimuth. They declared in a joint statement yesterday that "spurious allegations claiming members or committees use our process to push forward nominations for artists they have relationships with are categorically false, misleading and wrong".
As the statement goes on, Mason and Freimuth say "yes", there are nomination review committees who agree the final shortlists after the wider membership votes. But "no", these committees are not secret. "Yes", the membership of each committee is. But only to stop the industry from lobbying committee members. And "yes", these committees are made up of such super talented people, it's inevitable they are going to be linked to some of the nominees. But don't forget all the procedures in place to stop sneaky self-serving manoeuvres.
"There are strict rules in place to address any conflict of interest", the statement insists. "Should a committee member qualify for a Grammy, they are required to leave the room for the entire listening session and are not allowed to vote in that category ... Everything relating to the nomination and voting processes is set up with the intention of protecting the integrity of the awards in order to recognise and celebrate artists' excellence".
Mason and Freimuth conclude by saying they "remain fully committed to the integrity, transparency and robustness of the awards". Though whether that means they'll publish lists of nomination committee members after the show - when the "we don't want them to be lobbied" excuse no longer applies - remains to be seen.
Such lists relating to past awards could be published right now, of course. And given Dugan's allegation that last year one committee member pushed themselves up the longlist ahead of Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande for a Song Of The Year nomination, a little "transparency" on the nomination committee members past and present would make for very interesting reading.
Either way, the eventful Dugan v Recording Academy battle continues. There'll be a short interlude this weekend for some tedious prize giving, before we get back to the more important business of accusations and denials on Monday.
Amazon and Google sued again over bootleg recordings
The lawsuits are being led by the estates of songwriters who control the copyright in the songs contained in the allegedly infringing recordings. Although a compulsory licence covers the mechanical copying of songs in the US, that doesn't apply if the recordings being copied are not properly licensed. Therefore the digital platforms can be sued by the songwriters as well as the labels - mainly majors - who own the rights in the infringed records.
The son of the late Harold Arlen - who wrote 'Over The Rainbow', 'I've Got The World On A String' and 'Get Happy', among many other famous works - went legal on this issue last May. He argued that there were multiple versions of the most famous recordings of his father's songs on the digital platforms, some uploaded by the labels that own those recordings, but others by companies with no stake in the masters.
The estates of Harry Warren and Ray Henderson then also went legal. Those lawsuits list as defendants most of the main download and streaming platforms, as well as the indie labels who are allegedly uploading the unlicensed albums and tracks, and the distributors those indies utilise.
Amazon and Google are involved in some of those existing lawsuits too. The reason for the new litigation seems to be that the estates of Arlen, Warren and Henderson have found another business allegedly distributing old major label controlled sound recordings without licence.
That business is called Limitless, which is seemingly owned by one Giacomo Verani via a London-based company. The firm's Australia-based distributor Valleyarm is also listed as a defendant.
Among other things, the lawsuit accuses Limitless of pushing unofficial recordings onto Amazon and Google Play by the likes of The Beach Boys, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Orbison, Charlie Parker and Elvis Presley.
In relation to Google, the lawsuit notes that Google Play customers have spotted that Limitless linked recordings on the platform are not official. "Google's own customers have noticed that the Limitless albums are pirated and have alerted Google to the piracy", the lawsuit states, "but Google has not taken any action".
It goes on: "The Limitless bootleg catalogue page on Google Play has elicited comments from Google users noting the poor quality of the recordings and asking, 'Not on Sony? Then why is Google streaming this bootleg?' All of this should have made it obvious that Limitless is operating a huge music piracy operation. Valleyarm and Google chose to ignore the evidence of piracy and to participate in the infringement on a massive scale".
Defendants in the case are yet to comment.
Hipgnosis signs Xenomania's Brian Higgins
After launching Xenomania in the mid-90s with Miranda Cooper, Tim Powell and Matt Gray, the music-making team quickly became revered pop songwriters and producers. A big early hit was Cher's 'Believe', which Higgins co-wrote. Xenomania was also very closely associated with Girls Aloud.
"I'm delighted to welcome Brian Higgins to the Hipgnosis family", says the firm's founder Merck Mercuriadis of his latest deal and new partnership. "He is one of the finest writers of the last 25 years and 'Believe' in particular is an evergreen song that has gained iconic status".
Higgins adds: "I started Xenomania in 1996 and to see it in 2020 as a standalone independent record label and publishing company is something that gives me deep pride and great joy. I'm very grateful to Merck and Hipgnosis for the opportunity they have presented me to guarantee the label's presence in the worldwide music landscape for decades to come".
The deal covers 100% of Higgins' production and songwriting catalogue worldwide, comprising 362 songs.
Merlin announces licensing deal with TikTok
Merlin's newly appointed CEO, Jeremy Sirota, says of the deal: "This partnership with TikTok is very significant for us. We are seeing a new generation of music services and a new era of music-related consumption, much of it driven by the global demand for independent music. Merlin members are increasingly using TikTok for their marketing campaigns, and today's partnership ensures that they and their artists can also build new and incremental revenue streams".
Meanwhile TikTok's Global Head Of Music, Ole Obermann, adds: "Independent artists and labels are such a crucial part of music creation and consumption on TikTok. We're excited to partner with Merlin to bring their family of labels to the TikTok community. The breadth and diversity of the catalogue presents our users with an even larger canvas from which to create, while giving independent artists the opportunity to connect with TikTok's diverse community".
Ever since China-based TikTok swallowed up Musical.ly and became a global phenomenon, the music industry's marketers have been busy learning how to launch artists and tracks on the platform. Meanwhile their licensing colleagues at the labels, publishers and collecting societies have been trying to work out how to make music shared via the app legit.
Given how quickly social and sharing platforms rise to prominence these days - before being quickly hyped out by the next one - the music industry's marketers and licensing teams need to respond ever more speedily to the latest fad. Spend too long on those licensing deals and you'll miss out on the glory moment. Tick tock, tick tock.
HMV owner Sunrise buys US retail chain FYE
The Canada-based Sunrise company greatly expanded its network of stores in its home country in 2017, of course, by taking over many of the shops previously run by HMV Canada, which had fallen into receivership. Two years later it crossed the Atlantic after HMV UK also went into administration, keeping a sizable slice of that business going.
Founded in Connecticut in 1993, FYE - or For Your Entertainment - expanded significantly around the US in the 2000s when its parent company, Trans World Entertainment, started buying up other entertainment retail firms, ultimately rebranding most of those acquired stores under the FYE brand. Among the companies swallowed up during that acquisition spree were Camelot Music, Coconut, Media Play and Sam Goody.
However, by the late 2000s FYE was facing the same challenges as everyone else in the entertainment retail business, with CD sales slumping as downloads and streams gained momentum, and many of those people still buying plastic discs gravitated to Amazon. Many stores were closed, while those shops that remained diversified into what FYE calls "pop culture merchandise", so toys, clothes and assorted tat. As the vinyl revival gained momentum, some stores also dedicated more floor space to that.
Despite the downsizing and diversification, the retail chain continued to struggle, with Trans World's share price slumping to the extent that it faced the threat of being delisted from the Nasdaq stock exchange. Which means Sunrise is attempting in the US what it has been trying to do in Canada and the UK - take over a last-man-standing high street entertainment retailer on the brink, and try to transform it into a viable business.
Sunrise chief Doug Putman is typically optimistic about that project. "The addition of For Your Entertainment fits with what we are doing with HMV in the UK and Sunrise Records in Canada", he said yesterday. "There is a space for recognised retail brands that can cater to a new audience of entertainment-hungry consumers".
He added: "Getting the right mix of product across culture and entertainment - and bringing retail theatre to these outlets that make them a destination - has already proven a winning formula as we've turned around and grown Sunrise and HMV since we acquired them. We now intend to grow this chain in the USA and open more new stores starting this year. We are very excited about the opportunity to own such an amazing brand".
The deal will see Sunrise takeover all of FYE's 200+ stores across the US, which currently employ over 2500 people. It will also get the FYE and Second Spin online brands. Sunrise and Trans World hope to close the transaction by the end of March.
Calvin Harris launches acid house project, Love Generator
"'Hypnagogic (I Can't Wait)' and 'CP-1' are the first tracks from my new project Love Regenerator", he says, confirming what I just told you, like he doesn't think you'd trust me or something. "I wanted to rediscover the way I originally began producing music 22 years ago before I ever thought about how it might be perceived by outside forces. Just pure fun and experimentation with what sounded good to me".
"The records are inspired by early rave, breaks, techno and house, the music I was obsessed with growing up", he adds. "In fact, I've done everything I can to make them sound like they've come from a 1991 time capsule. Every synth and sound used is from that time period".
Neil Young has confirmed that his US citizenship has finally been approved. And in plenty of time to vote against Donald Trump in this year's Presidential election in November, as he has also made it clear he plans to do. "I'm happy to report I'm in", he writes on Instagram. "Vote your conscience".
Billie Eilish has released the video for her most recent single, 'Everything I Wanted'. "My brother and I wrote this song about each other and I wanted to create a visual that emphasises that no matter what, we'll be there for each other through everything", she says. "This is the second video I've directed of mine. We worked so hard, for hours and hours on end. I love it, I hope you do too".
Lil Wayne has announced that he will release his new album, 'Funeral', next week.
Megan Thee Stallion has released new single 'BITCH', taken from her upcoming debut album 'Suga'.
Gabrielle Aplin and Nina Nesbitt have released the video for their single 'Miss You 2' - a reworked version of Aplin's 2016 single 'Miss You'.
DJ Shadow has released the video for 'Singblade' from his 'Our Pathetic Age' album.
Four Tet has released a new collaboration with Ellie Goulding, titled 'Baby'. So there's a thing you didn't expect to see today.
K Trap has released new single 'Paid The Cost'.
Mxmtoon has released new track 'Fever Dream'. "Launching myself into the music industry was a rollercoaster chapter in my life, and even still I'm extremely new to this world", she says. "'Fever Dream' is about exactly that, and the leap of faith that's required when you make decisions in your life at different points".
Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott have released new single, 'You And Me (Were Meant To Be Together)'. The track is taken from new album 'Manchester Calling', out on 6 Mar.
Mystery Jets has announced the rescheduled release date for their new album, 'A Billion Heartbeats', as 3 Apr. The release was postponed last year due to frontman Blaine Harrison being hospitalised. Listen to new single 'Petty Drone' here.
HMLTD have released new single 'Blank Slate'. Their debut album, 'West Of Eden', is out on 7 Feb.
Zebra Katz has announced that he will release his debut album, 'Less is Moor', on 20 Mar. From it, this is new single 'Ish'.
GIGS & TOURS
Faith No More have announced that they will play the Manchester Apollo on 9 Jun to raise funds for two Australian bush fire relief funds. Tickets on sale now.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Eminem asks fans to "listen more closely" to offensive lyrics
Eminem, as you well know, released his latest album, 'Music To Be Murdered By', last week. As is the norm, the lyrics came in for much scrutiny for their often offensive nature, in particular a line where he compares himself to the suicide bomber who attacked an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in 2017.
Many said that, even for Eminem, this was a step too far. But he counters that he's trying to say something with the album that you missed because you're so keen to be offended.
"In today's wonderful world, murder has become so commonplace that we are a society obsessed and fascinated by it", he writes in a post on Instagram. "I thought, why not make a sport of it and murder over beats? So, before you jump the gun, allow me to explain".
Assuming no guns have been jumped, he continues: "This album was not made for the squeamish. If you're easily offended or unnerved at the screams of bloody murder, this may not be the collection for you. Certain selections have been designed to shock the conscience, which may cause positive action. Unfortunately, darkness has truly fallen upon us".
This is seemingly a reference to album track 'Darkness', the video for which re-enacts the Route 91 Harvest festival mass shooting in Las Vegas, while also trying to make a serious point about gun control.
However, he concludes, the 'murder' in the album's title can be interpreted in different ways. "So, you see, murder in this instance isn't always literal, nor pleasant", he says. "These bars are only meant for the sharpest knives in the drawer. For the victims of this album, may you rest peacefully. For the rest of you, please listen more closely next time".