|TUESDAY 19 MAY 2020||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Spotify has hit back with some bold allegations as part of a long running battle with an American called Jake Noch and the music companies he founded. Noch went legal in the dispute last year, and in a countersuit filed yesterday Spotify claims that - while its foe calls himself a "musical prodigy" - he is, in fact, a "fraudster"... [READ MORE]|
Spotify makes bold claims in countersuit against the American indie label it banned
Noch runs an independent label called Sosa Entertainment and also set up his own collecting society called PRO Music Rights. The former sued Spotify last year accusing the streaming firm of "unfair and deceptive practices" after it removed the label's recordings from its service, leading to Sosa also losing its membership of indie label digital rights group Merlin.
PRO Music Rights, meanwhile, has made allegations of copyright infringement against pretty much every digital music service as a result of them not securing a licence from the performing rights society. It has also filed a competition law action with the courts in Connecticut involving pretty much all the streaming services and broadcasters of America.
The specific legal battle between Sosa and Spotify centres on the latter's decision to remove the former's content from its servers after accusing Noch of fraudulently manipulating streams of his label's music on the Spotify platform.
He is basically accused of utilising the widely known scam whereby - because of the way streaming royalties are shared out each month - if you have enough accounts streaming your own music, you get a bigger slice of the digital pie when it is distributed to rightsholders.
Spotify says in its lawsuit: "Starting in 2016, Noch designed a scheme to artificially generate hundreds of millions of fraudulent streams on songs he had seeded on Spotify's online music-streaming service. Noch's objective was plain: to manipulate Spotify's system to extract undeserved royalties at the expense of hardworking artists and songwriters".
The streaming service claims that there were "blatant signifiers of artificial streaming" linked to tracks in Noch's catalogue, including "highly irregular sudden spikes" in listening and "99% of streams coming from Spotify's ad-supported service".
The streaming company also claims to have written communications between Noch and a so called 'bot farmer' - a company that undertakes stream manipulation on behalf of other parties - in which, Spotify alleges, the Sosa boss "directed the creation of millions of fake Spotify accounts".
Spotify then claims that its anti-fraud systems started to pick up on that activity, while the emails between Noch and the bot farmer came from a "whistleblower".
"With the damning evidence of Noch's ongoing fraud in hand, Spotify's response was appropriately forceful", the lawsuit goes on. "Spotify made Noch's content unavailable for further streaming and eventually imposed a ban on all content associated with Noch to prevent his abuse of Spotify's platform and the diversion of royalties from legitimate, hard-working artists".
Spotify further alleges that Noch initially tried to circumvent its ban and then - last year - filed his legal action against the company. It is now filing a counterclaim, it adds, "to ensure that Noch's fraud is not rewarded and to undo the harm caused by Noch's misdeeds".
The new legal filing also references the separate litigation pursued by PRO Music Rights. "Lately", it claims, "Noch has been attempting to use the federal courts in his efforts to extract funds from legitimate businesses. In addition to the present suit, Noch's fledgling performing rights organisation, PRO Music Rights, launched, and then quickly withdrew, ten copyright infringement actions in the Southern District of New York".
"Noch asserted similar copyright infringement claims against Spotify in this action but backed down once Spotify exposed the claims as meritless", it goes on. Meanwhile, "through PMR, Noch has also filed an antitrust action in the district of Connecticut, in which he lobs baseless claims against virtually the entire online streaming music industry for not taking a licence from PMR".
For his part, Noch pre-empted many of the claims in Spotify's new legal filing in his original lawsuit. Among other things, that litigation said that "Spotify fabricated a reason to remove Sosa's songs from its platform", that it "communicated false statements to Merlin about Sosa", and that the streaming firm had "engaged in a widespread smear campaign" against Noch and his companies.
It now remains to be seen how he responds to Spotify's formal allegations in the countersuit - and also to what extent the proceedings in this case impact on the competition claim on behalf of PRO Music Rights in the Connecticut courts.
Either way, it seems there could be some eventful chapters to come in this particular dispute.
Downtown buys African music publisher Sheer
Downtown says that its deal with the largest independent music publisher in Africa builds on a "on a long-standing relationship" between the two companies and "formally expands its geographic footprint to the African continent, while also providing the African music industry greater access to artist and label services available through Downtown".
That means Downtown - via its new African division - making the services of its subsidiary companies CD Baby, Songtrust and FUGA available to artists, songwriters and rightsholders who are based in the various increasingly important markets across the African continent.
Commenting on the potential of those various emerging music markets in Africa, Sheer MD David Alexander said: "Africa is a high potential market for digital music services due to its large population, high proportion of youth and the people's passion for music of all genres. The rapid penetration of broadband services along with lower data price points makes the African continent a rising star in the music business of tomorrow".
Meanwhile, on the new deal with Downtown, Alexander added: "We are excited to grow our current relationship with Downtown to leverage their strong team, services and technology to elevate the thriving African music culture beyond the continent to the rest of the world, and return significant value to African creators".
"We are excited to collaborate with Sheer Music Publishing to expand the artist and label services available to African creators, and further support Downtown's vision to create a more equitable and innovative global music ecosystem", he went on. "David and the entire Sheer team have built a remarkable business that, as we've witnessed first-hand, places tremendous value on its clients and the creative works they represent. We are genuinely THRILLED to welcome them to Downtown and excited for what lies ahead".
#saveourvenues campaign takes 140 grassroots venues off the critical list, but much more needs to be done to help venues survive COVID-19 shutdown
When it launched the #saveourvenues campaign, MVT said that 556 grassroots venues in the UK were at risk of permanent closure after being forced to temporarily close their doors as a result of COVID-19. Artists were encouraged to stage fundraising live-streamed gigs to raise money for their favourite venues, while a call went out to the wider music industry to support a venue network that plays a key role in new talent development.
Reporting on progress made so far, MVT stated this morning that "As a result of donations from music fans, music industry companies and other organisations, alongside important interventions from public bodies such as The London Mayor's Office, Creative Wales and Arts Council England, 140 grassroots music venues are now protected from imminent closure".
Though, the organisation added, that means that there are still more than 400 venues in urgent need of support, while the 140 venues no longer on the critical list will face further challenges the longer the COVID-19 shutdown runs for.
MVT CEO Mark Davyd said: "The fact we have managed to remove 140 grassroots music venues off of our critical list in the last three weeks is, of course, a cause for celebration but we are not complacent as this is only a relatively short-term fix. Whilst the immediate threat of closure for these venues has been halted they are still under real threat in the coming months, as are over 400 others".
"This is a good start and we can't emphasise how grateful we are to those music fans, music industry companies and public organisations who have supported the #saveourvenues campaign so far", he went on, "but we cannot relax as we still have a mountain to climb to secure the long-term future of this sector. We still desperately need more music industry companies to step up and help with donations alongside real action from government specifically around rent relief, more financial help and clearer guidance".
Q magazine could close as result of COVID-19 prompted review at Bauer Media
Bauer has confirmed that it is reviewing the future of both of those publications and eight other titles in its magazine portfolio, with closure, sale, merger or a shift to digital-only publication all being considered as possible options.
The magazine business - and music magazines in particular - have been in a challenging position for years. Print sales of most magazines have long been in decline. And while some of those magazines may now have more readers via their digital channels than they ever did in print, monetising journalism online is incredibly difficult.
Only really business titles and broadsheet newspapers have so far persuaded people to pay to access written content online. Meanwhile, so much internet advertising spend goes to the likes of Google and Facebook, there's relatively little left for all the newspaper and magazine owners to fight over. Therefore funding an online magazine from advertising alone generally requires incredibly high numbers of readers, way more than most magazines will ever attract.
The COVID-19 pandemic has then escalated all those challenges. Titles that still enjoy steady, if smaller, revenues from newsagent sales have been majorly affected by the shutdown of the high street. While a slump in ad spend from many brands has hit everyone - paid for and free print titles, and online media of all kinds. As a result, a number of media around the world have downsized their workforces in recent weeks, including Billboard, Vice and Buzzfeed.
Confirming a review of Q, Planet Rock and eight other magazines was underway, Bauer's recently appointed CEO of UK Publishing, Chris Duncan, said: "The pandemic and lockdown has further accelerated the trends already affecting the publishing industry".
He went on: "Bauer publishes nearly 100 magazines in the UK and some titles that were already challenged, unfortunately, are not expected to be sustainable after the crisis. We must protect the long-term health of our business and ability to invest in future growth by re-shaping our portfolio".
It is not clear how many staff could be affected by any closures, sales or mergers, though Bauer says it has begun a 30 day consultation with employees which - The Guardian says - means between 20 and 99 people could be impacted by any changes.
Bauer announces pan-European #RadioRave
Basically, it is going to play some music on the radio. Not just that though! It's going to play some music on the radio for five hours. Not just that though! It is going to play some music on the radio for five hours simultaneously on stations in seven European countries. It's calling this digital audio and event programming innovation the #RadioRave.
The event will link seven Bauer-owned stations across Europe - Kiss FM in the UK, RMF Maxxx in Poland, The Voice in Denmark, NRJ in Sweden, Kiss in Norway, Kiss in Finland, and Radio Expres in Slovakia - for five hours of back to back DJ sets later this month. DJs booked to play sets include David Guetta, Martin Garrix, Majestic, Joel Corry and Robin Shulz.
"Radio's resilience, flexibility and agility have proven vital during the pandemic, allowing us and our customers to continue communicating to audiences and uniting them at a time when we all might feel so separate", says Bauer Media Audio President Paul Keenan. "We are excited to unite all of our audio businesses across Europe for the very first time with #RadioRave, providing our dance-music-loving-listeners a show that highlights everything they want from radio - joy, entertainment, community and the world's best DJs".
Like all good digital audio and event programming innovations, this is something the BBC has already done. Back in September last year, BBC Radio 1 linked up with six other European radio stations for a seven hour simulcast event.
Anyway, the Bauer #RadioRave will kick off at 8pm UK time on 30 May.
David Attenborough introduces new BBC Mindful Mix
The fourth edition of the Mindful Mix series, which launched earlier this year, this one, says the Beeb, is specifically aimed at alleviating "anxiety in people recovering from COVID-19, their families and healthcare professionals". But you are still allowed to listen if you don't fit any of those criteria. The new mix is also part of a collection of relaxing music dubbed the 'COVID-19 Collection'.
"There are times when more than ever it helps to steep ourselves in the music of the planet, the sounds of the wind and the water, the forest and the fields", says Attenborough. "For all of those who can't be outside breathing in the beauty of the natural world, we want to bring some of its soothing sounds to you, blended with calming classical music which we hope will bring some much needed tranquillity".
BBC Music Commissioning Executive Rebecca Sandiford adds: "This project has been a true collaborative effort. In a short space of time the amazing teams at BBC Archive Editorial, BBC Sounds, BBC Music, the Natural History Unit, as well as academics, doctors, psychologists, BBC programme teams - and Sir David Attenborough - have all helped bring this project to life. We hope the 'COVID-19 Collection' and the Mindful Mix make a real difference to people in the current crisis".
Sony/ATV has signed rapper Rod Wave to a worldwide publishing deal. "Rod Wave has unlimited musical potential and a poetic intensity that connects with fans", says CEO Jon Platt. "I'm hyped", adds Rod Wave, "I believe this can take everything to the next level".
Released around 6000 years ago, Harry Styles' 'Watermelon Sugar' now has a video. "This video is dedicated to touching", says Styles, providing you with some warning about the flagrant lack of social distancing going on here.
Former Maccabees frontman Orlando Weeks has released new single 'Milk Breath'. "This is about watching my son sleep", he says. "When you've rocked him for 45 minutes and finally the wriggling has stopped and the muscles have relaxed and you put him down in slow motion and then stand, without breathing, for another 20 minutes praying that he's asleep".
Ane Brun has released new single 'Song For Thrill And Tom'. "Sometimes my songs are inspired by other people's lives and I describe their destiny through my own filters", she says. "This is one of those songs, and the main characters are real people in my life, who I've tried to portray as authentic as possible, so that it becomes like a musical monument of the existence of their love".
Denai Moore has released new single 'Motherless Child'. "This song is about detachment, loneliness and feeling really isolated from the world around me, which feels crazy releasing it in isolation during a pandemic", she says. Her new album, 'Modern Dread', is out on 3 Jul through Because Music.
Fifi Rong has released new single 'Distance', taken from upcoming album 'There Is A Funeral In My Heart, For Every Man I Loved'. The track aims to "offer some comfort for those who are suffering from the emotional effects of being apart from loved ones due to self-isolation".
Karima Francis has returned with new single 'Orange Rose'. "In a world where we sometimes feel we can't speak out, we tend to take it the worst out on people closest to us", she says of the song's subject matter.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Billboard denies 6ix9ine's claims that Ariana Grande fraudulently beat him to number one in the Hot 100
"I want the world to know that Billboard is a lie", he said in a video on Instagram prior to the chart being announced. "You can buy number ones on Billboard".
Bold words. And words he backed up with spreadsheets and a claim that he and unnamed people had conducted their own investigation in order to reveal the truth.
"Ariana 'Stuck With U' submitted 60,000 units last second", he claimed. "With [our] investigation, we found this: They purchased half of those things with six credit cards. When we asked, where [were] those six credit cards linked to, Billboard said 'we can't disclose that information'".
Quite how he discovered the payment information for those purchases, or what store they were purchased from, or indeed who it was who suddenly submitted 60,000 chart eligible unit sales at the last minute, he doesn't say. But he does shout "SIX CREDIT CARDS" a lot and point at some numbers on his phone.
He concludes his video by demanding that Billboard explain itself, saying: "Now Billboard, if you wanna explain to all the hard working artists out there, and established artists at that, because there's a lot of established artists right now that don't get number ones and don't understand why".
"It's like looking at an apple, right?" he adds. "An apple sometimes is most likely red, right? There's green apples, but just look at this... There's apples that are red, right? And, you're looking at an apple - and this is what we did with Billboard - yo, explain how you deduct... if there's 50 million streams, right, on 'Gooba', why only count 30 million? Right?"
"So then, looking at an apple, saying, 'I'm obviously looking at you and you're red, but you're not... but you're telling us it's not red'", he concludes. "You got caught cheating red-handed, right?"
Billboard did go to some lengths to respond to 6ix9ine's various queries. Well, not to the whole apple thing, which I imagine scholars will be trying to get their heads around for decades, if not centuries, to come. However, in a detailed explanation of its chart rules and how it counts sales, the industry trade mag and chart compiler denied any wrongdoing. It also noted that the spreadsheets that 6ix9ine points at in his videos are not official figures from Billboard itself.
The short version is that 6ix9ine is forgetting or doesn't realise a number of things. Particularly that Billboard doesn't just tot up all the publicly available numbers on streaming platforms, and only counts US-based streams in its US-based charts.
"Streaming numbers visible to the public on audio and video data platforms do not reflect the volume included in Billboard's chart calculations", it says. "Neither do the stream counts that services make available to content owners (including 6ix9ine and his team) directly through a proprietary data feed or dashboard".
"Instead, each data provider provides a post-audit number to Billboard and [fellow chart compilers] Nielsen Music/MRC Data - excluding streams that do not meet long-standing charting parameters, such as US-based-only plays, minimum play length, excessive plays and lack of user verification. This is applied to all songs from all artists".
On its discussion with the rapper, it says: "Billboard and Nielsen Music/MRC Data were open and forthright with all information pertaining to 'Gooba' with 6ix9ine's team. That includes explaining the Hot 100 methodology and how the final ranking and chart points for 'Gooba' were calculated". But, as for what happened with 'Stuck With U', "[we] cannot ... provide granular detail on a title to anyone but its content owner".
Billboard does, however, acknowledge that there was a late sales spike on this week's number one track, noting that "the sales spike is likely referring to sales on Thursday 14 May - the final day of the tracking week - when signed 'Stuck With U' singles were put up for sale in Grande and Bieber's webstores".
"A signed single or album is an accepted form of sales available to any artist and has been noted repeatedly within Billboard chart stories when such items have impacted the Hot 100", it goes on. "6ix9ine, meanwhile, released a non-signed CD single/digital download on the last day of the tracking week via his webstore".
See, you've got to sign stuff if you want fans to instigate a last minute sales surge. That's where 6ix9ine went wrong. Although, had he focussed specifically on the impact of Grande and Bieber's sneaky signed product push - rather than coming up with a complicated apple analogy that seemed to confuse even the rapper as he explained it - maybe he would have had time to find some other acts to come out in support of him in this particular chart rant.
After all, a number of artists in recent years have been critical of how other acts use items on sale in their online stores to bump up their chart positions - although that criticism has generally been in relation to bundles where the music seems like a secondary item.
Back in 2018, Nicki Minaj got very angry when Travis Scott beat her to the number one position in the Billboard album chart. She claimed that he'd sold bundles on his website where the thing people really wanted were tour tickets, but they also got a chart-eligible album sale along with it. She also accused a baby of being part of that conspiracy.
Coming from the opposite angle, DJ Khaled threatened to sue Billboard for discounting a load of his album bundles, after it deemed an energy drink to be the thing that people were actually buying.
All of this resulted in Billboard updating its chart rules to be firmer on when an album sold as part of a bundle can be chart eligible. Now, you might say this is not relevant here, except that it might explain why Ariana Grande is selling actual physical copies of her new single to her fans like this is the 1800s or something.
The CD singles were signed by both Grande and Bieber and were made available in the US only for 24 hours only (the last 24 hours before that week's chart cut-off). All of which suggests the signed disc promotion was a ploy to boost the track's US chart position.
6ix9ine may, therefore, have good reason to be angry. Rather than some secretive conspiracy, it seems that he was done out of the number one by a fairly transparent ruse to sell a lot of records in a short space of time. Though, of course, as noted, he also attempted something similar, putting a limited edition CD single up for sale on his website just before the chart cut-off. But, as well as failing to sign those discs, he also didn't do the time limit gimmick to focus sales into one chart week.
That said, even if he had promised to sign some discs, and limited that promo to one day, that doesn't necessarily mean he'd have gone to the top of the chart. Not least because, in the final countdown, he's not even at number two.
But, on the plus side, despite being in third place, at least the rapper doesn't now have to work out how to get a team of interns to sign tens of thousands of CDs for him amid current lockdown and social distancing measures.
I'm just kidding, of course, Grande and Bieber will definitely sign all of those CDs themselves, and anyone who says otherwise is a red apple. Or a green one. I still don't really understand that whole thing.