|WEDNESDAY 6 JANUARY 2021||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|Happy new year and welcome back!
Welcome to the first CMU Daily of 2021! I think it's fair to say, 2020 was not the most fun year on record. This one isn't exactly off to a great start either (it having turned out, despite everyone's hopes, that the world doesn't just reset to zero at the stroke of midnight on 1 Jan). But there are reasons to be optimistic, at least, what with vaccines and the possibility of summer.
This time last year we made some predictions for the next ten years in the music industry, which included "the live business having to find new ways to reach people who don't want to go out" and "the return of Jedward". We didn't expect those to come true quite so quickly or in the way that they did. Just in case, we'll avoid making any more predictions this year. It's just not worth the risk.
But let's hope that things do start to improve soon. In the UK, ministers are now variously estimating a lifting of COVID restrictions in February, March or April. Given how their previous forecasts worked out, that probably means 2036, 2043 or 2057. But let's hope we are talking about sometime in spring. Except that sounds a little like a prediction. And we're not doing that.Instead, let's just get on with today's CMU Daily, in which we round up some of the key stories to emerge during the festive break.
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UK live sector calls for government support to ensure the smooth return of gigs and festivals this year
Although it begins by revisiting the devastating impact the COVID pandemic has had on the live music sector, much of the report is focused on the return of gigs and festivals later this year, and what government could and should do now to help with that recovery.
There has been a little more optimism in the live sector regarding the return of gigs and festivals in 2021 since the approval and roll out of the first COVID vaccines at the end of last year.
However, the subsequent return of more extreme COVID restrictions - leading to Monday's announcement that a full-on lockdown was coming back into force across the UK - has confirmed there are still plenty of hurdles for the sector to cross.
Of course, even with vaccinations underway, there remains plenty of uncertainty regarding how long COVID restrictions will be required for and when exactly those restrictions will be sufficiently relaxed to allow commercially viable shows to return.
That uncertainty is frustrating for the whole live sector, though even more so for festival companies which make most of their money over a few days each year. They need to know to what extent ongoing COVID restrictions will reduce their capacities and increase their production costs this summer.
They also need to know whether any of the 2021 festival season will have to be abandoned entirely. The prospect of another round of cancellations further adds to the problem, because it makes it incredibly difficult to insure events.
This all means that promoters face the prospect of having to invest time and money now to build the systems and infrastructure needed to allow festivals to occur while moderate COVID restrictions are still in place, but with the risk of being entirely out of pocket if higher-level COVID measures ultimately result in cancellation.
Many festival companies, already on the brink after cancelling 2020 editions, can't take that risk. With that in mind, one of UK Music's requests of ministers is a government-backed indemnity scheme for live music events.
It also asks for an indicative date for a full capacity restart of shows, further targeted financial support for the live music sector, and an extension of the previous VAT and business rate relief schemes.
Speaking ahead of his appearance before yesterday's select committee hearing, UK Music boss Jamie Njoku-Goodwin said: "While this pandemic is still raging and continues to cause devastation to lives and livelihoods today, there is an endpoint in sight".
"Government is rolling out the vaccine and is openly speculating about returning to normal by the spring - but there is a serious risk that even if this proves to be a reality, lack of notice and available insurance options will mean much of the 2021 summer music season can't go ahead".
"In this report, UK Music is putting forward a clear plan for recovery: what we need to do to get the live performance sector back up on its feet again in 2021", he added. "But the clock is ticking, and any day soon we could see major festivals and events start pulling the plug for lack of certainty".
He concluded: "With the right support the live music industry can be at the forefront of the post-pandemic recovery and play a key role in our country's economic and cultural revival - but there will need to be a concerted effort from industry and the government together if we are to let the music play and save our summer".
UK Music's concerns and demands were echoed by the Association Of Independent Festivals. Thanking the culture sector committee for putting the spotlight on these challenges at this time, AIF's CEO Paul Reed told ministers: "AIF is grateful for the opportunity to represent the UK's leading independent festivals in front of the [culture] select committee today".
"We are clearly in a very serious and pivotal stage of the pandemic - summer and festivals seem very distant", he added. "But, given that festivals take at least six months to plan, this is absolutely the right time to be having this conversation".
"Festivals will only return when it is absolutely safe to do so and the industry is working hard on developing mitigations. But we are also calling for a 'no earlier than' date, government intervention on insurance and targeted financial support if needed to protect businesses, countless livelihoods, local communities and a major contribution to the national economy".
He concluded: "Key decisions do need to be made now to sustain the prospect of a UK festival industry this year and beyond".
UK government blames EU for new bureaucratic barriers faced by British artists touring Europe
The music industry was quick to criticise the last minute UK/EU trade deal that was agreed just before Christmas, and which went into force last week, because of what it means for artists and musicians touring Europe. The deal does not include specific provisions that would have ensured visa free touring for British artists across the EU, and EU artists across the UK.
This means that - whereas British artists, musicians and tour crews have previously been able to work across the European Union without worrying about visas, work permits and other border bureaucracy - from now on the rules will be different for each EU country.
The rules in some EU countries will mean there remains little hassle for artists touring there, but in others visas, work permits and/or equipment carnets may be required, adding extra costs and extra admin tasks to tours that may already be operating on a break-even basis at best.
When the 1246 page deal was first published, lobbying group UK Music noted that having an agreement in place - and therefore ending the prospect of the UK exiting the EU with no deal - was to be welcomed. And for some strands of the music industry the deal does bring some clarity and certainty. But not for touring artists.
"News of a deal is welcome and has removed some of the uncertainty facing the music industry", said the group's CEO Jamie Njoku-Goodwin. "However, there are still many questions about the future arrangements for those working in our industry, in particular what it means for touring".
In its statement, the Incorporated Society Of Musicians went into that issue in more detail. "Following the publication of the UK/EU trade agreement, ISM is deeply concerned about the absence of visa-free travel provisions for working musicians, as part of the agreements for business visitors and independent professionals in the service industries".
It went on: "This means that UK musicians will be considered as 'third country nationals', meaning that they will have to adhere to the immigration rules of each EU member state in which they work. This is contrary to assurances given to the music sector and will have huge implications for UK musicians working and touring in the EU".
Njoku-Goodwin urged ministers to do whatever is necessary to get provisions in place to reduce the impact on such musicians. "The government now needs to ensure the ability of our workforce to move freely around Europe at a time when we are continuing to battle the impact of COVID-19", he said. "There is a real risk that British musicians will not be able to bear the cost of extra bureaucracy and delays which would put some tours at risk".
And, he added: "If musicians and creators from overseas face barriers and costs getting into the UK, audiences here could miss out on seeing some of their favourite acts".
Meanwhile, ISM CEO Deborah Annetts stated: "It is hugely disappointing to see that musicians and other creatives will not be covered by visa free short term business trip provisions. After everything that the sector has been through over the past ten months, how has this happened? It is high time that the value of music to our lives and our economy was recognised fully".
Throughout the Brexit process, the music industry called for some kind of creative passport scheme that would ensure there would be no new bureaucracy for touring performers once the UK was outside the EU. And such a scheme has enjoyed support in the political community, including from some leading Brexiteers.
Noting all that, Horace Trubridge, General Secretary of the Musicians' Union, told reporters last week: "Over the past few years we have told the government in every possible way that a Brexit deal needs to make provisions for touring musicians".
"Hundreds of MPs have spoken on behalf of our members" and "ministers have assured us over and over again that they will ensure that touring musicians will not be subject to extra cost or admin post-Brexit", he went on. "And yet we now see that this deal does not address any of our concerns".
Speaking to the BBC, he added: "Our understanding from analysis of the trade agreement is that the main barriers for musicians in the short term will be work permits, which could vary from territory to territory, and costly carnets for movement of instruments and equipment".
These new requirements will have a significant impact for musicians, he concluded. "Given the massive impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the UK music industry, this is another devastating blow".
Echoing Trubridge's criticism, David Martin of the Featured Artists Coalition told NME that being subject to each EU country's different rules is not only problematic because of the potential extra costs, but also because it means artists navigating numerous different sets of rules, any of which could be changed at any time.
"Add to this the administrative and financial burden of touring with any equipment and we have the none of what we were promised", he added. "This is not a reduction of red tape, a removal of bureaucracy and the UK holding all of the cards, it's the opposite - we will have lost so much".
He went on: "The key figures at the heart of this government have spent half a decade talking up Brexit, extolling its virtues and hailing the benefits of leaving the EU in 'making Britain global'".
"We're not very global if our artists and musicians can't tour easily across our closest and most culturally aligned, neighbouring countries. It is time for the architects of Brexit to put their money where their mouths are and prove that Brexit can be a success and not a catastrophe for our industry".
Facing increased criticism on this point online - and also during last week's Parliamentary debate on the Brexit deal - the government has basically blamed the new bureaucracy touring artists face on the EU.
Although not commenting on the proposal for a bespoke reciprocal visa-free scheme specifically for performers, a government spokesperson said that the UK had wanted a wider reciprocal deal for all business travellers, which would have included those travelling around the EU to perform.
Speaking to the BBC, the spokesperson said: "The UK pushed for a more ambitious agreement with the EU on the temporary movement of business travellers, which would have covered musicians and others, but our proposals were rejected by the EU".
Despite those claims, UK ministers can expect proactive lobbying on this issue from the music industry and wider creative sector in the weeks ahead, with a petition on the Parliament website having now gained sufficient traction to force a formal government response and probably a specific parliamentary debate too.
Though, with Brexit done and the UK no longer having any control or direct influence over the visa arrangements of the EU's member states, the British music industry will likely need its counterparts across Europe to also campaign on this point to have any chance of getting a decent creative passport scheme set up.
Ticketmaster pays $10 million fine over Crowdsurge server hacking
That conduct first came to light after Crowdsurge - which had by then merged with Songkick - sued Live Nation in 2015 accusing its much larger rival of anti-competitive behaviour.
As that case went through the motions, Songkick's lawsuit was streamlined and extended, including the addition of specific allegations of misconduct against certain Ticketmaster staff members.
Those allegations centred on Stephen Mead, a former Crowdsurge employee who had subsequently joined Ticketmaster, and Zeeshan Zaidi, another executive at the Live Nation company.
It was alleged that Zaidi had encouraged Mead to use his knowledge of his former employee's systems to hack into its servers to get confidential information about its products, and in particular its work developing pre-sale and anti-touting ticketing services.
The civil lawsuit was ultimately settled in 2018 in a deal reportedly worth $110 million. By that time the Songkick gig recommendations platform had already been sold off to Warner Music, whose owner Access Industries was an investor in the Songkick/Crowdsurge business.
The more conventional ticketing side of that company had then been wound down, so that the legal battle with Live Nation was pretty much all that was left. Although there were some other assets which were then acquired by Live Nation as part of the $110 million deal.
However, while the lawsuit may have been settled, that didn't stop federal prosecutors from investigating the hacking allegations that had been made against Ticketmaster and its employees. It's that investigation that led to last week's settlement.
According to Variety, in addition to paying the fine, Ticketmaster also agreed to introduce a "compliance and ethics programme designed to prevent and detect violations" of computer-hacking laws as well as to prevent the "unauthorised and unlawful acquisition of confidential information belonging to competitors".
Commenting on its settlement with federal prosecutors, Ticketmaster said that it was pleased the matter had been resolved, stressing that the employees involved in the Crowdsurge hacking had been fired back when their activities first came to light. A spokesperson added: "Their actions violated our corporate policies and were inconsistent with our values".
Spinal Tap creators set up new licensing company following settlement of Vivendi dispute
That dispute began when one of the four men behind 'Spinal Tap' - Harry Shearer - sued Vivendi and its movie division StudioCanal back in 2016. Through various earlier acquisitions, Vivendi had ended up owning both the 'Spinal Tap' film and brand via StudioCanal, and its accompanying soundtrack via Universal Music.
Shearer accused Vivendi and its subsidiaries of misreporting financial information about the cult film and its spin-offs in order to under-pay him royalties due from the franchise.
Co-creators Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner subsequently came on board as co-plaintiffs in early 2017, with Universal Music being added as a defendant in its own right later that year.
Vivendi denied the allegations of misconduct made by Shearer et al and called the $400 million in damages the four men sought "absurd". For his part, Shearer told reporters: "Vivendi's distracting and obfuscatory conduct is entirely in line with our experience of the corporation to date".
Beyond the forthright statements, Vivendi pursued some legal technicalities, forcing the 'Spinal Tap' creators to re-file legal documents in their own names rather than through their respective companies.
Meanwhile, Shearer et al added another element to the case, arguing that the termination right under US copyright law should apply to the film, allowing US rights to revert to them.
Then, in November last year, it was announced a deal had been done with Universal Music, settling that specific element of the dispute relating to the movie's soundtrack. However, the following month the 'Spinal Tap' team confirmed that the dispute with StudioCanal continued, and that that dispute was now entering the discovery phase.
Things then went quiet as the discovery phase got underway, though behind the scenes talks to settle the StudioCanal side of the case continued. Those talks ultimately resulted in a deal being done, with a basic settlement being quietly confirmed in September.
That month both sides informed the Californian court where the litigation had been filed that they had now reached a settlement deal. That meant that the specifics of the case - in particular the termination rights claims - would not be publicly scrutinised or tested in court.
Details of the deal that had been reached were not revealed at the time, but lawyers working on the case told the court that a then still-being-finalised long-form settlement would "restructure the parties' relationship and modify contracts pertaining to the picture's distribution".
That statement seemed to suggest that - beyond any damages - Shearer, Guest, McKean and Reiner would have more control over their creation, including the movie itself and any spin-offs, moving forward.
Confirming that is indeed the case, last week it was announced that "Rob Reiner, Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, creators of the iconic mockumentary 'This Is Spinal Tap', have set up a wholly-owned entity to manage the licensing of the film and all rights related to it".
From 1 Jan 2021, it added, "the much-beloved movie and all featured characters, trademarks and associated rights will be licensed via Authorized Spinal Tap LLC. Together, the four creators intend to ensure the film continues to be available for existing and future 'Spinal Tap' fans for years to come".
Noting the 2019 settlement deal with Universal, the new company added: "The band's recording of a full-length 'Spinal Tap' album featuring songs from the film is still available for physical sale, download and streaming today from UMG".
And so, it seems, a particularly interesting rights dispute, technically in the movie business but very relevant to the music industry, is at an end.
Just in case you wondered, the aforementioned statement concluded: "Band members David St Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls were unavailable for comment".
UK music consumption up 8.2% driven by vinyl revival and increased cassette sales, but mainly streams
The ongoing streaming boom was behind most of that increase, although the vinyl revival continues too. And even the cassette revival played a tiny little role in the rising consumption levels.
Vinyl sales were up by more than a tenth in terms of units shifted, despite the high street being in shutdown for some of the year. There was a dip in sales during the first COVID lockdown, but things started to recover over the summer months.
Mail order will have played a role in all that too, with some independent retailers offering home deliveries for the first time once COVID restrictions were in place. And, of course, there were various initiatives encouraging people to support their local record stores during the COVID pandemic, which likely resulted in a boost for the vinyl format.
Those included the likes of the #loverecordstores initiative and Tim Burgess's Twitter Online Listening Parties, as well as the existing National Album Day and the extra activities organised by the Record Store Day team.
The BPI's figures, based on Official Charts Company data, also include sales via most of the direct-to-fan platforms used by artists and labels. Direct-to-fan activity also saw a boost during COVID, partly because fans were looking to support their favourites artists, and partly because some artists and labels became more proactive in that domain during shutdown.
With direct-to-fan in particular, there is also a trend of fans buying physical releases as merchandise. Which is to say, they'll mainly stream the music, but like to buy something physical to accompany a favourite release. That's a trend that could be behind the other format revival confirmed by the BPI's stats, the still slightly bizarre cassette revival.
Like with the early days of the vinyl revival, it is easy to exaggerate that particular trend. Nevertheless, cassette sales nearly doubled during 2020, with 156,542 units sold. Like vinyl, cassettes have a certain retro value for those seeking physical releases as merch, and they are also a lot cheaper to manufacture.
Commenting on all those figures, BPI boss Geoff Taylor said: "In a year when all our lives have changed, music's power to inspire has never been more evident. The immediacy and convenience of streaming make it the go-to audio format for most of our listening, but more and more fans choose to get closer to their favourite artists and albums on vinyl".
"It's remarkable that [vinyl] and audio tape sales should have risen at all given the challenges we've all faced", he adds. "The surge in sales despite retail closures demonstrates the timeless appeal of collectable physical formats alongside the seamless connectivity of streaming".
Beyond discs and tapes, what about the streams? Because, while the vinyl and even the cassette revival are important for some artists and labels, obviously the vast majority of music consumption now happens on the streaming services. In fact, with 139 billion audio streams being delivered in 2020, streaming accounted for just over 80% of total consumption.
Streaming, of course, is the one music revenue stream not negatively impacted by COVID-19. Actually, as with vinyl sales, consumption on the streaming services did initially dip during the original COVID lockdown, but it quickly rebounded and then returned to growth.
However, because of the way premium streaming works, a dip in digital consumption doesn't equate to a dip in revenue, providing that people continue to subscribe to their platform of choice.
Elsewhere in its stats, BPI said that nearly 200 artists achieved over 100 million streams in the UK in 2020. The top ten streaming artists each scored over half a billion streams, and more than 8000 acts enjoyed more than a million streams across the year.
Commenting on those figures, Taylor said: "A new wave of British talent is capitalising on the immediacy of streaming to achieve fantastic success, measured in the hundreds of millions, even billions of streams".
"Record labels are investing heavily in new artists to secure the future of British music, boosting the UK's exports and soft power", he went on. "The performance of recorded music in 2020 was remarkable and reminds us how important music is to our country, even when our lives are disrupted".
"But any satisfaction we can take is tempered by the devastating impact of the pandemic on live music", he then acknowledged. "Recorded music is only one element of artists' incomes and we renew our calls on government to support our culturally important venues, nightclubs and festivals until they can safely reopen".
Of course, the shutdown of the live sector and the negative impact of COVID on other revenue streams like public performance and sync has put the spotlight back on how streaming money is shared out between the different stakeholders in the music community.
Many artists and songwriters argue that too big a slice of the digital pie goes to the labels, and that both industry and government should now review how streaming monies are distributed.
Alongside its year-end stats, BPI argued that among the challenges facing artists today is the huge competition for listening time, with unprecedented amounts of new music being uploaded to the streaming platforms each week, all of which also competes with the record industry's vast catalogue that accounts for an increased portion of listening in the streaming age.
Getting the millions of streams that generate decent income needs good marketing. And, the BPI reckoned, that's why labels still play a key role. A sufficiently key role to justify the cut of the money labels take, it then implied.
"Streaming means that there are many more artists active in the market than ever before", Taylor added. "This is great news for fans, but means that it is harder than ever for artists to achieve success - so that continued support and investment from record labels in marketing and production is crucial".
Dr Dre recovering in hospital following brain aneurysm
The producer was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Monday, it was reported by TMZ yesterday (and later confirmed by Billboard). It is reported that doctors are as yet unclear on what caused the bleed on his brain.
In a post on Instagram, following the initial reports of his hospitalisation, Dre wrote: "Thanks to my family, friends and fans for their interest and well wishes. I'm doing great and getting excellent care from my medical team. I will be out of the hospital and back home soon. Shout out to all the great medical professionals at Cedars. One love!"
Among the many people to wish Dre a speedy recovery was his former NWA bandmate, Ice Cube.
Grammy Awards postponed to March due to "deteriorating COVID situation"
In a statement, organisers say that "after thoughtful conversations with health experts, our host and artists scheduled to appear", they have decided to push back the ceremony from 31 Jan to 14 Mar.
"The deteriorating COVID situation in Los Angeles, with hospital services being overwhelmed, ICUs having reached capacity, and new guidance from state and local governments, have all led us to conclude that postponing our show was the right thing to do", they go on.
"Nothing is more important than the health and safety of those in our music community and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly on producing the show".
The postponement news comes amid continuing controversy surrounding this year's awards. Following claims of corruption and a backlash over a nomination for Dr Luke, it has now emerged that three of the five acts up for Best Children's Album have rejected their nominations due to all contenders for the prize being white.
Alastair Moock - one of the acts to turn down a nomination, alongside Dogs On Fleas and The Okee Dokee Brothers - tells NPR: "After [the last] year, to have an all-white slate of nominees seemed really tone deaf. [I'd love to receive a Grammy] but I don't want it like this, where the playing field's not even".
Major labels dominate most popular music of 2020
Rounding up the year in sales and streams, the Official Charts Company has released lists revealing the most popular albums and tracks overall in 2020, as well as the best-selling vinyl and cassette releases, and the most-streamed tracks.
Indie label releases are difficult to find in any of the charts - with none at all in the top ten tracks, albums and streaming tracks. However, with a few appearances in the physical product lists, this is actually an improvement on last year.
In the 2019 lists, the only indie release was a Kylie Minogue best of on cassette, which was released by BMG. Do we count BMG as an indie label? Well, do we? Maybe we don't need to worry about that though, as the compilation was a joint release with Warner.
In 2020, BMG managed to get a Kylie cassette into the top ten on its own, with her latest studio album 'Disco'. The album also made the vinyl top ten, as did two unquestionably indie releases - Arctic Monkey's 'Live At The Royal Albert Hall' and Idles' 'Ultra Modern', which crept in at numbers nine and ten respectively.
Anyway, I think quite some time ago I asked what people were actually listening to in 2020. So, let's get on with finding out. Here are the various UK top tens of last year.
Albums Chart Of 2020 (sales and streams)
Singles Chart Of 2020 (sales and streams)
Vinyl Albums Chart Of 2020
Cassette Albums Chart Of 2020
Track Streams Chart Of 2020