|FRIDAY 12 MARCH 2021||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: The Musicians' Union and Incorporated Society Of Musicians have called on the UK government to urgently deal with the problems created for touring artists by Brexit. Although ministers have conceded that those problems need to be dealt with - and have talked about seeking unilateral deals with individual EU member states and setting up a cultural export office to support British performers - the MU and ISM fear that the government is not progressing with any of that anywhere near quick enough... [READ MORE]|
|Expand your knowledge about the inner workings of the music business, best practice across the music industry, and all the latest trends and developments, with CMU's weekly webinars.
Taking place every Tuesday afternoon at 2.30pm London time, these one hour online training sessions are delivered by CMU's Chris Cooke.
Each webinar presents timely and easy-to-understand insights about a different music business topic, with plenty of opportunity to ask questions.
Attendees can also access online resources - including downloadable slides - and a recording of the webinar available for a month after the live session.
BOOK NOW at special rates - access to each individual webinar is just £25, plus there are additional discounts if you book into multiple sessions.
MU and ISM call for more urgency from government over post-Brexit touring issues
The big post-Brexit UK/EU trade deal, of course, did not include any provisions ensuring bureaucracy-free touring for British artists across the EU, or European artists within the UK.
Once COVID restrictions start to lift, UK artists touring Europe will now need to navigate different rules when entering each country. Some countries will require the artist to secure travel permits for themselves and their crew, and/or carnets for their equipment. Which, to use the technical term, is a bit of a fucker.
The extra costs and admin could make many tours unviable, especially given that artists and promoters will have just incurred a fifteen to eighteen month COVID-caused shutdown once international touring resumes.
Everyone agrees that this is a problem. The UK would like it to be known that this problem began with the fucking EU bureaucrats in fucking Brussels. Although the fucking EU bureaucrats in fucking Brussels would like it to be known that the xenophobes and political opportunists in 'Boris' Johnson's comedy government actually caused the fuck up, mainly in a bid to pander to the racists among the British electorate that delivered them their political power. I mean, I'm paraphrasing a little, but that is basically the official line on each side.
Since the fuck up was revealed at the end of last year, there has been much debate as to whether getting a sneaky extra EU-wide deal for touring performers is in any way viable, or if securing reciprocal deals between the UK and individual European countries to ensure permit/carnet-free travel for artists is more realistic. Maybe something needs to happen at both an EU level and a national level.
Meanwhile, more recently, it's been suggested that the government could set up a cultural export office to help British performers with all this - so while they'll still be traveling up shit creek, at least they'll have a paddle.
All that is seemingly being considered by the powers that be in the UK. Which is nice. But, worry the MU and ISM, that consideration lacks any sense of urgency. And that's a double fucker, given that the music community really needs progress to be made on this before the COVID restrictions start to lift.
Following further discussion on the post-Brexit touring shitstorm in the House Of Lords yesterday, the two musician organisations said that while they "welcomed the government reiterating its pledge to find workable solutions to critical issues like mobility ... the proposal for a cultural export office is a long-term measure".
"The urgent challenges facing musicians", they added, "can only be immediately solved if the UK government negotiates a bespoke visa waiver agreement with the EU for the creative sector and enters bilateral discussions with key EU member states to sort out work permit rules".
"Visa waiver agreements are common practice and the EU has entered into 28 of them with countries like Colombia, UAE, Tonga and St Lucia since 2009", they went on. "Legal experts have advised they are both hugely beneficial for musicians and compatible with the government's manifesto commitments".
In yesterday's Lords session it was the turn of minister Diana Barran to deliver the government's customary line of: "This is a big problem, we must fix this problem, and we'll do everything we can to fix this problem, except - of course - actually fixing this problem".
OK, a little more paraphrasing there. "Responding to peers from across the political spectrum", the MU and ISM reported, "[Diana] Barran said the government were working to address issues around mobility by collecting evidence but offered no signs of immediate activity".
This despite a senior civil servant from the government's Department For Digital, Culture, Media & Sport telling Parliament's culture select committee on 16 Feb that "the UK would engage with key EU member states in the coming weeks". To that end, the MU and ISM are calling on the government "to provide an update on progress with these bilateral discussions".
Stressing again the urgency in getting these problems solved, MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge said last night: "We are now close to three months since the UK left the EU with no agreement to ensure the frictionless mobility of musicians as was repeatedly promised by this government for the last three years. This situation has created alarm and despondency among musicians whose livelihoods have been destroyed by COVID-19 but were planning to resume their careers by performing live in EU member states later this year".
"We urgently need a progress report from ministers on securing visa-free touring and bilateral agreements to reassure the music community that more is happening to remedy the situation beyond mere words", he added.
Meanwhile, ISM CEO Deborah Annetts said: "I am delighted that so many parliamentarians have spoken out about the problems facing musicians after Brexit, including around visas and work permits. For months, the government has promised to try and find workable solutions to the mountain of costs and red tape that will prevent tours, particularly by emerging performers. With the music sector planning our return after coronavirus, it is time for proactive action to ensure that the barriers created by the pandemic are not replaced by new bureaucratic obstacles".
Talking of support in Parliament for addressing the post-Brexit touring problems, a number of lords and MPs have signed a letter also calling for more action in this domain. The letter has been organised by a campaign called Carry On Touring, which came off the back of the petition set up on the Parliament website by Tim Brennan, in turn leading to one of the earlier parliamentary debates on this issue.
That letter also says that, while an export office would be great, it's not a speedy or perfect solution to this problem. "A music export office would, of course, be very welcome", it states. "However, we fear that, on its own, it will not unravel or reduce the bureaucratic and regulatory burden the music and wider creative sector will face when they work and tour in the EU. We hope that the government will recognise that we need help to fix the real problems created by the sheer costs, paperwork and time-limits".
"We believe that the ability to carry on touring will only be addressed, in any meaningful sense, via a visa waiver agreement with the EU, exempting touring performers, creative teams and crews", it goes on. "We call on the government to fight our corner and return to the negotiating table. The impact on our lives and our ability to earn and pay tax in an industry that brings pleasure to millions of people is under huge pressure".
Finally, in terms of Brexit news this week, the Scottish Music Industry Association has published a new report looking at the impact of the UK leaving the EU on the Scottish music industry. It makes a number of recommendations, both in terms of the touring issues and on the other ways in which Brexit could impact upon the music community in Scotland. You can download a copy here.
Epidemic Sound secures $450 million in finance with $1.4 billion valuation
Although it has an increasingly diverse mix of clients, the main aim of Epidemic Sound is to make it easier for online creators to license music for their videos. It operates outside the traditional structures of the music industry, where production music is usually administrated through the collective licensing system, at least in part.
That approach has garnered criticism from some in the songwriting community, although it makes it much easier for video-makers to license music on global one-stop-shop basis, safe in the knowledge that no other entities will seek to block or monetise the creator's videos.
Some of Epidemic Sound's catalogue is also available via streaming platforms like Spotify, with that music enjoying particular success on the popular chill out and relaxation playlists that are often under-serviced by the catalogues of more conventional record labels.
Confirming the new finance, Epidemic Sound co-founder and CEO Oscar Höglund said: "We're in the privileged position where our music is the soundtrack to our generation's greatest achievement. We know what the internet sounds like and through data, we can see the trends emerging among content creators as they use our tracks to bring their stories to life".
"We're THRILLED to partner with EQT Growth and Blackstone Growth to continue scaling how we use this data to grow our global network of creators and empower them all to thrive through new products, new music and new insights", he added.
The company also noted that "the raise will fuel international expansion to reach new creators in both existing territories like North America, whilst also expanding and localising its digital offering and investing in music for new markets across the world".
Commenting on his fund's latest investment, Jon Korngold at Blackstone Growth said: "Epidemic Sound is a leading provider of restriction-free music and offers an essential resource to the millions of corporations and individuals that are generating more video content for customers, families, and friends alike. The company has established an incredible platform from which to expand globally, and we are privileged to have the opportunity to partner with Oscar and the management team to help unlock Epidemic Sound's full potential in the years to come".
Samsung and Universal aim to boost music discovery with Music Galaxy Thursday
A new partnership between Samsung and Universal Music's UMG For Brands division, Music Galaxy Thursday is an initiative to group together content from a variety of new and emerging artists. It will see those artists and Samsung itself sharing things such as live performances, Q&As, digital stickers and more on the #SamsungMGT hashtag.
The whole thing was launched last night by Yungblud, during his own YouTube show, 'The Yungblud Show'. Introducing fans to the sort of delights they can expect from the full MGT experience, he brought on emerging artist Renforshort to perform her 2020 single 'I Drive Me Mad'.
"I'm so excited to partner with Samsung on this new rock and roll idea of showcasing new badass incredible artists", says Yungblud. "I think #SamsungMGT is a sick idea and I can't wait to meet the artists that they showcase in the future. Turn up the noise!"
Renforshort adds: "I'm so beyond thankful to Yungblud and Samsung for including me in 'The Yungblud Show' and Samsung's Music Galaxy Thursday. As we all know it's been super weird circumstances and a lot of artists haven't been given the opportunity to perform, and I'm so happy I get to do that and show my music to new fans across Europe and the world! I hope people have fun with my music and like what they hear!"
Whether this will become, as Samsung are hoping, "your new music ritual", remains to be seen. With a focus on music from across Europe (although Renforshort is actually Canadian), artists selected to take part in the initiative over the coming weeks include Spain's Natalia Lacunza and Italy's Madame.
"I'm so pleased that Samsung gave this much-needed space to emerging artists, to speak and to shine - and I'm so happy to be part of it", says Lacunza.
Meanwhile, Madame adds: "I still can't believe I've been selected as one of the artists to take part in Samsung Music Galaxy Thursday! Such an incredible opportunity to get in touch with fans all around Europe. My song 'Voce' is about finding one's identity - your 'voice' - which I think is something people outside of Italy will relate to as well, so I'm grateful to be able to share my message beyond my country's borders".
Dropped K-pop tracks return to Spotify after Kakao Entertainment deal is secured
Kakao represents a significant portion of South Korean pop releases, which meant that when the firm's global licensing deal with Spotify expired at the end of last month without renewal, K-pop fans quickly noticed all the missing tunes, taking to social media to list them.
Spotify said that it had been working for eighteen months on securing a new deal, but hadn't got an agreement in place by the time the old licence expired. For its part, Kakao said that it was happy for its old deal to just roll over. However, it went on, Spotify now wanted to include South Korea itself in the licence, and that's where the sticking point was.
South Korea hadn't previously been covered by the Kakao licence, of course, because Spotify has only very recently launched in that market. The distributor was seemingly driving a much harder bargain on its home turf, possibly because it is part of the same group that operates the market-leading domestic streaming service in South Korea, Melon.
According to sources that spoke to Variety, Spotify was ultimately successful in getting some concessions from Kakao within South Korea by linking the local licensing talks with the renewal of the global deal. After Spotify pulled the Kakao catalogue in the rest of the world, criticism from the affected artists and their fans reportedly pushed the distributor back to the negotiating table pretty damn quickly.
Confirming the new deal, Spotify said: "We are pleased that Kakao Entertainment's content and artists are back on Spotify, allowing our 345 million+ global listeners across 170 countries to once again enjoy the music they love. Spotify's mission has always been to connect artists to their fans all over the world and to give listeners access to all of the world's music".
"We are delighted that our Korean listeners will now also be able to enjoy this local music alongside our 70 million+ songs and four billion playlists", it went on. "We remain committed to making a positive impact on Korea's music streaming ecosystem through our partnerships with artists, labels, and local rightsholders".
Meanwhile, a statement from Kakao Entertainment said: "Kakao Entertainment Corp has entered into an agreement with Spotify and will sequentially provide its music content to Spotify for service in and beyond Korea".
"Through its diverse partnerships around the world, including Spotify, Kakao Entertainment hopes that music lovers around the world can easily access its artists' and music content to enjoy K-pop", it added. "Kakao Entertainment remains committed to the Korean music ecosystem and its growth and will continue protecting the rights of artists, labels and local rights-holders going forward".
James Newman unveils UK Eurovision entry, Embers
"I wanted to write an upbeat and positive song that people could have a party to", says Newman. "It's about the spark between people who love each other. Just because you don't see the people you care about all the time, doesn't mean that spark isn't there".
So that's nice, isn't it? It's a song for these times, about these times, with a generous helping of hope mixed in. Will it win? Well, it has a chance of not coming absolute bottom. And that, for the UK these days, is pretty glowing praise, I think.
It's got some big arms in the air moments that might go over well with an audience desperate for something chirpy after the last year, and with two years since their last Eurovision fix. And, if all else fails, the instrumental could be used as a new theme tune for 'The One Show' afterwards.
As well as being Newman's first chance to actually take part in Eurovision, it will be BMG's first chance to prove that it can do better at choosing the UK's entry than the BBC and the public have ever managed. The music firm teamed up with the BBC in 2019, but that alliance is yet to be properly tested - again, due to last year's cancellation.
It was announced last month that BMG and the BBC were backing Newman again. And after years of people wondering why we don't send any of our actually popular popstars to the competition, he gets somewhat closer to that.
Sure, he's not Ed Sheeran. Nor is he even his brother John Newman. But he is a BRIT and Grammy-nominated songwriter, who has written for Rudimental, Calvin Harris and Armin Van Buuren. And Ed Sheeran even featured on one of the Rudimental tracks he co-wrote. While his brother John was on the Calvin Harris track. So perhaps, actually, he is both of those two performers. It was very cruel of you to say otherwise earlier.
Anybobs, the Eurovision Song Contest grand final - for which Newman automatically qualifies, thanks to all the cash the BBC puts into the event - takes place on 22 May. Have a little listen to 'Embers' here.
Music industry award debates continue: Grammy voting processes, BRIT categories
"Because of the secret committees, I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys", he tells The New York Times.
Responding to that, the boss of Grammy organisers the US Recording Academy, Harvey Mason Jr, again denies that there is any underhand process in the selection of nominations. However, he says the organisation will nevertheless continue to review how everything Grammy-related works.
"We're all disappointed when anyone is upset", he says. "But I will say that we are constantly evolving. And this year, as in past years, we are going to take a hard look at how to improve our awards process, including the nomination review committees".
The Weeknd's displeasure at not being nominated this year is not really news, of course. When the nominations were first announced he tweeted that "the Grammys remain corrupt". He also claimed that he was being punished for agreeing to play the Super Bowl half time show before the Grammys ceremony had a chance to take place - something Mason Jr also denied.
The musician's manager Wassim Slaiby says they're still unclear how they failed to get any nominations, adding that they were discussing a performance by The Weeknd at the ceremony until the nominations came out.
"We were many weeks and dozens of calls in with the Grammy team around Abel's performance, right up to the day of nominations being announced", says Slaiby. "We were scratching our heads in confusion and wanted answers".
"The Grammys should handle their legacy and clean it up to raise the bar to a level where everyone could be proud to hold up that award", he adds. "This is Harvey's chance to step up and have his legacy be the guy who got the Grammys finally right".
That kind of suggests that The Weeknd's boycott isn't actually permanent, and could be lifted if he's satisfied that the selection process is transparent enough. Although whether such changes would mean that he'd take it on the chin if he still failed to be nominated remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, in UK awards news, the BRITs have reportedly decided not to ditch gender-specific categories. For this year at least. Dividing artists up by their gender has always been stupid, but has come under more scrutiny since major artist and awards contender Sam Smith came out as non-binary.
A source tells The Mirror: "For 2021, there are no changes to the gender categories. The BRITs are committed to evolving the show and it's still something that's very much under discussion. There's no timeline in place, but there is still a possibility of change in later years".
Organisers fear that if women aren't given their own categories, they won't get any nominations. And while it's depressing to think that that would be the outcome, those aren't unfounded fears. Last year Mabel was the only woman to appear in the mixed-gender categories at the BRITs.
"If you take away gendered awards you risk not giving a platform to female artists", the Mirror's source goes on. "Any change made to be more inclusive needs to be just that. If that change ultimately leads to less inclusion, or a less diverse shortlist, it risks being counter-productive".
Of course, perpetuating the idea that women just aren't as good as men when it comes to music, by continuing to force them into their own categories, isn't really helping either. You don't affect change by doing nothing. Although, to be fair to all the award organisers, in many ways problems like this just highlight a wider music industry problem.
Still, when the nominees for the mixed-gender BRITs Rising Star Award - which precedes the main ceremony - were announced yesterday, two of the three artists up for the prize - Rina Sawayama and Griff - were women. Plus, more than half of the artists who have won that prize since its launch (as the BRITs Critics' Choice award) in 2008 have been female. So maybe the music community is capable of having mixed-gender categories and not always skewing entirely male.
LABELS & PUBLISHERS
Big Hit Entertainment - best known for being the company behind BTS - is planning to change its name to HYBE Corporation. The rebranding still needs to be approved by shareholders, which is expected to happen at the end of the month.
DIGITAL & D2F SERVICES
Spotify is apparently surveying some UK users about possible price rises. The streaming service has already increased some prices in some markets of course, especially around its family plan. Many in the music community have been pushing for such increases, pointing out that the standard £9.99 subscription price hasn't changed since the service launched more than a decade ago. The survey talks about the price of a family plan going up by five whole pounds, to £19.99 a month. The individual plan would go up by a quid to £10.99 a month.
In other Spotify news, the streaming service has launched a podcast about... Spotify! Although, in an effort to not seem too arrogant, or to steal too many listeners from other podcasts on the platform, it has given it a very boring sounding name. 'Spotify: A Product Story' delves into the (revisionist?) history of the streaming platform and its development. So, if you're interested in learning about how Spotify invented the first ever form of legitimate digital music, tune in here.
Tom Odell has announced that he will release his new album, 'Monsters', on 25 Jun. Today he releases 'Monsters v1' - the first of two versions of the title track. "In 2019, my anxiety got so bad that I had to stop making music for a while", he explains. "There was a period when it felt like I couldn't leave the house without having a panic attack. I wrote this song, 'Monster', about trying to overcome my struggles with those mental health problems. This first version is the song in its purest form, which I wanted you all to hear first, as the lyrics mean so much to me".
Gwen Stefani has released new single 'Slow Clap'.
Mike Shinoda has released the video for his recent single 'Happy Endings', featuring Upsahl and Iann Dior.
Pussy Riot have released the video for 'Panic Attack', the title track of their new EP, out today.
Kele Okereke has released new solo single 'The Heart Of The Wave'. The song, he says "started quite absent mindedly. During lockdown, I was spending a lot of time playing electric guitar in my room and I found on some of the bleakest days making the swirling guitar loops calmed me down. It was almost like a kind of therapy for me".
Everything Everything have released new single 'Supernormal'. "[It's] about supernormal stimuli; highly exaggerated triggers that create a stronger reaction in us than evolution ever intended", says vocalist Jonathan Higgs. "Our animal brains can't help but reach for the bigger, brighter, tastier, sexier, bloodier, more intense experiences. I wanted to create an extremely overwhelming experience in this song and video, it's about being a slave to our instincts no matter how extreme they become".
GIGS & TOURS
The Chemical Brothers have been announced as Friday night headliners of this year's Creamfields festival. The event will take place on 26-29 Aug. "Imagine dancing in a field with 70,000 of your best friends", say the duo. "We can't wait! Hold tight Creamfields 2021".
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
BTS dominate IFPI's 2020 physical and download sales chart
Well, given that this top ten combines just physical and download album sales, it does imply we are now pretty much at the bottom of the barrel. Whatever, BTS have won! They are the winners! They've topped three out of four of these lists of 2020 global recorded music successes. They are officially the kings of the world, and we all now have to do what they say.
This list is particularly significant for the South Korean group, as they have not just a measly two entries - like they did in the combined streams and sales list - but all three of the albums they put out last year appear. They take the number one position with 'Map Of The Soul: 7'; number two with 'Be'; and number eight with 'Map Of The Soul: 7 - The Journey' - the Japanese language compilation featuring reworks of various tracks from recent albums and some new songs.
As well as BTS, there is one other South Korean artist in the top ten - that being Blackpink. And while the other lists the IFPI have put out recently have been dominated by North American acts, on this one it's Japanese artists who win out.
Now, I know that some people in the Japanese music industry get a bit annoyed when we all talk about the country still being a CD market and a physical media-loving nation. And, fair enough, particularly in independent music, digital services have now been fully embraced. And, OK, this list does include download sales too.
But three of the acts on this chart are Japanese, while another album is sung in Japanese. And maybe, just maybe, that's mainly because a top ten including CD sales is going to skew towards releases from or targeted at a CD market and a physical media-loving nation like Japan. And don't blame me for saying so. I didn't make this list.
So, Kenshi Yonezu is the top artist who isn't BTS with his album 'Stray Sheep'. Boyband Arashi - who topped the 2019 list with a career-spanning best of compilation - come in at number nine with the final studio album they put out before going on indefinite hiatus at the end of last year, 'This Is Arashi'. And then in tenth place are genre-jumping band King Gnu, with their latest album 'Ceremony'.
There are a couple of those pesky North Americans on the list too, though - Taylor Swift with 'Folklore' at four and Justin Bieber with 'Changes' at seven. And then representing Australia, AC/DC's 'Power Up' album comes in a six.
Anyway, while they may not have faired so well with their singles, this all shows how BTS still became the most successful recording artists of 2020. The key, all you young hopefuls reading, is to release three albums in one year. And also be incredibly popular with millions of super loyal fans across the whole world. Including in markets where people still buy CDs.
Later this month we get to find out just how much money was made by the global record industry last year. The Global Music Report from global trade body IFPI - which all these artist lists have been pre-empting - is out on 23 Mar.
Now, here's the top ten best-selling albums of 2020 (combined physical and digital sales in brackets):