THURSDAY 20 MAY 2021 COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM
TODAY'S TOP STORY: Findings from the UK government's Events Research Programme have increased optimism that full capacity concerts and shows will be able to return next month, as currently planned. Those findings suggest that attending a live entertainment event without face masks and social distancing is as COVID-safe as going to a restaurant or shopping centre, although there are various measures that can be employed to further reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted... [READ MORE]

TOP STORIES Initial results from UK government's Events Research Programme increases optimism for full capacity shows next month
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LABELS & PUBLISHERS Sony confirms AWAL acquisition completed, acknowledges regulator investigation in the UK
PPL confirms 2020 collections were down 17%
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DIGITAL & D2F SERVICES Artist Rights Alliance calls Spotify's Discovery Mode "exploitative and unfair"
Spotify to host livesteams from The Black Keys, Rag N Bone Man, Bleachers, Leon Bridges and Girl In Red

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ARTIST NEWS A$AP Rocky draughts in Rihanna and Morrissey to help on new album
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ONE LINERS Burna Boy, St Vincent, Marina, more
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AND FINALLY... Iceland withdraw from live Eurovision shows, PRS announces 2020's most play UK entries
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Initial results from UK government's Events Research Programme increases optimism for full capacity shows next month
Findings from the UK government's Events Research Programme have increased optimism that full capacity concerts and shows will be able to return next month, as currently planned. Those findings suggest that attending a live entertainment event without face masks and social distancing is as COVID-safe as going to a restaurant or shopping centre, although there are various measures that can be employed to further reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted.

The government has partnered on a number of sporting, music and other events in recent weeks in order to test how to safely stage larger capacity shows without risking another surge in COVID cases. That has included a club night and mini-festival in Liverpool, and last week's BRIT Awards in London.

According to The Times, researchers have mainly concluded that such events can be held safely as COVID restrictions lift, especially if certain extra safety measures are employed.

Those extra safety measures include checking audience members have been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID, as well as increasing ventilation in venues and better managing the flow of people to reduce mixing.

The newspaper reports: "Preliminary data from the Events Research Programme is understood to have found that with screening, improved ventilation and other mitigating factors the risk of virus transmission can be significantly reduced, reducing fears that sports matches and concerts could cause big outbreaks".

Those findings increase the chances of the current plan for lifting COVID restrictions in England being achieved - so that full capacity shows are possible again from 21 Jun - despite the new Indian variant of the virus causing new concern in recent days.

That said, The Times adds, with researchers identifying practices that can make events even safer, their report will "likely strengthen the case for requiring 'COVID-status certification' for events to prove that those attending are at lower risk of being infectious".

The results from the research programme should be shared with ministers in the coming days. One government source told The Times: "We are still waiting for the final bits of data but the results so far have been very encouraging. It will help make the case that these large events are not inherently more risky than other parts of the hospitality sector. It shows that there are things that you can do to make these settings as safe as other daily activities. It is true that they are not going to be 100% safe but you can lower the risk to a reasonable level".

Many in the live sector have argued at various points over the last year - especially when venues have been subject to significantly more restrictions than workplaces, schools, colleges and the high street - that there is no evidence that there is a higher risk of COVID transmission at entertainment events, and - in fact - if anything the risks are lower.

Having official research to back that up is good news for a live industry eager to get properly back to business next month. Although it will be interesting to see what additional measures event organisers will have to implement based on this research and the impact of those requirements. And also how long such extra measures will be required as the vaccine roll out continues.

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Sony confirms AWAL acquisition completed, acknowledges regulator investigation in the UK
Sony Music yesterday confirmed that it has now completed its acquisition of Kobalt's label services and neighbouring rights business, but also acknowledged that the deal is still subject to a regulator investigation in the UK.

Sony announced that it was buying Kobalt's AWAL division and neighbouring rights agency in February, in a move that sees the major further expand the distribution and services side of its business.

In a short statement yesterday, Sony said: "AWAL and Neighbouring Rights will become a new division within SME's suite of independent artist and label services offerings and will be enhanced by the technology and network of SME’s independent music distribution company The Orchard". It added that AWAL's existing CEO Lonny Olinick will continue to head up the division.

Alongside that statement, the major added: "Prior to the closing of the acquisition, the UK Competition And Markets Authority initiated a review of the transaction. SME continues to work closely with the CMA to secure a positive outcome later this year".

The UK competition regulator announced it was investigating the Sony/AWAL deal on Tuesday, also confirming that said deal had already been completed. Specifics of that investigation, including a timeline, are yet to be confirmed.

However, Sony's continued growth in the distribution and labels services domain over recent years, often through acquisition, has previously caused some concern in the independent music sector. The pan-European trade group for the indie community, IMPALA, yesterday welcomed the CMA investigation and said "we expect [it] to cover both the physical and also digital markets, and the impact on competitors, digital services, artists and fans, who will all lose out".

Meanwhile, the boss of the UK's Association Of Independent Music, Paul Pacifico, also commented on the CMA investigation yesterday, telling reporters: "Over the last several years we have seen an incremental shift towards a music market in which a few dominant players have disproportionate influence. Each increment counts, and it is crucial to the future health of the market to ensure that all players can take part on a meritocratic basis".

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PPL confirms 2020 collections were down 17%
UK record industry collecting society PPL has confirmed that its collections in 2020 were down 17% year-on-year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The society collects royalties on behalf of labels and artists whenever recorded music is broadcast or played in a public space in the UK, both of which are music industry revenue streams hit by COVID.

With commercial radio, the record industry generally receives a cut of each radio station's ad revenues, and - although radio listening actually went up as the first COVID lockdowns went into force last year - advertising income dipped. Meanwhile many of the pubs, clubs, bars, cafes, shops, gyms and such like that play recorded music were closed at various points last year.

PPL's broadcasting and webcasting income was down 3.8% last year because of the slip in radio ad revenues, though royalties from the TV sector actually increased, mitigating the overall decline. But public performance income was down a massive 42.2%.

The decline in royalty collections at PPL last year mirrors the declines previously reported by the UK's song rights society PRS, where total collections for 2020 were 19.7% lower than 2019.

Although, the broadcast and performance royalties collected by PRS make up a much bigger portion of total revenues for music publishers and songwriters, meaning the PRS declines will hit that side of business harder than the PPL declines will the record industry. Pre-pandemic, PPL monies only accounted for 17.2% of the UK record industry's total revenues. And streaming is by far the biggest revenue stream for the recorded music business today, and that continued to grow in 2020.

That said, broadcast and performance income has also been a growth revenue stream for the record industry for some time now, and artists and labels will be hoping that that growth trend will resume once the pandemic is over. That growth is partly the result of more businesses making use of music, but also because societies like PPL have got better at collecting the money, especially on a global basis - PPL's international collections in 2020 were only down 0.9%.

The extent of the growth in recent years is illustrated by the fact that - despite the COVID-caused 17% dip in 2020 - the £225.7 million collected by PPL last year was still the society's third highest annual collections sum.

Commenting on the 2020 stats, PPL CEO Peter Leathem says: "The past year was one of the most challenging in PPL's history with COVID-19 having a significant impact on our income. Despite these difficulties, I am proud of how the company rallied to support performers and recording rightsholders, as well as the wider music industry".

Looking ahead, he adds that - as COVID-19 restrictions lift - domestic revenues should start to recover, though he cautioned that it will take a little time to return to 2019 levels. And with international income, the speed of recovery will depend on how quickly COVID restrictions lift in other countries, and also how long monies take to move through the global network of societies.

However, he continues, "over the longer term, we remain very positive about this sector's growth prospects and the income it will create for our members. Between 2009 and 2019, PPL's annual revenue more than doubled, from £129.6 million to £271.8 million, and we are confident the sector will continue to grow strongly once we have moved beyond the impact of COVID-19".

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Artist Rights Alliance calls Spotify's Discovery Mode "exploitative and unfair"
The Artist Rights Alliance in the US has taken aim at Spotify's Discovery Mode service via an op-ed piece in Rolling Stone. That service, the group says, is basically a "pay-for-play scheme", a "cynical" move on the streaming service's part that is "exploitative and unfair".

Spotify announced last year that it was piloting Discovery Mode, a new system via which artists and labels can inform the streaming platform's algorithm that powers its personalised playlists and auto-play functionality. That means artists and labels can encourage the algorithm to prioritise tracks that they are focusing on at the moment or which are particularly timely.

With the algorithm ever more important in terms of discovery and recommendations on Spotify, being able to influence it in some way is a good move. However, Spotify Discovery is basically a paid-for service, in that if artists and labels use it, they have to accept a lower royalty payment on any streams that the algorithm then initiates.

Some digital marketeers reckon that that's a decent deal, given how valuable influencing the algorithm could be. And, in some ways, it's no different that offering a retailer a discount on the wholesale price of a disc in return for having a release placed in a premium spot in a record shop, as routinely happened back in the CD era.

Spotify itself also likes to point out that artists involved in the Discovery Mode pilot have seen a royalty spike - despite the per-stream rate going down - because of all the extra plays they enjoy.

However, there have have been many critics of the pilot, who equate it to payola, the controversial and often illegal practice of paying radio stations to playlist your music. Some also argue that - while artists involved in the pilot may have seen a benefit - if all artists and labels start using the service, the effectiveness of the scheme will reduce, meaning everyone is just getting paid less.

In its op-ed piece, the ARA notes how, especially for newer artists, the COVID pandemic has cut off a key marketing platform via which to build a fanbase, ie getting out and playing live as often as possible. "With that path closed for now", it writes, "artists and their label partners are increasingly dependent on Spotify, the undisputed king of music streaming, and its black box algorithms".

"That's why Spotify's cynical decision to use this moment to launch a new pay-for-play scheme pressuring vulnerable artists and smaller labels to accept lower royalties in exchange for a boost on the company's algorithms is so exploitative and unfair", it goes on. "Artists must unite to condemn this thinly disguised royalty cut, which apparently has just been released in 'beta' mode and is soon expected to enter the market in full force".

Once the Discovery Mode service is properly rolled out to all artists and labels, the ARA adds, "it's likely to set in motion a race to the bottom in which many active artists feel compelled to pay up rather than risk being left behind in the battle for exposure. The unhappy result of this race? Artists and their labels end up receiving lower royalties without gaining any meaningful additional exposure at all, because if everyone is 'boosted', nobody is. If every artist, made even more vulnerable by the lack of touring income during the pandemic, pays up, there just won't be any relative gain at all".

"Spotify’s money grab would be unacceptable at any time", it then states, "but it's especially hard to swallow in the midst of a global pandemic that has cut off artist income streams while driving massive subscriber and revenue growth for the platform".

Instead of charging artists and labels to influence the algorithm, the ARA concludes, Spotify should be much more transparent about how the music industry can organically influence the big old recommendations machine.

"If Spotify genuinely wants to partner with artists and labels on playlists, priorities, and listener recommendations", the ARA writes, "it should start by sharing basic information about the algorithms and data powering those processes. Transparency would allow creators to make informed choices and pursue commercial success on the platform in a straightforward way, rather than the current game of digital blind man's bluff creators are forced to play".

The ARA is not the first music industry group to hit out at Discovery Mode. Although it didn't specifically mention the Spotify service, the pan-European trade body for the indie community, IMPALA, did recently state in its ten point plan for making streaming work: "We call on the entire music sector to stand with IMPALA to reject any proposals by services that reduce royalties for plays, or privileged treatment, in algorithms or other features. This is payola, and has no legitimate place in improving viability and opportunity for creators".

You can read the full ARA op-ed piece here

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Spotify to host livesteams from The Black Keys, Rag N Bone Man, Bleachers, Leon Bridges and Girl In Red
Spotify has announced that it will host a series of weekly ticketed livestreamed performances, starting later this month. Because it's all about the livestreams now, isn't it? Technically the shows are pre-records, but they will presented as live, so everyone tunes in at the same time - well, there are various times you can choose to tune in at depending on where you live.

Taking part across the series will be The Black Keys, Rag N Bone Man, Bleachers, Leon Bridges and Girl In Red. Presented in partnership with livestreaming company Driift, the shows will take place in a range of venues. The Black Keys, for example, will play in The Blue Front Café in Mississippi, while Jack Antonoff's Bleachers will come to you from the back of a bus.

"We have always been a band that loves to play live in venues of all shapes and sizes", say The Black Keys. "The past year has been tough for musicians and fans alike, so we wanted to find a way to share this live performance of songs from our new [album], 'Delta Kream', from a place we love, the Blue Front Café, the oldest active juke joint in America. We're excited to be a part of this new initiative with Spotify that will give fans a great way to connect with their favourite artists".

The Black Keys will kick off the series on 27 May. Tickets for all five shows are available here.

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Approved: Someone
Tessa Rose Jackson - who performs as Someone - spent her lockdown, like many musicians over the last year, recording music alone. Over time, these psychedelic pop songs, often reflecting on life in isolation, formed into her new album 'Shapeshifter', which is set for release later this year.

The follow-up to last year's 'Orbit II', which amalgamated two EPs with a handful of new tracks, 'Shapeshifter' benefits greatly from being made in one time and setting. It's a cohesive work, where her songs (and a dreamy cover of Bob Dylan's 'Blowin In The Wind') flow together.

Each song has a basis in Jackson's guitar and voice, with overdubbed instruments like piano and strings bringing more depth to the individual tracks themselves, but also helping to draw together the album as a whole.

First single, 'Strange World', captures the overall sound and theme of the record perfectly. Beginning life as a simple bass melody, it gradually grew into the fully formed song that arrives now.

"I couldn't stop playing it and in my mind the image started to form of a vast outstretched beach", she explains of the track. "Deserted, but for one person. This is her place; this is where she keeps returning to. But it's not real. And so the story started to take shape. The song is about stepping back into an old, fond memory. And though it welcomes you in every time, the more you revisit it, the more you begin to realise how much things have changed. It becomes a reminder that nothing is constant, not even you".

Watch the video for 'Strange World' here.

Stay up to date with all of the artists featured in the CMU Approved column by subscribing to our Spotify playlist.
 

A$AP Rocky draughts in Rihanna and Morrissey to help on new album
A$AP Rocky has announced that he has worked with both Rihanna and Morrissey on his new album, 'All Smiles'. The dream team.

In the case of Rihanna, she seems to have taken on more of an executive producer roll, commenting on tracks rather than contributing herself. A$AP Rocky is at something an advantage when it comes to securing this particular collaborator, given that they are currently dating.

On Rihanna's contribution and influence on his new material, he tells GQ: "I think it's important to have somebody that you can bounce those creative juices and ideas off of. It's just a different point of view".

Rocky isn't dating Morrissey, he's just a big fan. And, he says, he's been working with the former Smith vocalist for the last year. What has Morrissey been doing though? Well, a bit of everything, it seems. "Anything you need him to do, he [will] show up and do [it]", says the rapper.

This apparently includes writing, producing and singing on the record. And maybe even ensuring a bit of a backlash in the media when it's released in the UK.

All of this, says the rapper, has resulted on a "way more mature" body of work, compared to his previous releases. Currently having the final touches put on it, a release date for 'All Smiles' is yet to be announced. The album will be A$AP Rocky's first since 2018's 'Testing'.

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DEALS

Kobalt Neighbouring Rights has signed Burna Boy to a worldwide deal. "My music is global and I have toured the globe", he says. "I need my performance royalties collection to be on point, tidy, transparent, quick, not sure anyone does it better than KNR".

Muna have signed to Phoebe Bridgers' Saddest Factory Records. "We look forward to this lifelong partnership and Phoebe raising our first born children, as was included in the contract", say the band. Bridgers adds: "I thought they were a boy band".

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APPOINTMENTS

Voting for the PRS Members' Council took place at the UK collecting society's AGM yesterday. Fiona Bevan, Julian Nott and Pete Woodroffe have been appointed as Writer Council Members. BMG's Janet Anderson becomes Designated Publisher Council Member. Erica Ingham joins as an Independent Non-Executive Council Member, alongside Stephen Davidson who was re-confirmed in that post. And Simon Platz was re-appointed as a Publisher Council Member

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RELEASES

Carrie Brownstein and St Vincent have released the trailer for their film 'Nowhere Inn', which was premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. It will go on general release on 17 Sep.

Marina has released the title track of her upcoming new album 'Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land'. That album is out on 11 Jun - and on 13 Jun she will play a livestreamed launch show. Tickets for that here.

Garbage have released new single 'Wolves'. Their new album, 'No Gods No Masters', is out on 11 Jun.

Amy Macdonald has released new single 'Bridges'.

Redhino has released new single 'Bullet', featuring San Soucis.

Wu-Lu have released new single 'Being Me'.

Eliza Shaddad has released new single 'Now You're Alone'. She's also announced UK tour dates in November.

Vexed have released new single 'Fake'.

Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.

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Iceland withdraw from live Eurovision shows, PRS announces 2020's most play UK entries
Last year's presumed Eurovision winners Daði og Gagnamagnið from Iceland have been ruled out of performing live at this year's competition, after a member of the band tested positive for COVID-19.

The band had already been quarantined after a member of their team tested positive, but had been given the all clear on Tuesday to join Wednesday's rehearsal and today's semi-final. However, yesterday vocalist Daði Freyr tweeted: "A member of Gagnamagnið got a positive test result this morning. Unfortunately this probably means that we will not take part in the rehearsal today or live show tomorrow and a recording from our second rehearsal will be used instead".

Confirming that this development did indeed rule the band out of the rehearsals and live shows, Eurovision organisers later said in a statement: "In close collaboration with the European Broadcasting Union and the host broadcaster, Daði og Gagnamagnið have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from performing in this year's live Eurovision song contest shows. They only want to perform together as a group. Their song will remain in the competition and we will broadcast their rehearsal performance, recorded on the stage on 13 May".

Earlier this year, it was announced that plans for a live Eurovision 2021 show would go ahead, but with various contingencies in place just in case some or all of the performers were not be able to take part live. This mainly involved pre-recording performances that could be used in the semi-finals and grand final in place of a live performance on the night.

Until now, the only act who has had to use a pre-recorded performance was Australia's Montaigne with her song 'Technicolour'. In her case, that was because she had been unable to travel to host city Rotterdam due to pandemic travel restrictions, perhaps unsurprisingly, her being a Eurovision contender from a somewhat un-European country.

Australia was one of six contenders to be eliminated in the first semi-final, with Montaigne saying later that she had been at a "severe disadvantage" due to having to use a pre-record. It is the first time the country has not qualified since it began taking part in 2015.

"I sang live, in a pre-recorded video, with less than a month of rehearsal and three months less preparation to practice than everyone else, in a much smaller space without the access to resources like a massive LED screen and pyrotechnics", she explained on Twitter.

For Daði og Gagnamagnið, at least their performance will be more recent and also on the actual Eurovision stage, which puts them closer to a level playing field with the other acts. There is also a lot of goodwill towards them, thanks to the popularity of their song 'Thinking About Things', which they would have performed at Eurovision 2020 had it not been cancelled.

This year's song 'Ten Years' is also popular, and will perhaps gain a sympathy vote boost, given that the band came so close to actually taking part in the live shows. In another tweet, Freyr added: "We have all been extremely careful the whole trip so this [positive COVID test] comes as a huge surprise. We are very happy with the performance and super excited for you all to see it!"

Is that enough Eurovision news now?

No, of course not! There's a chart to be had. Who doesn't love a chart? After BBC Radio 2 revealed the UK's (supposed) favourite Eurovision songs earlier this week, collecting society PRS For Music has now revealed the former British entries that enjoyed the most airplay in the UK last year.

And the number one might not be what you expect. Unless you're expecting it to be Gina G's 'Ooh Aah... Just A Little Bit'. Because that's what it is. Apparently it received the equivalent of five and a half days of continuous TV and radio airplay last year. Who'd have thought it possible? Amazingly, that means that the UK's 2020 entry - 'My Last Breath' by James Newman - which you might have guessed was the only Eurovision song to get significant airplay list year, is down at number two.

Here's the full top 20 with the year that each song was performed at Eurovision...

  1. Gina G - Ooh Aah... Just a Little Bit (1996)
  2. James Newman - My Last Breath (2020)
  3. Bucks Fizz - Making Your Mind Up (1981)
  4. Brotherhood Of Man - Save Your Kisses For Me (1976)
  5. Katrina And The Waves - Love Shine A Light (1997)
  6. The New Seekers - Beg, Steal Or Borrow (1972)
  7. Cliff Richard - Congratulations (1968)
  8. Love City Groove - Love City Groove (1995)
  9. Sandie Shaw Puppet On A String (1967)
  10. Lulu - Boom Bang-a-Bang (1969)
  11. Cliff Richard - Power To All Our Friends (1973)
  12. Bardo - One Step Further (1982)
  13. Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran - Rock Bottom (1977)
  14. Scooch - Flying The Flag (For You) (2007)
  15. Precious - Say It Again (1999)
  16. The Allisons - Are You Sure? (1961)
  17. Michael Rice - Bigger than Us (2019)
  18. Mary Hopkin - Knock, Knock Who's There? (1970)
  19. Imaani - Where Are You? (1998)
  20. SuRie - Storm (2018)

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ANDY MALT | Editor
Andy heads up the team, overseeing the CMU Daily, website and Setlist podcast, managing social channels, reporting on artist and business stories, and writing the CMU Approved column.
andy@unlimitedmedia.co.uk (except press releases, see below)
   
CHRIS COOKE | Co-Founder & MD
Chris provides music business coverage, writing key business news and CMU Trends. He also leads the CMU Insights consultancy unit and the CMU:DIY future talent programme, as well as heading up CMU publisher 3CM UnLimited.
chris@unlimitedmedia.co.uk (except press releases, see below)
   
SAM TAYLOR | Commercial Manager
Sam oversees the commercial side of the CMU media, leading on sales and sponsorship, and also heads up business development at CMU Insights and CMU:DIY.
sam@unlimitedmedia.co.uk or call 020 7099 9060
   
CARO MOSES | Co-Publisher
Caro helps oversee the CMU media as a Director of 3CM UnLimited, as well as heading up the company's other two titles ThisWeek London and ThreeWeeks Edinburgh, and supporting other parts of the business.
caro@unlimitedmedia.co.uk
 
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