TODAY'S TOP STORY: Lawyers representing the families of those who died at last month's Astroworld festival have hit out at an interview given by Travis Scott late last week, with one dubbing it "an hour-long exercise in classic gaslighting"... [READ MORE]

TOP STORIES Travis Scott's first interview since Astroworld tragedy criticised by lawyers representing the victims
LEGAL Lewis Black asks for his comedy to be removed from Spotify as joke copyright dispute continues
LIVE BUSINESS Spotlight put on the merch commissions charge by venues
MANAGEMENT & FUNDING MMF publishes report on songwriter and producer managers
ARTIST NEWS Mike Nesmith dies
Kanye West publicist attempted to get official to falsely confess to election fraud

AND FINALLY... Megan Thee Stallion graduates with degree in Health Administration
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Travis Scott's first interview since Astroworld tragedy criticised by lawyers representing the victims
Lawyers representing the families of those who died at last month's Astroworld festival have hit out at an interview given by Travis Scott late last week, with one dubbing it "an hour-long exercise in classic gaslighting".

Ten people died and hundreds more were injured after a crowd surge occurred during Scott's headline set at the festival he founded. A criminal investigation is underway into what caused the tragedy, while the rapper and the festival's promoters Live Nation and Scoremore are facing hundreds of lawsuits in relation to the incident.

Scott's first interview about the tragedy appeared on Charlamagne Tha God's YouTube channel last week. In it, he basically echoed comments previously made by his lawyer, stressing that he was not aware of what was happening on the ground as he performed his Astroworld set, with the lights, pyros and in-ear monitors employed during the show making it impossible for him to see or hear anything happening off-stage.

He added that he only became aware of what had happened after he had finished his performance, shortly before a press conference. "I didn't know the exact details until minutes before the press conference", he said. "And even at that moment you're like, 'Wait, what?' People pass out, things happen at concerts, but something like that..."

Charlamagne noted how some Astroworld attendees have said they could hear groups of people shouting for help whenever Scott paused between songs. But, the rapper said, he never heard those calls for help. "Anytime you can hear something like that, you want to stop the show", he added. "You want to make sure fans get the proper attention they need".

He stressed that he did actually stop his Astroworld performance on a couple of occasions when he did become aware of specific incidents. However, he went on, as an artist you have to rely on a show's promoters when it comes to identifying issues in the crowd. "You can only help what you can see and whatever you're told', he said, "whenever they tell you to stop, you stop".

The interview also touched on claims that Scott has a history of encouraging reckless behaviour - or "raging" - at his shows, which some have argued made a tragedy like that which occurred last month much more likely to happen.

"That's something I've been working on for a while, just creating these experiences and trying to show these experiences are happening in a safe environment", he went on. "Us as artists, we trust professionals for when things happen, that people can leave safely".

Asked by Charlamagne why he had agreed to do the interview, Scott said that he just needed "a way to communicate" following last month's events. However, lawyers working for the families of those who died at the festival have claimed that the YouTube conversation was more about shirking the blame and protecting the rapper's brand.

Attorney James Lassiter told reporters that the interview was "an hour-long exercise in classic gaslighting" of victims, their families and the community. He went on: "Gaslighting is a form of manipulation seen in abusive relationships where it’s an attempt to manipulate the facts so that the victims begin to question their own experiences of reality. That's what was going on there".

Noting Scott's reputation for encouraging "raging", Lassiter added: "For him to act surprised that people got hurt and even killed at his show is perplexing. It won't work on a Harris County jury who hears all the facts, because the fact is Travis Scott has an abusive relationship with his fans and he's used that to build his fame and fortune, risking people's lives and their livelihood".

Another lawyer representing Astroworld victims, Tony Buzbee, was similarly disparaging about the interview. "We're taught as kids, when you make a mistake, the best thing you can do is admit it and take responsibility", he told ABC 13. "Travis Scott has not done that. [He] made no effort to. In fact, in [50 plus] minutes, he didn't even say 'I'm sorry'. Every time he tries to shift blame, every time he makes excuses, he just adds to the pain of the families that have lost loved ones".

Scott's legal team have begun formally responding to the flood of lawsuits filed in relation to the festival, mainly seeking to get their client removed as a defendant, on the basis crowd safety at the event was not his responsibility.

In related news, another of Scott's brand partners has paused their collaboration with the star in the wake of the Astroworld tragedy. The Cacti hard seltzer drink that the rapper launched in partnership with Anheuser-Busch earlier this year has been discontinued.

A spokesperson for Scott said the partnership was due to end on 30 Nov anyway, and that he had decided not to continue the collaboration.

Noting the YouTube conversation, the spokesperson said: "Travis was clear in his interview that he is not focused on business right now and his priority is helping his community and fans heal. Cacti asked AB Inbev to inform their wholesalers there will not be product at this time".

Scott has also reportedly been removed from the line-up for next year's Coachella festival, though sources say that wasn't at the rapper's request. In fact, according to insiders who spoke to Variety, Scott was allegedly interested in using the festival appearance as his first on-stage performance following the Astroworld tragedy.

However, reports say, Coachella's promoter - AEG's Goldenvoice - was seemingly unhappy with the idea of Scott headlining its 2022 edition, its first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Lewis Black asks for his comedy to be removed from Spotify as joke copyright dispute continues
The pressure continues to build on Spotify over the royalties it pays - or doesn't - to comedians whose performances are on the streaming platform. Now comedian Lewis Black has asked that all his material be removed from the service until an ongoing royalty dispute with the wider comedy community is settled.

This all relates to what royalties need to be paid whenever content is streamed on a platform like Spotify. With music, everyone agrees that when a track streams, two sets of copyright are being exploited, so two licences are required, and two royalties should be paid. This is because there is a copyright in the recording and another distinct copyright in the accompanying song.

The music industry, of course, has long managed recording rights and song rights separately, so services like Spotify have two sets of licensing deals. They license recordings from, and pay recording royalties to, the record industry. And they license songs from, and pay song royalties to, the music publishing sector and its collecting societies.

But what about comedy? Spotify has licensing deals with the comedy labels and distributors that provide recordings of comedy performances. But - as with music - within the recording there is likely another copyright, in the words contained in the routine. Under most copyright systems that would probably be considered a 'literary work' in copyright terms.

The key question is this: is Spotify getting permission to exploit the literary work from the label or distributor that provides the recording? And if not, why hasn't the streaming service secured a separate licence to cover that copyright?

The answer to that latter question is possibly because the comedy industry has not traditionally had licensing organisations specifically representing the copyright in comedy routines, as opposed to the copyright in recordings of those routines. But now, in the US at least, it does, with organisations like Spoken Giants and Word Collections having launched to represent comedians and spoken word performers in this particular copyright domain.

Last month it emerged that Spotify had removed a stack of comedy content off its service, seemingly after Spoken Giants got in touch telling the streaming firm that it hadn't properly licensed all the rights contained in those comedy recordings.

The rights agency insists it didn't request for any content be removed - and, indeed, it has criticised the move - but Spotify argues that, now a rights issue had been raised, it's important to address that issue before the disputed content is streamed again.

Spotify said in a statement: "Spotify has paid significant amounts of money for the content in question, and would love to continue to do so. However, given that Spoken Giants is disputing what rights various licensors have, it’s imperative that the labels that distribute this content, Spotify and Spoken Giants come together to resolve this issue to ensure this content remains available to fans around the globe".

Some of Black's content was affected by the takedown, but not all of it, according to Time. However, the comedian has told the news magazine that while his fellow comics are being negatively impacted by the dispute, he'd rather not be streaming on Spotify at all.

"I in no way represent all of the comedians on Spotify, but I do believe that all of them should be paid for the writing that they have done and not just for the performance of what they wrote", the comedian said in a statement. "It has taken a long time for comedy to be recognised as an artform. Therefore, Spotify should recognise that a joke is as powerful as a lyric of a song, which they do pay for".

"Many comics have recently been taken off Spotify for no reason at all and it truly hurts their exposure and income", he added. "Since I haven't been taken off, I would like to be, as it is wrong that I am on the platform and so many aren't. I need neither the money nor the exposure, but please put all of the comedians back on your platform and let's sit down and find a way to pay us what we are owed for the words that make you laugh. Yes, a joke is intellectual property".

It now remains to be seen how quickly the big joke copyright spat can be solved.


Spotlight put on the merch commissions charge by venues
While the debate continues about how the good old digital pie is split between different stakeholders in the music industry, the spotlight fell on how another artist revenue stream is shared out last week, after Tim Burgess of The Charlatans commented on the commissions some venues charge on merch sales that take place at shows.

In a tweet, Burgess wrote: "Big respect to those venues that don't take a percentage of a band's merch sales. This isn't about The Charlatans, it's about those bands who need merch income to survive. Some places take 25% - a quarter of the full selling price. Vinyl doesn't even have that mark up to begin with".

It's generally larger venues that expect to charge a commission on merchandise sales that take place on their premises alongside an artist's gig. Many of those venues actually enter into deals with merchandising companies, and its those third parties which then expect a cut of each artist's merch money.

Merch commissions of this kind have been a bugbear for touring artists for years, especially those acts who are big enough to be playing the venues where such commissions are common, but for whom merch income is still crucial for ensuring that a tour is profitable.

Some commission-charging venues do provide a person to run the merch stall, partly to justify the commission, and partly so they are in control of any sales, allowing them to accurately calculate their cut. But many artists argue that they'd rather have one of their own team oversee the merch anyway, because someone connected to the artist can usually shift more product, and facilitate the all important up-sells, where you persuade the fan to buy more than they originally intended.

Burgess also noted some of these technicalities in his tweet, continuing: "To be perfectly clear about this, often it's a completely separate 'concession' company that the venue deals with as part of a contract. A kid who has never heard of the band sells our stuff, while our merch person steps aside for the night - the whole system needs addressing".

Once Burgess had kickstarted the debate, other artists likewise aired their grievance about venues charging merch commissions, with former Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook proving particularly vocal on the matter.

He wrote: "I have been arguing with venues (mainly larger ones) about this for years. Charging the band 25% commission on the gross of anything sold makes having merchandise for most bands a total vanity project. Creating the artwork alone can cost £500 to £700, then the printing and transport of most two colour t-shirts normally costs between £6-£8 plus VAT. Another thing that these venues refuse to do is to take the VAT off the gross before they take a commission, which is actually illegal because the VAT belongs to the government".

"If we were to sell our shirts for £20 minus VAT, so £16, the venue is taking £5 per shirt, after the average costs of say £6 and the band are making £5 at most", he went on. "Out of that £5 we then have to pay the seller and pay for transport, and some bands may also have to pay their management a percentage of that profit too. I think it goes without saying that if the commission came off the net profit rather than the gross it would be much fairer".

"Whilst obviously the band get a fee for playing", he added, "the venue makes a profit on the bar, the cloakroom and sometimes even the car park! Their faces when you ask for a cut of any of that is priceless!"

"This is a big problem within our industry", he continued. "But while it inexplicably remains common practice, in my view it should be sorted out between the promoter and the venue before the band even get there. I have lost count of how many great gigs have been ruined by the same post-show argument over a few hundred quid when the show has actually turned over hundreds of thousands of pounds, which is of course far more than we have been getting paid".

Commending Burgess for raising the issue, Hook concluded: "You have my full support and let's hope we can change things for the good of all artists".


MMF publishes report on songwriter and producer managers
The UK's Music Managers Forum has published a new edition of its 'Managing Expectations' report, focussing on managers who represent songwriters, composers and producers.

Coming at a time when there is increased attention on this strand of the industry, the MMF's research shows that an increasing number of its members manage at least one full-time songwriter or producer, ie writers or producers who are not also performers.

However, it says, there is little understanding within the wider music business of how managers who work with more behind the scenes artists operate. The report aims to provide the necessary insight, and also calls on all labels and publishers to sign up to the government's Prompt Payment Code.

The report concludes with four recommendations:

• For the MMF to further support the diversification of skills development for songwriter / producer management, and increase advocacy for their contribution.

• For industry partners - especially labels and publishers - to sign up to the UK government’s Prompt Payment Code, which aims to support small businesses and freelancers by ensuring they get paid on time for their work.

• For wider support of streaming market reforms - including an overhaul of the way unallocated royalties, aka the streaming black box, are distributed, and more effort to dismantle the cumbersome 'royalty chains' that diminish songwriter and producer payments.

• To work with other members of the Council Of Music Makers to promote greater business sustainability, especially around issues of wealth management, financial planning and pensions.

"After publishing our landmark 'Managing Expectations' report in 2019, the MMF felt the work of specialist writer and producer managers was deserving of some specific and additional focus", says MMF chief exec Annabella Coldrick. "These individuals are absolutely crucial to the smooth running of the streaming economy, and yet there's a real lack of understanding about what they actually do".

"We hope this report helps demystify their role, and also raise important recommendations to better sustain and support their businesses", she goes on. "At the very least, we'd love every UK label and publisher to sign up to the government's Prompt Payment Code and ensure they're paid on time!"

The report can be downloaded for free here and will be discussed in detail during a free online event on 17 Jan.


On The CMU Stereo 2021
Well, that’s another year all but over. And about time too. As years go, 2021 has been yet another challenging one. One thing that can be said for 2021, though, is that it gave us a heck of a lot of good music. Just so much, as musicians started releasing all of the music they’d been working on during lockdown and all the music they’d held back because of lockdown.

Last week we began rounding up our 40 favourite tracks of the last year, kicking off with ten each from winter and spring. On Tuesday and Thursday this week we will reveal the second half of the playlist, continuing the mix of mainstream and underground, with tracks you already love and plenty you might have missed.

Catch up with the playlist so far here.


Mike Nesmith dies
The Monkees' Mike Nesmith has died, aged 78.

"With infinite love we announce that Michael Nesmith has passed away this morning in his home, surrounded by family, peacefully and of natural causes", said his family in a statement. "We ask that you respect our privacy at this time and we thank you for the love and light that all of you have shown him and us".

Originally a folk musician in LA, Nesmith auditioned for a new sitcom about a rock band in 1965, becoming the guitarist of The Monkees, alongside drummer Mickey Dolenz, singer Davy Jones and bassist Peter Tork. The group shot to fame, having hits with songs like 'I'm A Believer' and 'Steppin Stone'.

Despite their success, the fact that The Monkees were a manufactured band meant they were often dismissed by critics, and their perceived lack of credibility bothered members of the group. Tork left in 1968, after the TV show was cancelled and their psychedelic film 'Head' flopped. The remaining members split two years later in 1970.

Nessmith continued his career in music, both on stage and behind the scenes. He formed two bands following the split of The Monkees - First National Band and Second National Band - with whom he had hits. He also performed as a solo artist, recording several albums - most recently 'The Ocean' in 2015.

For a time he had his own record label, Countryside, as an imprint of Elektra, working with artists including Garland Frady and Red Rhodes. He also founded media company Pacific Arts Corporation in 1974.

The Monkees reunited several times over the years, Nesmith not always taking part. In 2018, he and Dolenz - the two surviving members of the group - began touring under the name The Mike And Micky Show. The duo completed what was billed as 'The Monkees Farewell Tour' last month.


Kanye West publicist attempted to get official to falsely confess to election fraud
A publicist for Kanye West attempted to intimidate a Georgia election worker into confessing that she took part in voter fraud as part of last year's US Presidential election, it has emerged.

Trevian Kutti turned up at the house of Ruby Freeman in early January this year as then US President Donald Trump was still persisting with his claims that widespread voter fraud had led to him losing last year's election. The publicist told Freeman that if she did not confess publicly that she had helped to rig the Georgia vote in favour of Joe Biden, unnamed people would come to her house in 48 hours and that she would go to jail.

It is unclear if West was aware of Kutti's actions. When she arrived at Freeman's home, alongside another unidentified man, she said that she had been sent by a "high-profile individual", whom she did not name. She then told Freeman that she was in danger and that she had been sent to help her.

Already wary of people coming to her door, Freeman said that she was willing to speak to Kutti, but only in the presence of a police officer, in order to ensure her safety. In a phonecall to police, reports Reuters, she is heard saying: "They’re saying that I need help, that it's just a matter of time, that they are going to come out for me and my family".

The two women ended up speaking at a local police station, with some of the conversation being captured on a police officer's body cam. "I cannot say what specifically will take place", Freeman recalls being told by Kutti. "I just know that it will disrupt your freedom and the freedom of one or more of your family members. You are a loose end for a party that needs to tidy up".

She then put Freeman on a call with a man identified as 'Harrison Ford' - not the actor of the same name - and asked the police officer for privacy. The remainder of the conversation was not recorded, but Freeman says that the man on the phone repeatedly attempted to get her to admit to false claims made by Trump that she and her daughter, Wandrea Moss, had allowed fake ballots to be added to the Georgia election count in Biden's favour.

She was told that she would go to jail if she did not confess, even though State officials had already confirmed that the vote had been carried out properly and that votes were counted correctly.

Freeman refused and returned to her home, where she Googled Kutti's name and discovered that she was a Trump supporter. The next day, 5 Jan, she was advised to leave her home because it was unsafe. A group of Trump supporters then showed up at her property the following day.

Kutti reportedly began working for West in 2018, after leaving a role with R Kelly, initially being hired as a publicist and then, according to her biography, becoming the rapper's Director Of Operations. Reuters says that it has been unable to confirm if she still works for West, and West has not commented on reports of her meeting with Freeman.


Megan Thee Stallion graduates with degree in Health Administration
Megan Thee Stallion is now Megan Thee Graduate, the rapper having graduated from her degree in Health Administration at Texas Southern University. She will now be quitting the music industry to enter a junior management role in the US healthcare system. No, I don't think that's the plan actually, but it's always good to have a back up.

Real name Megan Pete, the rapper was one of 843 students to receive their degrees at the university's Winter Commencement ceremony on Saturday. She is now officially a Bachelor Of Science, having completed her studies after being one of the first students to return to in-person classes following the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

"This will be a ceremony that I will cherish forever", said TSU President Dr Lesia Crumpton-Young. "As we celebrate their achievement, we also welcome them into Tiger Nation as alumni across the globe. I am confident that our graduates are prepared to transform the world through knowledge and experiences gained at TSU".

Beyond gaining her degree, Megan Thee Stallion's name will continue on at the university thanks to a scholarship scheme - called Thee Megan Fund - to help other students to complete their studies at the institution.

Megan Thee Stallion received her certificate decked out in a bejewelled mortar board bearing the slogan "Real hot girl shit". See her at the ceremony here.


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. (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. (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. 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.
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