|THURSDAY 13 JANUARY 2022||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Universal Music boss Lucian Grainge has sent out a start-of-the-year memo to the major's workforce, bigging up charity, choice and change, plus - you know - mega-hits and big bucks. What a time to be alive... [READ MORE]|
Universal boss Lucian Grainge talks charity, choice and change - but avoids #fixstreaming - in company wide memo
One thing the memo doesn't directly address, though, is the growing controversy within the artist community about the dominance of the majors, and the widely held belief among that community that the streaming boom is mainly benefiting the corporate end of the music industry - Universal and Grainge especially - rather than the actual music-makers.
Of course, this is a memo to the major's staff, so you wouldn't necessarily expect that topic to be addressed. Plus, to date, Universal Music has very much given the impression that its strategy for dealing with the #brokenrecord and #fixstreaming campaigns is one of distraction and denial, backed up by the confident belief that once those pesky artists start touring again they'll all shut up about the digital pie.
That said, perhaps aware that at least some of his workforce are tiring of being repeatedly portrayed as the bad guys during the whole economics of streaming debate - especially in the UK - there were a few indirect statements in the memo that together form some sort of response to the criticism the company has been facing in the last year or so.
However, before all that, Grainge first provides the obligatory pandemic chat and then talks through the various charitable initiatives that his company and its workforce have been involved in over the last year, some COVID related, some focused on fighting prejudice or tackling climate change, and some supporting disadvantage communities. Oh yes, and there was that one-off donation of £123 million to CEOs In Need. Though weirdly he doesn't mention that.
Then he talks through all the mega-hits, the streaming stats, the chart achievements, the awards and the accolades secured by the artists and songwriters signed to Universal, and the records it's released and the songs it's published. Plus there's a section name-checking some of the key promotions that have occurred within the business over the last twelve months.
But elsewhere there are comments linked to the "majors aren't evil, honest" narrative that the company's lobbyists continue to push in political circles.
Basically, recorded music is booming because Universal and its leadership embraced change and championed innovation. Artists have more choice than ever when picking business partners to work with on their releases. But artists still pick Universal because in such a crowded market-place you need the geniuses who work at the major on your team. Oh, and royalty payments to artists and songwriters are at record highs!
"I've experienced many transformational shifts over the course of my career", Grainge notes, "changes in format from vinyl to cassette to CD; partnering with Apple on downloading; championing the launch of Spotify's streaming service; forging the industry's first partnership with Facebook to open social media. Change is a constant. Yet, through all these twists and turns, by adapting our business models, promoting competition, and creating a healthier ecosystem for music and artists, we never resisted change, we embraced it. And we've always come out stronger".
"Artists today have more opportunities and choices than ever before in terms of how they release their music and with whom they partner to develop their careers", he adds. "At the same time, it's harder than ever for artists to break through the noise: 60,000 songs are added to Spotify every day. Yet, this past year, our results demonstrated once again that partnering with UMG dramatically increases the odds for artists in countries around the world to break through and also achieve global success".
"In country after country", he also muses, "we are seeing record royalty outflows to recording artists and songwriters. In fact, UMG's investment in artists has never been higher. And that's critical, because for us, music - something to which we have all dedicated our lives - is the most vital form of creative human expression, an art and a gift to be cherished and nurtured". Lovely stuff.
A lot of that is technically true, of course. There are plenty of good reasons for artists to work with Universal on their new recordings and songs in a business that is increasingly crowded, competitive, global and complex. And an injection of cash flow - and access to marketing, infrastructure and networks - remains vital for most new artist businesses.
Though critics and cynics in the artist community might argue that - while the majors truly embracing streaming in the last decade very much sparked a revival of the record industry's fortunes - it was series of terrible decisions made by major label leaders in the early 2000s that tanked the recorded music business to start with.
And maybe Universal's main achievement during the first phase of the digital revolution was buying up a load of catalogue when the industry was at its lowest ebb, and then waiting for Daniel Ek to come up with a cash cow business model to monetise that catalogue. Much of which, of course, is linked to old record contracts that pay out shitty royalties to artists.
But it's 2022, what's the point in dwelling on the past? And while the major's senior execs and shareholders might have benefited more than most from all that good fortune, as a traditional music company Universal Music does still pump a decent portion of its winnings into signing and developing artists. Which is still a good and solid basic model for supporting new talent.
Though those critics and cynics might argue that heritage artists are still being well and truly screwed over, and - unlike its main rival Sony Music - Universal is yet to make any gestures at all really to deal with that fact.
Plus, it's still true that with each new music revenue stream that emerges, the majors unilaterally decide how that income should be structured and shared, without consulting on or even communicating those decisions to the artist and songwriter community, and consistently doing so in a self-serving fashion.
And that remains a problem because, as Grainge admits towards the end of his memo, the next decade is likely to see even more new revenue streams take off than the last.
"Earlier I mentioned that change in our industry has been a constant", he goes on. "That's probably more true today than it's ever been. I believe we're at the very beginning of a new wave of growth".
"When I think about the addressable market for music, I see so many opportunities in categories we are only just beginning to monetise", he says, before listing "social media, fitness, physical and mental health, gaming, smart audio devices, the connected car", and adding: "Some of these already contributing meaningful revenue, all with enormous potential".
So that's exciting isn't it? All hail 2022. More change. More choice. More mega-hits and big bucks. And more charity too, I'm sure. But, no doubt, plenty more controversy about the dominance of the majors, and the extent to which Universal and Grainge benefit from the current and future digital boom when compared to the music-makers of the world.
Nicole Scherzinger brands Pussycat Dolls lawsuit "meritless"
Scherzinger calls the earlier breach of contract lawsuit brought against her by PCD manager Robin Antin "meritless" and says that she is not to blame for the reunion project collapsing.
Schezinger's response to the lawsuit, published by the New York Post, states: "This case is a meritless effort to enforce an expired 2019 agreement to perform a concert tour in 2019 and 2020. Had Antin participated in the negotiation in good faith instead of stubbornly trying to revive the old agreement, the likelihood is that the parties would have reached an agreement for a new tour".
Antin sued Scherzinger in September last year, accusing her of "extortion". Antin said that after the group's reunion shows had been postponed due to the pandemic, Scherzinger had demanded 75% or profits and "complete creative control" in order for her to commit to continue with the project.
Negotiations to get Scherzinger involved in the first place had already taken two years, and she had agreed to accept 49% of profits from the shows in 2019. Delays in announcing new shows, as a result of the new negotiations, resulted in Live Nation demanding back a $600,000 advance it had paid ahead of the original dates.
According to Antin's lawsuit, Scherzinger had justified her demand for more money by citing "the growth of her personal brand and the opportunities she would have to forego" in order to continue taking part in the reunion. But, the lawsuit argued, she had already agreed to take part in the tour and so had breached that agreement by refusing to comply with the original deal.
In a statement from her attorney Howard King last year, Scherzinger claimed that Antin's allegations were "ludicrous and false". In the official response filed with the New York courts this week, Scherzinger sets out why, basically arguing that the 2020 tour dates were cancelled, rather than postponed, which is why a new contract was required and the old contract is unenforceable.
The new filing also accuses Antin of "mismanagement" and "defamatory efforts publicly to shift blame" for the collapse of the tour onto Scherzinger.
Last week, Scherzinger announced on Instagram that the reunion would no longer be going ahead, saying: "With the ever evolving circumstances surrounding the pandemic, I understand the decision that the tour dates had to be cancelled".
Two other members of the Pussycat Dolls, Jessica Sutta and Carmit Bachar, then responded with their own statement, saying that Scherzinger's post was the first they'd heard of any cancellation. Antin also posted a statement on Instagram, suggesting that Scherzinger had gone rogue in announcing the end of the reunion.
Travis Scott sued over artwork used on unofficial compilation
That artist is Mickaël Mehala, aka Black Childish. According to TMZ, he claims that in 2016, via Instagram, he shared with Scott artwork he'd created which features the rapper as a centaur. He encouraged Scott to share the image on his social media, but never heard anything back.
Subsequently the image popped up as artwork for a Scott compilation called 'La Flame'. And, says Mehala, he's been trying to speak to Scott and his lawyers about the unapproved usages of the artwork pretty much ever since. With the matter still not resolved, he's now gone legal in the French courts.
However, there's a problem. Although 'La Flame' has popped up on various digital services over the years, it wasn't an official compilation. Taking many of its tracks from the official Scott mixtape 'Days Before Rodeo', it seems 'La Flame' was put together and then pushed to streaming services by unknown fans.
Therefore, Scott's legal rep Ed McPherson stresses, while Mehala's rights in the artwork may have been infringed, it's not his client doing the infringing.
Responding to the lawsuit, McPherson told reporters: "This is clearly a frivolous and baseless filing. Anyone with access to the internet can tell you that Travis never released an album named 'La Flame'. The illustration in question was fan-made, and was uploaded to streaming services by those fans, something that any user has the option of doing".
"Streaming services quickly removed it after they realised that certain people were trying to pass this off as a legitimate album cover", he added. "We look forward to responding to this case and obtaining a quick dismissal".
Chris Brown and Drake hit back over No Guidance song-theft claim
Not only is there no credible explanation for how the two stars would have accessed the "obscure" song they are accused of ripping off on their 2019 hit 'No Guidance', there is no plausible case for suggesting their track infringes the earlier work. After all, the main similarity is the lyric "you got it". Which Roy Orbison surely got to first.
Singer Braindon Cooper and producer Timothy Valentine sued Brown and Drake last year, claiming that 'No Guidance' rips off their 2016 track 'I Love Your Dress'. In their lawsuit, Cooper and Valentine said that "in addition to containing similar beat patterns, the melody and lyrics used in the chorus/hook of 'No Guidance' - 'you got it, girl; you got it' - are so strikingly similar to those used in the chorus of 'I Love Your Dress' that they cannot be purely coincidental".
As for how Brown and Drake had heard 'I Love Your Dress', Cooper and Valentine argued that they had sent a link to the album on which their track appears to an A&R representative associated with Drake's then label Cash Money Records, who had approached Cooper to see if he had any new music he could share.
But all of that is a whole load of nonsense, reckon Brown and Drake in their formal response. The two songs may share a key lyric and a more general lyrical theme. But the short and common phrase "you got it" cannot be protected by copyright in isolation. And copyright never protects ideas and themes.
Cooper and Valentine's lawsuit, they say, is "premised upon the alleged similarity between the wholly generic lyrical phrase 'you got it' and the alleged similar (and unoriginal) theme of a hard-working, attractive woman. No one, including plaintiffs, can own or monopolise the non-copyrightable phrase 'you got it', and it should come as no surprise that this phrase appears in countless other works. Also, lyrical themes are simply unprotectable as a matter of law".
As for other musical similarities claimed in the lawsuit, the response goes on: "Plaintiffs further vaguely contend that the two songs have similar 'beats', 'beat patterns', 'rhythmic structure', 'metrical placement', 'primary scale degrees', 'melodies' and 'distinctive sound effects'. None of these alleged similarities are articulated with any detail [and] these allegations are defied by a cursory listen of the two songs".
As for the theory that Brown and Drake got access to 'I Love Your Dress' via a Cash Money associate, they argue that is baseless too.
Cooper and Valentine don't even formally allege that that associate "had any relationship with the creators of defendants' works (much less a 'close relationship'); had any involvement with (much less supervisory responsibility for) defendants' works; contributed any material to defendants' works or were physically present with the creators of defendants' works during the creative process".
"Rather", their legal filing goes on, "a charitable read of the complaint is that plaintiffs gave their song to someone in the music business who might have known someone who knows one of the defendants involved in the creation of defendants' works, but that plaintiffs have no idea who that person might be, whether it actually happened, or when it happened".
With all that in mind, Brown and Drake - and their various co-defendants - conclude, the court should kick this song-theft claim out pronto.
Warner takes majority stake in Africori
The two companies have an existing relationship, Warner having originally invested in Africori in 2020. That deal also saw Warner's ADA division provide global distribution for Africori's catalogue, while also establishing the major label in a number of African markets for the first time.
Later the same year, Africori also aligned with Warner Chappell on the publishing side in order to "offer new opportunities for African artists to collaborate with top creative songwriting talent" from across the globe.
Despite the Warner takeover, Africori will continue to operate as an independent company, with CEO Yoel Kenan remaining in his post.
Warner Recorded Music's President Of Emerging Markets, Alfonso Perez-Soto, says: "Since partnering with Africori, we have established a collaborative and strategic partnership that has resulted in some impressive results on a global level. Yoel Kenan and his team have done an incredible job building a company that is a real force of nature in Africa and, by bringing them into the Warner Music ecosystem, we believe we can give them deeper support as we aim to take African music even more global".
Kenan adds: "African music is booming all around the world and some of our artists are right at the heart of the explosion. Through our partnership, Warner Music has proven that it is the perfect home for Africori and our artists going forward. I'm looking forward to continuing to work with them as we break more artists on a global scale".
Ronnie Spector dies
"Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humour and a smile on her face", her family said in a statement. "She was filled with love and gratitude. Her joyful sound, playful nature and magical presence will live on in all who knew, heard or saw her".
Born Veronica Bennett, Spector formed what would become The Ronettes with her sister Estelle and their cousin Nedra Talley in 1957. They released their first single - initially as Ronnie And The Relatives - in the early 60s through Colpix Records.
Frustrated with their lack of success with Colpix, the group auditioned for producer Phil Spector, who agreed to sign them to his own Philles Records label. That didn't result in immediate success either, but in 1963 they scored their first hit with 'Be My Baby'.
They quickly followed up on that with 'Baby, I Love You', and in early 1964 toured the UK, where their opening act was The Rolling Stones. They also made friends with The Beatles, later supporting them in the US - although Ronnie was replaced by her cousin, Elaine Mayes (another early member of the group) on that tour.
Despite their hits, the group's popularity was not sustained, and they eventually split in 1967. Ronnie and Phil, who had been in a relationship for a number of years, married soon afterwards. Ronnie has since said that she was kept a virtual prisoner in their home during that marriage, until she left him and filed for divorce in 1972.
When Phil Spector died last year - still in prison following his 2009 conviction for the murder of Lana Clarkson - Ronnie said in a statement: "While he was alive, he was a brilliant producer, but a lousy husband. Unfortunately, Phil was not able to live and function outside of the recording studio. Darkness set in, many lives were damaged. I still smile whenever I hear the music we made together, and always will. The music will be forever".
Free of her former husband, Ronnie Spector embarked on a solo career in the mid-1970s - releasing four albums over the following decades - and also continuing to perform live until recently. Her last album, 'English Heart', was released in 2016.
Distribution and label services firm Ingrooves has named Guji Lorenzana as Country Manager for the Philippines. "Guji brings the perfect combination of creative and industry experience to support our labels and artists as we look to work with the best indie artists in the Philippines", says CEO Bob Roback. "Guji will work closely with our team throughout Southeast Asia as we grow our business in the region, as well as with our global team as we take artists from the Philippines into new markets".
Tesco is reportedly phasing out CDs and DVDs in its UK stores, with plans to stop selling physical media altogether by the end of February, according to Film Stories. This follows an announcement by Sainsbury's last summer that it would do more or less the same.
Foo Fighters have released the first trailer for their horror comedy movie 'Studio 666'.
Adele has released the video for 'Oh My God', from her '30' album.
Korn are back with new single 'Forgotten'. Their new album, 'Requiem', is out on 4 Feb.
Mitski has released 'Love Me More' from her new album 'Laurel Hell', which is out on 4 Feb.
Metronomy have released new single 'Things Will Be Fine'. The song is taken from their upcoming new album, 'Small World', which is out on 18 Feb.
Arab Strap have released new single 'Aphelion'. It'll be available on vinyl with another song, 'Flutter', in March. "These two songs were written, recorded and mixed during the sessions for [2021 album] 'As Days Get Dark', but as much as we loved them, we couldn't find a place for them on the final album", explains Aidan Moffat.
Poppy has released a song about her cat.
Shamir has released new single 'Reproductive'.
Ahead of the release of their new album 'Where Myth Becomes Memory', on 4 Feb, Rolo Tomassi have released new single 'Closer'. "We wanted to show a completely different side to the record by releasing this single", says the band's James Spence. "The album is full of lighter, more gentle moments to contrast the darker side to it and none more so than this".
Methyl Ethel have released new single 'Proof', featuring Stella Donnelly. New album, 'Are You Haunted?', is out on 18 Feb.
Aldous Harding is going to release a new album. It's called 'Warm Chris' and it will be out on 25 Mar. Here's first single 'Lawn'.
Keeley Forsyth has released new single 'I Stand Alone'. "The song uses words as murmurs in a moment of realisation", she says. "Strengthening autonomy and protecting human dignity, even at its most dark and surreal. It's a survival song in essence".
Yumi Zouma will release new album, 'Present Tense', on 18 Mar. Here's new single 'In The Eyes Of Our Love'.
Crows have released new single 'Slowly Seperate'. Their new album 'Beware Believers' is out on 1 Apr and the band will be touring the UK the same month.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Remute to release new album on Nintendo 64 cartridge
Actually, I just checked and you can buy an N64 on eBay for much less than the price of a decent record player, so maybe this is the physical format The Kids have all been clamouring for. If any of The Kids want to know what an N64 is. Well, listen young people, gaming peaked with 'Goldeneye', and that's all you need to know.
This isn't actually Remute's first foray into making music for obsolete consoles. He's previously released music for Sega Megadrive, SNES, Nintendo DS and Gameboy. And, he would like you to know, this is music truly made for the N64 format. There are no gimmicks to be seen here.
"No tricks - this is not an embedded MP3-player, terribly compressed WAV-files on a microSD-card or other cheating", says the blurb on Bandcamp. "As with all previous Remute cartridge albums, the sound on this cartridge gets generated and played back in realtime and it's all happening within [a] meagre eight megabytes! With 'R64' the Nintendo 64 console is your very own synthesizer and happy to serve you every time you turn it on and press play! 93,75MHz, baby!"
You can pre-order the album here.