MONDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2022 COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM
TODAY'S TOP STORY: Spotify's Joe Rogan problem continues to build. This weekend the spotlight fell on racist language and statements that have appeared on Rogan's podcast, prompting another Instagram statement from the man himself, and another lengthy note from Spotify boss Daniel Ek, this time addressed at the streaming company's staff... [READ MORE]

TOP STORIES Spotify's Joe Rogan controversy moves onto racist content, prompting new statements
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LEGAL RIAA sends stern legal letter to controversial music NFTs site HitPiece
Family of Drakeo The Ruler sue promoters of the festival where he was
killed
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LABELS & PUBLISHERS AMG/MaDigital joins IMPEL
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BRANDS & MERCH UTA appoints new Director Of Artist Brand Strategy
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MEDIA Bauer announces BRITs radio coverage across Europe, acquires Portuguese media firm
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ARTIST NEWS Deaf rappers to join Super Bowl half time show
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AND FINALLY... Nikki Sixx calls Pearl Jam "boring", Pearl Jam agree
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Spotify's Joe Rogan controversy moves onto racist content, prompting new statements
Spotify's Joe Rogan problem continues to build. This weekend the spotlight fell on racist language and statements that have appeared on Rogan's podcast, prompting another Instagram statement from the man himself, and another lengthy note from Spotify boss Daniel Ek, this time addressed at the streaming company's staff.

Among the artists to join the Neil Young instigated boycott of Spotify last week was India Arie. However, on social media she stressed that - whereas Young et al were ultimately persuaded to remove their music from the streaming platform because of the COVID misinformation in Rogan's Spotify exclusive podcast - she personally found said podcast "problematic for reasons other than his COVID interviews... for me it's also his language around race".

Arie subsequently returned to Instagram to explain what she meant in more detail, sharing a video that compiled clips of Rogan using the n-word and another where the podcaster tells a story in which he compares black people to the characters in 'Planet Of The Apes'.

That prompted Rogan to also return to Instagram to again respond to the controversies around his podcast. This time he was more apologetic. Whereas with the allegations around COVID misinformation, Rogan defended his booking of controversial guests - but admitted he needed to do a better job of challenging their controversial opinions - this time he said he was wrong to use racist language on his programme.

He did insist that his use of the n-word was not in itself racist - he only ever said the word, he argued, when discussing the politics and cultural uses of it - however, he conceded, it was still wrong to use the racial slur on his podcast.

"There's a video that's out, that's a compilation of me saying the n-word", Rogan said. "It's a video that's made of clips taken out of context of me of … twelve years of conversations on my podcast, and it's all smushed together, and it looks fucking horrible, even to me. I know that to most people there's no context where a white person is ever allowed to say that word, never mind publicly on a podcast, and I agree with that".

He went on: "Now, I haven't said it in years, but for a long time, when I would bring that word up, like if it would come up in conversation, instead of saying 'the n-word', I would just say the word. I thought as long as it was in context, people would understand what I was doing".

As for the other clip shared by Arie, he said: "I was telling a story in the podcast about how me and my friend Tommy and his girlfriend, we got really high, we're in Philadelphia, and we went to go see 'Planet Of The Apes'. We didn't know where we were going, we just got dropped off by a cab, and we got dropped off in this all-black neighbourhood".

"I was trying to make the story entertaining", he went on, "and I said: 'We got out, and it was like we were in Africa, like we were in 'Planet Of The Apes''. I did not, nor would I ever, say that black people are apes, but it sure fucking sounded like that. And I immediately afterwards said: 'That's a racist thing to say'".

Adding that he had now deleted the edition of the podcast that contained that story - one of a number of editions that were removed from the Rogan archive last week - he said: "I was just trying to be entertaining. I certainly wasn't trying to be racist, and I certainly would never want to offend someone for entertainment with something as stupid as racism. My sincere and humble apologies. I wish there was more that I could say".

Back at Spotify, as the Rogan controversies continue to unfold, Ek and his top team are still busy trying to placate his company's music industry partners, its customers and its investors, and its employees, while standing by earlier commitments regarding the importance of championing freedom of expression.

It's no secret that a lot of the Spotify workforce are concerned about the recent Rogan controversy, and that Ek - and by association Spotify - is going to such great efforts to defend its most famous podcaster, and his more controversial content.

In a new letter to Spotify's staff - shared on Twitter by the host of the Recode Media podcast Peter Kafka - Ek writes: "There are no words I can say to adequately convey how deeply sorry I am for the way The Joe Rogan Experience controversy continues to impact each of you. Not only are some of Joe Rogan's comments incredibly hurtful - I want to make clear that they do not represent the values of this company. I know this situation leaves many of you feeling drained, frustrated and unheard".

Noting the latest controversy around the racist content, he adds: "I think it's important you're aware that we've had conversations with Joe and his team about some of the content in his show, including his history of using some racially insensitive language. Following these discussions and his own reflections, he chose to remove a number of episodes from Spotify. He also issued his own apology over the weekend".

"While I strongly condemn what Joe has said and I agree with his decision to remove past episodes from our platform, I realise some will want more", he goes on. "And I want to make one point very clear - I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer. We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope. Looking at the issue more broadly, it's critical thinking and open debate that powers real and necessary progress".

During a company 'town hall' meeting last week, Ek tried to distinguish between Rogan's podcast and those made by Spotify's own studios, arguing that the former was just another third party podcast that the company distributes. Therefore, while it should apply the same content policies to the Joe Rogan Experience as any other third party podcast, it doesn't have any direct editorial control. Except, of course, it has an exclusive licensing deal with Rogan, which means that - while Spotify may not produce that podcast - it is much more closely linked to it.

Ek acknowledges that point in his new letter: "In last week's town hall, I outlined to you that we are not the publisher of JRE. But perception due to our exclusive licence implies otherwise. So I've been wrestling with how this perception squares with our values. If we believe in having an open platform as a core value of the company, then we must also believe in elevating all types of creators, including those from underrepresented communities and a diversity of backgrounds. We've been doing a great deal of work in this area already but I think we can do even more".

With that in mind, he adds, "I am committing to an incremental investment of $100 million for the licensing, development, and marketing of music - artists and songwriters - and audio content from historically marginalised groups. This will dramatically increase our efforts in these areas".

While that's a sizeable commitment, it's unlikely to placate Rogan and Spotify's critics, it appearing a little like Ek hopes he can buy himself out of this current controversy. However, he insists, more free speech not less free speech is the solution here.

"While some might want us to pursue a different path", he writes, "I believe that more speech on more issues can be highly effective in improving the status quo and enhancing the conversation altogether".

As for Ek's commitments last week around Spotify's content policies in general, his letter goes on: "One of the things I am thinking about is what additional steps we can take to further balance creator expression with user safety. I've asked our teams to expand the number of outside experts we consult with on these efforts and look forward to sharing more details".

And so the controversy continues. It's still not clear what actual impact all this is having on Spotify's subscriber numbers and to what extent it is resulting in large-scale cancellations.

A survey by Forrester Research last week found that up to 19% of Spotify subscribers had cancelled or were planning to cancel their subscriptions because of all the Rogan hoo haa - which would be a huge number overall - although said survey only consulted 657 people of which only a third were Spotify subscribers. So a very small sample. And of those who said they planned to cancel, it can be assumed only a portion will.

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RIAA sends stern legal letter to controversial music NFTs site HitPiece
The Recording Industry Association Of America has sent a legal letter to lawyers representing HitPiece, the music NFTs website that became a major talking point in the music community last week for all the wrong reasons. The trade group's letter was both a cease-and-desist on behalf its members and a demand for information about all of the outfit's activities and revenues to date.

The HitPiece site was promoting for sale non-fungible tokens linked to a plethora of artists and songs. The NFTs were not actually linked to any music files, but were seemingly connected to the artwork that accompanied each featured track. That artwork appeared on the site having been pulled out of Spotify. Artwork, of course, is also protected by copyright, and for signed artists that copyright will usually be owned or controlled by a label.

Using that artwork, therefore, would require permission from the copyright owners, ie the labels, and no such permission was sought. Artists could also argue that their trademarks and their publicity rights had been infringed by the NFTs site, because HitPiece was implying that the tokens it was selling were somehow approved or endorsed by the artist behind each song.

As the music community became aware of HitPiece last week - and talk of litigation from labels and artists started to proliferate on the social networks - the NFTs site went offline, replaced with the line "we started the conversation and we're listening".

But that doesn't mean that HitPiece, and its founders Rory Felton and Michael Berrin, can't necessarily be held liable for the copyright infringement that had already occurred on their website, especially in the US where copyright owners can sue for so called statutory damages, rather than damages actually linked to any monies lost or gained as a result of the infringing activity. With that in mind, the RIAA wants to ensure that all information about HitPiece's activities to date is stored.

In its letter to HitPiece's lawyer, the RIAA said: "As you are no doubt aware, your clients, through the HitPiece website, have been engaged in the systematic and flagrant infringement of the intellectual property rights of the record companies and their recording artists on a massive scale".

"Using artist and track names, copyrighted album art, and other protected images - all without the permission of the rights owners - your clients have offered at auction and sold NFTs promising ownership in a 'unique song recording' and the ability 'to create a digital display of album artwork associated with their favourite music, with a one-of-a-kind, non-fungible token of the artwork'".

"Many of these 'unique song recordings' and associated artwork", it added, "are those owned or exclusively controlled by the record companies".

Noting that the HitPiece website was taken down last week, the letter went on: "This does not absolve them of liability for their prior conduct".

"Accordingly", it said, "we demand that your clients immediately: (1) cease and desist from any further infringement of the rights of the record companies and their recording artists; (2) keep the HitPiece website offline and inaccessible to the public; (3) provide us with an accounting of all revenue; and (4) provide us with a complete list of every NFT, along with all artwork and text associated with each NFT, that was ever offered for auction on the HitPiece website".

"Your clients are liable to the record companies and their artists for damages under each of the legal claims identified above, among others", the letter added. "Please contact me as soon as possible to confirm that your clients will comply with these demands and to discuss an appropriate resolution. In the meantime, I trust that your clients appreciate their legal obligation to preserve all documents and other evidence that is in any way related to this matter".

It seems likely that buyers of a HitPiece NFT wouldn't actually get any rights in relation to the artwork linked to the token, even if that artwork had been properly licensed from an artist or label.

Instead, the buyer would basically get the warm glow of being officially linked to a song within the HitPiece community - with that link recorded on the blockchain - meaning they are ultimately buying bragging rights. Which might seem like a disappointing thing to own, although that's what lots of music NFT drops are ultimately selling.

That said, that fact has led to additional criticism of HitPiece, to the effect that the website's official sales pitch implied that buyers were buying something much more significant than a warm glow - and, indeed, that the NFT would be connected to an actual track not just a JPEG of some artwork.

Elsewhere in its letter, the RIAA noted HitPiece's insistence that it was never selling access to or rights in any actual music, and then contrasted that with what the HitPiece website was telling buyers, musing that that official sales pitch "likely amounts to yet another form of fraud".

The RIAA says that it sent the legal letter partly to stop HitPiece itself from infringing the rights of labels and artists, but also as a warning to any other NFT start-up thinking of selling tokens somehow connected to the music industry's songs, recordings, artwork or artist brands without first getting all the required permissions from labels, artists and other rights owners.

RIAA's COO Mitch Glazier states: "As music lovers and artists embrace new technologies like NFTs, there's always someone looking to exploit their excitement and energy. Given how fans were misled and defrauded by these unauthorised NFTs and the massive risk to both fans and artists posed by HitPiece and potential copycats, it was clear we had to move immediately and urgently to stand up for fairness and honesty in the market".

Meanwhile, the trade group's Chief Legal Officer Ken Doroshow adds: "HitPiece appears to be little more than a scam operation designed to trade on fans' love of music and desire to connect more closely with artists, using buzzwords and jargon to gloss over their complete failure to obtain necessary rights".

"Fans were led to believe they were purchasing an NFT genuinely associated with an artist and their work when that was not at all the case", he goes on. "While the operators appear to have taken the main HitPiece site offline for now, this move was necessary to ensure a fair accounting for the harm HitPiece and its operators have already done and to ensure that this site or copycats don't simply resume their scams under another name".

This week's Setlist podcast puts the spotlight on the HitPiece furore - you can tune in here.

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Family of Drakeo The Ruler sue promoters of the festival where he was killed
The family of the late rapper Drakeo The Ruler last week sued Live Nation and other promoters of the LA festival where he was killed last year, accusing them of negligence resulting in wrongful death.

The rapper, real name Darrell Caldwell, was stabbed shortly before he was due to go on stage at the Once Upon A Time In LA event last December. As the show was cancelled, Caldwell was taken to hospital but died as a result of his injuries.

In last week's lawsuit, lawyers representing Caldwell's family wrote: "Mr Caldwell's lynching and eventual death at the hand of a violent mob of purported members of a Los Angeles based Bloods gang, while Mr Caldwell made his way through the backstage area of the Banc Of California [Stadium] performers stage, where he was scheduled to perform just minutes following the violent attack, was a result of a complete and abject failure of all defendants to implement proper safety measures in order to ensure the safety and well being of the artists whom they invited and hired to their music festival".

"Shortly following Mr Caldwell's murder", it went on, "both media reports and social media accounts were set ablaze with scathing criticism regarding the overwhelming gang presence and complete and utter lack of security and law enforcement presence of not only the areas where festival-goers congregated, but the absolute incompetency and lack of care in securing restricted areas where performers were assigned".

Defendants, the lawsuit alleged, "were completely knowledgeable of the potential dangers posed to both their guests and the performers that they hired based upon numerous past incidents of violence and death at their hip hop events, the prevalence of gang activity that would be present, not only because numerous artists they hired were associated with Los Angeles gangs, but also given the fact that the music festival was being held in South Central Los Angeles, one of the most dangerous areas in the greater Los Angeles region".

Not only that, it went on, but defendants "were also knowledgeable to the fact that as a result of Mr Caldwell having been falsely accused of being involved with the murder of a member of an Inglewood Bloods gang, he was being targeted by the gang members in order to exact revenge, based upon this false information".

"Had defendants ... placed the safety and wellbeing of its guests and its invited artists ahead of profits", the lawsuit then claimed, "there would have been an adequate security plan and sufficient security guards and law enforcement presence to have prevented the unnecessary and untimely murder of Drakeo The Ruler, at the hands of over 100 deadly gang members who inexplicably gained access to a restricted area of the venue engaging in an unrelenting and unprevented attack for over ten minutes".

The litigation is seeking at least $60 million in damages.

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AMG/MaDigital joins IMPEL
IMPEL - the network of independent music publishers that handles the digital licensing of certain song repertories - last week announced its latest member in the form of Ivory Coast based AMG/MaDigital.

Despite only launching in 2020, the music company has already signed more than 800 writers, the vast majority Afrobeat artists in West Africa, including Ks Bloom, Asaph du Ciel and Morijah, and developing acts like Stelair, Nitche OG and 8ll.

The company's founder Dominique Gnamba says: "We are really happy to become a member of IMPEL. We look forward to working with them to enhance our collections in Africa and make sure our artists get paid properly and quickly. Joining IMPEL is also a great opportunity to work alongside a diverse range of successful independent publishers from all around the world as a collective".

Meanwhile, IMPEL CEO Sarah Williams adds: "We're really delighted to be welcoming Dominique and his team to IMPEL as our first member from the African continent. MaDigital is breaking new ground in West Africa and we feel that we are the perfect partner to support them in their mission to support African songwriters. Their experience and insight into an important developing region will also be of great value to us".

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UTA appoints new Director Of Artist Brand Strategy
The London office of talent agency UTA has appointed Irene Agbontaen to the new role of Director Of Artist Brand Strategy within the company's music brand partnerships team. She will work with European artists on UTA's rosters on brand partnership projects.

Agbontaen has previously worked in the fashion and wider creative industries via her TTYA London clothing brand and its spin-off events programme TTYA Talks, and has also consulted on projects with brands like Apple, Nike and YouTube Music.

Says UTA's Co-Head of Global Music Brand Partnerships, Toni Wallace: "Throughout her career, Irene has always been at the centre of culture, design, and fashion. She is a tastemaker and entrepreneur who has continuously helped leading brands redefine how they connect with younger audiences and talent in music and the arts. She will be an invaluable asset to our London office and our clients around the world, and we couldn't be more excited to welcome her to UTA".

Agbontaen herself adds: "UTA has been a leader in successfully connecting the worlds of business and pop culture. I am so excited to join the team and focus on using creative thinking to develop strategies and long-lasting partnerships for talent".

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Bauer announces BRITs radio coverage across Europe, acquires Portuguese media firm
Bauer Media has announced that it will cover tomorrow's BRIT Awards on thirteen of its radio stations, both in the UK and across Europe.

In the UK, Kiss, Hits Radio and Absolute Radio will all carry exclusive content surrounding the awards ceremony. Elsewhere in Europe, the event will be covered by Today FM, 98FM and the Spin Network in Ireland, Europa 2 in Slovakia, The Voice in Denmark, RMF FM and RMF MAXXX in Poland, Radio Topp40 in Norway and NRJ in Sweden.

"I love The BRIT Awards - amazing production, high-energy performances, and crucially celebrating the very best of UK homegrown talent", says Bauer's Chief Content And Music Officer Ben Cooper. "Bauer is proud to partner with the awards and broadcast the drama, stories and fun to millions of our listeners across Europe, ensuring that the influence of British talent is recognised on an even wider European scale".

Elsewhere in Bauer news, the company last week announced a deal to acquire Portuguese broadcaster Media Capital Group, home to several radio stations in the country.

"Radio is hugely popular in Portugal and is a key part of the country's rich cultural landscape", says Bauer COO Paul Keenan. "This makes it an attractive market as it transitions into the exciting, wider world of audio. We are very much looking forward to working closely with the talented team at Media Capital Rádios. We are committed to continuing to offer trusted news and great music and entertainment to Portuguese audiences, while bringing investment and innovation which will benefit listeners and advertisers alike".

Chair of Media Capital Group, Mário Ferreira, adds: "Today we mark an exciting new chapter for both media groups. I'm confident that under Bauer Media's ownership, [our] radio stations will continue to thrive, be very successful and grow. We are very proud to be the guardians of these iconic brands in the Portuguese market and I would like to thank our talented teams for their commitment and contribution to Media Capital Rádios".

The deal is subject to regulator approval.

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Setlist: HitPiece NFTs spark a cease and desist frenzy
CMU's Andy Malt and Chris Cooke review key events in music and the music business from the last week, including the controversy sparked by a company called HitPiece after it appeared to be selling NFTs related to a plethora of musicians without permission, plus accusations by Lil Yachty that another music-focussed NFT company, Opulous, used his name and brand as part of its launch communications, even though - he claims - he had not agreed to get involved in the venture.

Listen to this episode of Setlist here.

Deaf rappers to join Super Bowl half time show
Two deaf rappers - Sean Forbes and Warren 'Wawa' Snipe - will join Dr Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J Blige at this month's Super Bowl half time show, providing sign language interpretations of the songs being performed.

The participation of Forbes and Snipe marks the first time that sign language has been part of the famous music performance that sits in the middle of the big old American football event.

"The doors to accessibility are busted wide open with something like this", Forbes tells the Detroit Free Press. "My goal is to get out there, show what we can do, and have fun. And I want to open the door for other deaf performers".

The booking comes more than fifteen years after Forbes showed Eminem a video of himself performing the rapper's track 'Lose Yourself' in American Sign Language at a studio in Detroit in 2005.

"That was purely Sean Forbes trying to find an opportunity in the music industry", says Forbes. "I just wasn't sure what that was yet ... So this is very much a full-circle moment".

The Super Bowl takes place next weekend on 13 Feb.

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Nikki Sixx calls Pearl Jam "boring", Pearl Jam agree
Mötley Crüe's Nikki Sixx has said that he is taking recent criticism from Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder as "kind of a compliment". Although only because Pearl Jam are "one of the most boring bands in history".

Vedder made his comments about Mötley Crüe in an interview with The New York Times last month. Contrasting his experiences with late-80s hair metal and the alternative rock scene that Pearl Jam came up through, he said: "I used to work in San Diego loading gear at a club. I'd end up being at shows that I wouldn't have chosen to go to - bands that monopolised late-80s MTV. The metal bands that - I'm trying to be nice - I despised. 'Girls, Girls, Girls' and Mötley Crüe".

"I hated it", he went on. "I hated how it made the fellas look. I hated how it made the women look. It felt so vacuous. Guns N Roses came out and, thank God, at least had some teeth. But I'm circling back to say that one thing that I appreciated was that in Seattle and the alternative crowd, the girls could wear their combat boots and sweaters, and their hair looked like Cat Power's and not Heather Locklear's - nothing against her. They weren't selling themselves short. They could have an opinion and be respected. I think that's a change that lasted".

Finally getting around to reading that interview at the weekend, Sixx tweeted: "Made me laugh today reading how much the singer in Pearl Jam hated Mötley Crüe. Now, considering that they're one of the most boring bands in history it's kind of a compliment, isn't it?"

I don't know, is it? I guess it depends on your view of each band. Pearl Jam did respond to this slight against them though. Tweeting a video of a quite excitable looking audience, they wrote: "We love our bored fans".

BACK TO THE TOP OF THE BULLETIN

 
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.
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