|THURSDAY 17 MARCH 2022||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: The UK's Competition & Markets Authority yesterday fully cleared Sony Music's acquisition of the AWAL label services business, confirming a provisional ruling that was made last month... [READ MORE]|
UK competition regulator fully clears Sony's acquisition of AWAL
Sony announced that it was buying the recordings division of Kobalt - consisting of the AWAL label services set-up and a neighbouring rights agency - in February last year in a deal worth around $430 million. It was the latest in a long series of acquisitions by the major that boosted the distribution and label services side of its operations.
Most of those previous acquisitions have ultimately been folded into Sony's The Orchard company, which - prior to the deal - was a significant competitor to AWAL.
Although, that said, The Orchard mainly provides services to independent labels whereas AWAL primarily provides services to independent artists, so while there is a crossover between the two companies, they do also complement each other to an extent. Which meant there was a certain logic as to why Sony would want to further extend the services side of its business by buying the Kobalt recordings company.
Nevertheless, the combination of two high profile players in the artist and label services strand of the music industry did raise some competition law concerns. It also expanded the size of the catalogue the wider Sony Music group has influence over and increased the amount of valuable data that passes through the major's systems. All of which made the deal controversial in some quarters.
Hence competition regulator the CMA taking an interest in the deal. And phase one of its investigation raised enough concerns to prompt a second more in-depth phase.
The CMA's officials ultimately put the spotlight on two key issues: the "extent to which The Orchard and AWAL may be expected to compete to provide artist and label services" and "how closely Sony and AWAL may be expected to compete to sign successful artists, and those with the potential to become successful, where higher levels of support and investment are provided".
However, in its provisional ruling last month the CMA concluded that neither of those areas provided sufficient concerns to stop Sony's AWAL purchase from going ahead.
It stated: "While not currently competing closely due to their different areas of focus, The Orchard may have become a stronger rival to AWAL in the supply of artist services in future. However, there are many other providers who will continue to compete effectively with both firms - including independent artist and label services companies, the artist and label services branches of the other major labels (like Warner's ADA and Universal Music Group's Virgin) and independent labels".
And "in terms of its rivalry with Sony, AWAL is still a relatively small player when it comes to signing artists who require higher levels of support and investment. Despite trying to expand its offering, AWAL was expected to continue to compete with Sony only on a limited basis. In the course of its investigation, the CMA also found that many other firms have begun providing similar services which can be expected to make up for the limited loss of competition from AWAL".
Interested parties had one last chance to respond to that provisional decision, but it seemed unlikely the CMA would change its mind this late into the proceedings. And it did not.
Confirming that the regulator has now officially cleared Sony's AWAL deal, the Chair of its independent inquiry group, Margot Daly, said yesterday: "We launched this inquiry as we wanted to be sure that this deal wouldn't lead to worse outcomes for artists and fans. The music industry is vital to the UK economy and effective competition ensures that it works for everybody. Having carefully assessed the merger we found that it is not likely to affect competition in a way that will reduce the choice or quality of recorded music available or increase prices".
Needless to say, Sony welcomed that ruling yesterday, with a spokesperson declaring: "We welcome the decision by the CMA to clear Sony Music's acquisition of AWAL and Neighbouring Rights, allowing us to focus on offering the best service for their artists, in an intensely competitive market with multiple competitors and many offerings. This is the start of an exciting new venture for Sony Music Entertainment, AWAL and Neighbouring Rights, and ensures we can continue to deliver real benefits for artists globally as the music industry continues to evolve".
Congress members again raise competition concerns about Live Nation and Ticketmaster following John Oliver segment
The new intervention follows a recent segment on John Oliver's 'Last Week Tonight' which ran through the various issues that have been raised in relation to the ticketing market over the years, including secondary ticketing which - unlike in Europe - Live Nation's Ticketmaster is still actively involved in Stateside.
Senators Blumenthal and Klobuchar - alongside Bill Pascrell in the US House Of Representatives - have criticised Live Nation and Ticketmaster's dominance of the US live entertainment sector before.
In 2019, Blumenthal and Klobuchar called on the DoJ to look into the consent decree that regulates to an extent the relationship between Live Nation and Ticketmaster, and which was agreed with the US government department when the two live music firms merged back in 2010.
That consent decree was actually due to expire in 2020. However, after an investigation by the DoJ - which identified a small number of incidents when Live Nation had arguably broken the rules set out in that document - a new deal was done between the regulator and the live music giant that extended the consent decree, in a slightly revised form, for another five years.
Confirming they remain concerned about competition issues in the US live sector - and citing Oliver's recent report - Blumenthal and Klobuchar said in a statement earlier this week: "Recent reports indicate that Ticketmaster-Live Nation has continued charging consumers exorbitant fees, and the company's ongoing aggressive buy-outs of potential competitors to even further dominate the market are renewing concerns about the state of the industry".
They then confirmed that they have sent a new letter to the DoJ, which reads: "We write to urge the department to investigate the state of competition in the live entertainment and ticketing industry, including any potential anti-competitive and anti-consumer actions by Live Nation, and to take action, as appropriate, to enforce the antitrust laws and restore competition to these important markets".
"We are deeply concerned", the letter goes on, "that the department's past enforcement and negotiated remedies in this industry have failed to adequately foster and protect competition in live entertainment and ticketing markets".
"Industry participants have long complained about Live Nation leveraging its powerful market positions in ticketing, event promotion, sponsorship and advertising, artist management, and performance venue bookings to advantage its affiliate businesses up and down the entertainment value chain", the letter adds.
"To bolster its market power, Live Nation has engaged in an aggressive acquisition strategy to buy vertical competitors, including companies in the music festival and concert promoter markets".
It then concludes: "Multiple reports indicate the industry is rife with practices that prevent consumers from accessing tickets at affordable prices or prevent access entirely, including holdbacks and staggered sales, bots, lack of all-in pricing, and the reselling of free tickets".
Responding to the latest intervention by Blumenthal and Klobuchar, a spokesperson for Live Nation disputed their description of the US live entertainment market today, insisting that there is plenty of competition in that marketplace. They also cited the live firm's past support for various measures to make the live sector more consumer-friendly.
The spokesperson told Billboard: "The live entertainment industry has never been more vibrant and competitive, which is evident from the many companies that continue entering the market and growing. We are proud of the many progressive policies we have innovated and advocated for – from refunds, to all-in pricing, transparent resale disclosures and more. We will continue using our influence to improve the industry".
Mushroom announces global partnership with Virgin Music, and hires Korda Marshall
Under the new partnership, Virgin Music will support and enhance Mushroom's existing international operations or - in the words of the official announcement - it "will provide bespoke global promotion, marketing and audience label services to Mushroom's existing US and UK infrastructure".
In addition to all that, "selected Mushroom artists" will have their recordings released via Universal's network of labels outside of the indie's home markets, though only "when agreed by both parties".
In addition to the Virgin Music tie-up, Mushroom is also ramping up its international activities by hiring UK-based Korda Marshall to co-lead its global operations. Marshall previously headed up the UK side of Mushroom in the 1990s after it bought into his Infectious Records label. That partnership ended in the late 1990s, with Marshall later relaunching Infectious, before both he and the label joined BMG in 2014. And now he's back with Mushroom.
Confirming the Virgin Music deal, Mushroom's CEO Matt Gudinski says: "Mushroom has been a market leader for decades in Australia and today we take another huge step in building Mushroom into a truly global brand. Our A&R staff are world class and we, together with Virgin/UMG, are going to break artists from any part of the globe to every part of the globe".
Meanwhile, Universal Music boss man Lucian Grainge adds: "This global alliance between Mushroom and Virgin Music marks the beginning of a new collaboration between two historically entrepreneurial companies that have both introduced countless superstar artists and helped shape and influence independent music for decades".
Referencing Gudinski's father - Mushroom founder Michael Gudinski - Grainge goes on: "We're THRILLED to be working with Matt Gudinski, who is honouring his father's great legacy by bringing Mushroom to new heights, and with Korda who has been a force in the UK creative community for decades".
And finally Marshall says: "I'm so happy to be returning to the Mushroom Group, it feels like coming home after a long and winding road trip around the music business and I look forward to working with all the labels and their amazing artists. Our new deal with Universal provides a fantastic opportunity to work closely with one of the finest music companies in the world".
Former Brexit negotiator admits "purist" approach to EU trade deal inflicted excessive paperwork on musicians
The post-Brexit UK/EU trade deal does not include any provision to allow EU-wide visa, permit and carnet free touring for British performers and musicians. As a result, artists and their crews must now navigate different bureaucracy in each EU member state where they tour, often adding extra paperwork and costs, some of which makes lower and middle level tours unviable.
When it first became apparent that there was no visa free touring provision in the deal, both the UK and the EU blamed the other side, on the basis that both parties had made proposals for how visa free touring might be achieved, but both sides opposed the other's plan.
With COVID regulations making touring pretty much impossible as that Brexit deal went into effect in early 2021 anyway, there was a window of opportunity to address the issues the trade deal had created for the music and wider creative industries. Politicians in Westminster, including many key Brexiteers, all agreed those issues should be addressed, though - which a few exceptions, for example regarding permits for touring in Spain - little progress has been made.
At one point Prime Minister 'Boris' Johnson insisted in Parliament that his government was on the case and that Frost - who was still responsible for EU relations at that stage - was leading the charge to find solutions. Though when Frost finally agreed to talk to Parliament's culture select committee it turned out that was another nasty nugget of Johnson bullshit.
It wasn't really his problem, Frost told MPs, and while the post-Brexit reality was annoying for performers and musicians, that was a necessary evil for achieving the bold vision of Brexit that the majority of British people (aka 26.5% of the population) had voted for in 2016.
But, according to The Independent, in a lecture earlier this week Frost - now out of government - admitted that there are, in fact, some big issues with the post-Brexit trade deal that he negotiated when it comes to mobility, and - crucially - that those issues should be addressed.
"We should take another look at mobility issues", he said during the lecture. "There is a whole set of problems here that is making life difficult on both sides - youth mobility, movement of specialists like musicians and artists".
Many of Frost's former colleagues in government have previously argued that it's impossible to address those issues at an EU level without threatening the very fundamentals of Brexit, instead proposing specific deals be negotiated with individual EU member states.
Frost admitted in his lecture that disputes between the EU and UK over COVID vaccines last year did make it very difficult to take "a more pragmatic position" on mobility issues. But that doesn't mean addressing said issues at an EU level is impossible in the long-term.
Admitting he was "too purist" whenever it came to freedom of movement while negotiating the post-Brexit trade deal, he added that there is definitely a need to find a way to remove "excessive paperwork and process requirements", concluding: "We should try to get to it".
Responding to Frost's latest comments, Labour MP and culture select committee member Kevin Brennan told The Independent: "Purist dogma has ruined successful British businesses and hit artists income hard - they will rightly be furious with an incompetent government that sacrificed them for no good reason".
Meanwhile, UK Music boss Jamie Njoku-Goodwin said: "These comments confirm everything the music industry has been warning about for more than a year now, and should be a call to action for ministers. If even the chief negotiator believes we should look at mobility issues again, there is no excuse for government not to act on this".
ITV and STV to broadcast Ukraine fundraising concert
Performers taking part are set to be announced in the run up to the concert, although organisers have said that they are aiming for "a unique event spreading a message of hope and support", with a mixture of music performances and short films.
Produced by Livewire Pictures, with radio company Global on board as media partner and Marks & Spencer as headline sponsor, all sponsorship and advertising revenue generated by the event will be donated to the DEC appeal - which should raise around £3 million.
"Music is a very powerful tool when it comes to showing support and solidarity, and at ITV we are proud and privileged to be working with Livewire Pictures, Global, M&S and the DEC on such an important and necessary fundraising event", says Katie Rawcliffe, Head Of Entertainment Commissioning at ITV.
Meanwhile, Kelly Williams and Simon Daglish - Managing Director and Deputy Managing Director at ITV Commercial - add: "As we've witnessed the horrific events unfolding before our eyes we want to work with brands to show our industry's support and raise as much money as possible for the millions of people affected by this crisis. The industry has a generous spirit at its heart and now more than ever it is the time to come together and make a difference".
The show will be broadcast live on ITV, STV, ITV Hub and STV Player on 29 Mar.
P-MRC Data rebrands as Luminate
P-MRC is one of a number of joint ventures between media firms Penske Media Corporation and MRC - they also having a JV that brings together the music and entertainment titles in which they respectively have an interest, including Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone, Variety and Music Business Worldwide.
Both companies had been growing the data sides of their businesses prior to the big old data JV being announced in 2020. In particular, MRC had bought the music division of data giant Nielsen in 2019 to create MRC Data, best known for compiling the charts published by the media company's own music industry trade mag Billboard.
That combined entity being known as P-MRC Data was always a bit clunky, especially given one of its divisions was MRC Data. Which is presumably partly behind the decision to give the joint venture business a nice new snappier name.
Though, to be clear, the data firm's CEO Rob Jonas would like you all to know, the Luminate brand has been specifically chosen to represent "our mission to bring clarity and insight to a complex and evolving industry". So, do make note of that.
"Over the past few months, we have begun to incorporate our tent-pole products - MRC Data and Variety Business Intelligence - into the most comprehensive entertainment analytics offering", Jonas adds, "which will eventually span across all major media categories, while comprehensively managing the rights of our ecosystem data partners and contributors".
Round Hill Music has acquired various royalty and remuneration rights linked to the songs and recordings of original Scorpions drummer Herman Rarebell. "The Scorpions are a truly legendary band with a catalogue of truly iconic music that helped define the heavy metal genre", says Round Hill CEO Josh Gruss. "Herman played a pivotal role in their success with writing credits on some of their most enduring songs and is a welcome addition to our roster of world class writers and performers".
Kobalt has announced that Tom Sansone has stepped down as its Chief Financial Officer. He will stay on as an advisor to CEO Laurent Hubert, though. Meanwhile Catrin Drabble will officially step in to replace him in the CFO role on 15 Apr. "Tom has been an incredible leader for Kobalt over the past six years and has led the business to be in the strongest financial shape it has ever seen", says Hubert. "Catrin has constantly been a high-performer with a deep understanding of music business economics. She has been the key leader in bridging finance and investment teams, as well as a critical part of our path to profitability".
Universal Music Publishing has promoted London-based Ross Greening to SVP European Regional Administration And Global Copyright / Society Relations. Greening confirms that he is "THRILLED" about the promotion, before adding that the UMPG team "are advancing our industry-leading administration services to songwriters and rightsholders, and maximising their royalties through our innovative licensing arrangements and technologies".
Rosalía has released new single, 'Hentai'. Her new album, 'Motomami', is out tomorrow.
Ethan Gruska and Justin Vernon have teamed up for new single 'So Unimportant'. "The fact that I now have a song with Justin just completely blows my mind", says Gruska. "He's been my 'pie in the sky, I'd do anything to collaborate with' artist for a really long time and having this song together is one of the most special things that has ever happened to me in my musical life. Life in general!"
Andrew Bird has released new single 'Atomized'. He's also announced that he will play the Shepherd's Bush Empire in London on 19 Jul.
With debut EP, 'Bluff', out on 1 Apr, Yunè Pinku has released new single 'DC Rot'.
Set to release their new album 'Present Tense' this Friday, Yumi Zouma have released the third in a trilogy of videos - this one for new single 'Astral Projection'.
Real Lies are back with new single 'Dream On'. The band's new album, 'Lad Ash', is out on 22 Apr.
Nova Twins have released new single 'Cleopatra'. They've also announced UK tour dates in Glasgow, Manchester and London this November.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
LimeWire founder "NOT THRILLED" about brand's revival as an NFT marketplace
It apparently took Julian and Paul Zehetmayr - the two entrepreneurs behind the new NFT business - a year to secure all the necessary rights in order to be able to go public with a new product called LimeWire. But one person not consulted about that new venture during that year was Gorton.
He tells Torrentfreak: "I was not approached about this NFT project, and I didn't hear about it until the public announcement. I am NOT THRILLED about an unrelated group of people using the LimeWire name. Using the LimeWire name in this way creates confusion and falsely uses that brand that we created for purposes for which it was never intended".
Former LimeWire developer Zlatin Balevsky adds: "I think it's a bit risky to say that LimeWire 'is back', the NFT project has got nothing to do with the original".
Of course, you could say that the decision of the Zehetmayrs to go out of their way to acquire the LimeWire brand for their NFT start-up is slightly odd, given that - while it's a high profile digital music brand of old - it is best known for its time as the music industry's enemy number one.
Perhaps aware of that, when announcing their LimeWire NFT marketplace last week, the Zehetmayrs were keen to talk up the music industry figures they have on their advisory board, while insisting that their new business will be working with artists to help them capitalise on the NFT boom.
But attempts to build a legitimate business under the LimeWire name have a rocky past. When the original LimeWire company attempted to do just that - and despite having an apparently compelling product - the legit LimeWire service never got off the ground, because by that point the major record labels had already resolved to sue it out of business.
Nothing suggests just yet that the majors will have any reason to want to sue the new LimeWire (there are plenty of other NFT platforms more obviously drawing the attention of lawyers), but if you want to breed goodwill, maybe using a name with such a controversial history isn't the best way to get established in the music community.
I guess the industry did embrace the legit music service that bought itself the Napster brand. Though, it has to be said, using the legendary Napster name on a download and then streaming service didn't exactly help that company dominate in the legit digital music market.
Now, securing the LimeWire name did get this new NFT marketplace lots of press coverage last week, and much more so than the other music-centric NFT start-ups already operating. But whether that translates into long-term interest - from industry or fans - remains to be seen.
The launch of the new LimeWire is discussed further in this week's edition of our Setlist podcast.