|THURSDAY 26 JANUARY 2023||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: The US-based Ineffable Music Group has announced it is axing merch commissions at the ten venues that it owns and/or operates following the testimony of Clyde Lawrence earlier this week as part of the Congressional hearing on the ticketing market. The decision comes as merch commissions in the live sector become all the more controversial within the artist community... [READ MORE]|
US venue owner axes merch commissions following artist's testimony in Congress
Lawrence was the one music-maker who testified at the hearing convened by the US Senate Judiciary Committee which was focused on all things ticketing, being organised in response to the issues that occurred last year when tickets for Taylor Swift's upcoming American tour went on sale via Ticketmaster's Verified Fan system.
Much of the session dealt with the dominance of Ticketmaster and its owner Live Nation within the ticketing and wider live industry, though Live Nation itself tried to skew the conversation towards the need to better regulate ticket touts.
However, Lawrence used his testimony to talk more generally about how artists interact with the live business, and the various issues they have to deal with along the way, some of which are arguably exacerbated by the dominance of Live Nation/Ticketmaster.
Among the issues that Lawrence raised was the common practice of venues charging a commission on any merchandise an artist sells on their premises.
He told the Congressional committee: "The argument is that the venue is providing us the retail space for us to sell our merch. Sure. But we're providing all of the customers, and yet receive no cut from their many ancillary revenue streams. Live Nation getting around 20% of our gross merch sales while we get nothing on ticketing fees, bar tabs, coat checks, and parking passes doesn't make a lot of sense to me".
Venues charging a commission on merch sales has long been a gripe among the artist community, but it has become a bigger talking point since shows resumed following the pandemic.
With the costs of touring surging, many mid-tier artists who could previously make a profit from playing live are seeing their profit margins on a show disappear. That makes merch sales all the more important to ensure a tour is commercially viable. Which makes having to hand over a chunk of those merch revenues to the venue all the more annoying.
In the UK, the Featured Artists Coalition launched its 100% Venues campaign urging venues to axe merch commissions and publishing a directory of venues which don't take any cut of an artist's merch income. Many grassroots venues never took a merch commission to start with so could immediately list themselves in that directory. For bigger venues, in many cases it requires a change in policy.
The FAC's 100% Venues campaign expanded to North America late last year via an alliance with US-based Union Of Musicians And Allied Workers and rapper Cadence Weapon. And Lawrence's high profile testimony earlier this week may have provided a good boost for that campaign.
Thomas Cussins, the CEO of the Ineffable Music Group - which has an artist management and label business as well as running venues - says he started phoning around the venues his company owns and/or operates to axe their merch commissions after watching Lawrence speak in Congress.
He told Billboard that the move will likely cost his company "several hundred thousand" dollars per year in lost revenue, but that he "hopes to make it up via a healthier concert ecosystem".
He added: "We are on the ground and hearing from artists every day. We are seeing how much the costs of everything have gone up - from buses to hotels to flights. Any action we can take to help to ensure a healthy, vibrant concert ecosystem is important. This industry only works if artists of all levels are able to afford to tour. When artists are able to tour sustainably and fans can afford to buy a t-shirt because the all-in ticket price is reasonable, everyone wins".
The venues owned and/or operated by Ineffable are mainly in California, including the Ventura Music Hall in Ventura, The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, and the Felton Music Hall in Felton, though it also operates The Chicken Box in Nantucket, Massachusetts.
Esmé Bianco settles sexual assault lawsuit against Marilyn Manson
Bianco sued Manson, real name Brian Warner, and his company Marilyn Manson Records in 2021, accusing him of sexual assault and battery, and human trafficking, in relation to incidents dating back to 2011.
This was one of four cases launched against the musician after his former fiancée Evan Rachel Wood went public with her own allegations about their time together.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, Bianco's lawyer Jay Ellwanger said: "Ms Bianco has agreed to resolve her claims against Brian Warner and Marilyn Manson Records Inc in order to move on with her life and career".
Earlier this month, another case launched against Manson by model Ashley Morgan Smithline was dismissed when she missed a deadline to appoint new legal representation, after her original lawyer stepped down in October.
Multiple women came forward with claims of sexual assault against Manson after Wood named him as the previously anonymous abuser she had spoken about publicly for several years. Four went legal with those claims, which Manson has always denied.
With Bianco and Smithkline's cases at an end without getting to court, there are now two working their way through the system. One from an unnamed woman, and another filed by Manson's former assistant Ashley Walters.
That latter case was dismissed last year after a judge ruled that the statute of limitations prevented the litigation from proceeding. However, Walters is currently appealing that decision.
Manson himself launched legal action against Wood and her girlfriend Illma Gore last year over the claims made against him, ahead of the release of a documentary discussing them.
A criminal case investigating the claims against Manson is also ongoing but no charges have yet been brought against him.
New York AG criticises MSG venues for denying entry to lawyers involved in litigation against the company
Reports began circulating last year - including in the New York Times - that MSG now had a policy of using its facial recognition technology to spot and block lawyers entering its venues, if those lawyers had clients currently suing the business.
James says that those reports indicate that employees at no less than 90 law firms might be denied entry to an MSG venue because of that policy.
"We write to raise concerns that the policy may violate the New York civil rights law and other city, state, and federal laws prohibiting discrimination and retaliation for engaging in protected activity", her letter states.
"Such practices certainly run counter to the spirit and purpose of such laws, and laws promoting equal access to the courts: forbidding entry to lawyers representing clients who have engaged in litigation against the company may dissuade such lawyers from taking on legitimate cases, including sexual harassment or employment discrimination claims".
The AG also notes that "research suggests that the company's use of facial recognition software may be plagued with biases and false positives against people of colour and women".
With all that in mind, she requests: "By 13 Feb 2023, please respond to this letter to state the justifications for the company's policy and identify all efforts you are undertaking to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and that the company's use of facial recognition technology will not lead to discrimination".
James then concludes: "Discrimination and retaliation against those who have petitioned the government for redress have no place in New York".
In a statement accompanying her letter, James said: "MSG Entertainment cannot fight their legal battles in their own arenas. Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall are world-renowned venues and should treat all patrons who purchased tickets with fairness and respect".
"Anyone with a ticket to an event should not be concerned that they may be wrongfully denied entry based on their appearance", she added, "and we're urging MSG Entertainment to reverse this policy".
In response to the letter from James, MSG insisted that its policy in this domain is legal. "To be clear", it said in a statement, "our policy does not unlawfully prohibit anyone from entering our venues and it is not our intent to dissuade attorneys from representing plaintiffs in litigation against us".
"We are merely excluding a small percentage of lawyers only during active litigation", it added. "Most importantly, to even suggest anyone is being excluded based on the protected classes identified in state and federal civil rights laws is ludicrous. Our policy has never applied to attorneys representing plaintiffs who allege sexual harassment or employment discrimination".
So there you go. Maybe MSG's policy in this domain is compliant with all the relevant laws, maybe it isn't. Though, either way, I think we can all agree that it qualifies as - to use the legal jargon - "a bit of a dick move".
Bad Bunny sample litigation almost settled
A company called BM Records sued Bad Bunny and his team back in 2021 claiming that 'Safaera' - which appeared on the 2020 album 'YHLQMDLG' - contained uncleared samples taken from a series of influential mixtapes produced by DJ Playero and released by the label.
The record company, which was an early champion of the reggaeton genre as it was first emerging in Puerto Rico in the 1990s, noted in its lawsuit that reviews of the Bad Bunny track had referenced the DJ Playero connection. Pitchfork, for example, had called it "a five-minute tribute to DJ Playero's genre defining mixtapes of the 1990s".
The lawsuit then stated that other samples on 'Safaera' had seemingly been properly licensed by Bad Bunny's label, but that hadn't happened with the samples that came from three Playero works: 'Chocha Con Bicho', 'Besa Tu Cuerpo' and 'Sigan Bailando'.
DJ Playero himself posted on Instagram to stress that he was not involved in anyway in the litigation, which he called an "unfortunate situation". He also expressed his "respect" for Bad Bunny and his collaborators on 'Safaera'.
Nevertheless, the lawsuit continued to go through the motions, with a mediation session organised earlier this month. In a new legal filing with the court, both sides in the dispute confirm that "a settlement in principle was reached at the mediation" which is "subject to full execution of a binding written settlement agreement".
"A draft of a settlement agreement has been circulated", the filing continues, "but the parties expect this process to take some time since the settlement is complex and will require the review and approval of multiple corporate and individual parties".
With that in mind, those involved in the lawsuit request that the court pause the litigation while the final details of the settlement are agreed. Needless to say, the terms of that settlement were not shared.
+1 Records partners with Exceleration Music
"+1 Records has always been different", says Kaps. "We are an independent record label that comes from a management perspective, specialising in artist development. Our A&R prioritises music and artists over data. I am so happy to partner with an independent company whose values, philosophies, strategies and resourcefulness mirror our own".
"Together we will be an even greater resource for independent artists", he goes on. "Our first goal has always been and will always be to allow artists to be artists, supported by a passionate and creative team where the artist always comes first".
Exceleration's Managing Partner Glen Barros adds: "Our investment in +1 underscores one primary way in which Exceleration serves the independent music community. Jonny has done a remarkable job of creating a cutting-edge label. We believe that, with our added human and financial resources, he will have the ability to take the label to the next level and beyond - way beyond! We can't wait to see what the future holds for this partnership".
Following the deal, +1 has new releases lined up from Rejjie Snow, Nate Husser, Lo Village and Anna Shoemaker.
Lickd integrates with livestreaming software Streamlabs
Says Lickd CEO Paul Sampson: "We are delighted to be working with Streamlabs to build a bespoke product that will provide streamers with pre-cleared stock music to use on their livestreams. Streamlabs' impressive technology and growing business pipeline inherently aligns with Lickd's growing reputation as the go-to music platform for streamers".
"We look forward to joining thousands of streamers", he goes on, "and empowering them with new ways to both engage with fans and expand their audience".
Streamlabs Head of Product Ashray Urs adds: "Streamlabs Music not only streamlines the process of sourcing and using music but also reduces copyright claims. This feature is significant given the number of streamers who are currently incorporating music into their streams daily. Streamlabs is taking proactive steps to help streamers adhere to copyright laws and protect both streamers and artists".
Slowthai announces new album, imprisons himself in mirrored room
"The first album was the sound of where I'm from and everything I thought I knew", he says. "The second album is what was relevant to me at that moment in time, the present. And this album is completely me - about how I feel and what I want to be. It's everything I've been leading up to".
The album sees him plunging into rock music with producer Dan Carey, and singing as well as rapping.
"This album was me trying to emulate the spirit of the brotherhood ethos that bands have", he explains. "Music is about the feeling and emotion that goes into it. Like an artist making a painting, it's the expression of that moment in time. I really felt like I didn't want to rap, whereas before, rap was the only way I could express myself with the tools I had. Now that I have more freedom to create and do more, why wouldn't we change it up?"
"It doesn't matter what or who people think you are, you've just got to stay true and respect yourself", he goes on. "I have UGLY tattooed on my face because it's a reminder to love myself, rather than put myself down constantly or feel the impression people have of me should determine who I am as a person. At the end of the day, the art I make is for myself, and the music I make is for myself, if I enjoy it then who gives a fuck?"
"So, the way I should live my life should be without any expectations of anyone else", he concludes. "I think it's something that we all need to hear because everyone needs a smile, and everyone needs a bit of joy and you need to look in yourself to really feel it because no one else can give you the real feeling".
The album is out on 3 Mar. To promote its announcement, Slowthai is currently livestreaming himself from inside a room built out of two-way mirrors. You can drop in and watch him here.
Law firm not allowed to break ties with Kanye West via newspaper ads
Greenberg Traurig is one of various law firms that was keen to stop working for West as he started to issue ever more controversial and offensive statements last year. At the time it was working for the rapper on an uncleared sample lawsuit in relation to his 'Donda 2' track 'Flowers'.
The judge overseeing the sample case, Analisa Torres, granted Greenberg Traurig's motion to withdraw from the sample litigation at the end of November, but also ordered the law firm to personally serve West with a 'withdrawal order' that stated it is no longer representing him in the case.
Earlier this month Greenberg Traurig wrote to Torres saying that it was struggling to locate West in order to hand over the withdrawal order. The firm said that it didn't know where he was currently living, the phone number they had for him was no longer working, and any West representatives they previously dealt with have also now broken their ties with the rapper.
With that in mind, it asked the judge for permission to formally end its relationship with West via less conventional methods.
First, it would send the withdrawal order to two addresses in California where lawyers working on another case involving West reckon he might be residing. And second, it would publish adverts in two LA newspapers telling West it is no longer representing him in the 'Flowers' litigation.
However, Torres reckons that the lawyers at Greenberg Traurig haven't yet exhausted all the potential conventional methods for serving the withdrawal order.
She said earlier this week that the law firm's efforts to date to locate West do not yet prove that serving the withdrawal order directly to the rapper was "impracticable".
She also wasn't convinced that newspaper ads would be a particularly effective way to reach West, presumably because he doesn't come across as a particularly avid consumer of local journalism.
The judge then suggested that the lawyers should consider conducting database searches or hire a private investigator to locate West. Or, you know, maybe they could just pay one of the photographers that snapped these images of the rapper this weekend to serve the papers.
Greenberg Traurig now has until 15 Feb to try to get its withdrawal order into West's hands. It remains to be seen if the lawyers manage that - or whether they'll be back in court again seeking approval for more innovative methods of delivery, newspaper ad based or otherwise.