the dude abides
EMI officially announced on Monday that it will undergo a strategic review process, along with Citigroup, to explore options that include selling the company. The list of potential bidders has been discussed for sometime, with the recent sale of Warner Music only intensifying speculation. The Los Angeles Times reported that Universal Music is planning to make a bid, while other names frequently bandied about include Access Industries (for a WMG merger), BMG Rights Management and other investment players who were in on the Warner bidding. Observers are wondering how much Citi will get for the company – as the WSJ points out, Warner was sold for eight times its 2010 earnings, with some now thinking EMI could fetch as much as 2.5 billion pounds… As Sony Music prepares for the entrance of Doug Morris next month, Rick Rubin has been talking publicly for the first time in awhile, toasting the success of Adele‘s 21 and making it clear he’s always been a ‘creative’ guy and the “voice of reason and positive creativity” – leaving the ‘business’ side of things to the “people at the label.” Where and how the Columbia Records co-chairman will fit into the new Sony regime is unclear, though his comments seem to come at an opportune time… CEO of Hip-Hop Since 1978 management firm, Gee Roberson, has been named chairman of Geffen Records, he will report to Jimmy Iovine… Elsewhere, the social streaming-music site Turntable.fm is attracting a lot of new users and getting increased attention, though some are wondering if that will also mean scrutiny from content owners, as they do not have licenses from any labels. The company maintains that it falls under the protection of the DMCA, similar to how online radio service Pandora operates without licenses… And Best Buy is reportedly preparing to launch a new service called Music Cloud in the U.S., which as the name implies will be a cloud-music service – the company already operates a similar service in the UK called My Music Anywhere; agreements with all the major labels are said to be in place.
UMG taps INgrooves for digital in North America
According to The Wrap, the auction of EMI Group by Citigroup will begin this month, as the bank has been preparing the offering that has potential bidders, which include private equity firms, billionaires and rival music groups lining up. While recent reports have Warner Music auction winner, Len Blavatnik‘s Access Industries, the likely frontrunner for acquiring EMI in an attempt to merge the two, the article’s sources have Citi officials carefully watching the current shareholder lawsuits contesting the WMG sale… Universal Music Group will be replacing its current North American digital music supply chain with INgrooves‘ ONE Division, which will now be responsible for all online and mobile deliveries to retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, AT&T, Verizon and others. UMG first partnered with INgrooves back in 2008, becoming a strategic investor in the digital distribution provider helmed by CEO Robb McDaniels… UK-based fundraising platform PledgeMusic has announced it is launching in the U.S. and Randy Sabiston has been named Managing Director. A veteran of music publishing, Sabiston previously held executives positions at S1 Songs America, Warner/Chappell, Polygram/Island Music Publishing and EMI Music Publishing… Meanwhile, after Sony Music recently landed bidding-derby act Odd Future, signing them to a high seven-figure imprint label deal with Sony/RED, Columbia Records has signed Kreayshawn (who also has OFWGKTA associations). A&R player Mark Williams inked the Oakland-based artist, who has been the subject of a label derby as well, following her song “Gucci Gucci” racking up over a million YouTube views in a matter of weeks. Speaking to MTV about all the recent attention, Kreayshawn, whose real name is Natassia Zolot, said “I’m not a person who just made a song and happened to get it popping off of one song. I think there’s a lot of songs that are going to sound even better and are a different genre,” adding, “Honestly, do you really [think] somebody would sign someone off of one song? Being like, ‘Oh, we’re just gonna take a gamble?’” Incidentally, new debut releases on Columbia from Foster the People, Cults and The Vaccines are out now…
Spotify & Facebook Joining Forces?
Last week saw reports that Apple has signed licensing agreements with EMI Music and Sony Music for its imminent cloud-music service, leaving Universal Music Group the sole holdout, though word seems to be that a deal is on the cusp. While many of those watching are predicting an announcement of the new service at Apple’s annual WWDC event in June, the other remaining issue is having deals in place with the major music publishing companies, which right now they don’t appear to have. According to a report on CNET, despite Apple’s previous stepping out with increased iTunes song-sample lengths without the approval of publishers that created a contentious situation, there isn’t much keeping the two sides apart on a cloud-streaming agreement… Most are already hailing Apple as the fait-accompli winner of the cloud music ‘wars’, though Amazon made a big wave this week by offering Lady Gaga‘s new album Born This Way at a deeply discounted price, a move that the WSJ paints as an offensive on the iTunes digital music dominance, though Amazon is still a long way from making a dent in iTunes stranglehold. According to the article’s sources, Born This Way sold between 250,000 – 350,000 across both online marketplaces in its first day… Over the weekend news surfaced that Access Industries and Len Blavatnik‘s offer for Warner Music was not the highest, a group including Sony Corp., Guggenheim Partners and Ron Perelman offered 3% more at $8.50 a share, though the deal would have been contingent on Sony board and partner approval. How this will effect the multiple shareholder lawsuits Warner is currently facing is yet to be seen… Speaking at e-G8 in Paris this week, Sean Parker made comments, as MediaMemo notes, that may explain his interest in the recent bidding on Warner Music, and could also portend future involvement in bidding on recorded music companies, an excerpt: I think that there is a pretty dramatic change in the way music is monetized that is on the cusp of happening. Back catalogues of record labels are going to become extremely valuable…If you believe this transformation is occurring, if you believe the broken distribution systems are on the verge of being fixed, those recordings are dramatically undervalued… And speaking of labels for sale, Forbes has a profile of EMI group CEO Roger Faxon, framing him as the key in the label’s recent turnaround, including major digital breakthroughs with Beatles and Pink Floyd catalogs, though his future at the company may depend solely on who the new owners will be… And is Facebook Music launching soon and on the back of Spotify?
Apple reaches agreement with EMI for cloud-music service
The news of Apple inking a cloud-music deal with EMI Music was first reported late yesterday on CNET, and according to the industry sources the report is based on, the company is close to reaching similar agreements with both Sony Music and Universal Music Group – a deal with Warner Music was reported to have been reached last month. By now having licensing agreements with two of the four major label groups, the implications are numerous, but mainly it’s that Apple will likely once again be the driving force behind the latest shift in the digital music arena, and that Amazon and Google jumped too soon by releasing services without label deals in place… While lately the tech and music industries have been hot on the cloud-music future and closely watching developments unfold, it remains to be seen how much consumer demand there is, and on a large scale, what are people willing to pay. A new survey from Nielsen that targeted people with ‘connected devices’ (smartphones, iPads, etc), asked how much they would be willing to pay for a monthly subscription for various types of content (music, TV, movies, news, etc), and the average seems to come in right around $10/month. That falls in line with some current services that are available, and isn’t a bad number, but of course that is all in theory, and an important point to keep in mind is that an overwhelming majority of people still do not use smartphones or other high-priced ‘connected’ devices… Some attention has also turned to Apple’s patent-pending pre-buffering technology that is supposed to make its streaming experience better than other current services, though as Evolver.fm points out, Pandora and Spotify have been using similar technology for some time already… And in related news, which is receiving less excitment than the Apple-EMI deal, is that EMI Music has now also reached an agreement with digital music subscription service eMusic.
Slacker launches its new on-demand music service
Last week saw a settlement agreement between the RIAA and Lime Wire founder Mark Gorton, in the amount of $105 million. The deal was reached after the first day of testimony from Warner Music CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. – who was scheduled to appear back on the stand last Thursday, the day on which the settlement was reached. While the amount to be paid is much lower than what the major label plaintiffs were seeking, originally trillions and later it was pegged in the billions, many are looking to Bronfman’s statements during cross-examination as critical in a variety of ways. Was it the focus on how much money the CEO had gotten out of the investment in taking over the company in 2004? Or the massive layoffs and cutting of artists from the roster, or maybe the possibility of the Gorton’s attorney’s bringing up the recent insider trading conviction Bronfman received – a line of questioning that wasn’t ruled out by the judge. While over $100 million is still quite a lot of money (though it’s not likely to make its way to any artist pockets), and the shuttering of Lime Wire, can both be seen as victories for further diminishing illegal file-sharing of music, CNET‘s Greg Sandoval points out, there is also a silver lining for the advancement of new digital music services, evidenced in the first on-record comments from a high-ranking label executive supporting the unbundling of music… Meanwhile, Slacker has launched a new on-demand music subscription service, adding to its current interactive streaming model that is similar to Pandora. This makes Slacker the first and only company to offer both fully developed interactive radio and an on-demand music services, according to company executives. While debatable, the move is certainly a coup for the service, which has often been often left out of the mainstream media conversations about the new digital music landscape… UK independent label Cooking Vinyl is getting a multi-million dollar infusion from a fund backed by VC firm Icebreaker, which will allow the label to make a number of high profile signings… Elsewhere, the intriguing litigation between FBT Productions and Universal Music Group, over the digital sales of Eminem songs, will continue in California to determine damages owed. Though, however much is determined, apparently for now, Em won’t be seeing any of it… And UK label Relentless Records, responsible for releases from Joss Stone, KT Tunstall and Cage the Elephant among others, has taken legal action against Coca-Cola over the increasing use of their energy drink product of the same name, Relentless, in connection with music venues and festivals, which is causing confusion and an unwanted corporate association for the label and its artists…
Mumford sells 31K on Grammy day
While Glassnote Entertainment‘s Mumford & Sons didn’t walk away with a Grammy award Sunday night, they did see a huge bump in one-day sales for their debut album Sigh No More. It currently is sitting atop the iTunes album chart at #1. Other winners and performers from the night, which saw the largest ratings for the award show in over a decade, are also getting a sales spike in the wake of the event… As anticipated, Pandora filed for an IPO last Friday seeking to raise $100 million, making it the first Internet-music company to go public since Napster went bankrupt in 2002. In filing, it was revealed, among other things, that the company spends half of its revenues on acquiring content, a fact that AllThingsDigital‘s Peter Kafka points out, isn’t a bad thing… Reports over the weekend have Apple considering the possibility of turning its paid MobileMe storage service, into a free “locker” for personal memorabilia such as photos, music and videos – reigniting talk of the company’s move into offering a streaming-music function. Meanwhile today, Apple announced the launch of a content subscription system for music, videos, newspapers, magazines and other forms of content, which will work similarly to app purchases, except that customers choose their type of subscription. As for what it might mean specifically for music, Evolver.fm points out; on-demand subscriptions like MOG, Rhapsody, Napster and Spotify, and the paid version of interactive radio services such as Last.fm, Pandora and Slacker, can now charge you for a subscription right within iTunes, with the same convenience for you — and the same loss of revenue for them... Radiohead has announced details about their new album The King of Limbs, which will see a digital release this weekend, a month ahead of a physical release via XL Recordings. The band’s co-manager explains to Music Week the reason behind not releasing the new album in the same manner as In Rainbows… Former EMI Music A&R prexy Nick Gatfield has been named President Of Music Division for Sony Music UK, reporting to Chairman and CEO Ged Doherty… And does Guy Hands really want to double down and make a bid for both Warner Music and EMI?
the Beats goes on
Executive shuffling continues as the year-end countdown proceeds, with the Hollywood Reporter revealing that longtime A&R executive Jeff Fenster is departing his SVP post at Jive Records, where he was most recently tasked with overseeing the Idol signings. He is presumed to be heading to a new senior-level creative position within Warner Music… Also, a recent bit of activity within Universal Music Group that was overlooked in all the scuttlebutt, is A&R hitter Luke Wood‘s exit from his EVP post at Interscope Records to assume a new position within Jimmy Iovine‘s Beats sector. Stocking stuffers anyone? Most expect more quiet moves within UMG to continue ahead of Lucian Grainge‘s official crowning as CEO in January… Stay tuned.
wheelin' & dealin'
The recent shake ups at the major music groups has led to a fair amount of musical chairs at labels over the last few months, including major shifts in creative leadership at Warner Music and EMI with more changes expected to be announced soon at Sony and Universal Music as well… Onlookers may notice a commonality between executives who have recently landed in creative positions, with insiders sharing that a man behind the man, behind the man once again has a direct line to label heads. Is a powerful veteran kingmaker back to pulling strings behind the scenes? Inquiring minds want to know…
Indies On the Way Out
Last month digital music retailer eMusic announced that they would be adding a quarter-million more songs to its service in a new partnership with Universal Music Group, this following previous deals with Warner Music and Sony over the last year, a move which had some questioning whether the service was getting away from its ‘independent’ roots. While too early to tell the larger effects the new major label partnerships will have on customers, some big indie labels have decided they will no longer make their music available, including Domino Records, Merge and the Beggars Group of labels, which includes 4AD and Matador among others. No small exit, as those handful of labels are home to some of the most popular current and past independent acts including Animal Collective, Arcade Fire, Spoon, Bon Iver and many many others. A statement from Beggars Group made it clear that the split, at least for them, is directly in response to the arrival of the major labels to the service and new terms that they “have found impossible to accept, in our own interests, those of our artists, and ultimately those of their fans”… In the latest Warner Music earnings call, it was revealed that the company has renewed their existing deal with Spotify, which currently covers European markets. And while no update on a agreement covering the U.S., many still suspect that deals with multiple majors for the startup to launch its service in America are in motion. In reference to the continued gap between physical and digital music sales, CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. made it clear that he (and presumably all the labels) are hopeful for digital increases with the launch of Google‘s impending music service among others, like Spotify?… More talk of looming cutbacks at UMG persist after the CFO of parent company Vivendi made recent ominous comments about cost saving needs, including “A lot of fat can be taken out without hurting muscle and bones” – onlookers continue to keep an eye on Island Def Jam as one of Lucian Grainge‘s prime targets for restructuring… Elsewhere, Amazon.com is getting into the movie business by launching Amazon Studios… Check Your Pulse songwriter Bonnie McKee talks to Billboard about launching her own recording project after a string of credits on some of 2010′s biggest songs… And inquiring minds want to know, which former major label head has been spotted moonlighting on lead guitar in a Neil Young cover band?