Monday, April 6, 2015

Beyoncé and Rihanna Premiered Exclusive Tracks on Tidal, Fans Promptly Put Them on YouTube


Written by Nina Ulloa

Tidal hasn’t had the most well-received launch. As Ari pointed out, a lot of fans of the service’s celebrity co-owners are pretty vocal about their dislike.

Over the weekend Tidal released two new exclusives from Rihanna and Beyoncé.

The new Rihanna track is called “American Oxygen”. She performed the track at March Madness Music Fest before premiering it on Tidal, so there’s plenty of videos of the song online.
The new exclusive Beyoncé track/video is called “Die With You”. The video features Beyoncé singing and playing the track on piano.

The track has already been ripped and uploaded to YouTube over and over again. Some of the tracks have been removed because of copyright infringement, but there’s plenty more online.

Tidal may have exclusives, but it’s pretty hard to keep them exclusive.

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The Music Industry Ship Continues to List, But Stops Taking On Water: New RIAA Stats


Written by Melinda Newman

After so many dismal years, the music industry clings to any good news like a life preserver. So even though today’s Recording Industry Assn. of America (RIAA) report shows virtual no growth, the fact that the ship seems to be at least steadied and is no longer sinking like a stone is enough reason for some to pop champagne corks.

The bigger question, of course, is how will the music industry start to experience growth again or are those days simply gone forever? For decades, the introduction of a new format, such as the CD, would often usher in increased numbers, but digital sales never brought the boom the music industry hoped for (or certainly not enough to offset the decline in physical sales) and, as the report indicate, streaming continues to pick up steam at a time when the music industry remains truly baffled at to how to turn streaming into a significant money maker for other than the top-selling artists and songwriters.

Here are some of the RIAA report’s most significant findings. For the full report and lots of pretty graphs, go here.

In 2014, wholesale revenues for the U.S. recorded music industry rose 2% to $4.86 billion. This marked the fourth year of modest growth. Estimated retail value dropped .5 percent to $6.97 billion, which is pretty much where retail value has hung out for the past four years. Imagine if Taylor Swift hadn’t released an album in 2014 and the Frozen soundtrack hadn’t continue to sell like crazy? Just to put a little perspective on things, 15 years ago the music industry was a $13 billion dollar business.

Paid streaming now accounts for 27% —or $1.87 billion— of U.S. music industry revenues. The adoption rate is still slow, especially given that many on-demand music services such as Spotify, still offer freemium listening, but there is growth. In 2014, the number of paid subscriptions rose to 7.7 million, up 26% from 2013’s 6.2 million. That’s a much slower rate of growth than from 2012 to 2013, when the number nearly doubled from 3.4 million paid subscribers to 6.2 million subscribers.

Pundits started writing about the demise of the CD the moment iTunes launched its download store in 2003, but the CD just keeps hanging on and on and on. In 2014, physical sales accounted for 32% of US music industry revenues. Guess what? That’s only 5% less than digital download’s 37%. Those stats show that lots of folks still want to own a physical CD, especially buyers in an older demographic. Vinyl continued to be a ray of sunshine, increasing a whopping 49% over 2013 to $315 million. They now account for 14% of the physical market, making it the first time since 1987 that they commanded a double digit percentage.

While still the largest piece of the pie at 37%, digital download revenues were down 3% from 2013, the same percentage as CD sales. The last few years have made it increasingly clear that the digital download revolution, instead of saving the music industry, will ultimately be remembered as a gateway to get people to the next digital thing. As people migrate to streaming (paid or otherwise), digital album sales dropped 6.6% in 2014 from 2013, and digital track sales fell 10.1%.

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Jay Z's Tidal Service Fights for Streaming Music Supremacy


Written by Steve Knopper -- Tidal's key assets are the world's biggest pop stars, including Jay Z, Beyonce, Madonna, Rihanna and Kanye West, and a set of principles that suggest artists should always receive proper compensation. But does the newly relaunched music-streaming service have anything else to compete with Spotify or Apple's upcoming Beats Music?

"If the $10 service is identical to others, then there's no particular advantage to people going to it," says attorney Larry Kenswil, a former top Universal Music digital executive. "You've got to still favor Spotify, because it has such a huge market share."

Until mid-March, Tidal was one of the smaller companies in the booming streaming-music market, which grew in revenue from $1.4 billion in 2013 to $1.9 billion last year, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Then Jay Z's company Project Panther Bidco bought Tidal's Swedish owner, Aspiro AB, for $54 million, and relaunched the service earlier this week as a splashy, star-studded operation, declaring "a whole new era."

"We're not going to give away music for free," Vania Schlogel, Tidal's senior executive, tells Rolling Stone, referring to YouTube and the ad-supported portion of Spotify's service. "There's not going to be a massive free tier that dilutes the value of music."

She adds: "We're not here to wage war, or try and steal subscribers from other streaming services. What we're here to do is change the conversation about the value of music."

As streaming takes over from CD sales (which dropped 13 percent last year, according to the RIAA's latest report) and iTunes-style downloads (which dropped from $2.8 billion to $2.6 billion), many artists have criticized services such as Spotify and YouTube for low royalty payments. Upon releasing her smash album 1989 last fall, Taylor Swift declared: "I'm not willing to contribute my life's work to an experiment."

Since then, top executives at major record labels have declared they would push Spotify and others to limit or "window" the available music on free streaming services. Tidal's owners have picked up this rallying cry. "This is a platform that's owned by artists. We are treating these people that really care about the music with the utmost respect," Jay Z told the New York Times before relaunching Tidal.

But many in the music business wonder if Tidal has a sufficient business model to go after Spotify's 60 million users, 15 million of whom pay $10 a month, or YouTube's 1 billion viewers. Apple, which bought Beats Music in 2014 as part of a $3 billion deal for the Beats Electronics headphones company, also plans on launching its own on-demand service soon. Tidal charges a $20 monthly fee for high-quality audio files, though executives are promising exclusive content from top artists.

"I'm very skeptical of the idea that you're going to get any significant members of the public paying $240 a year [for streaming music]," says Bobby Rosenbloum, an entertainment attorney for Greenburg Traurig in Atlanta, which represents several top digital-music services. Adds Kenswil: "Charging an extra $10 a month on the chances your favorite artist will put some unique content up, as opposed to going to their website — it's a challenge."

Also, most of the stars who receive a reported 3 percent apiece of Tidal equity will be unlikely to provide hot new exclusive content. So far, the service has posted mostly retreads, such as the White Stripes' first-ever TV appearance and Daft Punk's 9-year-old Electroma film.

Almost all of Tidal's new celebrity owners are signed to major record labels, who have an interest in spreading their content to as many services as possible. "On one hand, artists are coming out and saying, 'Hey, subscriptions are good.' On the other hand, they're picking a horse and saying, 'If you pick this service, you can't get [the exclusive content] on the other ones,'" says Anthony Bay, chief executive of music-streaming service Rdio. "That, to me, is perplexing, and I don't think it's going to work." Top label executives have said recently they'd like to limit free streaming, so fans who pay get access to more and newer content than those on the ad-supported model.

Tidal's Schlogel, however, believes the artists' presence alone will overcome any of these potential problems. She won't divulge specific details about how Tidal will properly compensate its non-owner artists, other than to say Tidal, like Beats or Rhapsody, charges fees to all users.

"I would be surprised if the labels fight this, because the labels are for the artists, and I would imagine they really want to support an artist-owned platform," she says. "We just took control of this company a few weeks ago. Not everything's built in there right now. But all these programs we're working on, like fostering emerging artists and cementing connections between artists and fans—that is all to come."

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The Apollo Theater Recognizes Four Bold Soul Sisters


Written by Stephen McMillian -- In honor of Women’s History Month, the Apollo Theater recently paid tribute to four legendary women in soul music as part of its monthly Live Wire series.

Bold Soul Sisters: A Revolution of Sound & Style featured conversations with Rochelle Fleming of First Choice, Ruth Pointer of the Pointer Sisters, Nona Hendryx of Labelle, and Kathy Sledge of the Sister Sledge. The program was moderated by journalist and essayist Christian John Wikane.

The questions revolved around how the legends rose to fame, their accomplishments and struggles and how they have managed to maintain their careers.

“It’s always been a problem,” said Hendryx regarding working in a predominately male music industry. “Female songwriters would always be paired with male songwriters and could never stand alone. There wasn’t much of a precedent set for women. The women that were making strides were primarily the artists who stepped out in front of big bands. They were the ones making changes and becoming businesswomen and also writing songs. To this day, it’s still a male-dominated industry. It’s still assumed when a woman walks through the door, you are an artist, not a label owner since there is an unspoken rule that if you are a woman, you’re an artist and not a business person.”

Fleming, whose voice has been sampled many times on rappers’ and fellow recording artists’ songs, said she used to get mad when she heard her voice being used for other people’s hits. “Now, I consider it an honor,” Fleming said.

Working with sisters in a group is difficult, explained Pointer. “In the late seventies, when Richard Perry was forming a new record label, he wanted us to come aboard. However, June and Bonnie, who went solo, were no longer a part of the group.” Pointer admitted that there were tensions at times with June and Bonnie. “We tried out two different girls to replace June and Bonnie,” said Pointer, “but it didn’t work out.” Pointer also admitted that between June and Bonnie, she and Anita decided to have June be a part of the rebirth of the Pointer Sisters by the early 1980s.

Sledge recalled the painstaking process in working with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards on their 1979 album We Are Family. “We had to learn each song one line at a time as opposed to learning the songs entirely,” said Sledge. She also reflected upon her and her sisters opening for the late Rick James while he was on tour, and her naïveté that he did drugs. They had also opened at one point for Bill Cosby.

“Bill Cosby was always a gentleman to us,” said Sledge. Throughout touring, she said she eventually learned to maintain a balance between both her personal and work life.

Pointer noted that when her group was struggling in the late seventies, Rick James called them to do background session work. “It was a blessing because Anita and I had children to support,” said Pointer.

When a clip of First Choice from Soul Train was screened, Fleming recalled how nervous she was when she appeared on the show. “I was nervous, happy and overwhelmed. So many things were running in my mind.” Soul Train host Don Cornelius asked her backstage where she got her singing voice. “I was blessed with it,” she recalled telling Cornelius. “Well, that is a blessing,” Cornelius replied to her.

Labelle was the first black group to ever play the Metropolitan Opera House. Hendryx reminisced that “it was exciting. We wanted everyone to dress in silver so everyone came dressed in various silver outfits. There were even two nuns dressed in silver!”

The group’s space age look was due in part to their designers. “Labelle needed to change,” Hendryx said. She wanted the group to be considered a band, not just a trio of girls singing. Change was also a part of the group’s lyrical content. Hendryx, who wrote many of Labelle’s songs, said, “I didn’t just write songs about relationships, but political songs as well. I can only write about what I experienced and the community in which I lived.”

The Pointer Sisters’ 1930s look was inspired by the music of the records of that era that the group listened to when they were younger which ultimately influenced their outfits. “This was the year after Lady Sings the Blues came out, and we were inspired by Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith, the women of that time period,” Pointer said.

The ladies had their share of dealing with racial prejudice as well. For instance, one time when the Pointer Sisters were invited to a party in their honor, they found out that they were actually believed to be the servants and were told to wait in the kitchen.

When asked about sexism in the music industry, Pointer recalled a situation years ago in which their drummer, Tom Saulsberry, told her and her sisters that he and the rest of the all-male band was making more money than the group and that they had no idea what their managers were doing to them. “I thought it was very honest of him to tell us that,” she stated. She added that she and Saulsberry remain friends to this day.

Although there are more opportunities for women now in both the creative and business side of the entertainment industry, all of the ladies still see a need for further growth.

“It’s changed but there is still a long way to go,”Hendryx said.

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European Regulators Sticking their Nose into Apple's Streaming Music Business before it even get's off the Ground


Sticking their nose in Apple's business is becoming an annual affair with European Regulators of one kind or another. Last year they warned Apple that they had to adopt the charging standard for mobile devices that was adopted by Android because, well, they felt like it. Now, one year later, and they're at it again. European regulators are scrutinizing Apple's dealings with record labels, amid an intensifying battle over the future of free, ad-supported music streaming services such as Spotify.

The Financial Times reports that several music labels "have been sent questionnaires requesting information about agreements between the labels and Apple ahead of the planned summer launch of the company's own music streaming service, putting it into competition with the likes of Spotify, Deezer and Google." Of course, let's be absolutely blunt here, Spotify and Deezer are European. To be specific, they originate in England and France respectively.

The Financial Times notes that "Such questionnaires are often triggered by a formal complaint to the commission, the EU's top competition authority. The information gathering is the first step in a probe and does not necessarily mean Brussels will launch a formal antitrust investigation. If the commission concludes there is wrongdoing it is empowered to require changes to business practices and can impose hefty fines.

According to the Financial Times, "The commission's probe has prompted finger-pointing within the music industry about the source of the complaint, with some suspecting one of the companies that currently offers free streaming services. But it comes at a critical moment for the music business, as its income has shifted away from digital downloads towards a new generation of streaming services, led by Spotify. Spotify has 15m subscribers who pay $10 a month for unlimited listening, with 60m people using its free, ad-supported service."

Last month we posted a report titled "The Music Industry is frowning on Freemium Streaming Services just as Apple's New Service is Around the Corner." In that report we noted that the music industry had been re-thinking the so-called "freemium" music streaming business model.

The issue exploded onto the scene with the very public incident of Taylor Swift yanking her music from Spotify. In November the Rolling Stone noted that Taylor Swift had never been the most enthusiastic supporter of free music. Swift had written at an earlier time that "Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for."

Apple is banging the drum to basically wipe out those services. They're willing to sell a streaming service and drop the freemium tier which is hurting the industry and artists like Taylor Swift. That in turn would hurt the European music streaming services and hence a magical complaint was filed because a new business model being introduced by Apple and supported by the U.S. music labels could upset the Apple cart for the European brands that got away with giving music away without paying for it for too long. What the European regulators are quietly threatening now reeks of politics, pure and simple.

The New York Times reported just last week that Apple failed to get Pricing Concessions from Record Labels for their Upcoming Streaming Music Service. But the Europeans of course don't trust the U.S. for anything. They prefer to stir things up, get big headlines in the press and show U.S. businesses that they're the boss. The Europeans demand communistic rules when it comes to business. No, honest negotiations with the music labels isn't allowed. I hope that the music label will tell Europe in no uncertain terms to shove their questionnaires into unpleasant locales. But they won't even though they should.

What's next? Perhaps some European regulator will decide that Apple's iOS is just too damn different and that Android must run on Apple's iPhone to make it easier for Europeans. That's how stupid European regulators (or parliament) were when forcing USB down Apple's throat instead of allowing them to run their business as they saw fit and provide better market solutions. Until the U.S. regulators start barking back, this European nonsense is never going to end.

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Taylor Swift, Jay-Z take music business into own hands as Apple looms


Written by Kevin Chupka -- According to the Recording Industry Association of America, 2014 marked the first year that streaming music revenue beat out CD sales and the options for streaming are growing. Spotify and Pandora (P) already have significant market share. Apple is rumored to be building out its offering too.

One criticism about existing streaming platforms centers around artist pay. Spotify, for instance, uses a complicated system to calculate artist payouts that averages somewhere between $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream.

Time magazine crunched the numbers last fall and the top grossing song on Spotify from January - October of 2014 was “Summer” by Calvin Harris. Users streamed the song 203 million times, and the payout fell somewhere between $1.2 million and $1.7 million.

Those numbers are controversial however. Taylor Swift famously removed her catalogue from Spotify last fall saying:

I'm not willing to contribute my life's work to an experiment that I don't feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists and creators of this music. And I just don't agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.

The aforementioned Time article, citing a Spotify spokesperson, claimed Taylor Swift made $2 million off global Spotify streams. Swift’s Big Machine recording label says the payout was significantly less: $496,044.

“The Spotify argument has always been that the more people that come onboard, the more money will be generated, the more money that’s generated, the happier the artists and the labels and the talent suppliers will be,” says Dave DiMartino, Executive Editor of Yahoo Music.

In an effort to combat the Spotify-like pay discrepancies, Jay-Z and a bevy of his fellow artists (Swift included) announced a new streaming service called Tidal that promises to fairly compensate artists for their work.

A changing musical landscape

It’s not surprising that these musicians have banded together in this way because it’s not just recording revenue that is being impacted by a changing consumer. For decades, artists made their real nest egg out on the road. As the cost of putting on a major tour has ballooned so too have ticket prices.

Tastemaking teens don’t have the $150 it costs to go see many big acts live. Teens “get their music for the most part for free. They go to shows where there’s 150 bands all at once over a three day play,” DiMartino observes. “The days of the superstar that can fill stadiums - those days are going quicker than ever.”
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So if artists instead double down on streaming services, where does that leave the consumer, sifting through all those options? And which service can ultimately come out on top?

“First and foremost to set themselves apart, exclusive content is a big deal,” DiMartino believes. Higher quality may also be a factor (Tidal offers such bells and whistles in a premium package), but only for the true audiophile, a niche group to be sure.

It will all lead to competition in things like price, but that change won’t really come until the user base grows enough to warrant it. Still, DiMartino says that as we get into 2016 and 2017, streaming will, more and more, become the only way to consume much of the new music being made.

What about Tim Cook?

The elephant in the room in all of this is Apple (AAPL). With close to $180 billion in cash, the company can afford to do just about anything and rumors suggest one of those things is a beefed up music service under the Beats name it acquired last year.

“If they have access to iTunes and everyone’s iTune player,” DiMartino notes, “they know who listens to what. They know that fans of band A like band B. They instantly have a step up on virtually everybody because they have an already existing database that they can utilize and really win big with.”
Exactly what Apple has planned remains a mystery and so it may not be fair to predict much more about the future of music until the company that changed it all with the release of iTunes in 2001 weighs in again. Still the likes of Jay-Z, Beyonce and Taylor Swift seem to have had enough. Will striking out on their own be the answer or will Tim Cook and company intervene?

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The Lowly CD Still A Big Part Of The Music Business


Written by Bobby Owsinski -- All of the music industry news for the last year or so has been directed at oncoming music streaming steamroller and the downfall of the music download, but what’s interesting is that our good old physical CD still remains a huge part of the music business. The latest report from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the music industry’s trade group, shows the 2014 sales of the bright and shiny disc at $1.85 billion, or about 27% of the total U.S. recorded music revenue.
There’s no denying that CDs are on the way out, with unit sales falling another 16% in 2014 from the previous year. It’s true that it’s just a matter of time before the format goes the way of the vinyl record (although there’s been a recent resurgence), the 8 track tape and the cassette. What’s interesting is that the 144.1 million CDs officially reported as sold by the RIAA in 2014 doesn’t represent the real total by a long shot.
The CD sales listed in the annual revenue statistics revolve around sales reported via Nielsen Soundscan, the retail system that registers the sale at the point of purchase by scanning the barcode.
While that’s most likely the majority of CD sales sold at retailers and online giants like Amazon, it isn’t all of them though. CDs sold by artists and bands at their gigs or on their websites aren’t counted. Neither are CDs sold at worship events. And of course, bootleg CDs aren’t in those totals either. In fact, there’s a huge underground economy still based on the CD that just doesn’t register on the RIAA’s radar.
That said, the CD business is falling and when it finally hits the ground, it won’t be able to get back up. In 2014, streaming revenue from services like Spotify and Pandora overtook CD sales for the first time, ringing up $1.87 billion in revenue.
If you’ve read any of my posts on streaming from the last year, you know that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it come to streaming. There are still only 7.7 million paid subscribers to streaming services in the U.S., and it’s not beyond the realm of reason to believe that figure won’t rise to at least 30 million, or even 50 million, in a few years, especially with the introduction of Google Music Key and the upcoming Apple streaming service.
If you extrapolate that out, it’s easy to see that streaming income alone can account for about the same $6.97 billion total industry income, more than offsetting the decrease in CD and music download revenue. If anything, we might finally begin to see an increase in revenue if streaming takes off like many industry analysts predict.
That said, the CD isn’t dead now, and it probably won’t be dead a few years from now either regardless of the streaming service’s inroads. It’s definitely a format on the wane, but it may take a lot longer to finally put the last nail in the coffin than people think.
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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How Verve Records Got Gutted


Written by Ted Gioia -- The record label of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald just got swallowed by a hip-hop business… and no one even noticed!
The announcement could hardly have been hidden any better. Slipping the news into the second paragraph of a press release about a management change, Universal Music disclosed last week that most of the day-to-day responsibility for the once great Verve label has been absorbed by its hip-hop and pop operations. Interscope Geffen A&M, the home of Eminem and Lady Gaga, “is now responsible for Verve’s sales, marketing and film and TV licensing.”

What a strange turn of events! Interscope, founded in 1989 by Jimmy Iovine, first made its mark in the music world as the in-your-face label of gangsta rappers—although later corporate moves have broadened its catalog to include a range of pop and rock acts. Verve, in contrast, started out as a posh home for jazz stars who played the classic songs of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and other craftsman tunesmiths of the Golden Age of America popular music. Even the most optimistic jazz fan must cringe at the prospects of a shotgun marriage between these different organizations with their contrasting traditions.

My sources tell me that the organizational shake-up took place quietly some weeks back. David Foster, head of Verve, is still in place, and can rely on newly-appointed general manager Mike Rittberg to help him maintain some independence for the label. But the rank and file of the Verve team have been dismissed. The sales and marketing push behind whatever remains of Verve’s jazz mission—if anything—will be handled by the same folks who are pushing Maroon 5 and Imagine Dragons. Anyone want to guess how much they care about jazz?

Oh, yes, in the fourth paragraph of the press release, we learn that Verve will “redevelop its brand in the coming year.” I think this is corporate speak for “we don’t quite know what we are doing.”

Frankly, I am not surprised at this turn of events. Norman Granz, who founded Verve Records in 1956, would be horrified by the recent history of his iconic label. Granz worked with most of the major jazz artists of the middle decades of the 20th century. At one time or another, Granz recorded Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and dozens of other now legendary jazz figures.

What would Granz think of Verve’s Donny Osmond album “tracing the high and low points of both his professional and personal life”? Or the recent Barry Manilow album on Verve, which finds the pop crooner collaborating with a host of dead musicians? It’s a long path from Billie Holiday to Donny Osmond, and the trajectory is definitely downward.

Granz was a tenacious businessman, but he also knew that some things were more important than money. He fought against racial discrimination at every juncture, and refused to compromise in situations where others would have folded. He once confronted an armed policeman trying to plant drugs in Ella Fitzgerald’s dressing room. “I ought to kill you,” threatened the cop, who pointed a gun at the producer’s stomach. Granz responded, “Well, if you’re going to shoot me, I mean, shoot me.” Granz showed similar courage when insisting that a taxi driver operating a “whites only” vehicle give a ride to Fitzgerald, or tearing down the signs for white and black patrons at a jazz concert. Nat Hentoff has called Granz the '”the most stubborn and brusque man I have never known”—but only someone with such fierce determination could have overcome the obstacles facing a music impresario committed to civil rights in the ’40s and ’50s.

Verve would benefit today from someone with Granz’s vision and stubbornness. As I look back at Verve’s output in recent years, the most striking aspect is the lack of any consistent guiding principles. Some albums are better than others, but too many decisions seem driven by marketing concepts rather than a commitment to artistry. Even Diana Krall, one of the few high caliber jazz artists still affiliated with Verve, is presented in the crassest way. Her 2012 release, Glad Rag Doll, looked more like an excuse for a lingerie photo shoot than a jazz album. Her latest recording, Wallflower, has a few inspired musical moments, but the focus on tired top 40 pop material from a second-rate oldies playlist—“Alone Again (Naturally),” “Desperado,” “I’m Not in Love”—is cheesy in the extreme. Krall succeeds here despite the song choices; a lesser artist might have lost all credibility in jazz circles with an album of this sort.

How could Universal fix Verve? Perhaps they should look back to the steps Norman Granz took to revitalize Ella Fitzgerald’s career in the ’50s—the greatest success story in the history of the Verve label. While under contract to Decca (ironically, now part of the Universal Music empire that controls Verve), she was prodded into recording embarrassing songs such as “Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney” and “Little Man in a Flying Saucer.” But when Granz brought her on board the new Verve label, he packaged and promoted her as the leading jazz interpreter of classic American songs. The resulting “Songbook” albums—featuring the music of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and others composers of the highest caliber—still serve as the foundation of Verve’s catalog and reputation.

That kind of commitment to quality is still the best recipe for long-term success in the jazz field. Throw out the gimmicks. Forget about clever press releases. Instead, back the finest talent and give them a platform to make the best music possible. If Universal Music wants to see how this is done, they should check out the jazz offerings from ECM, Nonesuch, and other labels that have flourished, even during tough times, with a commitment to artistry that starts at the top of the organization.

Or, if that is too much to ask from the new team at Interscope, perhaps the best thing for all parties would be to find a new owner for this historic label. Maybe with a different boss, Verve could once again live up to promise embodied by its name.

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The music industry just made a important change that no one is talking about


Written by Bryan Logan -- In the US, we get new music on Tuesdays. France and the United Kingdom get theirs on Monday. It's Friday in Germany.

Starting this summer, all new album and single releases will drop on the same day, worldwide.

Friday.

That's the result of discussions that have gone on for months at the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). The change was officially announced Feb. 26.

The IFPI is a Switzerland-based nonprofit that oversees the music industry, representing 1,300 record labels in 63 markets across 57 countries.

The origin of the old, incremental music-release day is fairly simple in the US. NPR explained in 2010 that the Tuesday release gave music distributors time to "shuttle stock out to stores over the weekend and on Mondays."

Even though the change applies to all forms of music (digital and otherwise), it seems to be somewhat divorced from the concept of shipping physical merchandise, since few people buy CDs anymore.

The motivation here is two-fold:

  • By doing this, the industry expects to cut the risk of piracy. With less time between when you can download your favorite artist's new album in the US and when people elsewhere can do the same, there's also less time for songs to end up in places where they can be shared illegally.
  • The IFPI says the global release date would also "benefit artists who want to harness social media to promote their new music."

Some industry execs are, unsurprisingly, less worried about those points and more concerned about how the change will affect profit margins. Kim Bayley with the Entertainment Retailers Association told Billboard in October, "The only justification for a Friday release date would be if it resulted in a net increase in sales."

Billboard counterpointed that with this: "Sales weren't central to the IFPI's justifications for the move, though combating piracy could be considered the same thing."

Fans of Beyoncé might remember December 2013, when she released a new album, "Beyoncé," unannounced on iTunes. No marketing or promotion was done beforehand.

The album quickly grabbed the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 and sold nearly 830,000 digital copies in its first three days. It became iTunes' fastest-selling record, ever.

It's interesting to note the album was released at midnight on a Friday, so those hundreds of thousands of copies were sold through the weekend, before the CDs were made available in stores. In fact, the physical album was held back until a week later, which upset some major brick-and-mortar retailers.

By aligning the worldwide music ecosystem to one designated day for new releases, the recording industry at large is taking steps to streamline global distribution, while also helping artists use the power of social and digital to bridge the divide between their fans, near and far.

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Can the Digital Music problem be solved? Kobalt thinks so and has the funds to prove it!


Written by David Marini -- New York City’s Kobalt Music has managed to raise a total of $126 million dollars, thanks to the recently acquired $60 million from Google Ventures and Michael Dell’s MSD Capital. Wait there’s more, a further $153 million the company raised to finance a second part of its business; buying part or all of an artists’ rights to help collect royalties on their behalf. Kobalt developed a proprietary technology that figures out how to allocate all the royalties due musicians at a much greater speed than is customary. This is a big deal since musicians have had to wait a great deal of time, we’re talking years for payments. Just think of all the digital platforms capable of playing music.

Since the inception of digital music, the industry has been calamitous about how artist are paid and how much. With Kobalt’s algorithms keeping track, the process has become much more efficient. The CEO, Willard Ahdritz says the funding will be used “to scale the organization, double the tech team to increase our speed”. Ahdritz also explains the publishing side of the business is profitable. Overall, the company has been growing revenues at a rate of 40% annually for the last four years, and is projecting gross annual revenues of $260 million for the end of June 2015.

This is a critical time for the digital music industry especially since streaming has become more popular than downloading. Kobalt has created a sophisticated big data dashboard that allows you to see the number of plays across a slew of outlets like YouTube, Spotify, Soundcloud, thanks to their tagging system. Thereby letting the artist know how much they are owed. Kobalt says more than 8,000 songwriters and over 500 publishing companies use its platform today. Currently they are covering about 400 million people and would like to get that number up to 1.5 billion in 6 months. Bill Maris, of Google Ventures, in a statement. “The company’s solid execution over the past decade coupled with Willard’s unwavering passion and commitment made this an attractive investment for us. Kobalt’s commitment to trust, transparency and technology has positioned it as one of the most innovative brands in media today.” Dell Inc. has been providing the technology for Kobalt this whole time, so it just made sense for MSD Capital to jump on board. Just to let all you reading know back in 2013, Kobalt was valued at $250 million. So perhaps with all that money flowing through the arteries at Kobalt, submitting a resume, might not hurt.



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