|FRIDAY 6 JANUARY 2017||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: The owner of live music giant AEG, Phillip Anschutz, has hit out at claims that he financially supports political organisations that oppose LGBT rights, after a flurry of online chit chat about donations made through his Anschutz Foundation. It's no secret that American billionaire Anschutz, who made his fortune in oil and infrastructure, and who first created the Anschutz Entertainment Group in 1999, supports right-leaning politicians and groups. Over the years he has donated significant sums to Republican Party causes and other organisations with a conservative agenda, and he was once accused by Greenpeace of being a "financier of climate science denial"... [READ MORE]|
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AEG owner says claims he supports anti-gay causes are "garbage"
It's no secret that American billionaire Anschutz, who made his fortune in oil and infrastructure, and who first created the Anschutz Entertainment Group in 1999, supports right-leaning politicians and groups. Over the years he has donated significant sums to Republican Party causes and other organisations with a conservative agenda, and he was once accused by Greenpeace of being a "financier of climate science denial".
All of this became a talking point this week as the line-up was announced for the 2017 edition of possibly the most famous festival that sits under the AEG banner, Coachella. Various reports honed in on donations Anschutz has made to the likes of the so called Family Research Council, which has been prolific in opposing gay rights and marriage equality in the US. The gist of the chatter was that the agenda of these conservative organisations runs contrary to the ethos of the Coachella festival.
AEG acquired Coachella promoter Goldenvoice all the way back in 2001, and coverage of Anschutz's support for conservative causes goes back to at least the 1990s. Much of this week's outrage seems to stem from an article published by the Washington Post last July, which makes the timing of the online outrage interesting. It's possibly a sign that those with more liberal leanings Stateside fear advances made in recent years in areas like LGBT rights could be reversed in the era of Trump and with a Washington dominated by Republicans.
Either way, Anschutz, who rarely speaks to the press, especially about his entertainment business, issued a statement yesterday stating that the accusations he supported anti-LGBT causes were "garbage", that the stories to that effect were "fake news", and that his companies "do not tolerate discrimination in any form".
His statement read: "Recent claims published in the media that I am anti-LGBTQ are nothing more than fake news - it is all garbage. I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation. We are fortunate to employ a wealth of diverse individuals throughout our family of companies, all of whom are important to us - the only criteria on which they are judged is the quality of their job performance; we do not tolerate discrimination in any form".
Honing in on donations he has made directly or via his Foundation to political groups, he went on: "Both The Anschutz Foundation and I contribute to numerous organisations that pursue a wide range of causes. Neither I nor the Foundation fund any organisation with the purpose or expectation that it would finance anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and when it has come to my attention or the attention of The Anschutz Foundation that certain organisations either the Foundation or I have funded have been supporting such causes, we have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups".
The latter part of that statement is presumably there to counter any lists that have or may yet be posted online of organisations he or his Foundation have supported that do, in fact, oppose LGBT rights. For example, the aforementioned Family Research Council, which - Billboard notes - the Anschutz Foundation gave $10,000 in 2013, the last year tax records are publicly available for the funding entity.
If faced with such a list, Anschutz will presumably say that he stopped funding such groups once made aware of their anti-gay rhetoric, or that he will stop funding them now that he knows their position on LGBT rights. Though anyone unclear of the Family Research Council's position on homosexuality in 2013 really wasn't paying attention.
Some of the chatter around Anschutz's political donations this week suggested that artists and/or fans should boycott his entertainment businesses, which, of course, include a plethora of venues, festivals, tours and sports teams across the world. This may be why we got that rare statement from Anschutz himself.
Whether this controversy will now quickly pass remains to be seen. Anschutz considered selling his entertainment group a few years back, but decided against that plan when no decent bids came in. Perhaps increased public scrutiny of this kind could put such a move back on the agenda.
BMG responds to appeal in Cox Communications dispute
As previously reported, in an interesting case testing US safe harbour rules, BMG basically argued that Cox operated a deliberately shoddy system for dealing with repeat infringers among its consumer base. Safe harbours say that internet firms can't be held liable when customers use their net access or server space to infringe copyright, but only if the ISP has a decent system in place for stopping said infringement when made aware of it.
BMG won $25 million in damages after successfully arguing that Cox should not enjoy safe harbour protection because of its shoddy procedures for dealing with those repeat infringers. Evidence presented by the music rights firm included internal correspondence between Cox employees which seemed to show a culture of turning a blind eye to infringing customers so as not to lose their business.
Core to Cox's appeal, which was filed in November, is the question of whether or not internet companies are obliged to always give credence to accusations of infringement made by rights owners. The ISP argues that cutting back or cutting off a customer's net access based on a mere allegation, rather than a court order, sets a dangerous precedent.
Or in Cox's words: "If allowed to stand, that judgment would force ISPs to terminate subscribers' internet access - and with it access to critical information, e-commerce, and entertainment - based on the say-so of third parties. This court should reverse".
Not so, says BMG in its response, arguing that this case is actually about Cox deliberately instigating a shoddy takedown system, so that it could pay lip service to safe harbour laws, but not have to actually tackle any copyright infringing customers.
Cox - which chose not to sign up to the industry standard Copyright Alert System employed by other major US ISPs - set up a procedure for dealing with repeat infringers that was, says BMG, "an elaborate sham".
In its response to the ISP's appeal, BMG writes: "Over and over, Cox failed to terminate flagrant repeat infringers, including one who admitted to 'years of doing this' and whom Cox abuse employees regarded as 'well aware of his actions'". The response adds that "the undisputed evidence shows that Cox's claim to terminate repeat infringers was an elaborate sham".
BMG's latest legal filing does deal with Cox's claims that the takedown requests it submitted to the ISP, mainly via its anti-piracy agent Rightscorp, were flawed and therefore not credible. Says the music firm: "Cox claims that BMG's notices are 'littered with flaws', but Cox was able to identify errors in a tiny handful of the 1.8 million BMG notices at issue. The evidence showed that Rightscorp's system was 'well over 99%' accurate".
Given how much time was spent debating safe harbours by the music industry last year, the appeal stage of this dispute may be more closely followed than the initial trial, given it asks a number of important questions about how the safe harbours in American copyright law should actually work day to day.
For a full explanation of this case, and the wider safe harbour issues, why not come to the CMU Insight masterclass 'Key Developments In Music Rights' on 6 Feb in London? Click here for info.
Music companies launch hi-res audio streaming campaign
To date, higher quality streaming has only been offered by Tidal and Deezer, both at a higher cost and, in the case of Deezer Elite, only via Sonos. Neither to date has offered audio at beyond CD quality, though Tidal has also just announced its own studio quality offering - more on which later. Prior to this, studio quality audio has only been available from select download retailers, such as the currently offline Pono, which founder Neil Young recently hinted had plans to move into streaming.
The main argument against offering audio quality beyond CD level is that any benefits are largely inaudible to human ears. And that's why DEG is launching a campaign to convince people otherwise. Meanwhile, it will be nudging streaming services to all offer new more expensive premium tiers offering these audio magic beans. At launch, Rhapsody, Pandora and HD Tracks are already keen.
"Universal Music has been laser focused on Hi-Res Audio across all of our label groups", says the music firm's Chief Technology Officer Ty Roberts. "But without the involvement of our technology and distribution partners, all of this would be in vain. Today we're pleased to acknowledge the support of a number of leading digital providers for this new streaming concept".
Meanwhile, Sony Music COO Mike Fasulo adds: "Sony Electronics and Sony Music have been committed to Hi-Res Audio from the beginning. Now working with other leading companies via the DEG, we can use this high level programme to bring a unified hi-res message to a wide range of storefronts, which will encourage more consumers to experience this incredible 'studio quality' sound for themselves".
Wide-eyed and thinking of the money, some of those storefronts also chipped in. HD Tracks CEO David Chesky is "excited about the opportunity", Pandora CTO Chris Martin reckons his company "has the platform to make this big", and Napster CEO Mike Davis is just plain "THRILLED".
This is all backed up by a new study commissioned by Universal Music, which found that audio quality is "very important" to 85% of US consumers, and 48% would be willing to pay more to get it. I can't believe that either of those statements are actually true, but maybe I'll eat my words when everyone is wandering around listening to 24 bit audio files this time next year.
There is one final hurdle to all of this, however. Very few of today's most popular audio players - ie smartphones - can deliver audio to your ears at studio quality levels. Phone makers tend to stick to old-fashioned CD quality as their maximum, due to that whole realm of human hearing thing. That's a small detail though, and so long as people think they're getting something better for their money, it doesn't really matter if they actually are, right?
Sidestepping the educating of the public and getting straight down to business, as DEG was making its announcement Tidal revealed that it was adding a new studio quality audio feature, called Master Audio. Selected records across the service's catalogue will be made available at the even higher quality level to its existing Tidal HiFi top tier customers at no extra cost via its desktop software.
The offering comes via a deal with the previously reported Meridian Audio-owned company MQA, which aims to deliver high quality audio in smaller file sizes than rivals, making it more suitable for streaming.
"Tidal is committed to bringing members closer to their favourite musicians and offering MQA sound quality will allow subscribers to hear music just as it was recorded in the studio", said a spokesperson for the company. "We're THRILLED to bring master quality sound to our members".
At launch, the bulk of the music on offer in this higher audio quality format comes from Warner Music, thanks to a licensing deal MQA signed last year.
Everything's great with SoundCloud, says SoundCloud
The streaming firm issued a statement yesterday amidst chatter about its most recent Companies House filing in the UK, which became publicly accessible this week. The filing, which was the company's 2015 accounts, basically confirmed what we already knew, that SoundCloud was still haemorrhaging cash as it desperately tried to get its new ad and subscription revenue streams off the ground. Losses increased 31% to $52 million that year even though revenues were up 21.6% to $22 million.
Beyond the figures there was a statement from co-founder Alexander Ljung that admitted the company's future was now reliant on a successful move into subscription streaming. "The assumption of a successful launch of the new subscription service is the key element of financial projections for the next three years", he stated.
Conceding that the launch of the subscription service was a considerable financial burden, Ljung went on: "Whilst the directors believe that the Group will have sufficient funds to continue to meet its liabilities through 31 Dec 2017, the risks and uncertainties may cause the company to run out of cash earlier than that date, and would require the Group to raise additional funds which are not currently planned. These matters give rise to a material uncertainty about the Group's ability to continue as a going concern".
Which is all a bit doom and gloom, isn't it? Though not surprising. It's no secret that SoundCloud - despite its enduring popularity amongst early adopters and opinion formers in the music community - has been residing in Brinksville for some time. Largely due to it having decided that subscription streaming, rather than charging hosting and streaming fees to content creators, was its future somewhat late in the day.
Significant developments were made last year in getting the music industry on board for SoundCloud's ad platform and subscription service, which are now rolling out around the world. Though, while subscription streaming may be a more solid business for SoundCloud long-term, it's also a business from which no one has, as yet, turned a profit, and it puts SoundCloud up against much better funded rivals like Spotify, Apple and Amazon.
Which is why SoundCloud arguably needs to be bought by someone whose coat is mainly notable for the size of its pockets. Talks with Spotify, which could use the SoundCloud platform to upsell its own subscription package, fell through last year. Though sale negotiations are now rumoured to be progressing well with Google.
Whatever, everything's going great remember. GREAT! "SoundCloud filed its 2015 accounts with Companies House in December, and they are now publicly available on their site as of today", the firm said yesterday, in response to chatter about its filing
"The accounts show that, in 2015, we were heavily focused on putting the necessary measures in place to build out our monetisation model, including our consumer subscription service, SoundCloud Go, and roll-out of advertising on the platform. This meant investing in technology, people and marketing, as well as securing complex licensing agreements with key music industry partners. As such, the company remained unprofitable".
Let's not forget all the greatness though. "In 2016, we saw solid growth not only for the industry but for SoundCloud too", the statement goes on. "We see this trend continuing throughout 2017. To date, we have successfully launched SoundCloud Go, our subscription service, and our ads business in eight markets, including the US, UK, Ireland, France, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Germany".
"We are on a very positive path to achieving our aim of enabling all creators to be paid for their work", the firm concluded. "While also building a financially sustainable platform where our connected community of creators, listeners and curators can continue to thrive".
Good times. Can we just get SoundCloud merged with YouTube, then at least the music industry can combine all its moaning about user-upload platforms and safe harbours into one pot, and at least that'll be more efficient for everybody. Oh, except everyone's agreed to put Facebook at the top of that particular moan list in 2017, haven't they?
Gordon Smart gets daily show at Radio X
Smart, who previously had a weekly show on the Global-owned station in its Xfm days, resumed his weekend programme last April after moving back to London following a stint editing The Scottish Sun.
That coincided with his promotion to a Deputy Editor role at the tabloid, a job he then quit in November, despite some tipping him as a future editor on the sometime controversial newspaper. At the time he said he wanted to focus on his business and broadcasting projects, hence the bigger commitment to Radio X, I guess.
"I'm absolutely delighted about stepping into the evening slot on Radio X", says Smart. "I love the station and dreamed of doing a show more regularly. The stable of talent on air, producing the shows and behind the scenes is exceptional. I love the music on Radio X, thrive on big interviews and thoroughly enjoy the company of the loyal listeners. I can't wait to get stuck in to the next adventure with the good people at Global. Here we go!"
Here we go indeed. Smart's increased output on Radio X is, of course, fantastic. Or so says Global's Director Of Broadcasting Richard Park, who states: "Gordon is already a big hit with Radio X listeners. He is passionate about the music that our listeners love with a phenomenal knowledge of the worlds of music and entertainment. To have him broadcasting on Radio X six days a week is fantastic and we're very excited about his brand new evening show".
Smart's new show kicks off on Monday at 7pm.
Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu announce summer return
Published by The Quietus after being 'discovered' by Eastfolk Chronicle editor Cally Callomon (whose role as Drummond's manager is purely coincidental), the poster reads: "It is almost 23 years since the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu announced a self-imposed and self-important 23 year moratorium. The reasons for the moratorium have now been lost in time, space, and a rusting shipping container somewhere near Sizewell B Nuclear Power Station".
They also distanced themselves from a video which recently appear on YouTube, prompting rumours of their return, saying: "The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu have zero involvement with any video clips, films, recorded music, documentary productions, biographies, West End musicals or social media chatter relating to the letters K L or F, now or at any other time over the previous 23 years. Furthermore, the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu have no interest in anything that seeks to comment on, bounce off, glorify, debunk or resurrect their historical work".
Historical work out of the picture, they note: "The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu are currently at work in their light industrial unit. This work will not be made public until the 23 Aug 2017".
So put that date in your diary. In the interim, communication is invited via K2 Plant Hire Ltd, the company set up by Drummond and Cauty in the mid-90s and used in the promotion of their 1997 single 'Fuck The Millennium' under the name 2K.
There's now a website, which may or may not be official.
Ed Sheeran offers up two new songs to the heavens
"Hello 2017", said Sheeran in a statement. "I've been working hard on the new material and I hope you can be as excited about it as I am. I really wanted to show two different sides to my music that I'm equally as passionate about and I just knew I wanted to roll with two songs at the same time. I'm absolutely buzzing to be back".
As 2017 is a mere concept, invented by humans in an effort to make sense of the world, it is unable to process Ed's words or his excitement. You might be interested though. Thinking about it, he probably should have addressed all that to you in the first place.
I'm not sure what the rules are for actual people listening to this new music, but I'm sure no one would notice if you quickly snuck a listen to them both. Here's 'Castle On The Hill', and here's 'Shape Of You'.
British Sea Power announce new album, tour dates
"[The album] was made to a background of politicians perfecting the art of unabashed lying, of social-media echo chambers, of click-bait and electronic Tonka Toys to keep us entertained and befuddled", says guitarist Martin Noble. "All this can easily make the individual feel futile. But I think we've ended up addressing this confusion in an invigorating way, rather than imprisoning the listener in melancholy".
He continues: "Musically, it's our most direct album and maybe the first one where we maintain a coherent mood from start to finish. Perhaps a little clarity isn't a bad thing at this point. There wasn't a plan to create an album with any particular subject matter but we've kind of ended up with a case of 'think global, act local' - an album where individuals are dealing with their domestic and personal lives against a background of uncontrollable international lunacy".
The band have also announced that they will tour the UK in April. Here are the dates:
6 Apr: Bristol, Trinity
BBC Sound Of 2017, iHeart Radio, Amazon, more
Other notable announcements and developments today...
• Ray BLK is the Sound Of 2017, reckons the BBC. There was me thinking maniacal laughter and nervous despair were going to be the most noticeable sounds of 2017. I'll gladly take Ray BLK instead.
• iHeart Radio's all new, all singing and all dancing, well singing, I don't think it dances, fully on-demand streaming service powered by the Napster massive, formally unveiled last month, is now out of beta in the US. Glory be.
• As Amazon continues to expand its ticketing business, the firm has hired Lawrence Peryer, most recently an exec at Warner Music, to be Director Of Tickets in the US.
• Frankie & The Heartstrings frontman Frankie Francis has joined Amazing Radio to present the station's weekday afternoon show. "I'm incredibly excited to have the opportunity to do this", he says. His first show will be 3pm-7pm on 9 Jan.
• The Shins will release new album, 'Heartworms', on 10 Mar. From it, this is 'Name For You'. Would you like to see The Shins live? Well, they will also be playing the Hammersmith Apollo in London on 29 Mar.
• Georgia is back with a new single, 'Feel It'. The release precedes dates supporting The Flaming Lips in the UK.
• Sohn has released new track, 'Hard Liqour'. New album 'Rennen' is out next week.
• Ten Fé have released new track 'Twist Your Arm'. Their debut album 'Hit The Light' is out on 3 Feb.
• De La Soul will be touring the UK in February and March, finishing with a show at the Roundhouse in London on 10 Mar.
CMU Beef Of The Week #337: Mariah Carey v Dick Clark Productions
There was Robbie Williams immediately rushing to wash his hands after touching an audience member at his big NYE concert on BBC One; Rebecca Ferguson saying that she'd accept an invitation to perform at Donald Trump's inauguration party only if she could sing 'Strange Fruit'; and Cabbage rejecting a tip for the top from The Sun. But the beef that's kept on coming this week stars Mariah Carey and, like Robbie's, began after a round of 'Auld Lang Syne'.
Carey was booked to headline the annual 'Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin Eve' show on US TV network ABC. At first, all seemed to be well. Carey sang 'Auld Lang Syne' as she began her performance before the show's traditional 'ball drop' at midnight, and without stopping for hand sanitiser moved straight into one of her own songs, 'Emotions'. This is where things started to go wrong.
Rather than sing the song, Carey informed the crowd that she'd not been given a soundcheck and opted to let the crowd cover the vocals for her. After that, she gave up on 'We Belong Together', announcing that she was "trying to be a good sport", before walking off the stage.
Two hours later, in which time there had been much online chatter about the incident, Carey tweeted: "Shit happens. Have a happy and healthy new year everybody! Here's to making more headlines in 2017".
So, that's all water under the bridge. Except it wasn't, because as the streamers settled, accusations of sabotage, unprofessional behaviour, and broken promises began to fly back and forth. What better way to begin a new twelve month period?
The next morning, Carey's manager Stella Bulochnikov spoke to Billboard, saying that the singer's in-ear monitors had not been working. The show's team had attempted to fix them prior to the performance, said Bulochnikov, and despite failing to do so insisted - with minutes to go - that all would be fine once she was on stage. Carey then removed the faulty monitors once her performance was underway, but was unable to hear the music because of the noise of the crowd, leaving her unable to perform.
Bulochnikov explained that she then called the show's producer, Mark Shimmel. He confirmed that there had been an issue with the in-ear monitors, so she asked him to pull Carey's performance from the later airing of the show on the US's West Coast.
"He said he could not do that", she said. "I asked him why would they want to run a performance with mechanical glitches unless they just want eyeballs at any expense ... It's not artist friendly, especially when the artist cut her vacation short as a New Year's Eve gift to them".
A rep for Dick Clark Productions denies that this conversation actually took place. Even if it did, it is fair to say that it would be difficult to simply chop the big pre-midnight performance out of the show - particularly when it had already been left with a ten minute hole due to Carey's early walk-off.
Still, the problems could have been dealt with in the moment during the live broadcast itself, Carey's rep reckons. "When she pulled her ears out, they should have cut to commercial", Bulochnikov told Entertainment Weekly. "That says to me they wanted a viral moment at any expense".
Yeah, there you go. There's the accusation of sabotage. Dick Clark Productions wanted the crescendo of their show to be shit so that people would talk about it. And people were talking about it. Though mainly members of Carey's team.
The company put out its own statement, refuting this, saying: "As the premiere producer of live television events for nearly 50 years, we pride ourselves on our reputation and long-standing relationships with artists. To suggest that DCP, as producer of music shows including the American Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, New Year's Rockin Eve and Academy Of Country Music Awards, would ever intentionally compromise the success of any artist is defamatory, outrageous and frankly absurd".
"In very rare instances there are of course technical errors that can occur with live television, however, an initial investigation has indicated that DCP had no involvement in the challenges associated with Ms Carey's New Year's Eve performance", it continued. "We want to be clear that we have the utmost respect for Ms Carey as an artist and acknowledge her tremendous accomplishments in the industry".
So basically, they're not taking responsibility for it either. It's no one's fault. It's just a new year miracle. Probably best if everyone just puts it behind them. It'll all be forgotten soon enough, and it's not like it's actually going to damage Mariah Carey's career at all. No, best leave it and let it fade from everyone's collective memory.
Though Carey still had one more thing to say. "I'm of the opinion that Dick Clark would not have let an artist go through that and he would have been as mortified as I was in real time", she told Entertainment Weekly two days later, reckoning that things would have turned out better had the late DCP boss and former 'New Year's Rockin Eve' host still been alive to oversee everything.
It's all about the people, see. "It's not going to stop me from doing a live event in the future", she added. "But it will make me less trusting of using anyone outside of my own team".
Not sure how many major live events would allow Carey's team to take over production for the duration of her performance, but it's a nice idea.