|FRIDAY 3 MARCH 2017||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: So Spotify now has 50 million paying users. And there's not much you can do about that. I mean, you could try creating a record that causes instant death on first listen and push it onto the Spotify platform, I suppose. That's one thing you could do... [READ MORE]|
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Spotify confirms 50 million paying users
Then you could employ the very best music marketers and data crunchers and playlist manipulators to ensure as many Spotify subscribers as possible listen to it. And when that fails you could hack into the Spotify mainframe and sneak the track into everyone's Discover Weekly list. Then just sit back, adopt an evil smirk, and wait for Monday morning when BOOM, they're all dead. But that sounds like quite a lot of work.
Spotify, of course, needs considerable scale for its business model to work, given that the majority of its revenues are immediately funnelled to the music industry. And it's paid for users that matter, freemium basically being a loss leader, hence why most attention is now put on Spotify's premium subscriber base. Indeed, Spotify hasn't officially updated its overall audience figure, including those on the freebie option, since last June, when it stood at 100 million. At that point it was stating 30 million on the premium level.
Quite how many paying users Spotify needs to be a profitable business is unclear. For starters, it depends on where the majority of those premium users live, given subscription prices are lower in real terms in emerging markets. It also depends on how many users are on some kind of discount package, directly with Spotify or via a bundle.
It also depends on what the firm's costs are long-term, of course. Head count at the company continues to rise considerably, though post-IPO that could go into reverse. Meanwhile, negotiations are ongoing with the major record companies over Spotify's licensing deals and royalty bills moving forward.
Streaming deals are ultimately revenue share arrangements with minimum guarantees on top for the labels and publishers. It's known that Spotify is trying to get its revenue share commitments to the labels down a little, partly because the big publishers have managed to get their revenue share arrangements up a few percent.
Though, actually, it's arguably the minimum guarantees that are currently most problematic for Spotify, which wants to keep at least 30% of its revenues, but is often left with a lot less once minimum guarantee commitments have been honoured.
If you could identify just how many paying users Spotify needs, you'd then be faced with the question as to whether or not there are enough people who can be turned on to £10 a month subscription streaming to meet that requirement. The firm continues to add each new ten million users quicker than the previous batch, but the question is will growth rates slow over the next couple of years? You can choose to be optimistic or pessimistic about that, whichever you prefer.
How viable Spotify's business model is long term is a general concern for the record industry, which is increasingly reliant on its streaming income, the vast majority of which comes from a very small number of services. Though it's a more pressing concern for Spotify itself, given the initial public offering that really needs to occur next year at the latest. That requires convincing Wall Street types that the business model is indeed sound.
The success of yesterday's Snapchat IPO on the New York Stock Exchange possibly suggests Wall Street types are still flocking to buzzy tech start-ups whose products they don't quite understand. Which is possibly good news for Spotify.
Though its challenge might be that - despite the complexities of the licensing deals - the music streaming business is much easier for investors to get their heads around than social apps that are mainly popular with The Kids. Yesterday's stats brag confirms Spotify's market-leader status in paid-for music streaming, but does Wall Street have faith in the paid-for music streaming business at large?
Still, 50 million users, woo! Now, what kind of record might cause instant death? I can think of a few that can definitely induce an instant coma.
New filing in moral rights action against Jay-Z
As previously reported, the rapper and the producer were accused of infringing the rights of Hamdi by sampling a piece of his music in their 2000 single 'Big Pimpin'. But Timbaland's people had licensed the sample from an EMI subsidiary, which had a relationship with an Egyptian company, which had a relationship with Hamdi.
However the composer's family argued that neither EMI nor its Egyptian partner were empowered to license the sample, and even if they were, doing so for a track of this nature infringed Hamdi's moral rights under Egyptian law. The moral rights claim centres on the content of the Jay-Z track, which Hamdi's family say his music shouldn't be associated with.
Moral rights give songwriters and composers certain rights over their work even if the actual copyright has been assigned to another party. Quite how moral rights work varies greatly around the world, and the concept is somewhat alien to US copyright law.
With that in mind, Jay-Z's people immediately argued that the Hamdi family's case was entirely about moral rights under Egyptian law and therefore couldn't be pursued in an American court. The judge originally let the case proceed despite those arguments, but in 2015 ruled that, based on the testimony of Egyptian law experts, the Hamdi family did not have enough standing to pursue the action.
Team Hamdi began their appeal last year, and in a new court filing this week their legal rep writes: "Setting aside semantics and dicta (and accusations and invective), this case boils down to a rather unremarkable proposition: Plaintiff owns, under the law of the country of origin of his copyright (Egypt), the right to protect his copyright from fundamental changes, and the US Copyright Act recognises the right owned by plaintiff and expressly prohibits Americans from violating Plaintiff's right".
Hamdi's family, therefore, it is argued, should have standing to sue in "the only court that would have the power to stop defendants' extensive, continuing, unauthorised, and (yes) vulgar and unfortunate distortion of plaintiff's work in America".
The family's lawyers are asking for a new court hearing and a new judge to hear the case.
UK ad spend on piracy sites down 64%, reckons PIPCU
Since its launch in 2013, PIPCU has been an advocate of the 'follow the money' approach to tackling online piracy, which is to say you go after the sources of revenue on which copyright infringing websites rely.
That includes ad income, which can come to piracy operations via an assortment of third party ad networks, meaning big brands sometimes end up inadvertently posting ads on infringing sites, which generates revenue for the infringers, while also helping the piracy set-ups look more legitimate.
Through its Operation Creative campaign and Infringing Website List, PIPCU has been pressuring brands, ad agencies and ad networks to do more to ensure their advertising doesn't appear alongside copyright infringing material. It's research from data company whiteBULLET that reckons ad monies passing to piracy sites from key UK brands was down nearly two thirds in the last year.
Responding, PIPCU's Pete Ratcliffe said: "This shows the great impact our work has on protecting the creative industries in the UK and across the world. Operation Creative is about taking away the revenue that these criminals use to undermine one of the most important industries to the UK economy. In the coming year we will be stepping up our work in this area and these results not only show the great work of my team but also the great cooperation shown by brands and advertising agencies we work with".
Giving his backing to PIPCU's work in this domain, the government's IP Minister Jo Johnson added: "The naming and shaming of infringing websites sends a clear message: criminal activity will not be tolerated. PIPCU and their enforcement partners will continue to track down, de-legitimise and disrupt advertising revenues on these infringing sites. I commend PIPCU and their partners for these continued efforts to disrupt funding of illegal streaming sites by dramatically reducing rates of advertising that appear on them".
SXSW responds to deportation threat controversy
Told Slant frontman Felix Walworth yesterday posted a screengrab of the clause, saying: "After looking through this contract sent to me by SXSW I have decided to cancel Told Slant's performance at the festival".
The key part of the section posted reads: "International Artists entering the country through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), B visa, or any non-work visa may not perform at any public or non-sanctioned SXSW Music Festival DAY OR NIGHT shows in Austin from 13-19 Mar 2017. Accepting and performing unofficial events may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport, or denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US points of entry".
In a lengthy string of tweets, some taking aim at other aspects of SXSW, Walworth stated: "I'm not interested in aligning myself with an institution that interacts with immigration authorities as a means of controlling where art is shared and performed, and who makes money off of it. This festival uses an imperialist model and prioritises centralising and packaging culture over communities and people's safety".
"It's no secret that SXSW has played a huge role in the process Austin's rapid gentrification", he continued. "The whole festival exists to the detriment of working class people and people of colour in Austin. That they're willing to threaten deportation is enough evidence for me that they don't care about anyone including the artists that lend them their legitimacy. When we allow our alignment with institutions like this to be our metric for success as artists we are seriously failing. I'd like to add that all artists received this contract. It's the standard SXSW official showcase contract".
He then called on other artists to follow his lead and also pull out of the festival.
In response, speaking to the Austin Chronicle, Swenson noted that there was increased sensitivity around immigration issues in the wake of Donald Trump's attempted travel ban. However, he said, this language had been in the festival's contracts for several years, and was intended as a protection for extreme cases. He also suggested that Walworth's protest was merely a publicity stunt.
"We've had these restrictions in the agreement for about five years and never had to enforce them", he said. "It's intended for someone who does something really egregious like disobeying our rules for pyrotechnics, starts a brawl in a club, or kills somebody. You have to really fuck up for us to do this stuff".
"What people don't understand is that we're already talking to immigration about all these [international] bands", he continued. "Most of these bands are here because we sort of sponsored them. So if somebody did something bad enough that we had to enforce this part of the contract, we would probably be obliged to notify immigration that 'hey these guys are trouble', but we've never had to do that".
Referencing the language about playing unofficial events, he added: "Some of this about playing shows other than their showcase, which, if they come in on the kind of visa that most of them get - they're not supposed to do that. All this stuff in there about getting deported and immigration - that's just us telling them this could happen if you're doing this other stuff. It's not us saying we're going to try and have you deported, it's us warning them that if they violated the terms of the visa that got them here, that's what could happen".
Commenting on Walworth's protest specifically, he said: "I think that everybody has figured out that a quick way to get your name out there is to accuse us of conspiring with immigration authorities, but we've been on the right side of immigration issues. We're doing a show with bands from the seven banned countries and we came out publicly against the immigration ban last month. I don't know why this guy did this. He's just confusing this very complicated subject".
Swenson also accused Walworth of combining two separate sections of the contract to make it look worse. Although Walworth subsequently tweeted a video of himself scrolling through the email from which he took the text and Stereogum also confirmed that the email was as Walworth had stated originally.
Swenson then said that he hadn't initially realised that the wording was taken from an "invite letter", rather than the full contract. He told the Austin Chronicle later: "It was still a misunderstanding on his part in thinking that the deportation threat was from us, not just the consequences of violating the terms of the visa. It was also out of context ... But no matter what a contract says, it's easy to jump to conclusions when you pull a couple of paragraphs out of context".
Iron Maiden say their anti-touting tactics have worked
6294 tickets appeared for sale across Viagogo, Seatwave and Get Me In during 2011, whereas when tickets for the 2017 tour went on sale last year only 207 tickets ended up being touted, and that despite the growth in secondary ticketing over the last six years. Only Viagogo knocked back the band's request to not allow the resale of their tickets for the UK tour, so all 207 were listed there.
Though, the band add, many of those tickets for sale didn't actually exist. In a statement Iron Maiden said yesterday: "Of those 207 tickets listed by Viagogo in 2016, most were identified as bogus and are now in the hands of the relevant authorities investigating criminal activity. The few genuine tickets which made their way onto Viagogo have been made null and void per our conditions of ticket purchase".
Stopping touts from buying up tickets for the tour hasn't affected ticket sales overall, which are actually up compared to 2010. Promoter Live Nation and its ticketing business Ticketmaster say that they've only had positive feedback from fans regarding the rules and regulations that have been put in place to try to combat touting.
Commenting on all this, the band's manager Rod Smallwood says: "We are delighted that the paperless ticketing system and other measures we instigated here in the UK have proved a massive deterrent to touts and counterfeiters. We want to thank our fans for their enduring support and patience. We appreciate that our stringent policy has meant fans having to jump over one more hurdle in the ticket-buying process but the results speak for themselves and I think everyone can agree this was well worth it".
He adds: "On the first day of public sale, we sold over 100,000 tickets nationwide direct to genuine fans through the proper legitimate channels. This is an incredible achievement and victory for concert-goers, not least as this is a full twelve date UK tour we're undertaking, not just a couple of dates in the bigger cities. We've calculated that around £1 million worth of mark-up on tickets is not sitting in the hands of touts, but instead the tickets are sitting in the hands of the fans at the correct price and we think that is a great result and makes all our efforts worthwhile".
Backing the wider campaign in the artist community against ticket touting, and the call for more regulation, Smallwood concluded: "Secondary ticketing sites operate a billion pound profiteering industry offering little to the consumer in return for their hugely inflated prices. There have been many instances highlighted in the UK media recently about the reselling of tickets for corporate or personal gain so we very much welcome the excellent work of the FanFair Alliance and the fact that the Culture, Media & Sports Committee recently re-opened the debate in the House Of Commons on this ongoing problem, and trust that common sense and good judgement will prevail".
Ticketmaster's paperless ticketing system has played its role in helping Iron Maiden keep tickets off the resale market, which is, of course, slightly ironic, given the Live Nation ticketing firm is itself a major player in secondary ticketing owning sites like Seatwave and Get Me In. Given that some in the artist community see Live Nation as part of the problem when it comes to touting, it's interesting when its products are also part of the solution.
7digital rebrands radio content divisions
7digital moved into radio programming and content production via its 2014 merger with UBC Media, whose co-founder Simon Cole now heads up the wider business. Smooth, Unique and Above The Title are responsible for a variety of radio shows and events, including producing content for Radio 2, 3 and 6 Music over at the BBC. They will now all operate under the 7digital brand.
The one part of the company's content operation that will retain its current name is Entertainment News, which provides entertainment reportage to radio stations around the UK.
Confirming all this, the head of 7digital Creative, Kellie While, said: "This is just one of the ways that 7digital is reacting and adapting to a fast-changing industry with evolving - and increasingly demanding - production needs".
She continued: "Combining our production teams and their individual expertise will allow us to take an even more holistic approach to our clients' briefs and ensure that they have the creativity and innovation needed to keep today's audiences coming back for more. It is very much a positive move and arguably an overdue one for the company - we look forward to building the 7digital brand further over the coming years".
The Drums announce fourth album, Abysmal Thoughts
The album sees co-founder Jonny Pierce working alone, writing all twelve songs on the record as well as playing every instrument. He says of creating the record: "I said I wanted to let life happen? Well, the universe listened and life began to fuck me real good! But honestly, I make the worst art when I'm comfortable. The stuff that resonates with me the longest - and that resonates with others - is always the stuff that comes out of my misery".
Jenny Hval wins Nordic Music Prize
In a statement, the judging panel said: "The winner is a fascinating artist that divides people - including this year's international jury. Nevertheless, her album stood out in what was a fascinating year for the prize".
"All the judges were impressed by the adventurousness of the shortlisted albums, which shows once again how cutting-edge and diverse the contemporary Scandinavian music scene is", they continued. "For those who loved it, the winning album was an incredibly strong piece of work - engrossing, atmospheric, challenging and thought-provoking".
They concluded: "The artist who made it is endlessly inventive, and a brilliant example of how the Scandinavian underground can make statements in music which can powerfully connect and cut through".
The winner, I will say again, because apparently in all that waffle the judges never thought to actually say her name, is Jenny Hval. She was previously nominated in 2013 for her album 'Innocence Is Kinky', losing out to The Knife's 'Shaking The habitual'.
The other nominees this year were: CTM - Suite For A Young Girl; Bisse - Højlandet; Værket - Jealousy Hits; Jóhann Jóhannsson - Arrival; Skúli Sverrison, Hilmar Jensson and Arve Henriksen - Saumur; Oranssi Pazuzu - Värähtelijä; The Hearing - Adrian; Mikko Joensuu - Amen 2; Nosizwe - In Fragments; Kornél Kovács - The Bells; and Cherrie - Sherihan.
Here's the video for 'The Great Undressing', taken from 'Blood Bitch'.
Lorde, Coldplay, Vevo, more
Other notable announcements and developments today...
• Vevo has nabbed Pandora's Will Jackson as it's new SVP Strategy & Operations. He's going to strategise the shit out of it. "I'm THRILLED", says Vevo CEO Erik Huggers.
• Viacom has made Bruce Gillmer the new Head Of Music And Music Talent for its Global Entertainment Group (not to be confused with the Global Entertainment Group). He will also continue to be EVP Music, Talent Programming And Events at MTV. "I couldn't be more excited", says Gillmer. "I'm THRILLED", says Viacom CEO Bob Bakish.
• Emeli Sandé has signed a new deal with booking agency WME. She was previously with Coda.
• Lorde has finally released a new single. It's called 'Green Light'. You can dance to it. Here it is.
• Coldplay have announced that they will release a new EP, 'Kaleidoscope", on 2 Jun. Here's a song off it, 'Hypnotised'.
• Swet Shop Boys are back with a new video for 'Aaja'.
• Off Bloom have released new single 'Falcon Eye'.
• Jakuzi have released new single 'Bir Düşmanım Var'.
CMU Beef Of The Week #345: Comedy v Rock n Roll
Back then, before 'Live At The Apollo' and Michael McIntyre, if you can imagine such a time, comedy was in something of a renaissance period. Cool new kids were coming up, brushing aside the alternative comedy heroes of the 80s, and telling jokes for The Kids. Or at least The Students.
Venues where punk bands had previously cut their teeth were starting to put on comedy gigs featuring this new wave of talent. And on TV, shows like 'The Mary Whitehouse Experience', 'Viva Cabaret' and 'Fist Of Fun' provided a steady stream of quotable jokes for the adolescents of the day, mainly from cool looking guys (always guys), some of whom you might want posters of on your bedroom wall. We only ever quoted Punt & Dennis jokes, mind. And we're very sorry.
Anyway, the peak of all that "comedy is the new rock n roll" hoo-haa was David Baddiel and Robert Newman selling out Wembley Arena, which was considered quite a rock n roll thing to do in the time before the London venue was rebranded as an energy shed. These days comedians are always selling out arenas of course, even though they remain by far the worst sort of building to watch comedy in. But in the days of Newman and Baddiel, such an achievement by mere joke peddlers was considered newsworthy.
The conclusion of all those news stories was that this was indeed proof that comedy was the new rock n roll. And, presumably, rock n roll was the new comedy. The weaker elements of Britpop were on the rise at the time, after all. Perhaps rock n roll was now in terminal decline, some people even speculated, and in the future The Kids would only frequent arenas to hear some gags. Those people were wrong of course. As people so often are.
But Newman and Baddiel nevertheless played along with the rock star analogy by acrimoniously splitting up after their last big show. With hindsight, it might have been better for everyone if that's where comedians playing big venues had ended too. But alas, no. The whole phenomenon rumbled on until, before we knew it, McIntyre was in all our lives.
Meanwhile, comedians started to infiltrate all of the music community's regular haunts. So much so that this Russell Howard began a run of shows set to break records previously set by Frank Sinatra and Barry Manilow for the most consecutive nights performing at the Royal Albert Hall in London, by playing ten in a row. Which means that, yes, we made it, comedy is now the new easy listening.