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BMG acquires German promoter Undercover

BMG Rights Management, the Berlin-based record label and music publisher, is entering the live business for the first time with the acquisition of a majority stake in promoter/event production firm Undercover.

Brunswick-based Undercover, which usually promotes in excess of 200 concerts and shows annually, will form the basis for a new live music and events business unit within BMG in Germany. The company also serves a tour agent, brokering tours and festivals for national and international artists across Germany, Austria and Switzerland (GSA), and develops and produces its own touring formats.

Undercover CEO Michael Shacke and his team of 30 will remain in place following the acquisition, the terms of which were not disclosed and which is expected to close by the end of this month.

The deal, says BMG, means that, in addition to “releasing recordings and publishing songs, BMG can now offer artists an integrated tour promotion and ticketing service” on an opt-in basis.

“An important part of our job will be to form a centre of excellence for events”

Dominique Casimir, BMG’s EVP of repertoire and marketing for continental Europe, says: “Moving into live is the logical extension of BMG’s plan to integrate all the services an artist could need under one roof, with the artist brand at the centre of it all. Crucially, we have found in Michael Schacke and his team a partner who shares our values.”

“I founded this company in 1991 to be able to perform with my band, and that’s how I became a promoter. This idea has since grown into a nationwide concert agency with over 30 employees,” adds Schacke. “Discussions about a partnership with BMG commenced long before the coronavirus pandemic, but we are now perfectly set up for when the market returns.

“There is a significant opportunity for us working together to offer a genuine alternative for artists in Germany and beyond, building on Undercover’s established recipe of ‘live entertainment and artist partnership’.”

The acquisition comes during a time of upheaval in the Covid-hit German live music market, and follows the launch of new promoter DreamHaus – also based in Berlin, and staffed with a number of former Live Nation Germany employees – last week.

Maximillian Kolb, managing director of BMG GSA, says: “Artists want partners who build their business around them, rather than the other way around. Above all, this means offering the best possible service.

“Moving into live is the logical extension of BMG’s plan to integrate all the services an artist could need”

“The German music market has proven to be extremely adaptable and is one of the strongest in the world, especially in the live segment. I am very happy that we have become the first territory within BMG to be able to offer a complete service portfolio to artists, including live.”

Launched in 2008 as the successor to Sony BMG, BMG Rights Management – owned by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann – represents artists including Iron Maiden, John Legend, Bring Me the Horizon, Bloc Party, Alt-J, Tame Impala, Morrissey, MIA, Frank Ocean, Jess Glynne, David Crosby and Kylie Minogue for label services and/or publishing.

Undercover will form part of a network of Bertelsmann brands, the Bertelsmann Content Alliance, which also includes broadcaster RTL, book publisher Penguin Random House and magazine publishing Gruner and Jahr (Stern, Capital, Geo).

Casimir, who is also a board member of the Bertelsmann Content Alliance, explains: “An important part of our job will be, together with the Undercover team, to form a centre of excellence for events within the Content Alliance. We look forward to working with the other divisions and together adding even more value to our artists and media brands by creating bespoke live experiences.”


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Leading music execs launch Black Music Action Coalition

Over 30 top artist managers, agents and other US industry executives have formed a new advocacy group, the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC), to address systemic racism within the music industry and in society at large.

The coalition was inspired by and formed in alliance with #TheShowMustBePaused initiative, which was started by Atlantic Record’s Jamila Thomas and Platoon’s Brianna Agyeman, and which prompted the Black Out Tuesday initiative.

BMAC is currently run by an executive committee that includes founding members Ashaunna Ayars (founder of the Ayars Agency), Binta Brown (founder and CEO of Fermata Entertainment), Jamil Davis (co-CEO of the Revels Group), Shawn Holiday (co-head of Urban Music at Columbia Records), Courtney Stewart (CEO, Right Hand Music Group) and Prophet (CEO of 50/50 Music Group Management).

The coalition is also guided by an advisory board consisting of industry veterans Clarence Avant, Quincy Jones, Irving Azoff and Ron Sweeney.

In a similar vein to the Black Music Coalition in the UK, which consists of leading Black promoters, managers and label executives, BMAC has sent an open letter to the heads of music companies, setting out a plan for change.

“We created BMAC to address long standing racial inequities in the business, the financial impact of those inequities for both Black artists and executives, and ways we can work with you urgently to solve these problems,” reads the letter.

“We created BMAC to address long standing racial inequities in the business”

“We are encouraged by recent efforts by Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony Music, Apple, YouTube, BMG and other industry participants. However, we know that more needs to be done and we must do it together.”

The coalition states its highest priority is to meet with company CEOs “to mutually develop a plan to address the deeply rooted systemic racism in our industry”.

Another key issue is ensuring the coalition has “a voice in determining how funds designated to fight racism are allocated”, given that “so few companies in the music industry are run by Black people”.

“We must work together to put a plan for change in place with you within the next 30 days. BMAC intends to hold you accountable, and will keep track of the music industry’s efforts to clean up its own house. There is a lot of work for us to do, and we look forward to doing it together.”

Artists including Roddy Ricch, Lil Nas X, Mary J Blige, Lady Gaga, Cardi B, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Pharell Williams, Travis Scott and Post Malone have shown their support for the letter.

The BMAC letter can be read in full here, along with a list of artist signatories and industry partners.

This week’s IQ Focus panel, Beyond Rhetoric: Race in Live Music, will look at the problems of systemic racism within the live business and discuss what needs to be done to make the industry a more diverse place. To set a reminder for the session on Thursday head to the IQ Magazine page on Facebook or YouTube.

Photo: Frank Schwichtenberg/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) (cropped)


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Billie Eilish triumphant at 2020 Grammys

The 2020 Grammy Awards took place last night (Sunday 26 January), in a ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles that saw Paradigm-repped Billie Eilish become the second artist ever to take home all four top awards.

Billie Eilish, who performed a rendition of her song ‘When the Party’s Over’ at the event, was crowned the year’s best new artist, as well as winning prizes for album of the year (When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?), and both record and song of the year for ‘Bad Guy’. The 18-year-old, who also won the award for best pop vocal album, is the first woman to achieve a clean sweep of all four major awards.

Lizzo, who led the nominations list with eight in total, took home three awards, for best pop solo performance (‘Truth Hurts’), best traditional R&B performance (‘Jerome’) and best urban contemporary album (Cuz I Love You). The singer, who is represented by Matthew Morgan at WME, opened the ceremony with performances of ‘Cuz I Love You’ and ‘Truth Hurts’.

Other major awards went to Tyler the Creator for best rap album, Anderson Paak for best R&B album, Cage the Elephant for best rock album, Tanya Tucker for best country album, the Chemical Brothers for best dance/electronic album and Alejandro Sanz for best latin pop album.

Paradigm-repped Billie Eilish become the second artist ever to take home all four top awards

Several artists went home without an award, despite multiple nominations. Ariana Grande and H.E.R failed to convert despite appearances in five categories, whereas Lucky Daye, Yola and Thom Yorke missed out on silverware in four categories each.

Performances on the night came from an array of artists, including Ariana Grande, who sang ‘Imagine’ and ‘7 Rings’; Usher, who performed a Prince tribute with Sheila E. and FKA Twigs; best rap album winner Tyler the Creator, who performed ‘Earfquake’; Spanish star Rosalía, winner of best latin rock, urban or alternative album, who sang ‘Juro Que’; and host Alicia Keys, who delivered her own version of Lewis Capaldi’s ‘Someone You Loved’.

Alicia Keys made passing reference to the controversy which has gripped the Recording Academy in the past week, following allegations made by former CEO Deborah Dugan. The Grammys host was also among those on the night to pay tribute to basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

A full list of award winners can be found here.

Photo: © Lars Crommelinck Photography/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)


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Uptown Funk named song of the decade

Festival streaming platform LiveXLive today (14 November) presented its Top 100 Songs of the Decade, with songs by Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars, Drake and Post Malone coming out top.

Premiered today, the Top 100 Songs of the Decade ranks tracks based on LiveXLive’s engagement quotient ratings, taking into account the number of plays, ‘hearts’, skips and bans songs receive on its audio platform.

‘Uptown Funk’ comes in at number one, with 67 billion total plays since the beginning of the decade, followed by ‘One Dance’ (Drake), ‘Psycho’ (Post Malone), ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’ (Taylor Swift) and ‘Something Just Like This’ (Coldplay/the Chainsmokers).

Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’, Wiz Khalifa’s ‘See You Again’, Lady Antebellum’s ‘Need You Now’, Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ and Rihanna’s ‘Work’ complete the top ten.

“Our countdown takes into account exactly how our users have interacted with our music library from 1 January 2010 through today”

“We are excited to present the Top 100 Songs of the Decade, a true list by the fans and for the fans,” says Kevin Stapleford, vice-president of programming at LiveXLive.

“Our countdown takes into account exactly how our users have interacted with our music library from 1 January 2010 through today. Users pick their favourites and listen across all their devices. Congratulations to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for getting the number one spot.”

The five-and-a-half hour programme is hosted by LiveXLive’s Raymond T Parker, Jess Wright, Red and Jennifer While, as part of the company’s Ranked audio series. The broadcast can be accessed here.

LiveXLive’s livestreaming partners include Rock in Rio, EDC Las Vegas, Sziget and Montreux Jazz Festival. The company recently branched out into gaming, signing a multi-year partnership with China’s Allied Esports and earlier this year teamed up with rapper Nas for urban-focused content creation.


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Esmúsica: ‘collective voice’ of Spanish music biz is born

Organisations from the live, recorded and publishing sectors in Spain have joined forces to create Esmúsica, a federation acting as a “collective voice” for the Spanish music industry.

The umbrella body was formed yesterday (Wednesday 30 October) at industry conference BIME Pro, which is taking place until 1 November in Bilbao, north Spain. The organisation takes a similar model to that of umbrella groups in Britain (UK Music) and Canada (Music Canada).

Industry figures signed the agreement to launch the federation, with representatives from Acces (national association for live music venues); Aedem (Association of independent music publishers); AIE (Society for performing artists and publishers); APM (Association for music promoters); Arte (Association of stage technicians); Opem (Organisation of professional music publishers); Promusicae (Spanish music producers); SGAE (General society of authors and publishers); and Ufi (Union for independent phonographers).

Iñaki Gaztelumendi, founder and president of Spain Live Music and the person responsible for the new body’s strategic plan, told Spanish news agency Efe that Esmúsica will “put the demands of this sector – which is of such economic, cultural and social importance – on the public agenda, so we can improve as a collective entity.”

“Esmúsica will put the demands of this important sector on the public agenda”

Esmúsica aims to work closely with the state to aid the sustainable development of the Spanish music sector, focusing on areas of talent, creativity, intellectual property, entrepreneurship, training, innovation and internationalisation.

The association also wants to create national standards for all areas of the music industry in the country.

In addition, Esmúsica will produce a best practice guide relating to hiring in the sector and collaborate in the formation of an Academy of Spanish Music.

In terms of financing, the umbrella organisation plans to create a state fund dedicated to the development of the music industry.

The new body will also form the Observatory of Spanish Music, an analytical body looking at the current state of the Spanish music industry and working on ways to advance in the future.

Spain is the focus of the latest IQ market report, available to read online in the most recent edition of IQ Magazine here.


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Report: PledgeMusic funds do not belong to artists

The artists that are owed money by bankrupted direct-to-fan marketplace PledgeMusic are “unlikely” to receive the funds they raised through the platform, a report obtained by Variety has revealed.

PledgeMusic was wound up in August, after suspending operations due to financial difficulties. The company entered liquidation with £7.4 million in debt and under £20,000 in assets.

Following its demise, industry organisations including UK Music, Music Managers’ Forum and the Association of Independent Musicians acted to assess and prevent financial damage to musicians.

However, a document from the official receiver working on the PledgeMusic liquidation has cast further doubt over the likelihood of artists seeing return of the money raised through the site.

“I do not anticipate that I will need to contact you again because there is unlikely to be a payment to creditors in this case,” concludes the report.

“I can’t believe that the artists are left without what is owed to them”

The report also reveals that legal advisors to the PledgeMusic board have indicated that money paid by fans on the platform “were not trust monies”, and that all belongs to PledgeMusic, rather than to the artists.

PledgeMusic co-founder and CEO, Benji Rogers, who returned to the company as an unpaid advisor early this year to try and resurrect it via a partnership or acquisition, told Hypebot the outcome was “devastating for every artist affected”.

“I can’t believe that they are left without what is owed to them. I am so sorry I was not able to do more,” said Rogers.

Enquiries into PledgeMusic’s “failing” are ongoing, states the report, with board members attributing the collapse to “the commission charged being insufficient to meet its expenditure”.

Rogers founded PledgeMusic along with Jayce Varden in 2009. The platform served as a direct-to-fan marketplace for merchandise, tickets, vinyl and CDs. Fans also donated money to cover artists’ recording and release costs via a crowdfunding platform.


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Allen Kovac celebrated at AIM Independent Music awards

Rock impresario Allen Kovac was presented with the prestigious innovator award at the AIM Awards at the Roundhouse in Camden, London, tonight (3 September).

Kovac, the founder and CEO of Eleven Seven Music Group (Mötley Crüe, Papa Roach, Five Finger Death Punch), has also worked with artists including Duran Duran, Meat Loaf, the Bee Gees, En Vogue, Luther Vandross, Nelly Furtado, the Cranberries and Blondie over five decades in the business.

He was presented with the award by Helen Smith, executive chair of the Independent Music Companies Association (Impala), while Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson sent a personal message.

“I’ve known Allen since the early 90s,” said Branson. “Allen was managing Meat Loaf, whom Virgin Records had signed and Allen was pushing myself and the Virgin team to allow Meat Loaf to upload one of the first songs to the fledgling internet. As innovators, we would do anything for music, and of course, we did just that.

“From humble beginnings as a promoter, Allen went on to be a manager of the Bee Gees, Blondie, Mötley Crüe, Duran Duran and the Cranberries, and then started Eleven Seven Music which is now, 12 years later, one of the top rock labels in the world.”

“This could not be more well deserved”

Kovac (pictured) “has been an entrepreneur, pioneer and innovator in music all his life”, says AIM, working first as a promoter, then a manager and finally establishing a record label, publishing company, management company and strategic music marketing/research company.

Hs other achievements include pushing for Meat Loaf’s ‘I’d Do Anything For Love’ to be one of the first songs on the internet; hosting, with Duran Duran, what is believed to be the first music press conference online; supporting Spotify and music streaming in its early days, and encouraging the business away from one-time album sales; and producing The Dirt, the Netflix movie based on the Mötley Crüe book.

“Allen has innovated and tested the limits of marketing, social media, ticketing, streaming and sales reporting, which must make him feel as old as I am,” continued Branson. “He has worked towards benefitting the independent community and levelling the playing field between independents and the majors, as well as encouraging the fair valuation of music by tech giants. Whether it was Steve Jobs with the iPod and iTunes, Daniel Ek with Spotify or Amazon with smart speakers and in-car technology with Alexa, Allen has been ahead of the curve, collaborating, consulting and promoting new tech to the industry…”

“His next major project, with Nikki Sixx, is the Heroin Diaries musical,” Branson’s message concluded. “I hope that the Heroin Diaries will destigmatise addiction and do for the opioid crisis what Rent did for HIV and aids. I would like you all to join with me in congratulating Allen Kovac for his AIM innovator award. This could not be more well deserved.”

Kovac joins previous innovator award winners including artist Sophie and grime label/collective Boy Better Know. The AIM Independent Music Awards were established by the Association of Independent Music (AIM), a trade body for independent record labels, in 2011.


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Vivendi moves forward with UMG sale

French media conglomerate Vivendi is in talks with Chinese tech group Tencent to sell 10% of its stake in Universal Music Group (UMG).

According to Vivendi, the deal would place UMG at a valuation of €30 billion. Tencent would also have the option of increasing its stake by another 10% in a year, at the same valuation.

Vivendi shares rose 9% in early trading today (Tuesday 6 August), following the announcement of Tencent negotiations and were up 6% to €25.4 at press time.

The French media company believes the deal with China’s Tencent could aid UMG growth through “digitilisation and the opening of new markets”. The company also hopes to improve promotion of UMG artists.

“Vivendi is keen to explore cooperation which could help UMG capture growth opportunities offered by opening of new markets”

The potential sale of a UMG stake has been discussed since 2018, with the plan being to sell the stake to “one or more strategic partners”, rather than via an IPO.

A statement from Vivendi states the media company will continue the process for the sale of an additional minority stake in UMG to other potential partners.

Recent Vivendi half-year financial results show UMG revenues up 18.6% to US$3.7bn, with music by artists including Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish performing particularly well.

The results also showed revenue from Vivendi’s live entertainment and ticketing unit, Vivendi Village, up 55% on a year-on-year basis to €66m.


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Daniel Ek: Spotify key to identifying “real fans”

Daniel Ek, the CEO of music streaming service Spotify, has said the platform will in future be used increasingly to upsell artists’ products, which could include tickets and merchandise, to “superfans” – with Spotify key to identifying who they are.

Speaking during Thursday’s Q3 earnings call, Ek outlined his vision for Spotify – which in the first half of 2018 had 83m subscribers, for a 36% stake of global streaming marketshare – as a leading “marketplace” for artists to connect with their most devoted followers.

UBS analyst Eric Sheridan asked: “How should we think about the ecommerce opportunity – ticketing, merchandising, et cetera – on the platform in the coming years? What are some of the friction points with product partners, et cetera, that Spotify needs to solve to achieve their goals?”

“I think if we uplevel this [sic] and not talk about the specifics of merchandising and ticketing, and instead talk about the fact that at Spotify, our goal is to connect artists and fans,” Ek replied, “and as part of that, for many artists, they have a huge audience on Spotify, and we have a better ability – we believe – over time to discern who are real fans versus not.

“As part of that, you could expect us to enable opportunities as part of our marketplace strategy to create more opportunities for creators to upsell those superfans various products.”

“Many artists have a huge audience on Spotify, and we have a better ability – we believe – over time to discern who are real fans”

Ek also touched on the future of the company’s Spotify for Artists platform, revealing it plans to monetise the service: a “freemium” model, with a limited suite of free tools for artists and their reps, will sit under a paid-for premium service.

Responding to a question from analyst Dick Delfas, Ek said: “Our strategy in our marketplace side of the business is the same as we have on the rest of Spotify, which is it’s a freemium business – meaning there will be a certain amount of products which artists and labels can get for free, and there are others which we will charge money for. So, that’s an evolving strategy when it comes to our product portfolio.”

He was clear, however, that “data, specifically, is very unlikely to be one of those things that we’ll charge for”.

Spotify turned its first net profit in Q3 2018 – though, as MBW notes, that €43m profit made up just 3.2% of its €1.35bn turnover, and can largely be attributed to a €125m tax benefit from its investment in Tencent Music.


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‘Buying albums at gigs should count’: Townsend takes D2C on tour

Bruce McKenzie, sales director of leading D2C (direct-to-consumer) company Townsend Music, has said Townsend’s D2C on Tour solution has the potential to revolutionise how albums are sold, following a successful Download Festival debut this summer.

D2C on Tour launched last spring, starting with a partnership with Mike + the Mechanics, which McKenzie credits with giving the Mike Rutherford-led outfit its first top-ten album for a quarter of a century. “They played 40 dates, and we sold a couple of thousand CDs on the road,” McKenzie tells IQ, “and the Mechanics had their first top-ten album in 25 years.”

Unlike traditional album-ticket bundles – where a copy of the record (physical or digital) is bundled with a ticket at the point of purchase – D2C on Tour utilises a venue’s merch stand(s) to sell album redemption cards, frequently in the form of artist-branded laminates, for upcoming releases.

“You can sell albums at gigs,” explains McKenzie, “but if you’re touring ahead of an album release, you can’t usually take album pre-orders. We came up with the idea that – because we run the artists’ online stores – we can add a CD to the basket, generate a code, then sell a laminate containing that code at the shows.”

Crucially, the UK’s Official Charts Company (OCC) counts the sale of these laminates as an album sale – “I went to the OCC and said, ‘It isn’t a forced sale; it’s the same as preordering an album on iTunes’,” says McKenzie – leading to chart successes like Mike + the Mechanics’ aforementioned Let Me Fly, which reached no9 in the UK.

“D2C is how people will consume their [physical] music in future”

“There are a lot of people spending a lot of money on tickets for concerts and festivals, and we feel the album charts should reflect that,” continues McKenzie. “Bands can be in front of thousands of people at a festival, but if they’re unsigned and don’t have the marketing spend, it’s difficult to make an impact on the chart. We think people buying albums at gigs should count.”

Other Townsend D2C clients include Kylie Minogue, Eels, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, the Prodigy, Everything Everything, Echo and the Bunnymen, Tom Misch, Don Broco and You Me at Six.

With Primary-signed You Me at Six – who headlined the second stage at Download 2018 – Townsend sold laminates containing a code which, when redeemed on the Townsend Music website, earns buyers a signed copy of the band’s album VI (released on 5 October) and a signed setlist from their Download performance.

D2C on Tour netted You Me at Six a “couple of hundred extra” sales at Download, says McKenzie. He describes that as a “nice little start”, but says he sees a time when “we’ll be selling more albums on the road [than not]”, as awareness increases among managers, promoters and agents of the potential of Townsend-style bundling.

“If you’re a good band with a good management team, it’s a very exciting time for artists,” he explains. “You look at the high street, and the decline of retail sales, and it’s clear the future is in streaming. So, D2C – that, to me, is how people will consume their [physical] music in future.”

“If lots of rock bands are selling tickets on the road, they should be selling records, too”

The key to success in this brave new world, McKenzie suggests, is in working with a team who “realise where the industry is. If we all work together to help an artist to sell more records, they’ll sell more tickets, more merch, get more PRS [royalties]…”

McKenzie says Download promoter Live Nation was “very supportive” of Townsend’s presence at the festival, while managers are keen to work with the company owing to its demonstrable influence on the album charts. (Another recent project, he adds, was a Rick Astley pop-up shop in a venue, where the CDs sold contributed to Astley’s latest album, Beautiful Life, peaking at no6 in the UK.)

“In the live arena, people say, that’s where you make the money – fine, but let’s find a way you can market records at gigs,” he adds.

Ultimately, if it increases album sales, initiatives like D2C on Tour are a positive for all stakeholders, says McKenzie. “If artists can sell thousands of album pre-orders at shows, they’re going to have a higher charting record and more chance of getting on the radio… And promoters will realise they can sell more tickets if an album is bundled with them, and vice versa.

“If lots of rock bands are selling tickets on the road, they should be selling records, too – and the charts should be fairer and reflect that.”


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