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I.B. BAD: THE QUEEN, THE KNIGHT AND THE WHOLE CHESS GAME

THE RACE GOES TO THE SWIFT: Taylor Swift is still the Queen of the Universe. A major shoe (probably a Louboutin, but perhaps a Jimmy Choo) dropped just before Thanksgiving as the star’s new
 UMG deal—via Republic, rather than longtime label Big Machine—was announced. The size of the check she received is subject to speculation, but there’s reason to believe, given what she was able to negotiate, that she may have accepted a somewhat smaller guarantee in exchange for highly desirable terms, including the big one: retaining ownership of her masters.

How many albums does the pact include? How long will Uni hold the licenses, once the masters are delivered, before they revert to Taylor? How small a percentage will UMG take for services and distribution? Could their slice be as low 10-15%?

If this were a 50-50 JV deal or a very high royalty deal, people in the know say, $30m per album would be a reasonable price for any of the top-selling worldwide artists, and in the same neighborhood as the Adele deal is thought to have been. (In 50-50 JV deals, the label takes its distribution fee off the top of gross billing, which fee is usually higher for international than for the U.S., recoups any advances and other stipulated costs, and splits any profits evenly with the artist.)

But money was clearly not the key motivator for Tay, for whom control and perception—in that order—are of far greater import. Her touring, branding and other partnerships dwarf $30m per (two- or three-year) album cycle. And what she’s managed to establish here for her brand will throw off tens of millions annually for years to come.

Bear in mind that UMG does not, at present, have her catalog to recoup advances against—though if the deal didn’t require a huge up-front payment, that isn’t as vital a factor.

In addition to announcing that the deal allowed her to retain her masters, Tay shared on Instagram that she stipulated (“asked” is how she put it) that when UMG sells its Spotify shares, it distributes the proceeds to artists as non-recoupable payment.

The latter term is amazing PR that, optics-wise, shows Taylor once more flexing her considerable leverage for the betterment of all artists. (You’ll recall that she unhesitatingly took her catalog off Spotify a few years back; wrote a firm letter to Apple Music in 2015 about paying artists for streams during its trial periods and went toe-to-toe with promoters this year over the delisting of resale tickets for her tour.) Was UMG already likely to make this move, given Sony’s announcement of similarly generous terms at midyear? Probably. But hey, Merry Christmas.

It also speaks to her profound influence that Taylor’s political statements on Instagram before the midterm elections motivated a stunning 65k uptick in voter registrations in just 24 hours. While the Tennessee contest she specifically wrote about didn’t go blue, there’s no question that her voice affected the outcome up and down the ballot—and mobilized new voters who will change the landscape moving forward—prompting election nerds to speak glowingly of the “Taylor Swift Effect.”

Meanwhile, we also know that she faced a couple of challenges regarding perception in recent times. While it did well, her last album, reputation, fell short of the mega-smash impact of predecessor 1989—a high bar, to be sure—though her most recent tour was beyond massive. Meanwhile, the lingering effect of her “mean girl” moment after her contretemps with Katy Perry (mostly conducted via social media) dented her glittering veneer somewhat. This context frames a deal that threw a floodlight on her enormous leverage, biz savvy and her perceived advocacy on behalf of her fellow creators.

For Sir Lucian Grainge, the deal is boffo at any price—particularly with Spotify renegotiations on the radar again. Keeping Taylor in the Uni wheelhouse increases his leverage. UMG continues to exert a staggering dominance on the marketshare front—with a colossal 40% streaming share and 15 of the Top 25 albums YTD—and his big three labels are blazing hot. Monte Lipman’s Republic, with a 9.5 label share (up .6 year over year), holds seven of those albums, including the top two, from Drake and Post Malone; John Janick’s Interscope (with a 9 share, up 1.3) has six of those releases, all between 1m and 1.5m (A Star Is Born is just outside the Top 25 and charging fast); and Steve Barnett’s Capitol, with two in the Top 10 (Migos and XXXtentacion), is up 1.6 over last year with 7.6.

What does the Tay-UMG deal mean for Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine? Borchetta retains Taylor’s old masters, which will afford him streaming and sales revenue at the very least, though he can’t authorize any syncs without her approval. Not having Taylor’s new music will certainly affect the company’s value; it’s unclear how his suitors, who have hitherto been waving checks believed to be in the $300m range, will reassess that value.

Grainge, having taken the most valuable artist off the board, is still incentivized to keep Big Machine under the Universal umbrella. Borchetta’s roster also boasts several meaningful acts, including Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett and Lady Antebellum, among others. Even so, Swift’s value is astronomical, and her removal from his roster going forward definitely alters the equation. Taylor’s catalog, which Borchetta holds, is believed to be worth $150-200m. Many believe that if Grainge does cut a deal with Big Machine, Taylor will be involved on some level.

Another factor that makes a Grainge-Borchetta deal likely: In the new economy, nobody at the top is letting anything major get away. From Swift to Adele (both of whose deals were done by Don Passman), Justin Timberlake, Drake and others at the top of the food chain, label-group toppers are holding onto their aces, and are prepared to put a mountain of chips on the table to do so.

RECRUITING UPDATE: Who will sit in Jon Platt’s very large chair after he exits Warner/Chappell at year’s end? Guy Moot remains the leading contender, according to observers, while COO Carianne Marshall, a key player on Platt’s team, has made a strong impression, largely running the shop as Platt—still technically the CEO through year’s end—prepares for his transition. Is there a possibility of some kind of Moot-Marshall leadership tandem? The Moot question, insiders say, will be answered by Christmas. Moot will need a release from Sony, but insiders say his conversations with Warner/Chappell are hot and heavy. Some insiders also report that once Warner agreed to let Platt go, Sony agreed to reciprocity in allowing one of its top execs out of his/her deal. Meanwhile, it’s believed that W/C has locked down several top team members in new deals, securing a certain continuity amid the tumult of change.

Speaking of executive searches, the question of Neil Portnow’s successor at the Recording Academy remains a beguiling one, as a few high-profile players in the org stump for the gig. Has the search by Korn Ferry concluded? Has it produced any standout contenders for the job? As usual, we can only speculate about what’s happening under the cone of silence. Is it reasonable to expect some news around the time of the Grammys? Once more, the question of diversity (or lack thereof) hangs heavily over the institution, the awards and Tina Tchen’s task force as it tries to modernize. The fact is that until there’s an influx of younger, more diverse voting members—a blue wave, if you will—most of the structural problems will likely remain. Maybe they should ask Taylor for help. Meanwhile, where’s the touted transparency? So far, the only thing we’ve heard about structural change out of the Academy is that it’s on the way. More secret nominating committees have been instituted, all with their own agendas, to filter the nominations. Will going to eight nominees for the Big Four categories create an even bigger shitshow? We’ll know at the end of this week, when the noms drop.

GREIN ON GRAMMYS:
FACTS AND FEATS
Women dominate. (12/11a)
GRAMMYS KEEN ON
KENDRICK, DRAKE
It's nomination day. (12/7a)
WHO’S NOMINATED,
WHO’S NOT
...and who's going, "WTF." (12/10a)
RAINMAKERS: IT'S POURING DOWN VISIONARIES
The Max factor. (12/10a)
SPRINGSTEEN ON FILM:
A FATHER'S STORY
Bruce's Broadway act on film. (12/7a)
GRAMMY NERDS BREAK IT DOWN
Wow, they really are nerds, huh?
REVERBERATIONS OF TAYLOR'S DEAL
What does it all mean? What did it cost? Answer the second question first.
IS IT COLD IN HERE?
It's fine, really. We'd just like to feel our extremities again.
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