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NEAR TRUTHS: PASS
THE POP KORN

PASS THE POP KORN: Neil Portnow's reign is drawing to a close. As Korn Ferry’s William D. Simon leads the search for Portnow’s successor at the Recording Academy—who could be selected as soon as the next few daysGrammyland’s need for greater diversity is squarely in the foreground. Several top women in the biz—Michele AnthonyJody GersonJulie Swidler and Michelle Jubelirer among them—would make everyone’s short list. But they’re all virtually certain to pass on any offer, as they have more important, higher-paying jobs; not to mention that the Academy gig’s relatively limited power and surfeit of political headaches offer scant enticement to a top-tier exec. Two prospects who have moved to the top of the list are both accomplished producers: Jimmy Jam and Harvey Mason, Jr. While both have the political acumen and personality to serve as the face of the org, some insiders believe that the Academy has grown too much to be overseen by one exec, and that the new topper is likely to be paired with a COO-like co-head who makes the trains run on time. Another highly placed industry exec thought to have been a favorite for the post has passed on the job.

As for the Grammys, it would seem that there was little engagement halo effect from the telecast, with a couple of exceptions. The Grammys could be said to have been part of the cumulative awards-season growth of A Star Is Born, though its impact pales next to the Oscars. But the post-show radio growth of Kacey Musgraves (at Country), H.E.R. (at Pop) and Dan + Shay (at Hot AC) is noteworthy. The jury is out, however, as to whether any of these developments will have lasting impact and significantly move the needle. 

DOWN LOW: The iTunes charts —once the go-to barometer of marketplace success—are becoming increasingly irrelevant, as downloads continue to subside. E-tail is now a paltry 13% of the total business so far in 2019 (10% is physical), with digital albums making up less than 7%. Streaming is about 77%, accounting for about 100m out of 125m total album equivalents. What’s more, the upper-demo titles dominating digital sales prove that iTunes no longer measures the real action in the marketplace. That action is now overwhelmingly on the streaming side, where younger and more active music consumers have gone.

It should be noted that the iTunes singles chart retains a certain relevance the album rundown has lost, particularly given that more than a few radio programmers continue to be guided by it. The smartest players in the broadcasting space have figured out how to quantify streaming, but those who haven’t will likely continue to look to iTunes as an index of consumer sentiment, however much its relevance may be fading.

FRIEND OR FOE: Many industry watchers say Spotify is squandering much of the good will it cultivated with the biz. The House of Ek’s decision to join tech behemoths Google, Amazon and Pandora in a lawsuit to appeal Copyright Royalty Board rate hikes for writers has not been “good optics,” to put it gently, and has already sparked a pretty serious backlash in the press and on social media.

Having become the Kleenex of streaming, The Spot had hitherto also enjoyed a big edge in the creative community. This was thanks to outreach like the Secret Genius program and other initiatives that involved and celebrated creators and offered them major access to a giant consumer base. This access to both subscribers and “freemium” users helped these songwriters, producers and others build their brands in various ways; Spotify became the spot for maximum exposure and seemingly unlimited creative exploration.

But much of that good will went right out the window with Spotify’s participation in the suit. The company subsequently attempted to explain itself in the press, but the damage appeared to have been done. There’s just something about a company with a $25.1b market cap trying to whittle down the compensation of its heralded Secret Geniuses that doesn’t quite track.

Some insiders believe that there’s a deal to be done between Spotify and the writers—like the one Apple has in place—that revolves around bundling audio and video together under the new rate.

The Spot’s in a difficult spot, to be sure, as it can’t argue about the problem of sustainability without worrying about how such claims will affect its stock price. The company perhaps thought it had some shade by joining the other tech firms in the CRB appeal, but Spotify is simply more important to the everyday music business than its fellow corporate behemoths. Many observers feel the company will recover from these PR blunders, as the well-liked and respected Nick Holmstén and team carry forward the artist-friendly initiatives built by Troy Carter.

Apple’s decision to stay out of the suit, meanwhile, was good for its PR, and Cupertino seized the moment to take a couple of well-placed shots at its Swedish rival. How else might Eddy Cue be planning to capitalize on any momentum?

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