HITS Daily Double


The Superstars Who Owe One More Album, the Scheduled
Album That Isn’t Delivered, the Second-Single Dilemma
ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD: The Nashville establishment’s prediction that Taylor Swift’s popularity would take a major hit by releasing a non-country album is being trampled on by the million-plus consumers who will buy 1989 in its first week. The Swift team’s decision to keep the release off Spotify (and take the rest of her catalog down) may well be further driving sales on this monster. Swift’s achievement, marking her third straight million-selling debut in a contracting market, enhances her value and that of her label, Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine, at a particularly opportune time. Swift owes one more album to Borchetta, and if he can re-sign her, he’ll be in a great position when he puts parent company Big Machine Label Group on the block for a reported $200m.

Swift is one of four superstars—along with RCA’s Justin Timberlake, Columbia’s Beyoncé and Parlophone’s Coldplay—who are just one album from the ends of their deals, while Fall Out Boy owes Island one more after the album hitting early next year, which will contain the band’s smash single "Centuries." But whether these acts re-up or take their talents elsewhere—and there will be no shortage of bidders for their services as recording artists—their next deals are likely to be less gigantic than their present ones, simply because elephant-bucks deals can no longer be justified economically. While the $15-20m range wasn’t uncommon in the past for major acts, the ceiling now seems to be $10m tops—except for Adele.

Two of the best-selling indie-label bands, Vampire Weekend and Arctic Monkeys, are also facing decisions following hit albums for Beggars Group’s XL Recordings and Domino, respectively. But given the success both have achieved (VW scored back-to-back #1 debuts), the larger share of the net they receive under their present indie deals and the comfort level they’ve been able to maintain in their label-artist relationships, will these bands decide to stay put or take the big guarantee and added marketing clout from a major?

The fact that the expected Q4 albums from Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Gwen Stefani remain TBD inevitably leads to a general problem: When an act fails to deliver an album on time, it wreaks havoc with the label, which has budgeted for the release and is counting on it to make the projected year-end numbers. While this is hardly a new phenomenon, there is a relatively new factor playing into it—namely, that as record sales decline, records become less of a priority for acts, while they’re still the primary part of the label’s business plan. Indeed, their agendas have never been farther apart than they are today.

Stefani and her former label head Jimmy Iovine have been joined at the hip in recent months. Even before he flew her up to Cupertino in the Apple jet for the company’s Sept. 9 event, Iovine visited her in the recording studio during the sessions for her upcoming Interscope album. And the two hung out at last week’s City of Hope benefit honoring iTunes chief Eddy Cue, which featured a Stefani performance. Does Apple’s new music guru plan to involve Stefani in his rollout of the expected integration of Beats Music into the iTunes ecosystem, or are they just good friends?

MUSICAL CHAIRS: The buy/sell on the deal between Jason Flom’s Lava and Republic will expire if not exercised when the term is up in Q1. If Flom takes the label elsewhere, Jessie J and Black Veil Brides will go with him, but Lorde (whose Hunger Games single had a record-breaking week at radio but is not moving the sales needle) will stay with Republic. Once Flom sets a value for Lava, will some other company be willing to write the check required to buy him out of UMG, and if so, how much is half the label worth to a rival willing to bet on Flom’s ability to discover yet another big star, as he’s frequently done in the past? The plot may well thicken in the coming months, but the smart money says he stays where he is.

As we reported in July, Guy Oseary (U2, Madonna) has brought together a number of his fellow managers at Michael Rapino’s Live Nation—including Ron Laffitte (Pharrell Williams, OneRepublic/Ryan Tedder, Alicia Keys), Larry Rudolph (Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne), Scott Rodger (Arcade Fire, Paul McCartney), Nashville-based Clarence Spalding (Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts) and the Blueprint Group’s Gee Roberson/Cortez Bryant tandem (Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, G-Eazy, T.I., The Roots) under his Maverick nameplate. Among those who’ve politely declined Guy O’s invitation are CAM’s Jordan Feldstein (Maroon 5), Vector’s Ken Levitan and Jack Rovner (Kings of Leon, Ke$ha), HK’s Howard Kaufman (Aerosmith, Stevie Nicks), Mick Management’s Michael McDonald (Ray LaMontagne), Faculty’s Jared Paul (NKOTB) and Jay Z’s Roc Nation (Kanye West, Rihanna, Shakira, Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean). Each will continue to operate autonomously under the Artist Nation umbrella.

In a related matter, Dr. Luke, who’s engaged in a legal battle with Ke$ha, Rovner and the artist’s mother, with allegations of sexual abuse on one side and extortion on the other, is said to be ready to spend whatever it takes to clear his name. Being on the other side in this battle could prove to be very expensive.

ALSO: It’s too early to tell which album of holiday music will be the year’s biggest seller; Warner Bros.’ repackage of Michael Buble’s 2011 release Christmas, which has sold north of 2m, is clearly a contender. But of the 2014 slate, the albums with the biggest upsides would appear to be Pentatonix’s That’s Christmas to Me (RCA), which debuts this week with 33k, and Idina Menzel’s Holiday Wishes (WB), which bowed last week with 20k, but fell out of the Top 50 in its second week. Will Pentatonix—whose digital-only 2013 album sold 220k—or Menzel be the bigger seller by year’s end?

A disconnect within dick clark productions put the company in the embarrassing predicament of booking Ariana Grande to perform on the AMAs and subsequently neglecting to name her as a nominee in any category. Not only is that an egregious oversight given Grande’s big year, the space-out violates an unwritten rule of the AMAs—that each artist who performs on the show receives a nomination. Thus far, however, Grande has not backed out of the commitment.

A common dilemma these days has to do with determining when to release the second single when the first single is still a chart-topping bona fide smash. The follow-up track is intended to trigger sales activity on the album, but doing so inevitably mitigates spins and sales on the smash. Is putting that unproven single on the radio really a smart thing to do?

What artist’s budget approached $300k for a recent network TV appearance, which involved coast-to-coast-to-coast flights?

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Hip Hop, No I.D., Scott Zarling, Rob Dickins, Martin Mills, Lia Vollack and Michael Schimmel.
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