HITS Daily Double


MAKING MOVES: The freshly installed label chiefs are now moving decisively. Though they’ve only just put pictures on their desks, these execs have known where they were headed for months, and have been planning accordingly. Ron Perry has already made his first substantial personnel move in his first week at Columbia, as President of A&R Mark Williams exits after nearly eight years at the label. What other key personnel moves might be imminent? Meanwhile, new signings—particularly ones that reflect the current realities of the streaming-dominated marketplace— are among the top priorities for the new boss. The latest word is that Perry has inked Diplo to the label; what other A&R prospects might Perry have had in his back pocket since he was at SONGS?

Def Jam’s new chief, Paul Rosenberg, has already made two key personnel moves, tapping industry vet/Loud Records player Rich Isaacson and UMG A&R man Steven Victor as EVPs. The big question right now for the Rosenberg administration: Who will step up as Rick Sackheim’s successor atop the promo department? Will Rosenberg promote from within or go outside? The label is coming off a strong year thanks not only to megastar Justin Bieber but also breakouts like Logic and Alessia Cara (all three of whom figure prominently in high-profile Grammy nominations). Will its next phase see Def Jam return aggressively to its roots in hip-hop? Rosenberg himself and his first two appointees would seem to confirm this. How would this inform the search for a new promo chief?

Tom Corson, meanwhile, assumed the Co-Chairman/COO mantle at Warner Bros. last week. Corson is understandably eager to be joined by incoming CEO Aaron Bay-Schuck, whose start date remains undetermined. But Corson is naturally heartened by the recent success of Dua Lipa, Lil Pump (who at presstime is said to be a free agent) and Bebe Rexha, and there’s no shortage of bright young executive talent at the company to empower.

With Corson out, Peter Edge’s RCA is expected to anoint John Fleckenstein and Joe Riccitelli with high-ranking posts. The likely moves will take place in the midst of a decided hot streak for the House of Nipper; SZA and Khalid have serious Grammy mojo, G-Eazy is exploding and none other than Justin Timberlake will shortly take center stage with his long-awaited new album and a gigantic Super Bowl look.

KEN’S BIG CLOSE-UP: Timberlake’s halftime gig would keep him off the Grammy show in any case, but bad blood continues over his prior snub by the secret nominating committee. Now similar questions surround Ed Sheeran. Will said committee’s ill-considered decision to keep the ginger troubadour out of the top categories—to avoid trophy domination by yet another chart-topping, fair-skinned Brit and more charges of #GrammysSoWhite—mean Ed’s off the show as well? With the 1/28 airdate looming, producer Ken Ehrlich is deep into the heavy-lifting phase of assembling the CBS special. According to the latest scuttlebutt from inside the Grammy camp, neither Taylor Swift nor Lorde is among the slated performers at Madison Square Garden on Music’s Biggest Night. Swift, shut out by the committee, is declining to appear, these insiders say. But what explains Lorde’s exclusion? The Lava/Republic artist is nominated for Album of the Year and is the only female act in the category. Why on earth would this celebrated performer be kept off the Grammy stage? Lorde’s team is said to be extremely unhappy—do they have a shot at appealing the decision?

THE BOOB TUBE: It’s unusual for an artist with an enormous TV look within weeks of the Grammy telecast to get a performing slot. But the super-hot Lamar’s incendiary halftime set at the CFP National Championship game on ABC on 1/8 will most likely only enhance his already substantial Grammy heat. With one of 2017’s monster releases (DAMN. on TDE/Aftermath/Interscope), a pile of nominations and the hot Marvel Black Panther album—which he co-crafted with TDE boss Top Dawg and which was teased in and around his halftime set—due to drop soon, Lamar is on top of the world.

The aforementioned college-football championship, Grammys and Super Bowl mark the beginning of music’s 2018 TV season, and are prime examples of how such event telecasts not only move the needle but shape the calendar for the biz. A Grammy Elton John tribute will follow on the heels of the awards, with the BRITs in February (The star-studded iHeart-Radio Music Awards on 3/11 will also move the ball downfield.) Ubiquitous sports and commercial syncs, meanwhile, have been massively important for top acts in terms of both branding and revenue. It’s an interesting moment for the medium, with a mind-boggling abundance of provocative, quality programming coinciding with wholesale fragmentation. Apart from tentpole events such as awards shows and big games, the TV heat has moved away from the broadcast networks and strongly toward the Netflixes, Amazons, Hulus and other niche outlets, as the Emmys and recent Golden Globes underlined.

NOT A PUFF PIECE: In the midst of this ferment comes Fox’s broadcast music-competition series THE FOUR: Battle for Stardom, led by a massive marketing assault. The first two installments earned disappointingly soft ratings, and the show’s gladiatorial tone and karaoke-style performances have contributed to some negative press. Fox is clearly betting on the contrasting personalities of judges Diddy, Charlie Walk, DJ Khaled and Meghan Trainor to create some compelling chemistry and give the fledgling show some traction. In the early hours, Diddy has sucked up most of the oxygen with aggressive posturing, leaving Walk to stand his ground in pushing for more credible artists. Diddy hasn’t had much of an impact on the biz since the turn of the millennium, but remains an iconic figure. Under the best of circumstances—with zeitgeisty ratings monsters like The Voice—the breaking of an artist by a music-competition series is rarer than a unicorn sighting.

STREAM WARS: Spotify has occupied the headlines since word got out that it had filed papers with the SEC for its IPO (actually a direct listing with the NYSE in March). A $1.6 billion lawsuit from Wixen Music Publishing came shortly thereafter, and then the exit of a top lieutenant, Chief Content Officer Stefan Blom. The noise distracted somewhat from the streamery’s latest milestone: reaching the 70 million subscribers mark. Meanwhile, Daniel Ek’s company has been in the thick of the fight over Billboard’s charts, wherein ad-supported streams may be given significantly less weight than before. Top-level negotiations are said to be ongoing between the Bible and the Spot. (YouTube, meanwhile, appears to have failed once again in its bid to have its ad-supported views factored into the Top 200, because Lyor Cohen continues to jack the algorithm.)

The proposed reduction in weighting for free streams would be a victory for Jimmy Iovine’s subscription-only Apple Music. The industry icon is staying on the team, committed to Messrs. Cook and Cue and trying to take streaming to the next level. He’s in the band, he told Variety (he also told HITS that he’d called the Bible “fake news”). Those close to the situation say his role as head of Apple Music is likely to change this year, but being a magnet for talent and continuing to help is his plan. What’s next for Jimmy? Movies? VR? Drone-operated tea service? Mass-marketing the family recipe for gravy? One thing’s for sure: Jimmy’s gonna do Jimmy.

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL:Andrew McInnes, Renee Brodeur, Chris Zarou, Chris Smith, Dooney Battle, Sam Evitt, Jack Street, Jonathan Daniel and Bob McLynn.