HITS Daily Double


RAPID DEATH CITY: The vicious grifter who somehow became the 45th President of the United States spent the 4th of July spreading two kinds of disease. Gathering his cult members at Mt. Rushmore—that white monument carved (by a committed Klansman) into the heart of tribal land—he hosted a jingoistic ritual free of masks and social distancing. This all but guaranteed fresh cases of COVID-19. More insidiously, though, Trump spread the virus of which he is a true vector: a mephitic cloud of racism, xenophobia, red-baiting and paranoia. It set the tone for what promises to be the ugliest, bloodiest campaign season in modern history, as the rockets’ red glare filled the American atmosphere with especially noxious smoke. Social media tracked countless incidents of racist violence as Trump’s dwindling faithful lashed out against anyone resembling “the enemy.”

But even with his throng of MAGA worshipers, boogaloo boys and conspiracy trolls, Trump is hemorrhaging support. The smoke of gunpowder and lies is thick, but even through the foul mist one can begin to see the outline of the future.

TIKTOK, MOTHERFUCKER: Just as Team Trump has attempted to label COVID the “Wuhan virus,” they have now targeted Chinese social media—notably TikTok—as a convenient campaign scapegoat. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even hinted recently that a plan may be in the works to ban the app, which many young activists used as a platform to serve Trump his humiliation in Tulsa. Given how many kids live on TikTok, millions of whom are turning 18 before the election, one wonders how that might work out for them.

DOWN TO BUSINESS: How are companies in our industry shouldering their responsibility as regards systemic racism and inequality? A number of initiatives are showing considerable ingenuity and promise. Sony has pledged $100m in support for multiple orgs in pursuit of equality. WMG and the Blavatnik Family Fund also pledged $100m for social justice. The new Black Music Action Coalition features a long list of major players and artists (including Clarence Avant, Quincy Jones, Ron Sweeney and Pharrell, among many others) and intends to help turn industry pledges of support into coherent action in hiring, funding and fair treatment of black artists (in other words, it will hold certain feet to the fire). Interscope’s innovative Masterclass program, undertaken (via Zoom, of course) with Culture Fusion Agency, has enabled some 1,800 students from historically black colleges and universities to drill down into all aspects of a music-biz career. Execs like Tunde Balogun and Sean Famoso of LVRN joined execs from such breakout imprints as Dreamville and 10 Summers to lend their expertise. The Republic Records Action Committee (R2AC) was launched with Steve Carless at the helm, and no fewer than five subcommittees. Def Jam Forward is the name of that label’s own task force in pursuit of “social, economic and educational equality” launched as interim chief Jeff Harleston co-helms the UMG task force with Motown boss Ethiopia Habtemariam. UMG has also announced a partnership with the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to enhance diversity, while Steven Victor launched the Victor Victor Foundation to fight for systemic change and industry empowerment.

Epic set up a Council Of Change to direct policy going forward. Harvey Mason Jr. announced that the Recording Academy was committing funds and resources to social-justice and education initiatives and platforms for black creators. Meanwhile, iHeartMedia—which has long been a platform for conservative news media—will launch the 24/7 Black Information Network on its app with a bevy of huge corporate sponsors and broadcasting veteran Tony Coles at the helm. The BET Awards show was bracingly political and garnered a spike in viewership. Black execs have stepped forward to outline the challenges and how they might be answered. But one of the challenges is that there aren’t enough black execs, especially at the top of the pyramid. Who’s in charge of recruitment? What results have been achieved in the past? What steps are being taken to improve the model around recruitment, training and mentoring, and why is changing the status quo so difficult? There’s much to be done, but for the most part the biz wants to get down to it.

TO MARKET: Interscope and Atlantic are in a near-photo-finish for #1 label marketshare at the midpoint of the year, with John Janick’s label up by a fraction. Meanwhile, Monte Lipman’s Republic and Steve Barnett’s Capitol Music Group are neck-and-neck and Ron Perry’s Columbia a half-point behind them. All of the above been seriously boosted by big streaming records, of course; among the top performers have been QC/Motown/CMG’s Lil Baby, Interscope’s DaBaby, Trevor Daniel and Lil Mosey, Republic’s The Weeknd, Post Malone and Drake, Epic’s Future f/Drake, Columbia’s Arizona Zervas and Harry Styles, Warner’s Dua Lipa, RCA’s Doja Cat and Warner Nashville’s Gabby Barrett. The fact that a majority of these are new acts speaks volumes about the present marketplace.

AGENCY SHUFFLE: The ferment in the agency world has changed the leadership of WME’s music division, as Marc Geiger exits and Sara Newkirk Simon becomes a consultant for Endeavor—and the new trinity of Kirk Sommer, Scott Clayton and Lucy Dickins gets oversight of music. The three agents have an impressive range of expertise and biz insiders largely consider them well qualified to carry the ball. Even so, there was some surprise in the biz that neither Brent Smith nor Kevin Shivers got a bigger role in this transition, as had been speculated. It’s also worth taking a moment to acknowledge Geiger’s work in building the division into a formidable beast. Geiger, a forward-thinking player, brought rock smarts to the gig and was wise to embrace EDM. As he showed with the ill-fated Artist Direct, he wasn’t afraid to make a big entrepreneurial bet. True, his tendency to view himself as the smartest guy in any room didn’t do him any favors, and it’s said there’s bad blood between Geiger and some of his former staff; a fair amount of bashing at WME is said to be directed at the newly empty chair. Still, wonderers wonder: Where will he go next?

And then there’s Paradigm, still the focus of much speculation as it ponders a big deal for music with Casey Wasserman. The principals are working mightily to get new contracts done with top agents. Is agent Matt Galle’s reluctance to close holding up the consummation? He’s said to have received another offer, but he may not be able to make a move for contractual reasons—unless he can buy himself out. Can Wass and the Goreses get this unstuck? Tom Gores will still have an interest in the new entity and it’s said that a hurdle in near-term financing has been cleared. Those close to the sitch think we could see things resolve, one way or another, in a week or two.

STREAM DREAM: Streaming is booming in this bizarre era, and no entity is riding that wave like Spotify. The company’s stock has exploded, doubling in value over the last three months; even after a “sell” recommendation from Guggenheim, the Spot remains in the $260/share range. How much more will the sector expand as home entertainment continues to be the only entertainment? The streamco’s market cap is now just under 48 billion. Did former employees like Troy Carter, Nick Holmstén, Dave Rocco, Jonathan Prince and Tuma Basa participate in the windfall, or did they miss the opportunity by going out the revolving door too soon?

MULTIPLYING BUNNY: Speaking of stock, who’s getting the cake from the WMG IPO? According to the SEC filing, Steve Cooper made a boatload of cash and Max Lousada did exceedingly well; Guy Moot and Carianne Marshall are also mentioned in the filing. Word has it Julie Greenwald, Craig Kallman, Head of International Stu Bergen and EVP/General Counsel Paul M. Robinson saw windfalls as well.

Remember when Len Blavatnik and Cooper first came to the company and asked key players to accept reduced salaries in exchange for stock? According to insiders, most of the above-mentioned players did—except for Julie. But in a renegotiation of her deal she gained access to the stock plan based on her company’s performance. This came to light again when Cameron Strang was fired and was owed $30m from the same stock program; he subsequently settled for $20m+. Many believe the stock plan is throwing off that $30m+ amount and more to the above. The IPO is a major coup for Len and Cooper, the latter billed as a turnaround expert when he came to the company. Len got back about five times what he paid for WMG and still controls 99% of the company with approximately 85% ownership, while most biz-watchers believe Cooper increased his fortunes by more than $100m. Pop those corks on some ’96 Dom Perignon Rose—you folks deserve it.

TAGS: I.B. Bad