HITS Daily Double


Dumpster fire. Nightmare. Annus horribilis. 2020 has been unlike anything we’ve ever experienced, thanks to an out-of-control pandemic and an out-of-control authoritarian clown who didn’t do shit about it. Stir in the eruption of dissent after years of brutal police murder and general white-supremacist terror, which turned into Black Lives Matter, the most significant civil-rights movement since the freedom marches—and the foaming, fascist rage that reared up in reaction to it—leading into the bitterest, scariest election of our lifetime, and we’re left teetering between hope and despair. A new administration is taking the reins. The vaccine is being distributed (though it’ll be Sasha Obama’s second term before we get ours). There are plenty of reasons to see a light at the end of the tunnel and believe it’s not a train bent on vehicular homicide. But it’s also true that this was written when there were two weeks left in the year, with the expectation that those two weeks would take about 40 years to go by.

We watched most of this go down on the various screens that were our constant companions in quarantine, between Zoom meetings and emails and texts that enabled us—much to our surprise—to stitch together a work life on our couches and in our breakfast nooks.

The music industry, in particular, rose to this challenge. Despite the total shutdown of the live sector, the recorded and publishing sectors achieved stunning milestones and genuine growth, with activity up a delicious 11%+ year over year. The experience, though often harrowing and gripped by uncertainty, showed that great music and experienced, savvy biz professionals are an unbeatable combination, even if we’re all working in our jammies and our wi-fi is now as crucial as oxygen.

Imagine if a pandemic had happened, say, 25 years earlier, when physical retail was everything. It would’ve been lights out. But the digital revolution—having both streamlined biz function and saved our bacon on the revenue side—made it possible for the record and song sides to not only survive but thrive. The impressive WMG IPO and its $18.92b billion market cap, UMG’s lucrative deal with Tencent (not to mention the $33b valuation floated in Vivendi’s planned offering for Universal) and Sony’s thriving financials (its Q2, ending 10/28, was up 11%+ year over year), among other signal events and indicators, all attested to the ever-escalating value of music.

What’s more, the industry responded to the social crises at hand by rallying to the aid of those most adversely affected by the pandemic and taking steps—in terms of both internal policy and public-facing action—to confront the systemic racism and inequality that drove the #BLM wave. Change was underway, though it was too slow and not sweeping enough for many on the front lines.

Within the industry, the health odyssey of UMG topper Sir Lucian Grainge felt particularly profound. His initial diagnosis was the shot heard ’round the biz as everyone took extreme pandemic measures and prayed for his health. After what was said to be a serious episode of COVID, Grainge had a full recovery—and subsequently appeared sharper and more upbeat than ever. Indeed, virtually everyone who has seen him recently has remarked on how exceptionally fit he looks. It was a hopeful and restorative result amid so much loss and sorrow.