opinion

The (Lil Nas) X Factor: What the biz can learn from Old Town Road

No-one saw Lil Nas X coming, but no-one’s going to be able to miss him now. As anyone who’s enjoyed a working pulse over the past few weeks will know, the Atlanta rapper’s viral hit Old Town Road – bolstered ...

The Album Reloaded: Weighing up the pros and cons of 'franchising' music

Everywhere you look, people are doubling down on musical creativity. The 1975 will soon follow up A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships with Notes On A Conditional Form to complete the Music For Cars ‘era’. Foals’ Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt 1 will be swiftly pursued by Pt 2. Even The Lumineers will release their third album, III, in three parts. This may seem counter-intuitive: “People don’t buy albums anymore! So let’s release more of them!” But really it’s a reaction to the changing dynamics of music consumption in the streaming age. New music keeps your monthly listeners total up, so it makes sense to spread it across the year. And now it’s almost impossible to get a single away after an album’s been released, the sales window on a long-player is shorter than ever.   Some artists think a constant flow of new music will enable year-round touring, but constant supply does not necessarily mean constant demand   But really it goes deeper than that. The biz is looking at Hollywood for inspiration, and this is nothing short of the franchising of music. You can’t see a blockbuster these days without there being a bunch of Easter eggs linking to other movies or teasers for future films, all designed to keep fans digging through the back catalogue and on alert for when the next project drops. But there are also things to beware of. Some artists think a constant flow of new music will enable year-round touring, but constant supply does not necessarily mean constant demand. Even Star Wars – an under-exploited franchise in its pre-Disney days – has seen diminishing returns now the films come round every year. So the key has to be engagement, not just attention. Look at Billie Eilish, building a cinematic universe to rival anything Marvel have created. That’s why sales for her When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? album don’t just point the way forward for streaming strategies, but for physical music ones too. Her teenage fans are hooked enough to literally buy into the project, not just stream it in the background. In the meantime, see you next week for The Editorial II: This Time It’s Personal…    

Universal gleam: What does UMG's soaring valuation mean for its sale process?

The plan to sell up to a 50% stake in Universal Music Group was announced way back in July 2018. The major’s stunning performance since then has made it an ever-hotter property. So why is it taking so long? Like a houseproud owner dragging their feet over the sale of their dream home, Vivendi has yet to even get as far as engaging a bank. In the meantime, most significant financial players are jockeying for that plum job by posting spiralling valuations of the company’s possible worth. With valuations ranging from $30-50 billion, it may be that UMG’s owner is happy to play a long game and watch its potential windfall grow and grow. But the more being charged for the stake, the smaller the list of potential single investors becomes (multiple partners remain a possibility of course). And, while Vivendi dialled back from the possibility of a full IPO, the more money investors are required to stump up to buy in, surely the more likely they are to want more than just a minority say in its future? After all, $25 billion could buy you 100% of pretty much anything else. How many people are there in the world prepared to lay down that sort of money without a path to full ownership being offered, at least at some point in the future? One much-touted potential buyer, Liberty Media, has already said as much. Other reported contenders (Tencent, Google) certainly have enough cash to contemplate the full price without blinking. Vivendi’s Vincent Bolloré is ultimately calling the shots, but you can’t see him approving anything without UMG boss Sir Lucian Grainge being heavily involved. UMG’s transformation into the group’s golden child has been remarkable – and, after all, it’s Sir Lucian and his team that have led that charge. Indeed, even if little else has been achieved so far, the stake sale process has proved that, post-Spotify IPO, music in general, and Universal in particular, is a red hot investment. You can see why people want to buy it. Yet, with Universal and the other majors dialling up huge profits off the back of a subscription streaming surge and projections for the wider business suggesting music could soon be bigger than ever, the bigger question may yet be: why would you want to sell it?

Viewpoint: Sammy Andrews on streaming wars

Just duo it: Why it now takes two to run a major music company

The screen never lies: IMPALA's Helen Smith on the Copyright Directive victory

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