Usually when reporting the weekly Nielsen SoundScan results we deal in facts, data, calculations and tabulations. However, this week the verifiable facts are only a small fraction of the equation. “What ifs” are flooding the horizon like a tsunami of change headed for the music industry overall and therefore Nashville…. But first let’s look at what we know: the Wednesday morning facts.
According to the numbers, and as shown on the above chart, YTD country music album sales continue to lose ground dropping from last week’s 5.6% ahead to 4.2% this week. Country is starting to come into parity with the industry overall which is ahead 3.4%. Readers of this column likely know why and expected to see this downward drop because last year at this time Taylor Swift released Speak Now which sold over one million units and there is nothing on this year’s list to challenge that, so far. Miranda Lambert’s creative tour de force Four The Record debuted this week with slightly over 133k units, more than double her last outing, but a far cry from offsetting our growing units deficit. Overall country album sales for the week were about 855k.
As we prepare for tonight’s CMA Awards and on the heels of celebrating the songs and songwriters responsible for driving the sales of our industry at SESAC, ASCAP and BMI over the past three evenings, news continues to surface that could/would reshape the country music landscape and conceivably have far reaching effects…
According to Bloomberg.com’s Andy Fixmer (11/8), Sony is actively negotiating to purchase Big Machine Records, founded by Scott Borchetta in 2005 and home to Taylor Swift. Valuations discussed in the article place the label group at around $200 million.
According to the article, “Negotiations are at an early stage and an agreement may not be completed. Universal Music Group also may enter the bidding, one of the people said. Borchetta, with a roster of the biggest country acts, would run Sony’s Nashville, Tennessee- based operation as part of the sale, the people said.”
The New York Times reported (11/7) on new Sony leader and 72-year-old industry vet, Doug Morris. In its article it notes that Morris in aggressively trying to dominate the industry. “My plan here is very simple,” Morris says. “To help create the pre-eminent record company in the world.” Last week Morris signed producer Dr. Luke to Sony and created a new record label Luke will run, Kemosabe Records. (Luke will no longer be able to work with EMI’s Katy Perry under the new deal.) The article also states, “Late last year, Mr. Morris stunned the industry when it emerged that he would take over Universal’s biggest competitor, going head-to-head against his former protégé, Lucian Grainge, Universal’s new chairman. The two are expected to bid aggressively for artists and for Cash Money and Big Machine, two independent labels whose distribution deals with Universal are expiring soon.”
Meanwhile EMI Records and EMI Music Publishing remain in play. Unconfirmed reports place the publishing company moving to Sony ATV as the result of a late night, last night deal. Sony ATV’s Marty Bandier reportedly was scheduled to be at the BMI awards where his company was named Publisher of the Year, but cancelled his trip at the last minute to firm the deal.
Analysis: Speculation does not create a good basis for informed analysis. However, the EMI publishing offering has been quite public, and seems destined to happen soon, even if the buyer remains unconfirmed. The consolidation of two top dog publishers is certain to realign the creative community in Music City. On the label side, the impending absorption of EMI Records and possibly Big Machine is also sure to involve a game of musical chairs.
Despite a cheery upbeat article in the Tennessean last Sunday stating that country music sales are ahead and quite healthy, insiders know that is is not the case. “Flat” is the very best one could say at this time, and if you get label heads together, off the record, they will get quite a bit less enthusiastic. While the SoundScan numbers appear flat, one must remember that album prices have fallen, margins have shrunk and costs of doing business continue to rise. Squeeze
However, despite the possible impending changes, if the previous three nights in Nashville have shown us anything, it’s that our town’s creative voices are strong and vibrant. Writers, artists and producers continue to make meaningful emotion-packed music. As long as that force remains intact, Nashville’s future will be just fine.