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SPOTIFY EXTEND UNLIMITED FREE LISTENING IN THE US, REDUCE FREEMIUM LIMITATIONS IN EUROPE
As previously reported, while Spotify Free originally offered totally unlimited free streaming, the attraction of the premium service being the removal of ads and the ability to listen via mobile, the freemium offer was subsequently scaled back so that free users - after a trial period of unlimited free listening - would be limited to ten hours streaming per month, and would only be able to play any one track five times. In America, when the service finally launched there last year, everyone was offered unlimited free listening at the outset, but with the warning that the restrictions by that point operating in Europe would eventually apply.
It's thought record companies on both sides of the Atlantic pushed for the free option to be scaled back last year, many rights owners becoming concerned that the freemium service was not viable in its own right, even with slowly growing ad revenues, and that therefore its role was really to encourage new customers in who might then be persuaded to upgrade to the subscription option. In that regard, some reckoned, the unlimited free service was too good. American labels, in particular, stressed about the freemium bit of Spotify, even though their European divisions had already licensed it, and were now shareholders in the streaming music business.
That said, it was thought Spotify too was increasingly focusing its efforts on the subscription part of its business, which was much less risky in terms of the royalties it had to pay out to the record companies, so the decision to scale back free probably wasn't totally to do with the major labels making big demands before agreeing to licence the service in America.
Either way, the restrictions due to come into play on Spotify Free after six months in the US never arrived, and yesterday the digital firm told its American users that unlimited free listening will stay for the foreseeable. Meanwhile, in Europe the ten hours a month limit will stay, but in most countries the five play limit will go (not in the UK just yet, though team Spot say they are "working on that").
It's not entirely clear what has motivated both Spotify and its label partners to once again enhance the freemium package. It's possible rights owners, especially Stateside, are impressed with the digital company's conversion rates from free to subscription, and recognise that having the freemium platform is helping Spotify expand its premium user-base at a rate none of its competitors can match.
And for those labels who reckon the subscription service business model is viable long-term, which currently includes all four majors, taking a hit on the free service now might seem worthwhile. It's also possible Spotify has seen its ad sales grow significantly in the last few months, reducing the risk of the freemium offer a little for all parties. Either way, the move will be popular with freemium users, and will further boost Spotify's competitive advantage over other all-you-can-eat streaming services.
Elsewhere in Spot news, the streaming company announced a new alliance with The Echo Nest that will see the latter integrate its API with Spotify, which means that the ever growing network of app developers utilising Echo Nest's music intelligence algorithms, and content and social media partnerships, will be able to develop apps for use within the Spotify platform.
NEW ZEALAND COMPETITION REGULATORS LAUNCH INVESTIGATION INTO UNIVERSAL'S EMI PURCHASE
The New Zealand branch of Universal Music submitted its EMI takeover application to the Commerce Commission earlier this month, and that body today published an initial document, most of which outlines routine information about the way in which competition investigations into proposed mergers and acquisitions work in the country.
Areas on which the Commission says it will be focusing include Universal's claims that the independent sector in New Zealand currently enjoys a strong competitive position, the extent to which artists can now circumvent the label system, and the extent to which piracy limits the big rights owners' power in setting prices, especially in the digital domain.
The Commission says it should make its final decision on 13 May. As previously reported, the European Commission announced late last week that it will need until August to review Universal's EMI bid. In Europe the acquisition is being strongly opposed by pan-European indie label trade body IMPALA, while Warner Music is thought to be lobbying against the deal in both the US and Europe.
WARNER FACE NEW DIGITAL ROYALTIES LAWSUIT
As much previously reported, for those artists with pre-internet record contracts that make no mention of downloads, record labels have treated iTunes-style revenue as record sales money, paying artists a relatively modest share of the loot. But many acts say download revenue should be treated as licensing income, from which most artists are contractually due a much bigger cut. Eminem collaborators FBT Productions successfully sued Universal on this issue, and now a long line of veteran artists are joining the litigation queue in a bid to secure a higher cut of digital monies too.
Tower Of Power have been signed to Sony labels since the mid-1970s, though their most successful recordings from the previous few years came out on Warner Bros, and it is Warner Music they are suing.
It's the band's founding and most consistent members Emilio Castillo and Stephen Kupka who are going legal, and their attorney told reporters yesterday: "From the information we have received,_ _it appears_ _Warner Music has allegedly failed to pay_ _Tower Of Power and its other artists the amount owed on the licensing of songs for digital downloads and ringtones._ _Emilio_ _and Stephen are bringing this action to ensure all artists are properly paid for their work._".
They aren't the first Warner artists to sue on this issue - Sister Sledge began legal proceedings last month - though the lawsuits against Universal and Sony have got more coverage. As previously reported, Sony has offered a deal to its heritage artists in settlement of a class action brought against it by a number of aging artists a few years back, though it remains to be seen if the courts approve that deal (which would give artists 3% more of download revenue) and if artists then accept it. Toto, who sued Sony last month, just before details of that deal were revealed, are seemingly still planning on pushing for more through the courts.
Warner is yet to comment about the digital royalty lawsuits it is now fighting.
EMI SUE DEF JAM GAME MAKERS
It's a complicated lawsuit, because EMI doesn't seem to be claiming to own any of the disputed tracks that feature in the game outright, but to have stakes in either the publishing, or to own bits of songs sampled in the hip hop records that feature. Hip hop licensing is, of course, a tricky business, partly because of all the samples that need licensing for various different uses, and the fact that its common for many parties to be listed as songwriters.
The game's makers 4mm Games and Terminal Reality are both named as defendants in the lawsuit, though interestingly Def Jam itself is not. It's not clear which of the partners in the game was actually responsible for clearing all the music rights. Of course Def Jam is a Universal division, and - if regulators allow - will be part of the same company as the EMI labels by the end of the year.
It's not the first lawsuit EMI has filed against a Universal affiliated hip hop label since the latter's bid to acquire the former began, though its previously reported royalties squabble with Cash Money Records has now been resolved.
TULISA'S PR REPS SUE OVER FALSE STATEMENT CLAIMS
As previously reported, shortly after the sex tape emerged on the net - and was swiftly taken offline by a cease and desist from Contostavlos's lawyers - it was widely reported in the tabs and online that a representative for the singer had denied it was the star in the tape. The quote said the recording was "100% fake", adding that Team Tulisa were "horrified that someone would go to the extreme lengths of fabricating a video ... it is absolutely not her".
Though, as also previously reported, that statement, generally credited to the singer's lawyers, actually originated from last summer, when reports first started to circulate that someone was shopping a Tulisa sex video to porn firms in London. Once the actual sex tape went online earlier this month her lawyers went quiet on the matter, while her PR reps issued a clear "no comment". Contostavlos, of course, subsequently took to YouTube to confirm it was her in the video, and that she was mortified that her ex-boyfriend Ultra had decided to make the recording available online.
It seems Fleet Street Blues may have said that that old denial from the singer's lawyer was in fact a new denial from her PR reps, Hackford Jones, meaning that when Contostavlos subsequently fessed up, it looked like the publicists had been lying through their teeth. And, according to the Gazette, the firm's Simon Jones is not impressed with having been accused of lying, and is now taking legal action against the blog, despite the offending post being removed.
Says Jones: "[There were] some pretty outlandish claims on the blog. At the end of the day, we all work in the media and mistakes are always made, but the point is I'm happy to hold up my hands if I've made a mistake, but I'm not happy to be accused of something I haven't done. People [have] mistakenly attributed a quote to me with regard to the sex tape that wasn't issued. The sex tape came out on the Sunday online, and from the moment it came online all we did was issue no comment".
He continued: "Once that video came to light, we're hardly going to be issuing denials that it was her, it's clearly her on the sex tape. [But that's what this site said we did, and] everyone in the industry knows that I look after Tulisa, and it's an industry blog. The thing I take most affront to is we feel our reputation is on not lying to the media at all and we stand very strongly against lying to the media... so to be pulled out as a poster boy for PRs who lie, it really galled me".
The people behind the Fleet Street Blues blog are yet to comment, though the whole website seems to have gone offline since the PR firm's legal action began. Meanwhile, Hackford Jones has also confirmed that Sky News is facing legal action over its claims Contostavlos lied to the court when her people applied for an injunction to stop any distribution of the sex tape. It's thought those allegations were based on the assumption the injunction was being sought on libel grounds (ie by claiming it wasn't her in the tape) rather than privacy grounds (because it was).
Jones concludes: "There's been so much misreporting around this case, which is funny in a way because in this age of Leveson when you think that everyone should be fact checking, even today people are still running stories based on hearsay. You do get to the point where you think, 'I'm sorry I have to set the record straight'".
No word yet on whether Contostavlos's other ex-boyfriend, fellow N-Dubber Fazer, plans to sue for libel third N-Dubz member Dappy, who claimed via Twitter that he recognised the penis that starred in the sex tape, and that it definitely belonged to his former bandmate, who, the Dapster reckoned, had uploaded the sex video in revenge for his and Tulisa's messy break up. I've not seen the tape, or Ultra's genitals, but perhaps Fazer was happy for the world to believe the cock on camera belonged to him for 48 hours. Even if that meant they thought he was also the cock who uploaded the recording.
DIPLO DRIVES SNOOP DOGG'S REGGAE 'REINCARNATION'
Speaking to MTV, Diplo said: "Snoop Dogg is an icon, man; he's bigger than the music. What we're doing is a reggae record. It's all reggae and he's singing and he's doing a fucking awesome job - he had his heart in every song".
Snoop, who released his 'Doggumentary' LP last year, has previously hinted via Twitter that his next record will represent a "reincarnation" of sorts, saying: "It's special. It's a real special project to me because it's like the birth of me becoming who I really am".
According to Diplo, recording sessions for the untitled record will recommence in April. Make of all this what you will.
TOM JONES RELEASING LP
The LP follows 2010's lauded 'Praise And Blame', and - like its prequel - was produced by Ethan Johns, who also accompanies Jones on the record alongside other musicians including Warpaint drummer Stella Wazgawa. Set for release via Island Records on 21 May, it features Tom's re-renderings of classic originals from Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon.
Tower Of Song (Leonard Cohen)
THE WALKMEN CONFIRM ALBUM
Set to surface via Bella Union on 4 Jun, it features Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold on a track named 'No One Ever Sleeps', with Pitchfork confirming other titles as 'We Can't Be Beat', 'Song for Leigh', 'Heartbreaker', and 'Love Is Luck'.
Says frontman Hamilton Leithauser: "The detachment you can feel throughout our younger records is gone. We felt like it was time to make a bigger, more generous statement".
It's certainly a "generous statement" I'm anxious to hear, especially having seen this album trailer.
ARIEL PINK AND R STEVIE MOORE RELEASING CASSETTE COLLECTION
Due for issue via London label Stroll On Records on 30 Apr, it will feature twenty tracks on numbered tapes, the overall package also including a fold-out poster.
DUM DUM GIRLS HEADLINING ISLINGTON ACADEMY
Having last graced our fair isle last November, the Dum Dums (the Girls, not the nineties indie band) are now booked to play a headline date at London's Islington Academy on 11 Apr, a fact that pleases me as much as the aforementioned video.
FESTIVAL LINE-UP UPDATE
BURTON AGNESS JAZZ & BLUES, Burton Agness Hall, Yorkshire, 6-8 Jul: Those attending this most serene of jazz and blues festival can anticipate sets from thrice-booked local favourites Alligators, illustrious contemporary troupe Ian Siegal & The Mississippi Mudbloods, acoustic singer-songwriter Sean Taylor, and Ben Beattie's Jazz Essentials, who'll be joined onstage by festival boss and saxophonist Simon Cunliffe-Lister for a fitting end to the weekend's revelry. www.burtonagnes.com
CRYSTAL PALACE GARDEN PARTY, Crystal Palace Park Bowl, London, 23-24 Jun: A venerable selection of artists comprising Rick Wakeman, Hawkwind, The Strawbs and Focus will serve as accompaniment for Saturday guests of this familial multi-arts fest, while Sunday's running will see an open-air recital by the London Gala Symphony Orchestra and opera soloist Juliette Poch. www.crystalpalacegardenparty.com
DEER SHED, Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, Yorkshire, 20-22 Jul: School Of Seven Bells, Lai Mera, Woodenbox and Arthur Rigby & The Baskervilles number among the most recent residents of this year's Deer Shed stable, expanding upon a bill that hitherto included Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny, Saint Etienne, Villagers, Los Campesinos!, Dutch Uncles and Paul Thomas Saunders. www.deerhshedfestival.com
GREENBELT, Cheltenham Racecourse, 24-27 Aug: Producer and multi-instrumentalist Nitin Sawhney towers atop a rich and verdant Greenbelt bank, as also features The Proclaimers, The Leisure Society, Jose Vanders and Abigail Washburn, with an array of comedy and cinema happenings also amongst the many goings on. www.greenbelt.org.uk/festival
ROCKNESS, Loch Ness, Scotland, 8-10 Jun: Fab electronica label Soma Records are taking control of RockNess's flying saucer-like Arcadia UFO arena, hosting a live bill that includes DJ and remixer James Holden, Ben Sims and Andrew Weatherall, who'll present a five-hour set with production maestro Sean Johnston. This is all added to the festival's line-up at large, as includes Mumford & Sons, Ed Sheeran, Friendly Fires, Biffy Clyro, Justice, Deadmau5 and The Rapture. www.rockness.co.uk
SUMMERTYNE, The Sage, Gateshead, 20-22 Jul: Now in its seventh year, this live ode to all-things Americana is so far to host various icons of the genre including John Hiatt & The Combo, Wanda Jackson, Darrell Scott, Vintage Trouble, Michael Chapman and Greek singer-songwriter Lera Lynn. thesagegateshead.org
WYCHWOOD FESTIVAL, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire, 8-10 Jun: The Saw Doctors captain a fleet of new additions to the familial Wychwood roster, with Dodgy, Hawkwind and Francois & The Atlas Mountains also amongst those joining Bellowhead, James, The Damned, Thrill Collins, Doctor & The Medics and DJ Howard Marks. www.wychwoodfestival.com
KWES TO SOUNDTRACK AIF SOCIAL EVENT
Entry is free for the first hour (after which it's £2), but you can secure a guaranteed guestlist place by emailing details to firstname.lastname@example.org
"TRANSPARENCY" THE NEW BUZZ WORD IN THE TICKET RESALE SPACE
As previously reported, secondary ticketing - which hasn't been as controversial over here as in the US in recent years - was thrown very much back into the spotlight by an expose on Channel 4 documentary series 'Dispatches' last month, which focused on ticket resale websites Viagogo and Seatwave, and the use of such sites by some tour promoters to resell tickets for their own events at a big mark up.
Although the programme caused some outrage online and in the press, and reignited the debate in Westminster as to whether ticket touting should be regulated, it remains to be seen whether the programme has any major impact. Seatwave has just upgraded its website, and says that the new platform offers more "transparency", though it's not entirely clear what that means.
But the "T" word has been used by the live industry trade body the Concert Promoters Association too. None of the promoters accused of reselling their own tickets at big marks ups by Channel 4 has actually engaged with the media since the 'Dispatches' show aired, instead relying on an initial CPA statement that blamed the government for failing to crack down on touting, forcing some of its members to join the ticket resale party.
But, with the promoters who do just that claiming they actually view the secondary ticketing sites as 'premium primary ticketing services', and therefore don't really consider themselves to be self-touting their own tickets, some critics have called on such companies to declare that fact, rather than pretending they are fans selling to other fans.
And the CPA, while not wanting to be too heavily drawn into the debate, has basically agreed with that viewpoint. According to LIVE UK, after a discussion on the online touting issue at its AGM earlier this month, the trade body said in a statement: "The CPA encourages all of its members to observe its code of conduct, which is to deal fairly with the public, other businesses and the artistes they promote, and to maintain ethical standards, honesty and integrity. It also advises the public to only buy tickets from the outlets listed in promoters' advertising, from the venue box office or from ticket agencies which display the STAR [Society of Ticket Agents And Retailers] logo".
Meanwhile the body's chair, Stuart Littlewood, added: "In future, I believe there will be a lot more transparency, in that tickets sold at premium prices will be clearly defined as such".
Of course the new transparency that's being promised will be of interest to the music publishers and their collecting society PRS For Music. As previously noted, as promoters pay a percentage of ticket revenues to the society to cover the rights that exist in songs performed at their shows, if the promoter sells that ticket at a mark up via a Viagogo type site, arguably the percentage royalty is due on the mark up as well as the published ticket price. It's not clear whether such extra royalties on marked-up tickets have been paid in the past.
Asked about that particular issue by LIVE UK, a spokesman for PRS said: "In light of the allegations raised by 'Dispatches', the licensing team and board of PRS For Music are reviewing all options to ensure that all primary sales are disclosed in returns. We reserve the right to audit a performance and associated accounts, to ensure accuracy of payments".
SONY CORP CONFIRM US EXECUTIVE REJIGS
The promotions, which come as the top guard at Sony Corp HQ in Tokyo change, with Kazuo Hirai rising to the CEO post, will kick in at the end of June. The move means that the bosses of Sony's two US-based music companies - Sony Music's Doug Morris and Sony/ATV's Marty Bandier - will both report to Lynton.
Commenting on the appointments, new Sony boss Hirai told reporters: "I have known both Michael and Nicole for many years, and they will do an excellent job at Sony Corporation Of America. They will be key members of my management team as we build on the progress made under the leadership of [my predecessor] Howard [Stringer] and fulfill Sony's destiny as the company best able to make and deliver the kind of entertainment, products and services people want".
Elsewhere, it was also confirmed that Sony Corporation Of America's CFO Rob Wiesenthal will move into the Sony/ATV music publishing company as Chief Strategy Officer, reporting to Bandier, and overseeing all territories outside North America and the UK. It's thought he'll also be involved in working out quite how new acquisition EMI Music Publishing (assuming that takeover gets the go ahead from regulators) will fit into the Sony/ATV business, given the Sony publisher will not own the EMI company outright.
[PIAS] RECRUIT FABRIC RECORDINGS MAN
Confirming the new appointment, [PIAS] UK MD Peter Thompson told reporters: "I've known Geoff for a long time thanks to our relationship with Fabric and it's fantastic that he has agreed to join [PIAS] as we develop the label side of our activities. It's an exciting time at [PIAS] as we continue to grow the label roster and this appointment, along with a number of soon-to-be-announced signings, emphasises our commitment and ambition towards the artists we are proud to work with".
BLACKBERRY MAKER TO REFOCUS ON CORPORATE CUSTOMERS
The new strategy follows a management shake-up, and will see RIM target exclusively business customers, and those consumers who buy a mobile with business use in mind. It is, of course, the area where BlackBerry has always had the best reputation, though even there it faces tough competition from Apple and Google, with some big corporate clients of old already looking into developing apps that allow some of the security and control the BlackBerry platform offers via the iPhone and Android devices.
It's not yet clear what the move will mean for future developments at the BlackBerry Messenger network that has proven particularly popular with young mobile users, or the accompanying music service the mobile maker attached onto it last November.
CMU BEEF OF THE WEEK #104: PAUL VAN DYK V MADONNA
The Molly reference was widely assumed to be a take on the old Mrs Merton BRIT Awards gag ("has anyone seen Charlie, everyone backstage is asking for Charlie"), given 'Molly' is slang for ecstasy, or MDMA if you want to be more scientific about these things. And, of course, Madonna is already alluding to the clubbing drug in her new album's title.
But, see, while some of the young clubbers enjoying Madonna's impromptu set might have enjoyed the sly drug references, some in the dance genre are rather sensitive about the associations electronic music has with drugs, and weren't impressed that the pop queen seemed to think an electronic music festival was the best place to push the drug allusions in her new album's title.
Deadmau5 was the first to criticise Madonna for the Molly talk, tweeting his objections, though - ever keen to be in with the in crowd - Madge quickly moved to placate the popular producer by insisting there'd been a misunderstanding. She reportedly tweeted back: "I don't support drug use and I never have. I was referring to the song called 'Have You Seen Molly' written by my friend Cedric Gervais who I almost worked with on my last album..."
Convinced? Well, Paul Van Dyk isn't. He's also not impressed by Madonna's Ultra Molly references, and has spoken to Billboard on the matter. Says the superstar DJ: "I don't think she was thinking much. The only thing she was probably thinking was, 'I need to connect with a young crowd', and she made the biggest mistake of her career. Madonna was so stupid to actually call out drug abuse in front of a crowd of 18-year-olds. This is not what our music is about. It's really counterproductive".