|CMU Daily - on the inside 24 Dec 2003
Well, Christmas is here and as the music industry undertakes its mad exodus away from London to quieter climes (except for BMG's Pop Idol team of course - good luck with the 5 Jan deadline), here comes CMU's review of the music world year.
The CMU Daily returns on 5 January with the usual daily dose of music news, industry stories and damn fine reviews - so stay tuned.
MAJOR LABEL MERGERS
Pending major label mergers kept the music industry rumour mill afloat in 2003. Renewed interest in the further consolidation of the music industry followed a 2002 European Court ruling over a merger within the travel industry. EU competition regulators had initially blocked a move that would see the travel industry dominated by three key players - but European Courts overruled that decision. That convinced senior execs at the major record companies that EU competition regulators would no longer be able to block the consolidation of the music industry to four major players like they had in 2000 when EMI and Warners had proposed a merger. And so every combination of major label merger started to be proposed from those inside and outside the record companies.
Everyone initially thought that any merger would involve Warner Music - especially when the major's parent company AOL Time Warner reported huge financial problems. BMG were the first to enter negotiations with Warner bosses. When those fell through EMI started talks. But after all that talking, Warner decided to sell its music division to former Universal Music owner Edgar Bronfmann Jnr, who made a last minute bid after failing in his attempt to buy Universal's film and TV companies.
In the end it was Sony Music, who had previously stayed out of any merger talks, who announced a merger deal. Sony will merge their recorded music operations with Bertlesmann's BMG in 2004 - assuming the assumption that EU regulators won't oppose any deal rings true. The trade body for European independent labels - IMPALA - has pledged to fight the merger all the way, so nothing should be taken as read just yet.
DOWNLOAD WAR CONTINUES
The major record labels managed to stay angry throughout 2003 with all those people who illegally downloaded their artists' music. Having sued Napster into oblivion, and put up pretty much every legal battle they could against its successor Kazaa - the Recording Industry Association of America turned its lawyers' attention to the individuals who were sharing music online.
A high profile a-list-artist-endorsed publicity campaign trying to convince music fans that their MP3 sharing was crippling its millionaire artists had little affect on the public's downloading habits. So much so the powers that be decided some scare-tactic lawsuits were needed.
After winning a long legal battle with American ISP Verizon - who argued the RIAA had no legal right to demand to know the identity of individual customers they suspected of illegally sharing music - the RIAA subpoenaed numerous ISPs and colleges to identify serial downloaders, and then engaged in a high profile litigation campaign taking hundreds of individual downloaders to court. Most of those being sued decided to settle out of court, others avoided actual legal action by promising to wipe their MP3 collections and to stop sharing files over the net.
The campaign seemed to work - while illegal MP3 sharing continued, use of Kazaa in the US did fall. Towards the end of the year the major labels' global representatives - the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry - hinted it would push for similar legal action to be taken against illegal downloaders outside the US.
But then in mid-December a series of blows to the majors: The Canadian copyright body said current law there didn't forbid downloading. The courts in Holland said Kazaa wasn't illegal. And the US appeal courts said Verizon was, in fact, right when it said current American law did not allow the RIAA to subpoena the identities of suspected downloaders. What turn the anti-download war will take in 2004 is far from clear.
DOWLOADING GOES LEGIT
Some inside the major labels have long argued that the music industry should be embracing the opportunities digital music offers rather than running up huge legal bills suing underground MP3 suppliers. While the RIAA concentrated on the litigation, others were pursuing that more positive strategy, the result of which was the rapid growth of the legit digital sector.
Actually, in the end, it was the technology industry that led the way with regards legitimate downloading. Apple Mac, in particular, gave the whole legit download sector a much needed kickstart when they launched iTunes - a pay-per-track download service to complement Apple's iPod MP3 player. While the MP3 services set up by music industry players back in 2001/2 had never captured the public imagination, suddenly everyone seemed to be paying to download. Other technology firms like Microsoft and Roxio followed suit (the latter having acquired the Napster name). As iTunes sold its 25th million download, record labels large and small found that enemy number one - digital music - was actually becoming a serious income stream.
As we approach 2004 the legit digital music sector looks likely to explode. The key download services are likely to come from those companies who don't actually need to make huge profits from the download sales themselves in order to survive - that is to say technology firms who sell MP3 players or software on the back of their download operations, or ISPs who can use download facilities to differentiate their internet offer.
Or, perhaps, major consumer brands who will badge download services in order to gain a positive association with the music world - a strategy formally announced by Coke in the UK this year, and likely to be opted by other major brands in 2004.
HIP HOP DOMINATES
Hip Hop and R&B continued its dominance in terms of genre popularity across the globe, and especially in America. In one week in October the entire Billboard singles top ten was made up of hip hop / R&B tracks and the two best selling albums of the year in America - 50 Cent's 'Get Rich Or Die Tryin' and Outkast's 'Speakerboxx/The Love Below' - sold twice as many copies as the best selling rocks titles - Linkin Park's 'Meteora' and Evanescence's 'Fallen'.
That said, in the UK rock regained the dominance it lost to the dance scene in the late nineties. That rise was epitomised, of course, by The Darkness who went from being unknown and unsigned in January, to being one of the UK's most successful acts in December. So strong was the buzz around the band that Warner Music were forced to bring forward their American launch to capitalise on the growing hype.
LIVE SECTOR ON THE UP
2003 was a good year for the live music sector. In direct contrast to the recorded music industry, who continued to cope with declining record sales, the major tours and festivals enjoyed record sells outs and ticket revenues in 2003. Despite a number of high profile cancellations in Eastern Asia and Canada as the SARS epidemic took hold in the first half of the year, the live sector expects to smash records in terms of annual revenues.
While some argue the live sector was helped this year by a coincidentally high number of legendary artists being on tour, Gary Bongiovanni of US live industry magazine Pollstar points out the live sector is not so affected by the changes the internet has caused in the recorded music sector: "The record business has serious problems, fundamental business-model problems. The concert business isn't like that. People still want to see live acts, and a concert's not something you can necessarily steal."
With Australia's Big Day Out Festival already reporting record speed sell outs for its 2004 events and anticipation high for the big summer festivals in the US and Europe the live sector looks likely to continue its growth in 2004.
Other stuff? Well, Sanctuary Music became an increasingly important player, snapping up all sorts of management and label businesses, and ending the year with singles filling two places in the Christmas Top three. Beggars imprint XL found themselves with numerous buzz bands on their hands (Dizzee, White Stripes, Lemon Jelly, Peaches, Electric Six). The Stones pissed off HMV in Canada when they did an exclusivity deal with rival retailer Best Buy. Michael Jackson continued to feud with Sony Music, Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne quit the label, but George Michael forgot his previous grievances and resigned to the major. The Eavis family and Mean Fiddler ran such an efficient Glastonbury Festival, the 2004 event got its licence first time of asking. And everyone made lots of cash out of selling ringtones (just who is it that pays three quid for a casio reworking of a Justin Timberlake track?)
The big (if slightly dull) media news story of the year was the passing of the revised Communications Act. Among a whole host of changes in media and telco legislation perhaps the most important aspect of the Act for the music world was the slackening of media ownership rules. The big radio groups are now allowed to own a bigger stake of the commercial radio market in any one city, media companies can own both publishing and radio outfits in the same areas, and, perhaps most importantly, non-British based media groups can now buy into UK radio.
That said - the Radio Authority, soon to be swallowed up by OfCom, made two controversial decisions that suggest those who govern radio ownership aren't going to be that easy a pushover.
Firstly when radio group GWR bought 50% of the Bristol franchise of Chrysalis Radio's Galaxy Network everyone expected the purchase to get the go ahead from the regulator - even though it pushed GWR's radio interests in the city over the old market share quota and the new legislation was still going through the rubber stamping process. But the regulator turned them down. Then the Radio Authority blocked attempts by the Midland News Association, publishers of the Shropshire Star, to buy their local radio station Telford FM on public interest grounds.
As for the big global players, while both Clear Channel and Disney have expressed an interest in buying into British radio, they both say they're in no rush. So, for the time being, while the Communications Act was big news, but its impacts are yet to be realised.
Talking of mergers and acquisitions - the two main ITV companies, Granada and Carlton, finally got round to merging, though some on the Carlton side reckoned they were, in fact, being acquired by Granada. Whether or not the two companies should be allowed to merge their broadcasting, production and ad-sales businesses was an issue of contention, and when the government decided the answer was yes the advertising industry wasn't too impressed.
But their aggression baled into insignificance compared to the anger of some of the investors in the two ITV companies. Keen to get their own back against Carlton boss Michael Green over his role in the ITV Digital debackle, they forced Green to quit his top job at the newly merged ITV. Although Granada boss Charles Allen stays on as chairman, those investors are now looking for a strong contender to kick ass as the new company's Chief Executive in the New Year.
BREAKFAST SHOW WARS
Chris Tarrant finally confirmed he was leaving Capital FM. Despite the initial (and expected) hit on share price following Tarrant's announcement, many inside Capital were pleased to put the 'when is he going to leave?' debate behind them. And everyone seemed to be pleased with the announcement Johnny Vaughan will take over from Tarrant in the New Year - everyone except Neil Fox of course, who had been previously assured the post-Tarrant breakfast slot was his. Fox, after throwing a small tantrum, decided to stay with Capital in the drive time slot - though at the end of the year he did announce he was quitting the commercial radio chart show so he can spend more time on "TV projects".
Capital will be putting a lot of marketing effort into the Vaughan breakfast show when it launches in the New Year in a bid to start 2004 on a high, after a year when they struggled in both listening figures and ad revenue. But there will be tough competition for London's breakfast show listeners. Radio 1 are launching a new breakfast show around the ego of Chris Moyles, Heart are sure to put more money into their strangely popular Jono Coleman show, and there continues to be stiff competition in the youth market from Kiss FM's Bam Bam.
Talking of breakfast show wars - Virgin Radio had a breakfast show war all of its own when their long running dispute with Chris Evans reached court earlier this year. Evans reckoned he was owed a big chunk of cash (£8.6 million to be precise) for his share options in Virgin Radio parent company Scottish Media Group. They argued he lost his claim on said options when he broke his contract with Virgin, leading up to his controversial sacking back in 2001. Evans denied that he broke his contract claiming the station forced him out so they could give his show to successor Steve Penk. But the courts sided with SMG handing Evans nothing but a large legal bill
ROCK MAGS GREW
Everything comes full circle. After the post-Brit pop cull in rock titles (remember Select, Vox, Melody Maker) and the plethora of dance mags that launched in the late nineties, the rock mag went through a renaissance in 2003. With Muzik, Seven and Ministry gone and almost forgotten, we got two new rock titles. Future Publishing launched the supposedly more punchy Bang!, while Xfm turned what had been a promotional mag into a fully fledged newsstand magazine - X-Ray.
NME seemed to enjoy a new lease of life as its natural music genre gained more prominence, and even the most ardent NME critic seemed impressed with their revamp in the Autumn.
Despite the growth in rock titles - and the launch of a new music supplement by the Observer - jobs remained thin on the ground for music journalists in the post-dotcom era. Even more music websites bit the dust this year, others becoming content-free fronts for ring-tone operations. As we go into 2004 you can count the number of extensive music websites on one hand - but with the genuine expansion of broadband usage in 2003, next year will surely see the rebirth of online music media.
A row between the boss of TalkSport and the radio ratings company RAJAR rumbled on throughout 2003. Kelvin MacKenzie reckons that the research firm (jointly owned by the BBC and the commercial radio groups) are costing his company money because of their refusal to move over to a technology based measurement system instead of the existing hand written diary system. MacKenzie argues the diary system is inaccurate and that as a result TalkSport's ratings come out much lower than they should - affecting how much the station can charge for ad-time.
After RAJAR dropped its plans to introduce a technology based system, TalkSport hired private research firm GfK to do their own radio ratings using wrist watches that track their owners radio listening habits. GfK's figures showed that TalkSport - and talk radio across the board - had more listeners than the RAJARS said. This encouraged MacKenzie to go legal to force RAJAR to introduce a technical system, and to compensate his station for past (allegedly misleading) listening figures.
As both sides prepare for court, perhaps more worrying for RAJAR is the news that two key radio advertisers (Transport for London and the government's Office of Communication) are investigating the legitimacy of GfK's research. If they start to choose which station to advertise on based on GfK's figures the whole future of RAJAR may be called into question.
Other stuff? The BBC launched their youth channel BBC 3, and reassured commercial players that they wouldn't compete with their youth output by filling it with rubbish. More digital radio stations were launched, and them in the know assured us everyone was buying digital radios (though mainly to listen to BBC7 as far as I can see). Top of the Pops revamped. Sky launched three music channels to compete with MTV and EMAP. Zoe Ball quit her Xfm drive time show. Smash Hits forewent their annual poll winners party. Justin Timberlake appeared on the cover of everything, and their still playing Eminem on the radio every day even though he didn't release anything this year.
In no particular order, and with apologies for the inevitable omissions...
2003 was undisputedly a good year for Justin Timberlake and 50 Cent. That geeky boyband kid who dated Britney somehow became the coolest man on earth (Christmas bonus to the A&R who hooked Timberlake up with the Neptunes). 50 Cent, meanwhile, came close to surpassing the popularity of his mentor, Mr Slim Shady, and ensured Interscope's revenues stayed high despite the lack of a new Eminem album.
While Britney winged a lot, Christina seemed to become a bit cooler in 2003. But when it comes to female artists, the year surely belonged to Beyonce.
In the UK, The Darkness were the darlings of the year (even after it was revealed Tony Blair was a fan), Busted became everyone's favourite boy band (well my favourites boyband) and Coldplay kept winning awards even though they didn't actually release an album this year.
Given that the Timberlake back-lash started last month, and the Busted back-lash began in the Independent on Monday; we're planning a Darkness backlash for February. We don't dare start a 50 Cent backlash, and we've been backlashing against Coldplay for months and it doesn't seem to have had any effect.
Long passed the backlash stage, Robbie Williams may still be struggling to break America, but he still has a hold on the average British music fan - what with those record breaking Knebworth dates and a best seller DVD. Also used to weathering a backlash or two, the Rolling Stones made quite an impression in 2003 with the biggest grossing tour of the year. And surely always beyond backlash - David Bowie returned with another great album.
What else? Dido stayed as popular as ever with your mainstream FM listeners; Jamie Cullum and Norah Jones reminded us how important Radio 2 is; Simply Red kept the Asda shopping record buyer happy; Evanescence took everyone by surprise when they stormed to the top of the charts (Sony's UK marketing team in particular!) and the Black Eyed Peas proved you can rarely predict what will be the best selling single of the year.
Radiohead and Muse were back to keep the indie kids happy, the White Stripes were there for the cool kids, Electrix Six did there best to prove they're not a novelty band, OutKast did their bit for popular hip hop, while Linkin Park kept the nu metal light a burning. Apparently (if ITV viewers are to be believed) Westlife made the single of the year - although the cooler kids were buying Avril Lavigne and Good Charlotte. Kylie seemed to keep the pundits happy, the verdict was less clear on Madonna's new material, and everyone slagged off the Sterophonics as always (though they still shifted lots and lots of records of course).
Terri Walker, Machine Gun Fellatio, The Thrills, Peaches, 3 Inches Of Blood, Cinematic Orchestra, Young Blood Brass Band, Turbo Negro, Prefuse 73, Ty, Izzi Dunn, Cody Chesnutt, Dwele, K-os, Bronze Age Fox, The Majesticons, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, MC Pitman and Mad Capsule Markets all won the esteemed title of 'CMU Favourite' in 2003.
More. Erm. Everyone said Mark Owen's comeback songs were great, though I couldn't see it myself. That Junior Senior track was good though. And I quite liked that Simian track too. And The Delays' new one. And why weren't OK Go more successful? Blur and Travis' new albums were fantastic, of course. And thank God everyone has realised just how great the Flaming Lips are at last.
By our count Michael Jackson got the most column inches in the CMU Daily, though for all the wrong reasons. Phil Spector and Pete Townsend would also have probably have preferred to not have appeared in the news so much this year. In the Spring rarely a day went by without a TaTu story, then Timberlake seemed to fill the headlines on a daily basis. Then there was the dramatic fall and rapid rise of Pete from the Libertines, various altercations between Coldplay's Chris Martin and anyone with a camera, and Jack White's late December beating of Von Bondies frontman Jason Stollsteimer.
The sympathy vote (especially in Australia) went to former Neighbours star come pop singer Delta Goodrem who topped the charts and won awards galore despite being diagnosed as having Hodgkins disease. And in the latter weeks of the year the growing backlash against the Osbourne family was stopped in its path as we all realised just how serious Ozzy's injuries were from the quad bike crash.
Finally, 2003's obit count. Tears were shed, and greatest hits albums shifted for Nina Simone, Barry White, Edwin Starr, Celia Cruz, Warren Zevon, Robert Palmer, Bobby Hatfield, Elliot Smith, Maurice Gibb and good ole Johnny Cash, who all sang their final songs in 2003.Talking of obituaries, and I can't stress this strongly enough, AC/DC's Angus Young did not die in 2003.