Full indie breakfast: What Lauren Laverne's big radio move could mean for the music biz

While the biz was focusing on Nick Grimshaw’s departure from Radio 1’s flagship Breakfast Show, fellow BBC network Radio 6 Music was quietly making a potentially more significant announcement. The arrival of Lauren Laverne as the station’s first female breakfast ...

No half measures: Who's who in the bid for a 50% stake in Universal Music

There aren’t many things in the music business that Sir Lucian Grainge hasn’t experienced. But selling half of the world’s biggest music company is one of them. Vivendi’s decision to dial back on an IPO for Universal Music Group in favour of selling a 50% stake – as predicted by this column back in May – is unlikely to dampen the frenzy surrounding music investments at the moment. Indeed, it will spark a whole new forest fire of speculation about who might come on board. Given Vivendi’s preference for a strategic partner who will be “compatible with UMG’s current strategy”, a crucial phrase in the announcement, it’s probably easier to say who it won’t be. As we’ve noted before, Universal and the rest of the music business finally has the streaming giants right where it wants them: at each other’s throats. Even if regulators would allow it, it seems unlikely that Universal has gone to all the trouble of making sure there's a competitive streaming environment with no one dominant player, just to chuck its lot in with one of those non-dominant players. Of course, it's possible that they have so much money even Vivendi might have to listen, but if Google, Apple, Amazon or Spotify really are harbouring dreams of becoming rights-holders the easy way, they might want to read that "compatible" statement again. If Vivendi means what it says, the digital giants are likely to be disappointed. If Vivendi means what it says, the digital giants are likely to be disappointed Similarly, the bottomless pockets of private equity will serve little purpose here. Universal is already generating huge profits and it wants to grow its markets, not just its bank balance. That means geography will play its part, and could bring, say, an Alibaba into the frame. With investment as likely to come from Asia or Europe as it is America, telecoms or media companies look the best bet. Both sectors have cash and challenges in almost equal measure, and are being reshaped on an almost daily basis, leaving Universal looking like a sure thing in a world of outside bets. Especially as its digital innovation track record could have all sorts of transferrable applications for interested parties in other sectors. While Universal would benefit from synergies across its talent stable and from access to all sorts of new revenue opportunities. By all accounts, no one at UMG or Vivendi is in a rush over this, so we may not know who’s involved in the stake purchase until 2020. But, while for most at UMG it’ll be business as usual until then, you can expect Sir Lucian to be closely involved with Vivendi's decision-making process. As the highly effective EMI deal showed, he already knows how to buy big. We’re about to find out if he can sell even bigger…

Spotify: What the Ek is going on?

These should be the good times for Spotify. After all, it successfully negotiated the biggest potential hurdle in its near 10-year history to emerge from its IPO with a market cap of over $30 billion (£22.9bn) and its position as the worldwide No.1 streaming service considerably enhanced. And yet, since that deftly-handled private listing back in April, little else seems to have gone to plan for Daniel Ek’s company. True, its shares have steadily risen in price. But, while its Q2 earnings report on July 26 initially saw its stock spike to a new closing high of $196.28 (£149.63), they dropped around $10 (£7.62) per day on the two following trading days to $175.31 (£133.64), suggesting Wall Street wasn’t too impressed, and wiping a cool $3.51bn (£2.68bn) off its market cap. Shares rallied to $183.02 (£139.52) at close of Tuesday, and it’s hardly the recent Facebook plunge, so this is not a company in freefall. But more worrying – certainly for the music business – is the exodus of staff. Not just any staff, either, but some of the people who’ve helped make the company what it is: Kevin Brown, Angela Watts, Mark Williamson. And more recent hires too: rainmakers such as George Ergatoudis, Dave Rocco, Tuma Basa, Rob Harvey and Stefan Blom have come and gone. And, yesterday, they were joined by Troy Carter, a key artist-friendly figure and probably Spotify’s most high-profile executive as the company increasingly follows the typical technology ‘no comment’ approach to, well, pretty much everything. Some of this is inevitable, of course. Long-term employees may need new horizons and have post-IPO share options to cash in. And any company as successful as Spotify is likely to have some of its star performers poached, particularly in a market as competitive as streaming. In contrast to its previous way of doing things, Spotify’s response has been to promote from within (new chief content officer Dawn Ostroff aside), rather than go out and hire some big names of its own from rivals. Carter, for example, has been replaced by VP, global head of shows & editorial Nick Holmsten. And Ergatoudis, now at rival Apple Music, seems to have effectively been replaced by two, highly-capable execs. Ex-Vevo exec Tom Connaughton is in the new role of UK MD, mere months after joining as UK head of artist & label marketing, while Austin Daboh is now UK head of shows and editorial, where the biz will hope he can recreate the success of the Who We Be and Grime Shutdown playlists. This is good for continuity, of course, but with Apple Music snapping at its subscriber numbers lead and making some high-profile hires, YouTube Music making waves and Amazon Music taking command of voice control, the No.1's new team will want to get back on the front foot. Especially as some label partners are known to be disgruntled about its attempts to directly licence artists (a tactic played down by Ek on yesterday’s earnings call). And it’s even misfired on the music at times lately, its much-mocked Drake takeover failing to deliver bigger numbers than Apple Music. Talk to insiders at the company and there’s a lot of chatter about things “getting very corporate, very fast” as more financially-oriented Americans begin to play a more prominent role than groovy, music-loving Swedes. That’s to be expected post-IPO (and indeed may need to accelerate if the company’s future earning calls are to play better on Wall Street than the first two). Others talk of tightened controls on Spotify’s famously unrestricted approach to spending money internally – again, perhaps inevitable, but at odds with Spotify’s pledges to not just be another corporation. None of which may add up to a hill of streams should Spotify maintain and extend its status as the world’s No.1. And, lest we forget, Daniel Ek has been in far tighter spots and emerged victorious. But the digital retirement home is full of former star performers who lost their way, often when big money got involved. Spotify’s nowhere near that stage yet. But it could certainly use some good news fast in order for it to change the momentum and – to borrow a phrase from its old frenemy Taylor Swift – to be excluded from that particular narrative. 

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