One could do worse than write a history of the business from the pages of Billboard’s Power 100 rankings. This year the venerable music industry weekly has added thirty-nine new executives to its list, for a likely all time record. It suggests much change in the business of recorded music, live music, and music publishing.
The reasons are not hard to find. First, the current wave of technology appears to be extensive and impacts the very center of gravity of the trade — product delivery, social analytics, and talent recruitment. Second, changes in Billboard’s list reflect the magazine’s weighting system, which privileges the music intermediaries of hit artists; this year, the honor went to Adele related staffers.
But the variation in the Power 100 list would seem to point out an industry that is actively recruiting personnel for a different modus operandi and embracing its own renovation as a goal. The picture is complex because there is much continuity too among its top brass. But the most highly ranked individuals in Billboard’s list gladly share turf with its Young Turks and embrace the future both in spirit an in action, whereas the new executives do not seem to be just the result of a mad quest for hires by desperate corporations.
Universal Music Group’s Lucian Grainge’s has kept his grip on the top spot of the list, and for good reason. This year seven of the top ten selling albums were on his watch, as were are all five Grammy nominations for Album of the Year. The stunning success of Universal’s roster gave Grainge’s company a commanding forty per cent market share. Billboard also cites UMG’s investments in the future, for instance, by referencing Grainge’s presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). There, he demonstrated the value of UMG to unrelated technology, marketing, and multi-media companies. A partnership with iHeart Media to develop virtual reality content for UMG artists is also notable.
Streaming is an important part of UMG’s core business and a reason for its success. Overall income was two points better in the first three-quarters of 2015, and streaming already explains half of UMG’s digital receipts. A new partnership with SoundCloud should bring in fresh money, and so will, apparently, a tribute to The Beatles at the Apollo Theatre in London. Like the Amy Winehouse biopic, other projects with films studios will continue bolstering the company’s recording assets in multimedia. As Grainge says “[As music companies] we want take advantage of the opportunities that technology and a global market give us.”1
The number two spot went to Live Nation’s Michael Rapino, and is also the same as last year’s. Live music has been making money for the business steadily, and Rapino reports a record year in 2015.2 Through the third quarter of 2015 revenue was up nine percent compared to the previous year, and Live Nation grossed $6 billion; ticket sales also rose five percent over the same period to $115 million. Rapino stands behind 11 of the 25 highest grossing tours of 2015, including top earners One Direction (80 performances for $208 million) and U2 (76 performances for $152 million).
Part of Live Nation’s success has to do with its aggressive investment in the lucrative festival space. Rapino went three for three, buying controlling stakes in Electric Daisy Carnival, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo. Live Nation is now focused on upgrading the infrastructure of its existing festivals, which will soon include running water and permanent bathrooms. As a result, Billboard notes that Live Nation has strengthened its ties with corporate sponsors and advertisers. Its income in this category is up by nearly one-fifth over 2014 to $275 million, paid by 800 sponsors. Two partnerships helped. Its live streaming relationship with Yahoo generated 369K viewers per concert, for a total 135 million live streams. On the other hand, Live Nation expanded its video and a potential TV presence by creating a Live Nation TV channel in conjunction with Vice Media. The driver of this alliance was the possibility of monetizing rich content and bringing sponsors like Budweiser and Citibank aboard.
The number three spot on the Power 100 ranking is occupied by the music executives at Apple, who with the combined team of Eddy Cue, Robert Kondrk, Jimmy Iovine, and Trent Reznor, accounted for 40 cents of every dollar earned in sales by music retailers and digital services in the U.S. According to Billboard, the introduction of Apple Music in the summer of 2015 showed a continued commitment by the company to working with both labels and artists and staying in tandem with the industry. Billboard also gives Apple points for averting a public relations disaster when criticized by Taylor Swift for not paying artists royalties on their three month trial period; the company reversed its policy and Swift later offered her 1989 concert film as a Christmas exclusive. Finally, Apple went public against building illegal business models on the backs of musicians.3 The most valuable corporation in the planet, it appeared, was putting the ghost of free music to rest.
The rest of the Billboard Power 100 seems to skew to record label related executives. Doug Morris, the CEO of Sony Music Entertainment is listed in fourth place, while Len Blavatnik, Vice Chairman/Owner of the Warner Music Group is listed in eighth place. Among the top fifteen are Michele Anthony and Boyd Muir (UMG) in 12th place, Stephen Cooper (Warner) in 13th place, Rob Stringer (Columbia) in 14th place and Avery and Monty Lipman (Republic Records) in 15th place. Daniel Ek, of Spotify, ascended to the tenth position, climbing ten places. File sharing and the World Wide Web may have disrupted the record business, but for Billboard fee-paying subscriptions must be a harbinger of good things.
Live music power brokers are also featured prominently. Irving Azoff, Chairman of Azoff Madison Square Entertainment takes sixth place; Coran Capshaw, Founder, Red Light Management, takes seventh place; and Rob Light, Partner and Managing Director of the Creative Artists Agency, takes ninth place. Music publishing appears to be given short thrift: Jody Gerson, Chairma/CEO, Universal Publishing Group, is the first representative for the sector back in eighteenth place.
There can be, of course, a lot of debate about the Billboard rankings. Still, all the executives chosen represent trade sectors that stack in the same order than they did in the 1990s. If we ignore the business of gears and instrument accessories, which Billboard does not follow, back then recorded music was the cash cow, with live music and publishing falling far behind in terms of total sales.
In writing history, continuity rather than change is often the plausible assumption to explore. In spite of all the changes since the 2,000s, Billboard gives the impression that the main building blocs of the industry are standing tall — if not exactly in the same proportion, still in the same ranking.
By John Lahr
1. Levine, Robert. “No. 1: Lucian Grainge | Power 100.” Billboard. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.
2. Levy, Joe. “No. 2: Michael Rapino | Power 100.” Billboard. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2016.
3. Levine, Robert. “No. 3: Eddy Cue, Jimmy Iovine, Robert Kondrk & Trent Reznor | Power 100.” Billboard. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2016.