Hey! Happy Friday. This afternoon, I’m speaking on a panel about subscription media companies. Looking forward to it! This update covers De La Soul’s never-ending saga to release their music on their terms, Vince Staples’ move to Motown Records, Tencent’s stake in UMG, and Quavo’s new EP role.
Another week, another story about an artist in an unfortunate battle for music ownership.
“We are sad to say that we’ve been unable to reach an agreement and earn Tommy Boy’s respect for our music/legacy.
Tommy Boy says they are “not in the business of giving artists back their Masters.” We realize, there is a process in reclaiming ownership but we do not trust Tommy Boy in this process after so many years of disappointment. Therefore, our catalog will not see the light of day by way of our involvement or consent.”
De La Soul’s fight is one of the ugliest yet. While artists like Kanye West and Taylor Swift have definitely aired their recent frustrations and desires to reclaim their life’s work, neither has gone through the hurdles that De La Soul has. I’ve yet to see an act tell fans NOT to consume their music in a self-inflicted boycott. That’s wild.
The hip-hop trio’s struggles stem from licensing issues. Many of the samples used in the group’s back catalog weren’t properly cleared. Their 1991 album 3 Feet High and Rising has 60 samples. “Me, Myself, and I,” the group’s biggest single to date, sampled five tracks alone. The group has already faced costly lawsuits for samples used in past songs, and neither the artists or their former record labels—Tommy Boy and its parent company Warner— want to go through that again.
Tommy Boy was in talks to help De La, but the terms weren’t in the group’s favor. Earlier this year, De La reported that the proposed deal would earn them just 10% of revenue while Tommy Boy and Warner kept the remaining 90%. Also, De La wanted to reclaim ownership of its masters, which Tommy Boy doesn’t want to do either.
I told you it was ugly.
Back in 2014, the group offered its back catalog as a free download to get it in the hands of fans. It was a move that annoyed their record label, but De La wanted fans to hear the music.
In 2015, the group launched a Kickstarter to raise money for its latest album, which got nominated for a Grammy. The group’s business model is now limited to touring and festivals. Times are definitely tough, but most artists earn most of their revenue from live performances anyway.
At this point, the best-case scenario for De La Soul is to focus on getting its masters back, clearing the samples themselves, and re-releasing the music with a grand rollout. The less optimal scenario is to do another free download day for fans. It would cause strife with the record labels, but at least the group can spread awareness and boost interest with a new generation of fans.
As group member Kelvin Mercer said a few years ago, “We’re in the Library Of Congress, but we’re not on iTunes.”
I know all the kids today say “you hate to see it,” but this is one of those things that you honestly hate to see.
Vince Staples Leaves Def Jam for Motown. (Billboard)
This week, Vince Staples announced that he’s leaving Def Jam for Motown Records. For those who have been following Vince’s moves, this is old news. The Vince Staples Reddit thread broke the news two months ago that Vince planned to leave Def Jam. And Vince had been public about his admiration for Motown’s legacy in black music and culture. It seemed inevitable.
The Big Fish Theory rapper signed with Def Jam back in 2013. His original deal was fairly limited, but now that he has more power, he probably got his money with Motown. He promised fans new music soon, so we’ll see what comes.
How Tencent’s Proposed Stake in UMG Could Impact the Wider Music Biz (Billboard)
Earlier this week, Tencent bought a 10% stake in Universal–valuing the world’s largest record label at $33 billion. At nearly 30x UMG 2018 EBITDA, that’s a valuation that likely has other record labels callin’ up Tencent to see if they can strike up a deal too. But there are concerns over Tencent’s role as a dominant digital streaming provider in China and the ownership stake it already has in Spotify. There’s a fear that UMG artists will get favorable treatment.
It’s the same fear that the U.S. has had about a company like Apple using its cash on hand to buy up record labels, and how that would change the industry.
Quavo is an EP on a New Animated Series (Variety)
The Migos frontman has dipped his toes in the TV world, but the details are slim. He is an executive producer alongside Imagine Entertainment, but there’s no word yet on which network the new animated series will air on, release date, or focal point of the show.
As I mentioned a couple of months ago in my update on Drake’s role with HBO’s Euphoria, and EP role can be fairly limited. All you need to do is front 25% of the production cost and fade to the background. It’s still early, but I’m interested to see what Quavo has in store.