10/21/13: Clear Channel cuts revenue deal with Black River

Brad Hill
October 21, 2013 - 11:00am

Adding to its portfolio of custom royalty-payment deals with record labels, Clear Channel reached an agreement with Black River Records, a country label whose roster includes Kelly Pickler, Craig Morgan, and Glen Templeton.

Details were not announced, but this deal could be modeled on previously-struck arrangements with Warner Music Group and smaller labels like Big Machine, Glassnote, Dualtone, Naxos, and Suburban Noize. The template includes new royalty payments to the label for terrestrial airplay, a cost that radio stations are legally exempt from paying under U.S. regulations. In the Warner Music deal, the label agreed to lower royalties for streaming play of its content by Clear Channel webcasts, where the statutory exemption does not hold. There is also a promotional component to that agreement, wherein Clear Channel stations commit to featuring WMG albums and artists.

Revenue-share deals that follow along these lines are sometimes skeptically considered a new form of payola. (See this critical article in Forbes.) The reasoning is that by giving up a portion of streaming revenue, which is bound to grow in the future, the label is essentially paying radio for promotion, plus a royalty for terrestrial play, which might shrink in the future.

Putting aside legal theories, it is deal-making like this which provides the radio industry with a rationale for rejecting governmental attempts to force radio into paying performance royalties to labels and artists for terrestrial play. The most recent proposed legislation is the Free Market Royalty Act, which would force royalty negotiations between broadcast radio and labels. (See RAIN coverage here.) The idea behind the slate of rev-share deals is to stitch together broadcast and webcast into a single royalty-paying framework.

Brad Hill
October 21, 2013 - 11:00am

SiriusXM appears to have modified its channel lineup on Sunday morning, to the acute displeasure of subscribers posting to the satellite company’s Facebook page. One ex-subscriber on the Facebook page who claimed to have canceled his membership remarked, “I’d rather use a crystal set in a thunderstorm” than continue receiving the service.

Affected channels noted in the comments include talk radio programs, Fox sports programming, and some terrestrial stations. RAIN has reached out to SiriusXM for information and comment; there was no response at the time of this post.

In August, RAIN and many other outlets reported that Clear Channel stations might disappear from SiriusXM, corresponding to Clear Channel’s divestment of SiriusXM stock. Indeed, several of the Clear Channel stations mentioned in that reporting (WHTZ/New York, WLTW/Chicago, WSIX/Nashville) do not appear today on the web listing of SiriusXM channels. Each of those stations is available on Clear Channel-owned iHeartRadio.

Likewise, station numbers corresponding to missing talk stations mourned by Facebook commenters do not appear on the channel list.

RAIN will follow up as additional information becomes available. Follow us on @RAINtwitter.

Brad Hill
October 21, 2013 - 11:00am

Tech and social realms burst into chatter Saturday evening when AllThingsD reported that Twitter would soon pull the plug on its #Music service, introduced just six months ago. Engadget speculated that the departure of Kevin Thau from Twitter, project head for #Music, might have left the still-new music-discovery app without a will to survive.

Twitter #Music always seemed an incomplete service, though with attractive features. The iOS app took off strong, then faded from the popularity charts. The service is not often in the news or conversation around music streaming platforms.

Hooking into music references on Twitter, #Music leads with the social aspect of music sharing which, for other services, is secondary. As such, #Music is an effective discovery milieu, rewarding the lean-in user with unexpected long-tail bands and artists. The default setting plays 90-second song clips from the iTunes Store, which by itself is unsatisfactory -- there is no native capability to play whole songs. (Similarly, the BBC’s new Playlister product requires a hook into Spotify, YouTube, or Deezer for whole-song listening. We have doubts about it, as expressed here.)

In fact, #Music can invoke Spotify or Rdio for users who have signed up with either one, and doing so turns Twitter’s app into a lean-back listening station driven by Twitter-based music charting. Set up that way, Twitter #Music is entertaining, illuminating, underrated, and, following the initial flush of curiosity, underused.

No official word from Twitter about the fate of #Music. We’ll keep up the vigil.

Brad Hill
October 21, 2013 - 11:00am

Ten years of hand-to-mouth operation hasn’t dimmed the fire of BellyUp4Blues (www.bellyup4blues.com), an Internet-only blues-rock stream. If its tagline (“The Only Ass-Kicking Blues Rocker”) exaggerates the exclusivity of its musical mission, the description is certainly accurate. This is relentless pounding blues, with hard-baked vocals and scorching guitar solos. We credit BellyUp for our discovery of Ana Popovic, a favorite blues-rock guitarist.

To our ears, there is always a motivational quality to hard-rock blues, the sometimes gloomy lyrics notwithstanding. The RAIN editorial office is starting the week with an invigorating, foot-stomping BellyUp backbeat blast. It goes great with coffee. This morning the playlist has included Tab Benoit, Scott Holt, Bobby Messano, Buddy Whitington, and Little John Chrisley.

BellyUp4Blues is ad-free and listener-supported. There is an air of precariousness about the operation, with monthly donation goals and looming shut-down deadlines. Long-time listeners are rabidly dedicated -- one of them recently posted a 1,500-word exhortation in the site’s blog, admonishing listeners to donate, and characterizing non-givers as “unruly, undeserving, disrespectful children.

BellyUp is distributed on the web and via an Android app -- a simple radio-like interface with a play button, a stop button, and nothing else. Like the music it plays, BellyUp4Blues gets right down to business.

Brad Hill
October 21, 2013 - 11:00am

The asynchronous debate about Spotify (good or evil?) continues, most recently with Dave Allen (Gang of Four) responding at length to David Byrne’s OpEd last week in The Guardian (RAIN comment here).

If these dueling disquisitions were an endurance contest, for both the writer and reader, Allen would take the lead in his blog post, which runs 2,600 words. In it, he flatly disagrees with Byrne’s thoughtfully considered but apocalyptic conclusion that “...the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left.”

Dave Allen contrarily reasons that the rise of Spotify is a natural evolution of markets and consumer preferences. He likens the emergence of streaming music, and the erosion of physical music sales, as comparable to the marketplace disruption which caused destruction to Polaroid and BlackBerry. Allen cites the paramount consumer demand when it comes to music, which is to personalize programming. He also incisively brings YouTube into the argument, wondering why musicians don’t protest that service. Along the way Allen questions FM, too, drawing a parallel with Spotify as a no-charge, ad-supported medium.

The weighty blog post wraps up with a double swipe at complainers and the major record labels: “Appearing to be elitist and Luddite is not a good way to win over today’s music fans to one’s cause; let’s leave that to be the historical legacy of the RIAA.”