As 2022 comes to a close, the music business can look back on another hectic year: turnover at the top levels of several big companies; record-breaking successes in several sectors of the industry; and some major headlines coming from sometimes unexpected places, all of which captured the attention of the music business over the past nearly 12 months. Here are 10 big stories and trends that helped define the year in the industry.
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The Executive Turntable
The end of the year is always time for turnover, and the final stretch of 2022 has seen more of that than usual. The biggest story of all, however, is a change atop the Warner Music Group, with Stephen Cooper exiting after a successful 11-year run that saw the major double its revenue and boost its market share while taking the company public once again. He’ll be replaced by YouTube’s Robert Kynclin February, in a move that has been widely seen as a nod toward the tech-based present and future of the music biz, particularly at WMG. Though changes atop the major groups are relatively rare, that was far from the only transition this year: Def Jam, Island and Capitol all welcomed new chairmen/CEOs, with Tunji Balogun, the duo of Justin Eshak and Imran Majid and Michelle Jubelirer taking over the trio of UMG companies, respectively. John Esposito also is transitioning into a new chairman emeritus role at Warner Music Nashville, handing the day-to-day reins to his longtime heirs apparent Ben Kline and Cris Lacy, who will take over in January. Warner also integrated 300 Entertainment into the 300 Elektra Entertainment Group, with Kevin Liles in charge, then placed it under the umbrella of the newly-formed Atlantic Music Group, with Julie Greenwald at the helm. And just recently, Motown chairman/CEO Ethiopia Habtemariam surprised many in the industry by announcing her intention to step down, at a time when the label is in its best shape in years, with a successor yet to be named. The C-Suites have been spinning much more than usual this year.
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The Ticketmaster-Taylor Swift Meltdown
Cross Taylor Swift, and her fans, at your peril. The biggest artist in the world, whose latest album Midnights easily cleared the biggest streaming week globally of 2022, had set a presale for her first tour in five years, with tickets slated to become available on Nov. 15 through Ticketmaster. But the company badly, and somewhat inexplicably, misjudged the level of demand that existed for Swift’s tour. Long wait times, astronomical prices and service outages tanked the pre-sale, with billions of bots, according to the company, flooding the site and resulting in 3.5 billion requests to access it — four times the previous high water mark. That resulted in millions of frustrated, ticket-less fans. Which would have been bad enough, if it didn’t spark a firestorm that has yet to abate and is showing no signs of doing so. (As Billboard’s Glenn Peoples wrote, “Ticketmaster is one of the few non-partisan issues in America in 2022.”) There is now a Justice Department investigation into whether Live Nation has abused its market share in the live business (which was said to pre-date the Taylor tour, though it came to light in the wake of the problem) and a Senate antitrust panel hearing on the docket, as well as several state-level probes, and a lawsuit from more than two dozen fans accusing the company of fraud and “anticompetitive conduct.” It’s unclear if changes are on the horizon, but it has proven a headache of massive proportions.
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While one sector of the business is running with arms wide open toward catalog ownership, another sector is running just as firmly in the opposite direction: toward services, or partnering with artists and labels to provide a backbone of support to help them achieve their goals without giving up ownership through distribution, marketing, publicity, promotions, royalty claiming and other services. The independent distribution space has generally been a viable business model for decades, but the rush into services ramped up in the past year. Companies like SoundCloud, TikTok, Tencent and Downtown embraced the shift with realigned business models, joining relatively new entrants to the space like UnitedMasters, Stem and Utopia. Many of the major labels (Interscope, Republic, 300) also launched their own distro subsidiaries in an attempt to grow their market share in an increasingly indie world. For some, however, the shift was less of a slam dunk than they may have envisioned, with a tough business model that relies on scale colliding with the increasingly-murky corners of the digital music industry –resulting in fraud, financial challenges and lukewarm responses from the market.
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Despite Complications, the Business is Thriving
It’s been a complicated year for the business overall, as the return from COVID has been trickier than expected, breaking new artists has become harder than ever and overarching financial issues like inflation and the possibility of a recession have cooled what had been a white-hot market. But despite those challenges, the music business has been growing on almost all fronts for another year. The touring business has already been covered here, but the U.S. recorded music business also saw on-demand audio streams surpass 1 trillion for the first time ever — representing a 611% increase from 2015, according to Luminate. Despite supply chain issues that continue to bedevil labels and manufacturers, vinyl sales passed $1 billion in revenue for the first time since the mid-1980s. At the midyear mark, they were up more than 22% — well before Taylor Swift’s Midnightsset the record for largest vinyl sales week since Luminate began tracking data in 1991. Overall consumption is up another 9.2% year over year so far in 2022, with no signs of slowing down and with record companies increasing their guidance for investors in 2023. Amid cutbacks and hiring freezes in tech and media, the music business stil appears to be on strong footing.
Blake Shelton stopped by Jennifer Hudson‘s talk show on Monday (Dec. 12) to reminisce about the time he gifted her a goat — yes, an actual goat — for Christmas. “I missed you! We wanted you to come back to The Voice, not start your own freaking talk show!” the country star joked with his former co-star before plugging the singing competition’s season 22 finale. Related Who Do You Want […]
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