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  1. Eagles vs. Michael Jackson: Questions Linger Over Best-Selling Album of All Time Eight months before HBO’s Leaving Neverland documentary raised new questions about Michael Jackson’s legacy, executives at the late pop star’s record label and estate were pondering another unexpected -- and unrelated -- development involving his business. Jackson’s 1982 album, Thriller (33 million copies sold), had just lost the status it held for almost a decade as the best-selling album of all time in the United States, ceding the title to the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits 1971–1975 (38 million), according to the RIAA. Though the two albums have jockeyed for the top spot since the 1980s, trading the lead five times, executives from both Jackson’s estate and Sony Music were stunned by the news that Their Greatest Hits had gained nine new platinum certifications in a single day from the RIAA for the years 2006 to 2018 -- meaning 9 million additional U.S. album sales had been made or discovered over those 12 years. “After Thriller being the recognized No. 1 album seller in the United States for a decade, we were obviously surprised and concerned when we were overtaken despite all metrics we use stating otherwise,” Sony Music Entertainment CEO Rob Stringer said in a statement earlier in 2019, before the documentary premiered. “All we are asking for is transparency in the process so we can understand how sales numbers changed so dramatically at such short notice.” Sony’s questions arose due to its own calculations, based on Nielsen Music data, that Their Greatest Hits had sold just 1.3 million units since 2006, with streams and track sales bringing the total to 2.3 million album equivalent units -- 6.7 million units short of the RIAA’s figure. Billboard found at least one reason for the big uptick: The data team at Warner Music Group, the Eagles’ label, had undertaken an exhaustive forensic search to find all sales and royalty reports dating back to 1976, when the album was first issued, sources say. To retrieve the data, WMG’s team visited Iron Mountain, a renowned document-management company that stores historic objects and files in underground protected vaults, and interviewed former label financial executives to ensure they had correctly interpreted the sales and royalties numbers found there. The record company then provided the documentation to the RIAA for certification on Aug. 20, 2018. The RIAA told Billboard that the certification was approved by its auditor, Gelfand Rennert & Feldman. Jackson estate co-executor and Ziffren Brittenham partner/head of music John Branca is skeptical. “When you review the analysis of the [Eagles] record’s performance over the last 20 years, this sudden certification of newly discovered albums that were uncounted calls into question the accuracy of the RIAA certifications,” he said in January. “Record companies regularly restrict audits of sales to a three-year period. I’ve never seen an audit that goes back 20 years.” WMG’s efforts show one way that investing in data-management technology can pay off for music companies. It’s also a reminder that sales or streams spikes for a certain song or artist may reflect sophisticated efforts behind the scenes to boost numbers, even legitimately, rather than an organic shift in consumer behavior. There are plenty of other reasons that Nielsen’s data doesn’t match the RIAA’s. For example, SoundScan -- which later morphed into Nielsen Music -- didn’t exist before 1991, while the RIAA has been certifying platinum albums since 1976 -- the same year Their Greatest Hits was released. Nielsen also counts sales, while the RIAA counts shipments, regardless of whether they are ever sold. Nielsen also doesn’t count sales that occur at concerts or through artist and label websites unless they are reported, nor did it track sales from TV marketing, mail orders or record clubs until later in its existence. It’s also possible that WMG uncovered Eagles streams from before Nielsen started tracking streaming in 2015. Nielsen also has some holes in its data due to title consolidation -- bringing multiple versions of an album with different bar codes together for tabulation purposes. This isn’t the first time that Eagles certifications have frustrated Sony and the Jackson estate. Their Greatest Hits was certified 14 times platinum in December 1993; less than two years later, in June 1995, it was certified 22 times platinum, implying 8 million new sales during a period where Nielsen calculated sales of only about 1 million. In 2009, the last time Billboard examined the issue, the RIAA said it couldn’t immediately explain that discrepancy. But sources say that WMG had done a similar analysis of the Eagles’ entire sales history to earn the platinum burst in the ’90s. “The notion that they can go back 10, 15, 20 or 30 years and find units that were never counted before is absurd,” says one executive in the Jackson/Sony camp. “They reviewed these records before. Why didn’t they find those uncounted records then?” One answer: WMG’s data systems lagged behind those of other major labels in the ’90s. “I don’t believe the earlier certifications were done properly,” says a source familiar with WMG’s efforts. “This was comprehensive and accurate, and the auditor agreed.” Even now, old-fashioned RIAA certifications matter to labels and artists because the platinum certification is something music consumers recognize as a significant achievement, on the level of winning a Grammy Award. At the very least, Thriller remains the sales leader worldwide, says Branca: The United States accounts for only 30 percent of Jackson’s sales and streaming, both of which are up even after the documentary. “When you look at it on a global basis, it’s not even a fair conversation,” he said. “No album comes close.” https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8503903/eagles-vs-michael-jackson-questions-linger-best-selling-album-all-time
  2. Stars Are Releasing Singles Faster Than Ever. That’s a Problem for Radio When all the most popular artists have multiple major hits simultaneously, how do programmers diversify their playlists? Pop radio program directors, the men and women whose decisions govern the casual consumption of 100 million listeners every week, are currently buried under an avalanche of Ariana Grandesongs. “I’ve got three currents and another two in recurrent [rotation],” says Nathan Graham, program director for the Philadelphia Top 40 station WTDY. “And I still want to play her older stuff — ‘Side to Side.’ I will literally play her every 15 minutes if I have all those titles in rotation.” Grande is not the only artist forcing programmers to juggle multiple hits at once: At urban radio, which plays rap and a smattering of R&B, Cardi B is a presence on the top three singles this week, and she has a fourth release with Bruno Mars scurrying up the charts. In fact, this sort of ubiquity might be considered a prerequisite for modern stardom. Real juggernauts, from Drake to Post Malone to Grande to Cardi B, are a geyser of hits. But for years, radio was focused on amplifying one single by an artist for weeks on end, extending the life of an album like Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream track by track for more than 18 months. Now program directors are scrambling to support multiple singles simultaneously. “The challenge is not whether to play a record that’s really popular that the listeners want,” explains Mark McCray, the vp of programming and operations for KBFB and KZMJ in Dallas. “The challenge is making sure those records are separated the best they possibly can be so the radio station doesn’t sound like ‘97.9, Cardi B radio.'” The urban and rhythmic radio formats — rhythmic encompasses hip-hop, R&B, pop, an occasional dance hit and some Latin music — have already been trying to master this balancing act. “In the 2010s, a few times we’ve had several songs by popular artists all being in rotation at once,” explains McCray. (One of his charges, KBFB, is a rhythmic station.) “This has happened with Rihanna, with Drake several times, with Beyonce.” But now pop radio, which reaches the most listeners of any format, is being forced to handle similarly fast release schedules. That’s because artists like Drake and Post Malone, who would be considered urban radio fare five years ago, have become so big that pop programmers have to at least try to play them. Not only that, rappers have been so successful with never-ending-waterfall release strategies that pop stars, including Grande, are trying to do the same thing. “It’s a fairly new problem for us,” Graham acknowledges. “You used to have a single go for three months, then the next one. Now it’s a drop every other Thursday. [Grande]’s revolutionizing that for pop radio.” What’s the big deal? Well, radio playlists are tighter than they once were — fewer songs are in rotation, so each spot is more heavily contested. And pop programmers center their attention on a tiny handful of songs. “A Top 40 radio station is playing five songs 120 times a week every week,” one longtime radio promotions veteran told Rolling Stone last year. Those spots traditionally go to a Swift or a Grande or an Ed Sheeran. If each of those marquee artists start pushing four or five singles at once, that would make it difficult for anyone new to get major radio play. This can be especially dangerous at Top 40 radio, further decreasing variety in a format that’s already struggling with what one former promoter calls “lack of diversity.” “It’s hard to make room for other artists,” Graham acknowledges. “I have talks with labels all the time: I would love to get to your song, but when Ari is dropping something [or three somethings], or Bruno and Cardi are coming out, those take the place of other new songs.” There’s another issue for radio when it comes to stars spewing singles. Programmers try to apply “archaic radio rules about artist separation,” according to Michael Martin, svp of programming and music initiatives for Entercom, which owns over 200 radio stations in the U.S. “Artist separation” is the idea that, say, “we only wanna hear one Ariana per hour, or once every 40 minutes.” If she has five hits, adhering to this rule is no longer possible. And while pop artists — or, more likely, their labels — were once concerned with how programmers would separate their singles, that may not be the case for much longer. Graham saw Taylor Swiftbuck the trend first when she released three singles in three months before Reputation. Justin Timberlake tried a similar strategy, gushing three singles in less than a month before Man of the Woods. This can clog up the radio pipeline. “You may find that [pushing multiple singles to radio at once] reduces the overall spins for those songs as you’re trying to answer the question of artist separation rules,” says Terri Thomas, operations manager and program director for KMJQ (urban adult contemporary) and KBXX (mainstream urban) in Houston. “Then if an artist brings out a more mediocre song, even if they’re a core artist, you’re not in a rush to go and get that. I can totally see pop getting stressed about a gazillion Taylor records.” This hasn’t hampered Grande, though. She had three radio hits from Sweetener, and two of those were still in regular rotation when she started the campaign for her next album. In the wake of Thank U, Next she has two of the top four hits at Top 40 radio — with more than 30,000 spins last week between them — and a third one climbing. Graham thinks urban and rhythmic radio still have a tougher time than Top 40 when it comes to achieving separation in their playlists. That’s because of features. While it’s unusual for singers like Grande or Swift to contribute a guest verse on someone else’s hit — at least for now — this practice is common in rap. Big Von, who handles the weekday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. shift at KMEL in San Francisco, calls this “hot-person syndrome.” And while this approach can help line the hot-person’s bank account for the time being, it can also backfire. “If you keep playing that person, you can burn them out,” Big Von says. “People will be like, ‘fuck, I don’t want to hear this shit no more!'” But nothing can stop Cardi B, who has two hits of her own, verses on hits by both City Girls and Pardison Fontaine, and another verse on the remix to Blueface’s hit “Thotiana.” And as more artists go on these multiple-hot-singles-at-once streaks, Entercom’s Martin suggests programmers might want to toss out the old rulebook. “Artist separation doesn’t mean what it used to mean,” he says. “Radio is supposed to reflect pop culture in real time — how the audience is consuming music at the rate they’re consuming music.” This means that, moving forward, pop radio will likely be even more reflective of the streaming services. That’s a potential blow for those who believe diversity in listening is better for music, since streaming is highly concentrated — a statistic released by the data company BuzzAngle suggested that just 10% of tracks account for 99% of all streams in 2017. But, as Martin puts it, “if the audience are shotgunning tunes, we have to reflect that.” https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/ariana-grande-revolutionizing-pop-radio-803279/
  3. To commemorate International Women’s Day, Apple Music has curated a playlist of the top-streamed female artists through their platform of all time. Additionally, the song-identifier app Shazam has released their list of the most “Shazam’d” artists of last year. The lists reveal that the most streamed female artist of all time is Ariana Grande, with Cardi B holding the title of the most Shazam’d. The two lists naturally contain a lot of crossover between them, and perhaps even more unsurprisingly, consist entirely of pop artists. Apple Music will continue the trend of female-centric playlists throughout the month of March with their “Visionary Women” series. Listen to the “Top Women In Streaming” playlist through Apple Music here, and see the full list of ladies dominating the streaming scene below. Most-Streamed Women of All Time on Apple Music: 01. Ariana Grande 02. Taylor Swift 03. Rihanna 04. Beyoncé 05. Nicki Minaj 06. Cardi B 07. Adele 08. Sia 09. Lady Gaga 10. Halsey 11. Lana Del Rey 12. SZA 13. Demi Lovato 14. Selena Gomez 15. Katy Perry 16. P!nk 17. Camila Cabello 18. Mariah Carey 19. Ella Mai 20. Billie Eilish Most Shazam’d Women of 2018: 01. Cardi B 02. Sia (inc LSD) 03. Dua Lipa 04. Nicki Minaj 05. Demi Lovato 06. Halsey 07. Rihanna 08. Anne-Marie 09. Ariana Grande 10. Camila Cabello 11. Selena Gomez 12. Bebe Rexha 13. Beyoncé (incl. The Carters) 14. Lady Gaga 15. Jess Glynne 16. Rita Ora 17. Becky G 18. P!nk 19. Katy Perry 20. Taylor Swift https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2019/03/shazam-lists-most-streamed-female-artists-of-all-t.html
  4. Grammys Omitted R&B Legend Reggie Lucas From In Memoriam Segment, Drawing Outrage Lucas had a storied career as a musician, composer and album producer (including Madonna’s first). https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/grammy-awards-reggie-lucas-in-memoriam_us_5c617b15e4b0910c63f3251c
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