Tuned Global Is Building Customized Streaming Platforms for Brands

While Apple Music, Amazon, YouTube, and Spotify duke it out for streaming dominance, B2B players like Tuned Global are eyeing niche opportunities.

The streaming music space is now a battle royale between the biggest of giants. Even Spotify is feeling the heat from far bigger competitors like Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet-owned YouTube. Toss ByteDance-owned TikTok into the mix, and the barrier to entry has never been more extreme.

But at least one player is challenging that conventional thinking. Australia-based B2B music service provider Tuned Global, headed by Con Raso and Spiro Arkoudis, has been quietly creating customized, white label music platforms for years. And one thing they’ve noticed is that market concentration within the streaming space is not only creating commoditization; it’s also limiting options for brands, artists, and businesses like ISPs. Or is it?

“Brands have very different objectives to a streaming service,” Raso said. “Music is certainly one of the best engagement agents that exist, but a brand wants to build a closer relationship with their customers. Having your own execution allows you to manage overall content (both music and non-music), data capture, targeting, and direct rewards,” Raso said. “Simply put, streaming services are impacted by what a user does now (subscribe), whereas brands are impacted by what a user does next (Core Business ROI).”

Tuned Global has been solving this problem by helping brands tap into streaming music while directly connecting with potential customers — mostly in Asia, Australia, Africa, and, more recently, the Carribean, U.S., and other markets. Clients have included the likes of Line Music Japan, Deedo, Trackdrip, and the major labels, among others, all of whom want customized outreach without having to build platforms or facilitate complex licensing deals.

And licensing complexities for the uninitiated are enough to scare away brands with even the mightiest of budgets.

Look no further than Peloton, whose ongoing litigatory headache with music publishers is being observed by many players. The group of litigating publishers, corralled by the National Music Publishers’ Association, has declared Peloton a reckless infringer, though some observers question whether Peloton was simply in over its head.

That’s another problem that Tuned Global aims to solve. The company’s approach includes strategizing campaigns and customized platforms with licensing at the forefront, instead of a half-baked afterthought. Its consultancy on licensing runs the gamut of rights areas, spanning everything from recording negotiations, the range of publishing rights, and even the DMCA.

“Our aim here is to foster productive discussions with content owners and our clients in order to find the right pathways that fit the bill primarily for our clients, striking the right balance for all parties,” Arkoudis explained.

Regardless of the opportunities, the technical and licensing hurdles can be daunting — and it’s boxing out would-be entrants.

It’s impossible to determine what the chilling effect is amongst brands, though Tuned Global sees a huge missed opportunity. Con Raso pointed to a massive opportunity with niche streaming plays, especially since they aren’t actually competitive with mega-platforms like Spotify. “It’s non-cannibalistic and complementary,” Raso noted.

There’s also a major opportunity for artists that can strike the right deal. On that note, Peloton seems to be regrouping its music strategy around superstars like Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo, Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more, a shift that validates Tuned Global’s thinking. Undoubtedly, some massive checks had to be cut — but unfortunately, that’s peanuts compared to the $300 million lawsuit dangling over Peloton’s head. 

But despite the licensing complexities, Tuned Global is striking successful campaigns with the largest companies in the world.  

Among its biggest to date is a pair-up involving Universal Music in Malaysia and Pizza Hut. The recently retired ‘Singing Pizza’ campaign was a fun toss-up of music exclusives for Pizza Hut customers, with every box containing an exclusive, regularly-updating playlist featuring Universal Music Malaysia artists.

“This campaign has been a truly collaborative and creative partnership between Pizza Hut, UMG, and Tuned Global,” relayed Kenny Ong, MD of Universal Music Group, Malaysia, Singapore & Indochina. “We believe music will always be a key cultural driver regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or age. UMG and Tuned Global, together with Pizza Hut, are confident that we will continue to find new and innovative ways to connect and engage our customers.”

Incidentally, that deal was somewhat easier on the licensing end, thanks to the presence of a single (albeit huge) label and brand. But Tuned Global has structured platform solutions for a range of different mega-brands and content owners, all with varying needs and specifications. That includes Japanese messaging giant Line, which tapped Tuned Global to quickly beef up its music catalog for its Line Music product, one of the leading music streaming services in Japan.  

Other clients have included Samsung Electronics, News Limited, Coles, and J.B. Hi-Fi. In Indonesia, the company even partnered with mobile carriers SPC and Evercoss Mobile, as well as various leading regional labels to create an entire streaming app featuring local artists. Now, as demand increases for similar partnerships worldwide, the company is working with DMN to help broaden its global dealmaking.

Another successful campaign involved Warner Music Australasia.

The major label tapped Tuned Global to launch a dedicated UGC app for superstar Ed Sheeran. The resulting app, titled ‘Ed No. 6,’ allowed fans to create and share their own videos to Sheeran’s music, resulting in a thriving, directly-controlled ecosystem of superfans. 

Raso also pointed to successful niche streaming platform launches in some unexpected corners of the globe. That includes Suriname-based TrackDrip, which is heavily focused on Carribean and Latin American Music, and Deedo, a pan-African streaming service that gets little attention in the U.S., Europe, and other major markets. Tuned Global is powering both.

Up until several years ago, major brands routinely triggered download-focused campaigns, often featuring exclusive tracks.  

Those campaigns offered tremendous upside for clients, partly because downloads offer a direct mechanism for capturing customer data. Now, Tuned Global says the challenge is to realize similar advantages from streaming-focused campaigns. If the company’s successes in Southeast Asia, Australia, and other regions offer a preview, more niche-focused, direct-to-consumer streaming plays will be cropping up in regions like U.S. and Europe — whether Spotify, Apple, and Amazon like it or not.

Chance The Rapper To Host 2020 Kids’ Choice Awards

Chance The Rapper has been announced as the host the 2020 Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards, for which artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Post Malone, DaBaby, and more boast nominations. Chance has been racking up various hosting gigs lately, as it was announced last month that he had signed on to take the reins on the reboot the MTV prank show, Punk’d. The KCAs will take place next month on March 22nd, and according to Billboard, Chance is bursting with excitement. “I’m due for a sliming,” he told them.

Chance The Rapper To Host 2020 Kids' Choice AwardsErik Voake/Getty s for Roc Nation

Chance also revealed that he’s dreamed  getting slimed with the award show’s iconic neon green goo ever since he took a trip to Universal Studios as a kid. He and his brother got to participate in a game at a Wild Thornberrys-based attraction, and though they ended up winning, they weren’t allowed to get slimed. “My grandmother took us, and she said that was not allowed,” he explained. “So it’s just something that I’ve been wanting to get.”

Chance The Rapper To Host 2020 Kids' Choice AwardsKevin Winter/Getty s

Chance could have had his opportunity to get slimed last year, when he, DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber, and Quavo won the Favourite Collaboration award for “No Brainer,” but he missed out.  “Last year I wanted to be at the KCAs to accept my awards and I wasn’t able to be there,” he noted. “So my slime meter is low right now, you know what I mean.” In terms what the rapper will bring to the table, Chance is going to try to turn the hosting gig into a laughing fest. “I think myself as a hilarious guy,” he admitted. “I’m probably in the top 10 funny people I know. So I’ll be bringing hilarity, and definitely more jokes.” As for who he’d name as his favourite KCAs host from previous years? “DJ Khaled. He excites people and he’s always having fun,” Chance explained. “If I had to pick a host] to emulate, it would be him.”

Chance The Rapper To Host 2020 Kids' Choice AwardsKevin Winter/Getty s

The talented artists nominated for KCAs this year are plentiful. Up for the Favourite Breakout New Artist spot are Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby, Lizzo, Lil Nas X, City Girls, and Lewis Capaldi. Nominated in the Favourite Music Collaboration category are Post Malone and Swae Lee for “Sunflower,” Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus for “Old Town Road (Remix),” Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello for “Señorita,” Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran for “I Don’t Care,” Justin Bieber and Dan + Shay for “10,000 Hours,” and Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie for “Me!” While there are plenty other music-related awards as well as film, television, sports, and social media categories, the show will also feature performances by French Montana, Blanco Brown, Why Don’t We, and JoJo Siwa.

Two British Ticket Scalpers That Made $9 Million Convicted for Fraud

Two British ticket scalpers – Peter Hunter and David Smith – were convicted on fraud charges.

Both men used multiple identities and bots to buy over £4m worth of tickets to numerous gigs. The duo scalped tickets for Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Liam Gallagher, and Taylor Swift events, among those targeted. Over 750 Sheeran tickets ended up on secondary ticketing sites from this duo alone.

The pair then sold the tickets on secondary ticketing sites for £10.8m, according to court documents.

Prosecutors describe the duo as “dishonest fraudsters” with only greed as motivation. Both are guilty of fraudulent trading and possessing an article for fraud, according to jurors. The two British ticket scalpers were exposed after The Guardian dived deep into the secondary ticketing market.

Two sites the duo used to move tickets – GetMeIn and – have since shut down. and Viagogo are still live, despite multiple complaints from consumers and lawsuits. A merger between the two now , too.

are using multiple identities, software, and credit cards to hawk their goods. They use bots to snap up as many premium seats as possible, making it harder for genuine fans to get them.

These British ticket scalpers used 100 different names and 88 separate postal addresses to avoid detection. They also engaged in speculative selling or listing tickets for sale they do not own.

“Today’s verdict shines further light on the murky world of secondary ticketing, and the dependency of websites such as Viagogo and StubHub upon large-scale commercial ticket resellers,” said Adam Webb, campaign manager of FanFair Alliance.

“We strongly suspect Peter Hunter and David Smith are not exceptional. Other suppliers to these sites may also acquire tickets by unlawful means – no questions asked,” Webb added.

Ticketmaster faced heavy criticism after reporters found representatives engaged in scalping. A by the Toronto Star reveals how Ticketmaster works with scalpers. Ticket resales at higher prices on an official platform allows Ticketmaster to double-dip.

Katy Perry’s “Roar” Music Video Surpasses 3 Billion Views

On the heels of a multimillion-dollar copyright infringement  and accusations of , Katy Perry finally has some good news to celebrate: “Roar” has received over three billion views on YouTube.

Here’s the Katy Perry vid, which now joins an elite club.

In passing the benchmark, “Roar” has joined a very exclusive club of just nine other videos, which are listed below.

1. Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee—“Despacito” (6.6 billion views)

Uploaded to YouTube in 2017, “Despacito” has been enjoyed more than 6.6 billion times to date, making it the most viewed video in YouTube history. Justin Bieber appeared in the remix version.

2. Ed Sheeran—“Shape of You” (4.6 billion views)

Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” music video has been played approximately 4.6 billion times on YouTube; it ranks second behind “Despacito” in overall views, for both music and non-music videos.

3. Pinkfong—“Baby Shark Dance” (4.55 billion views)

Pinkfong, an educational brand, knocked the ball out of the park with “Baby Shark Dance,” which is now a favorite tune of children around the world.

4. Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth—“See You Again” (4.4 billion views)

Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” appeared in Furious 7, and its video honors the late Paul Walker.

5. Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars—“Uptown Funk” (3.77 billion views)

Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” joined the Three Billion View Club some time ago, and at 3.77 billion views, it’s quickly closing in on the four billion mark.

Last week, Disney announced that Bruno Mars will star in and produce an upcoming musical film, though production plans haven’t yet been revealed.

6. PSY—“Gangnam Style” (3.51 billion views)

PSY’s “Gangnam Style” music video was uploaded to YouTube in 2012, and until “Baby Shark Dance” garnered over three billion views, PSY’s work had the dubious distinction of possessing the worst like-dislike ratio of any listed track.

7. Justin Bieber—“Sorry” (3.25 billion views)

Despite an immensely successful and popular career, Bieber has just one song in the Three Billion View Club: “Sorry,” which was uploaded to YouTube in 2015.

Bieber will begin a 45-show North American tour on May 14th, 2020, with a concert in Seattle.

8. Maroon 5—“Sugar” (3.1 billion views)

In five short years, “Sugar” has nabbed 3.1 billion YouTube plays. Maroon 5 is preparing to embark on a 53-show world tour, which will begin in Mexico City later this month.

Katy Perry’s “Roar” occupies the list’s number-nine slot, and the only non-music YouTube video to have been played three billion times is the “Recipe for Disaster” episode of Masha and the Bear, a Russian children’s cartoon. At 4.23 billion views, the video is currently positioned between “Uptown Funk” and “See You Again” on the all-time YouTube viewership list.

Almost There, But Not Quite

A few music videos are very close to securing three billion YouTube views. It seems inevitable that these vids will cross the threshold in the near future: OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” (2.92 billion views); Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” (2.9 billion views); and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” (2.8 billion views).

Katy Perry released ‘Roar’ back in 2013.

Paradigm CEO Sam Gores: "We Are Not For Sale"

Paradigm CEO Sam Gores vehemently denies that his company is for sale.

Following a recent report by the Los Angeles Times, which said that the talent agency was on the market and engaged in preliminary talks with the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Gores sent a companywide email disputing the claim.

In the email, Gores wrote: “Let me state emphatically– we are not for sale, nor are we selling the agency.”

In the same message, Gores acknowledged that “the influx of private equity into talent agencies and the WGA standoff” make Paradigm an ideal acquisition target for other agencies, which would gain a diverse stable of clients and additional bargaining power. This statement seems to indicate that while some talent offices are interested in Paradigm, the interest isn’t mutual.

Rumors of Paradigm’s sale aren’t new. The company, which was founded in 1992, has reportedly been open to purchase propositions for several years. Last June, Gores revealed that he had been fielding offers from the United Talent Company (UTC), but pressure from his employees prompted him to reconsider.

Paradigm possesses one of the most comprehensive rosters of any contemporary talent agency.

Artists Ed Sheeran and Coldplay, author Stephen King, actor Laurence Fishburne, and many other prominent professionals are signed with Paradigm, which has over 200 agents in its ranks.

Paradigm’s foray into music representation arrived in 2005, with the purchase of Monterey Peninsula Artists. And in 2006, Paradigm acquired Little Big Man, a New York-based talent agency that, although small, had agreements with Coldplay and The Fray (both of whom stayed on with Paradigm and are still clients).

Subsequently, Ellis Industries, Third Coast Artists Agency, AM Only, and Coda Music Agency aligned with Paradigm, forming an impressive collection of musical talent.

At the time of writing, Sam Gores hadn’t publicly commented on the report.

BMI Settles Their Rate Dispute With Major Radio Broadcasters

BMI and the RMLC have finally settled their pricing dispute; new deal covers 2017-2021.

Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), one of the leading US-based performing rights organizations, has settled a long-running pricing disagreement with the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC), which represents roughly 10,000 commercial radio stations in America.

The multi-year deal will be in place until the end of 2021, having also established the royalty framework for 2017 through the present day. In a statement, BMI President and CEO Mike O’Neil said that the new contract “reflects a much more appropriate value for our affiliates’ music.” The RMLC’s Ed Atsinger indicated that “the radio industry believes strongly that songwriters should be compensated fairly.”

As part of the agreement, the RMLC will provide BMI with a one-time payment for legal fees. In an effort to prevent future conflict, the contract more thoroughly defines the licensing fees associated with streaming, simulcast broadcasting, and podcasts.

The RMLC has long been engaged in a separate legal dispute, with Irving Azoff’s Global Music Rights (GMR), a recently-formed PRO largely representing superstar catalogs.

Azoff, a former Ticketmaster Chairman and longtime artist manager, has convinced Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, Bruno Mars, and others to sign deals with GMR.

RMLC claims that GMR is attempting to extort exorbitant royalties for its represented artists, while GMR higher-ups say that they are seeking fair compensation for their members. In April 2019, GMR successfully convinced Judge C. Darnell Jones II to transfer the case to a Los Angeles courtroom. Surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on the side of GMR, though this case could lumber on for years.

BMI was founded in 1939 and has approximately 900,000 songwriters in its ranks, including Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, and Ed Sheeran, among others. In 2018, the organization distributed over $1.12 billion worth of royalties to its artists. The RMLC, which is based out of Nashville, aims “to achieve fair and reasonable license fees with the music licensing organizations on behalf of radio stations.”

Warner Music Group Quarterly Earnings Jump 42% (Thanks, Streaming)

Warner Music Group (WMG) just reported a very solid first-quarter growth.

Warner Music Group (WMG) recorded substantial profits in the first quarter of its fiscal year, which began in October of 2019 and ended on December 31st.

In an earnings report issued this morning, WMG revealed that total revenue increased by 4.4 percent (5.5 percent in constant currency, which omits losses brought on by currency fluctuations) from the same period in 2018. Similarly, digital revenue grew by 12.6 percent from Q1 2018 (13.5 percent in constant currency), and net income saw a $36 million boost, from $86 million to $122 million.

That is nearly a 42% bump, thanks to a continued surge in streaming-related revenues.

Predictably, WMG’s physical sales declined, while streaming and digital purchases performed well enough to increase recorded music’s overall revenue by 4.1 percent (5.1 percent in constant currency). However, it is worth noting that licensing revenue fell from 2018’s first fiscal quarter; WMG attributed this decline to the “impact of foreign exchange rates and timing.”

Recorded music revenue was reported to have grown “in all regions,” with TWICE, Lizzo, Coldplay, and Ed Sheeran cited as “major sellers.”

WMG also claimed to possess approximately $462 million on-hand, with debts totaling about three billion dollars.

In a statement, WMG CEO Steve Cooper said, “Our Q1 results were very strong. We achieved the highest quarterly revenue in our sixteen-year history as a stand-alone company.”

WMG was traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) until 2011, when it was purchased (and turned private) by Access Industries, a New York-based conglomerate.

As one of the “big three” recording companies, WMG has some of today’s most popular recording artists in its ranks. Elektra Records, Warner Records, and Atlantic Records—three of the foremost record labels—are owned by WMG, as is music publishing powerhouse Warner Chappell Music.

WMG’s previous fiscal year was similarly encouraging, representing a major uptick in both revenue and profits.

Peloton Loses Its Antitrust Countersuit Against Music Publishers

A hairy legal battle between music publishers and Peloton took another turn this week.

Peloton suffered a serious setback against litigating music publishers in federal court this week — though this case is far from over.

Previously this year, the music publishers — including Downtown Music Publishing, Round Hill Music, Ultra International Music Publishing, and Reservoir Media Management — filed a massive copyright infringement lawsuit against Peloton, with claimed damages eventually reaching $300 million. The group accused Peloton of using many of their songs within their workout videos without proper licensing.

Peloton fired back against those charges, but also opened a separate counteraction that alleged violations of antitrust law.  Specifically, the gaggle of publishers were accused of acting collusively, with the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) refusing to allow member publishers from striking independent deals.

The NMPA and its constituents responded that its coordinated efforts were a response to massive copyright infringement, which necessitated its non-cooperative attitude.

But U.S. District Court judge Denise Cote questioned whether the NMPA and its publishing members are the only game in town.

After all, there’s a lot more music out there to be licensed.

“Peloton defines the relevant market as sync ‘licenses to the copyrighted works controlled (in whole or in part) and collectively negotiated by the [Music] Publishers through NMPA.’  This proposed market is legally insufficient, as it “clearly does not encompass all  interchangeable substitute products.”

Stroll onto Spotify, and millions of non-NMPA songs are easily available.  Even more tellingly, multiple sync licensing businesses readily offer music for licensing, with direct deals easily created.

That point wasn’t lost on judge Cote, who noted that plenty of smaller, non-NMPA publishers could offer catalogs of their own.

“Peloton does not explain why it cannot substitute songs with sync licenses owned by the Music Publishers for songs with sync licenses owned by other publishers,” the opinion continued.  “Indeed, as Peloton admits, it has successfully ‘collaborated with music publishers to develop an innovative [sync] licensing framework  that is appropriate for its business and reached agreements with all the ‘major’ music publishers and many independent music publishers.’”

Those within the industry can already spot the implicit complaint here.  The pubs in question control works by Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, Drake, Ariana Grande, and Rihanna, among others.  Those songs are demanded by Peloton riders and instructors, who prefer well-known, chart-topping tracks to similar-sounding substitutes.

But that doesn’t mean that the NMPA and its cabal control the ‘relevant market’ for licensable music, a key test in antitrust cases.  “Peloton argues that sync licenses are not interchangeable because every song has ‘nonfungible qualities,’” Cote continued. “It is true that every copyrighted work has at least some modicum of originality. But, recognition of that fundamental tenet of copyright law does not explain why songs not controlled by the Music Publishers cannot substitute in exercise programming for songs they do control.”

Point: music publishers.  Now back to our regularly-scheduled game.

Now, the action shifts back to the original mass-copyright infringement lawsuit.  Actually, it’s unclear if Peloton actually though they would win an antitrust claim.  But if the goal was to burn time and legal fees, they’re already ahead.  Earlier, sources to Digital Music News pointed to frustrations among NMPA members over the costly battle being waged.  In response, litigating pubs Downtown, Reservoir, and others expressed their support for the expensive legal foray.

Separately, NMPA’s David Israelite , stoking chatter of another massive lawsuit.  In a missive issued to Senator Marco Rubio and other members of U.S. Congress, Israelite noted that “numerous works continue to be used unlawfully as the platform’s popularity grows exponentially,” while concluding that “the scale of TikTok’s copyright infringement in the U.S. is likely considerable and deserves scrutiny.”

So far, shots remain unfired against TikTok.

Despite today’s legal win, it’s unclear if the NMPA’s broader war against Peloton is a good idea.

In fact, it looks like Peloton already understands Judge Cote’s core points.  Last year, the company decided to circumvent publishers like Downtown and started with mega-stars like Paul McCartney, Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo, Jennifer Lopez, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The mega-deals were part of an emerging ‘Artist Series’ offering that focused less on massive catalogs and more on single-artist, personality-driven instruction.  After all, superstars are celebrities as much as musicians, and accordingly, most are highly receptive to cashing massive checks for direct deals.

“In order to amplify our commitment to music, we plan to increase the number of ‘Artist Series’ offerings,” Peloton emailed Digital Music News last year.  “We recently produced a Jennifer Lopez dual-instructor ride with Robin Arzon and Jess King, as well as a Lizzo ride, and both placed in the top 10 live classes of all time on our platform.”

Fast-forward to 2020, and it looks like that initiative was successful for Peloton.

In an interview published with Billboard this morning, Peloton’s head of music Paul DeGooyer said that the company was forced to drastically cut down its music selection after it got hit with the NMPA suit.  But Peloton quickly shifted to direct licensing: “We were able to build back the library very quickly,” DeGooyer said.

“What ended up happening is we had a ton of artists managers in particular, but also our legal and publishing partners coming in.  I think, in some cases, they saw a service that they want to support. In other cases, it was maybe just them realizing that some share [of the programming] is up for grabs if a lot of stuff isn’t being played.

“And one of the results is we start to get offered really great artist stuff, which you can see expressed in about 25 or 26 Artist [Series] classes.”

Others watching from the sidelines are undoubtedly writing a ‘note to self’ regarding direct licensing.  Peloton says they were trying their best to properly licensing everything, but quickly found themselves in a legal quagmire that they didn’t anticipate.  Major publishers clapped back against that claim, but in fairness, the fitness startup doesn’t seem to be having any issues with its direct licensing efforts.

Whether that’s bleeding into the broader licensing space is hard to discern.  Either way, direct-licensing efforts are more easily managed technologically, U.S. copyright law allows them, and executives are learning about their advantages.  Just recently, Discovery Networks attempted to supplant a performance royalty-based system with direct, upfront payments to composers.  Composers (and publishers) stood to lose a massive amount of royalties as a result, and Discovery following a serious backlash.

Back to the sync side, other potential licensors — i.e., the next Peloton — may reconsider massive and complex negotiations with a raft of NMPA-repped publishers.  If only to avoid the possibility of a $300 million legal mess.

More as this case develops. The latest decision can be found here.

Grammys 2020 Meltdown: A Timeline of Everything That Went Down

To say that the lead-up to the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards was marred by controversy would be a gross understatement. 

The annual awards ceremony, which is organized by the Recording Academy, was in many ways overshadowed by a series of very serious—and very public—actions and accusations. One bombshell after another made headlines, and in the end, the excitement that typically precedes the Grammys was supplanted by multifaceted uncertainty—uncertainty over a misconduct complaint filed against ousted CEO Deborah Dugan, over a rape accusation made against former CEO Neil Portnow, over a possibly rigged voting system, and much more. 

Here’s a day-by-day breakdown of all the drama and controversy that unfolded ahead of the 2020 Grammy Awards. 

 January 16th—Deborah Dugan is Ousted from the Recording Academy

Ten days before the 2020 Grammys, Deborah Dugan, who became the Recording Academy’s CEO on August 1st, 2019, was placed on administrative leave.

Dugan’s professional career began with a stint as a Wall Street attorney. She then transitioned to an executive role at EMI/Capitol Records, led Disney Publishing, and, until accepting the Recording Academy’s offer, served as the CEO of HIV/AIDS awareness and treatment charity (RED).

Dugan was the first woman to head the Recording Academy, which was founded in 1957, though her tenure was far shorter than those of her two predecessors. The previous tenures spanned 14 years (Michael Greene, 1988-2002) and 17 years (Neil Portnow, 2002-2019).  

An internally circulated memo said that Dugan was placed on administrative leave “in light of serious concerns raised to the Recording Academy Board of Trustees, which includes a formal allegation of misconduct by a senior female member of the Recording Academy.” The statement went on to say that the ouster was necessary “to restore the confidence of the Recording Academy’s Membership.” Board chairperson Harvey Mason Jr. was installed as interim CEO and was tasked with filling in for Dugan at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards.

Neither the “serious concerns” nor the “formal allegation of misconduct” were specified by the Recording Academy. However, The New York Times reported that the allegation against Dugan was made by an assistant who had previously worked under Neil Portnow; this individual (later identified as Claudine Little) claimed that Dugan had instituted a “bullying management style” over Grammys staffers. 

Subsequently, it came to light that three weeks before Dugan was given the boot, she sent the HR department a memo of her own. The no-holds-barred document reportedly called out Recording Academy higher-ups for a number of offenses, including rigging the Grammy-nomination process and concealing ual crimes among them. The same anonymous source who revealed Dugan’s memo said that it—not the allegation made by Neil Portnow’s former assistant—was probably the real reason for her dismissal. Later, Dugan also cited the memo as the probable cause for her being, in essence, let go. 

Dugan promptly retained the legal services of Bryan Freedman, a prominent Hollywood lawyer, before going public with her claims, which immediately drew fan and media attention to the Recording Academy’s practices and operations. Ensuing headlines and conversations focused less on the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards and more on Dugan’s allegations and, just as importantly, her ouster. 

January 20th—Harvey Mason Jr. Refutes Dugan’s Allegations

In a January 20th open letter, Recording Academy interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr. pushed back against Dugan’s claims. 

Specifically, Mason Jr. stated that Dugan’s allegations were contrived after the allegedly bullied employee involved his or her lawyer, causing the Recording Academy’s Executive Committee to launch an internal investigation. According to Mason Jr., Dugan’s attorney then informed the Executive Committee that “if Ms. Dugan was paid millions of dollars, she would ‘withdraw’ her allegations and resign from her role as CEO.”

Lastly, Mason Jr. implored music fans to “seek the truth” and reiterated that a third-party investigation into Dugan’s behavior was underway. (Details of the investigation, including the names of the hired individuals and/or companies, weren’t provided.) 

By attributing Dugan’s actions to what can only be described as an extortion plot, Mason Jr. placed the ball squarely in her court. She responded emphatically. 

January 21st—Dugan Files a Lawsuit, Targets Former CEO Neil Portnow; Portnow Defends Himself

On Tuesday, January 21st, Dugan initiated a lawsuit against the Recording Academy. 

Filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the suit alleges all manner of misconduct on behalf of the Recording Academy, including ual harassment, unequal pay, gender discrimination, comprehensive corruption in the nomination process, and, perhaps most significantly, a deliberate effort to conceal ual crimes committed by former CEO Neil Portnow. 

Portnow preceded Dugan as the Recording Academy’s CEO. The Jive Records veteran previously came under fire after it was revealed that money set aside for MusiCares, the Recording Academy’s main charity and outreach organization, had been used to fund the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, which took place at New York City’s famous Madison Square Garden. (It reportedly costs about $200,000 to host an “average arena concert” at MSG.) Also, in response to criticism over the number of female Grammy nominees, Portnow said that women artists needed to “step up.” 

It had been widely believed that these controversies were the chief contributors to Portnow not receiving a new Recording Academy contract—until Dugan, in her lawsuit, alleged that his raping a foreign recording artist was the true reason for the split. ‘Alleged’ must be emphasized; Dugan did not claim to have firsthand evidence of the assault. Similarly, the alleged victim has not come forward. 

Portnow released a widely published statement, which acknowledged that some sort of complaint had been made against him but insisted that it was “ludicrous and untrue.” He went on to say that a third-party investigation had “exonerated” him of the allegation, and that Dugan’s claims of being pressured to approve a $750,000 payment were also false; “At no time did I ever demand a $750,000 consulting fee.” 

In a follow-up to Portnow’s response, Dugan’s legal team doubled down on their client’s assertions of widespread and ongoing wrongdoing. 

January 23rd—Dugan Makes Morning-Show Rounds, Emphasizes Nomination Corruption

Three days before the 2020 Grammys, Dugan appeared on Good Morning America and CBS This Morning (and filmed the former interview alongside her lawyer) to discuss the allegations. 

Though the alleged consulting-fee pressure, ual harassment, and rape were briefly discussed, the “rigged” voting system, which Dugan said resulted from special interests and behind-the-scenes influence, was the focal point of the interviews. 

Specifically, Dugan said that Ariana Grande and Ed Sheeran were snubbed for 2020 ‘Song of the Year’ nominations because of another artist’s below-board tactics, and that Taylor Swift had been unfairly denied a nomination for ‘Album of the Year’ in 2018 (before Dugan joined the Recording Academy). 

Predictably, the idea that Grammy nominations and awards are issued based on influence, not the talent of the artist and the quality of the work, didn’t sit well with fans, members of the media, or artists. Taylor Swift, who was meant to give a “secret” performance and who received three nominations, reportedly decided not to attend the Grammys at all. Another massively popular artist (and nominee), Beyonce, as well as her husband, Jay-Z, were also rumored to be bailing Grammys gala, and for the first time in a long time, talk of the Grammys centered on who wouldn’t be attending.

What Comes Next at the Grammys

Only time will tell what comes next with regard to the far-reaching claims made before the 2020 Grammys, but it can be stated with confidence that a complete picture hasn’t yet been painted. 

The allegations made by Dugan against the Recording Academy and Portnow are serious, and if they’re proven true, fundamental internal changes will need to be administered. If, however, Portnow is telling the truth, and an investigation (not a police report, which presumably wasn’t filed) proved his innocence, it’s unclear which crimes the Recording Academy would have covered up. The ual harassment episode, though also significant if true, pertains to a single Recording Academy exec and is not necessarily indicative of a cover-up or even a widespread issue.

By the same token, if pervasive behaviors and influences are compromising the integrity of the nomination process, the stage would be set for a full-scale, ethics-minded overhaul. However, direct, irrefutable evidence must first be established. 

Lastly, Dugan’s claims would be put into question if the complaint filed against her was found to be valid by legitimately neutral investigators. Aside from the Recording Academy’s stating that Dugan came forward only after an assistant reported a toxic, bullying work environment, every workplace allegation of misconduct must be seriously studied. 

Hopefully, any and all crimes will be punished, any and all corruption will be rooted out, and next year’s Grammy Awards will be ushered in not with troubling headlines, but with headlines that emphasize the talent and accomplishments of artists. 

 

Taylor Swift Reportedly Pulling Out of the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards

Despite receiving three Grammy nominations (‘Song of the Year,’ ‘Best Pop Solo Performance,’ and ‘Best Pop Vocal Album’), Taylor Swift is now reportedly exiting this year’s ceremony.

“Taylor Swift will not attend the 2020 Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, January 26,” US Weekly reported this morning.

There’s also a suspicious development leaking from CBS, which is broadcasting the event. As part of its pre-event teasers to the media, the network sent snapshots of numerous seating charts, one of which featured Taylor Swift. That was one of several pre-event seating charts, which were clarified as ‘tentative,’ though the picture featuring Swift’s position was removed this morning.

There was no explanation for the removal, beyond a general reference to the ‘tentative’ nature of the seating arrangements.

If confirmed, the 30-year-old’s decision is the latest in a series of very public setbacks for the Recording Academy, which has found itself marred in controversy at the worst possible time.  Now, as part of the extremely public war at the Academy, an ugly snub against Swift has emerged.

On January 16th, just ten days before the 62nd Annual Grammys, Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan was placed on administrative leave; a “formal allegation of misconduct” was cited as the reason for her abrupt ouster.  

Dugan returned fire in a big way, filing a discrimination and ual-harassment claim and alleging that the Recording Academy concealed ual crimes committed by former CEO Neil Portnow. Portnow, accused of rape and a subsequent cover-up, promptly issued a public statement denying the accusations.

This high-profile back-and-forth has, in many ways, overshadowed the awards ceremony itself. And now, with Swift rumored to boycott, it appears that far-reaching implications will extend not only into Sunday night, but through the foreseeable future. 

Dugan took to the morning-show circuit this week and claimed that the Recording Academy’s nomination process is wrought with favoritism and conflicts of interest.

Specifically, Dugan said that Swift’s Reputation was supposed to be nominated for ‘Album of the Year’ in 2018, but another album, which had received fewer votes, ultimately supplanted it. Additionally, Dugan alleged that Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande were snubbed for 2020 ‘Song of the Year’ nominations because of an artist’s behind-the-scenes influence. 

Dugan didn’t name this individual, but as there are only eight nominations for ‘Song of the Year,’ it’s possible that his or her identity will eventually be pinpointed. 

The Recording Academy released a lengthy response to Dugan’s allegations about the voting process, stating that it “is led in a fair and ethical manner and that voting members make their choices based solely on the artistic excellence and technical merits of eligible recordings.” 

The Grammys’ 2020 host, Alicia Keys, has canceled all pre-event interviews, and Beyoncé, who was nominated for four awards, may also join Swift in skipping the ceremony (more on that ahead).

… and more as this develops. 

Eminem Addresses Criticism Over ‘Music To Be Murdered By’

Eminem is confronting his critics.

In an open letter posted on social media, Marshall Mathers addressed the criticism surrounding his latest album Music To Be Murdered By. The Alfred Hitchcock-inspired project received backlash for its graphic and violent nature.

“In today’s wonderful world murder has become so commonplace that we are a society obsessed and fascinated by it,” Em wrote in the blood-stained note. “I thought why not make a sport of it, and murder over beats? So before you jump the gun, please allow me to explain.”

He acknowledged the polarizing content and said the music was intended to stir a reaction. “This album was not made for the squeamish,” he added. “If you are easily offended or unnerved at the screams of bloody murder, this may not be the collection for you. Certain selections have been designed to shock the conscience, which may cause positive action. Unfortunately, darkness has truly fallen upon us.”

But there’s a message behind his madness. “So you see, murder in this instance isn’t always literal, nor pleasant. These bars are only meant for the sharpest knives in the drawer. For the victims of this album, may you rest peacefully. For the rest of you, please listen more closely next time. Goodnight!”

In the video for “Darkness,” which serves as a commentary on gun violence, he recreates scenes from the 2017 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. It ends with him encouraging fans to register to vote in order to help change gun laws.

He also faced criticism for his lyrics on “Unaccommodating,” where he raps about the bombing outside Ariana Grande’s 2017 concert at Manchester Arena. “I’m contemplating yelling ‘bombs away’ on the game like I’m outside of an Ariana Grande concert waiting,” raps Em.

Music To Be Murdered By, which features Juice WRLD, Ed Sheeran, and Anderson .Paak, is expected to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 270-290,000 units.

Read his letter in full below.

Machine Gun Kelly Responds to Eminem’s New Album

Machine Gun Kelly reloads.

Less than a day after Eminem declared their beef over, the Cleveland rapper is seemingly not finished. Taking to Twitter on Friday, MGK shared his thoughts on Em’s new album Music To Be Murdered By.

“mad af I just stepped out a loud room to hear this bullshit,” he tweeted along with the poop emoji.

He also took another shot at his Detroit rival. “he’s been rich and mad for 20 years straight,” wrote MGK alongside the laughing and trash can emojis.

Em addressed their rivalry on the Young M.A.-assisted “Unaccommodating” off his surprise album Music To Be Murdered By. “But when they ask me is the war finished with MGK? Of course it is,” raps Em. “I cleansed him of his mortal sins, I’m God and the Lord forgives, even the devil worshippers / I’m moving on.”

He also mentions MGK on “Yah Yah” featuring Royce da 5’9″, Black Thought, Q-Tip, and Denaun. “Had the prenup ready / Fucked on her, shoulda seen her belly / She barely was three months pregnant / Bitch had it, gave me her baby, we named it Machine Gun Kelly,” he raps.

Eminem and MGK ignited their beef with a series of diss tracks in 2018. After hearing MGK’s verse on Tech N9ne’s “No Reason,” Eminem took aim at the Cleveland rapper on his Kamikaze cut “Not Alike.” Shortly after, MGK returned fire on “Rap Devil,” inspired by Em’s own 2013 track “Rap God.”

“im standing up for not just myself, but my generation,” MGK tweeted at the time. “im doing the same shit you did back in ur day.”

Music To Be Murdered By was released without warning on Friday. The album, which features Ed Sheeran, Juice WRLD, and Anderson .Paak, is expected to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 300-325,000 equivalent album units.

Eminem Addresses Machine Gun Kelly Beef on ‘Music To Be Murdered By’

Eminem released his surprise album Music To Be Murdered By on Friday featuring Ed Sheeran, Juice WRLD, and Anderson .Paak.

On the Young M.A.-assisted “Unaccommodating,” the Detroit rapper addresses his rivalry with Machine Gun Kelly. After going back and forth with a series of diss tracks in 2018, he announces that the beef is over.

“But when they ask me is the war finished with MGK? Of course it is,” raps Em. “I cleansed him of his mortal sins, I’m God and the Lord forgives, even the devil worshippers / I’m moving on.”

As Complex points out, the “devil worshippers” line may be a reference to MGK’s 2018 Eminem diss track “Rap Devil,” where he accused Em of attempting to sabotage his career.

Marshall Mathers also mentions MGK on another Music To Be Murdered By track, the Busta Rhymes-sampled “Yah Yah,” which features Royce da 5’9″, Black Thought, Q-Tip, and Denaun. “I’m a sight to see, but you can see from the ring I’m wearing / Me and this game, we got married already,” says Em. “Had the prenup ready / Fucked on her, shoulda seen her belly / She barely was three months pregnant / Bitch had it, gave me her baby, we named it Machine Gun Kelly.”

Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly’s beef dates back to 2018. After hearing MGK’s verse on Tech N9ne’s “No Reason,” Eminem took aim at the Cleveland rapper on his Kamikaze cut “Not Alike.” Shortly after, MGK returned fire on “Rap Devil,” inspired by Em’s own 2013 track “Rap God.”

On “Unaccommodating,” Eminem also makes a controversial reference to Ariana Grande and the bombing outside her 2017 concert at Manchester Arena. “I’m contemplating yelling ‘bombs away’ on the game like I’m outside of an Ariana Grande concert waiting,” he raps.

Elsewhere, he takes a stand against gun violence on “Darkness,” inspired by the 2017 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. The video encourages fans to register to vote in order to help change gun laws.

Eminem’s "Music To Be Murdered By" Produced By Dr. Dre, D.A. Doman & More

Eminem took us all by surprise on Friday when he dropped his new album, Music To Be Murdered By, out absolutely nowhere. The Hitchcock-inspired album pays homage to the late film director’s 1958 one and only album the same name, with Em posing with a hatchet in one hand and a pistol in the other both held up to his head on the cover, just as Hitchock did. While this no-warning drop was definitely a wonderful surprise for his fans, others were less than impressed with some  the controversial lyrics. The album boasts some exciting features, such as Don Toliver, Young M.A, Royce Da 5’9″, Ed Sheeran, Anderson .Paak, Black Thought, the late Juice WRLD, and more, but the production team is even more impressive. Luis Resto and Dawaun Parker fered their services on a number tracks, but Em’s longtime producing partner, Dr. Dre, takes the cake with 7 total production credits on the 20-track album. Other producers frequent the list, as well, such as D.A. Doman (aka D.A. Got That Dope) and Trevor Lawrence Jr. Check out the full list the album’s production credits below:

1) “Premonition (Intro)”
Produced by: Dawaun Parker, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Luis Resto, and Mark Batson

2) “Unaccommodating” (feat. Young M.A)
Produced by: Eminem and Tim Suby

3) “You Gon’ Learn” (feat. Royce 5’9 & White Gold)
Produced by: Eminem, Luis Resto, and Royce 5’9

4) “Alfred (Interlude)”
Produced by: Andre “Briss” Brissett, Dawaun Parker, and Dr. Dre

5) “Those Kinda Nights” (feat. Ed Sheeran)
Produced by Eminem, Fred, and D.A. Doman

6) “In Too Deep”
Produced by: Eminem and Tim Suby

7) “Godzilla” (feat. Juice WRLD)
Produced by: Eminem, and D.A. Doman

8) “Darkness”
Produced by: Eminem, Luis Resto, and Royce 5’9

9) “Leaving Heaven” (feat. Skylar Grey)
Produced by: Eminem and Skylar Grey

10) “Yah Yah” (feat. Royce 5’9, Black Thought, Q-Tip & dEnAuN)
Produced by: Mr. Porter

11) “Stepdad (Intro)”
Produced by: Dr. Dre

12) “Stepdad”
Produced by: Eminem, Luis Resto, and The Alchemist

13) “Marsh”
Produced by: Eminem and Luis Resto

14) “Never Love Again”
Produced by: Dawaun Parker, Dem Jointz, Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Trevor Lawrence Jr.

15) “Little Engine”
Produced by: Dawaun Parker, Dr. Dre, Erik “Blu2th” Griggs, and Trevor Lawrence Jr.

16) “Lock It Up” (feat. Anderson .Paak)
Produced by: Dawaun Parker, Dem Jointz, Dr. Dre, Erik “Blu2th” Griggs, and Trevor Lawrence Jr.

17) “Farewell”
Produced by: Eminem, and Ricky Racks

18) “No Regrets” (feat. Don Toliver)
Produced by: Eminem, and D.A. Doman

19) “I Will” (feat. KXNG Crooked, Royce 5’9 & Joell Ortiz)
Produced by: Eminem and Luis Resto

20) “Alfred (Outro)”
Produced by: Andre “Briss” Brissett, Dawaun Parker, and Dr. Dre

Eminem Releases Surprise Album "Music To Be Murdered By"

Alas, the moment has come. Starting f the year with a major bang, Eminem decided to strike once again, impacting the airwaves once the clock struck midnight with a brand new album. Although we had heard rumblings that the legendary Motor City rapper was working on fresh music, we weren’t aware a timeline detailing when we could expect it. 50 Cent mentioned on several occasions that he knew Em’s plans but even he was tight-lipped on the entire process. Well, the album came from out the blue last night, introducing us to twenty new records featuring a shocking list talent.

Skimming through the tracklist to Music To Be Murdered By, you’ll notice features from Don Toliver, Young M.A, Royce Da 5’9″, Ed Sheeran, Anderson .Paak, Black Thought, the late Juice WRLD, and many more. Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s project the exact same name, Em used the auteur’s iconic photograph as a reference for his own cover artwork this time around.

As always with a new Eminem project, it’s worth giving this an attentive listen to hear all the bars he’s spitting about beef, pop culture, tragedies, and much more. He addresses just about everything here, speaking on his feud with Machine Gun Kelly, the Manchester bombing at an Ariana Grande concert, and more. 

What do you think Music To Be Murdered By? Let us know in the comments.