Minding The Store

Published in Billboard Magazine

 

Major labels are looking to take advantage of the digital boom Down Under with their own download services.The local affiliates of Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Music all operate digital music stores—although executives say competing with local market leader iTunes isn’t their primary objective.

“Consumers need choice and the market was open for another high-quality, authentic digital music platform,” Sony Music Entertainment Australia chairman/CEO Denis Handlin says. “Not enough was being done to provide alternatives into the market.”

Sony’s Bandit.fm site, which launched in November 2008, is the only major-label-owned service to host content licensed from all three rival majors and independent music aggregator the Independent Online Distribution Alliance. Official market-share figures aren’t available, but industry estimates give Bandit about 4% of the digital market, behind iTunes’ dominant 70%-plus share and telecom Telstra’s BigPond Music’s 10% share, edging the low-single-digit percentage share each held by Universal’s GetMusic and EMI’s TheInSong. (A Warner Music Group spokesman says the major doesn’t plan to open a digital download store in Australia.)

Licensing from the other majors was “not as hard as you’d expect,” Sony Music Entertainment Australia GM of digital Gavin Parry says. “There was a lot of support from other companies to find an alternative in the market.”

GetMusic, which Universal launched in November 2007, features video streaming and sells digital downloads, CDs, DVDs and other merchandise; it also sells digital downloads by Sony artists. Universal Music Australia managing director George Ash says the ultimate aim “is to have everyone on there.”

EMI Music Australia launched its Musichead MP3 download store in September 2008 and then rechristened it TheInSong last October, integrating it into its A&R/blog site TheInSoundFromWayOut. It carries 500,000 tracks from EMI’s catalog and will expand in 2010 through licensing deals with other labels, according to EMI Australia director of new business development Roddy Campbell.

While executives stress current sales levels reflect the relative infancy of the sites, Campbell says TheInSong “surpassed expectations in the first couple of months,” while Bandit claims 100,000-120,000 unique monthly users.

Executives note the importance of brand partnerships in driving traffic. Bandit has teamed with Commonwealth Bank, Clinique and Qantas Airways for download giveaways, while EMI’s service has forged promotions with MasterCard, Garnier and fast-food chain Oporto.

Pricing is competitive, with no one store consistently beating the others. The major-owned sites are also vying for customers by offering exclusives. In the run-up to Christmas, Bandit was selling recent albums by Sony “Australian Idol” alumni Guy Sebastian, Adam Harvey and Damien Leith with exclusive bonus tracks.

The majors are also planning to start subscription services, with Bandit’s due to launch in late January or early February and EMI and Universal set to follow suit later in 2010. A survey that media group Immedia published in August found that while only 10% of respondents had used a music subscription service in the past year, 68% were keen to sign up.

Recorded-music sales in Australia grew 0.4% during the first half of 2009 to $178.6 million Australian ($156.9 million) from the same period in 2008, with a 43.3% rise in digital sales more than compensating for a 6.9% slump in physical sales, according to the Australian Recording Industry Assn. (Billboard, Oct. 17, 2009). Label sources say the digital market kept growing at a similar rate in the second half of the year.

Increasing competition in Australia’s digital market could prove challenging for all players as the market matures. But industry observers expect the majors’ presence to drive overall demand.

“Competition is a very positive step, whether it comes from labels or not,” says Karen Farrugia, Nokia music manager for Australia. “It reinforces to consumers that legal digital music is easily accessible.”

Aussie singer Merriweather brings “War” to U.S.

Published by Reuters

 

Daniel Merriweather has no desire to be remembered as a runner-up.

Preparing for the U.S. release of his debut album, the soulful Australian has already enjoyed a British breakthrough — but so far, the No. 1 spot has proved elusive.

Merriweather first climbed the Official Charts Co. (OCC) U.K. listings in April 2007, singing on Mark Ronson’s “Stop Me” (his take on the Smiths’ classic “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before”). That peaked at No. 2 — as did Merriweather’s debut album, “Love & War,” in June 2009.

“Sure, it’s frustrating to miss the top spot,” he says from his apartment in New York’s Harlem neighborhood. “But someone once told me the best songs go to No. 2. I can live with that.”

The Melbourne-born singer now dreams of going one better with the album’s February 23 U.S. release, on J Records/Allido, which includes a U.S.-only bonus track, “The Children.”

Merriweather’s life may be on track now, but his path easily could have taken him somewhere radically different. Raised in a tough part of Melbourne, he dropped out of school in his teen years and fell into bad company.

“I was young and stupid, had no money and ended up in and out of court every few months,” he recalls.

But his situation changed — first when he was picked up by local label Marlin Records, then again in 2002 when the then-relatively unknown Ronson heard his demo and invited Merriweather to record in New York.

‘HATE TRANSFER’

He signed to Ronson’s Allido Records outside Australia and sang on “She’s Got Me” from Ronson’s 2003 album, “Here Comes the Fuzz” (Elektra). That track won him the 2005 Australian Recording Industry Assn. (ARIA) Award for best urban release. Then came “Stop Me” — and some death threats from disgruntled Smiths fans.

“Initially they directed their hate toward Mark through his MySpace page. But when they found out it was me singing, there was a hate transfer,” he says with a laugh. “When the song became so ubiquitous on radio, I had a lot of Smiths fans come up to me and say, ‘I used to hate it, but it grew on me.’ I don’t think anyone is too pissed about it now.”

Merriweather also guested on U.K. grime star Wiley’s top 20 hit “Cash in My Pocket,” but his emotive vocals on tracks like “For Your Money” and “Change” have helped connect with his own audience for the Ronson-produced “Love & War,” which has sold 255,000 copies in the United Kingdom, according to the OCC. The album has also gone top 40 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and Australia, where he won the 2009 ARIA Award for best male artist.

Now, RCA/Jive Label Group chairman/CEO Barry Weiss says, “We think Daniel’s on the verge of a worldwide success story.”

“He has the hits, no question,” RCA Music Group senior vice president of marketing Aaron Borns says. “Daniel’s success in Europe gives him a launch pad here, certainly for the media.”

Merriweather delivered an intimate performance January 16 for noncommercial KCRW Los Angeles on the rooftop of the Paley Center for Media before a handful of theater dates, which started January 20 at the Troubadour in L.A. before moving on to the Florida Room in Miami (January 22) and New York’s Gramercy Theater (January 26).

The lead track for the United States is the smoldering ballad “Red” — a U.K. No. 5 hit in May 2009. It will go to radio in mid-February, and VH1 will feature Merriweather as a You Oughta Know artist beginning February 1. He is booked to appear on “Late Show With David Letterman” February 23 and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” February 26.

“My dream is to be able to keep living here and making records until I’m 85,” says Merriweather from his adopted New York home. “I live by the idea that ‘if you build it, they will come.’ If they don’t come, then you didn’t build it big enough.”


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Big Love

Published in Billboard Magazine

Australian melodic rock quartet Kisschasy is enjoying the summer Down Under.

The band’s third album, “Seizures” (Eleven/Universal Music Australia), was recently certified gold (35,000 copies shipped), and Kisschasy will appear on the main stage at the Big Day Out festival, which will travel across Australasia Jan. 15-17. In October, the act won pay-TV music specialist Channel V’s viewer-voted Oz Artist Award.

“The third album is traditionally when a band hits their stride,” the group’s manager John Watson says. “These guys are still in their early to mid-20s—they’ve just got a lockdown on what they do best.”

A strong live show and frontman Darren Cordeux’s songwriting mastery have carved out a growing following, backed by strong support by national radio networks Triple J and Nova, as well as Channel V.

“They’ve always been one of those groups who haven’t figured on the industry radar but formed a very strong connection with their audience,” Watson says.

Recorded in Los Angeles, “Seizures” peaked at No. 15 on the Australia Recording Industry Assn. albums chart in the week after its August release.

Watson says the band will weigh its international options following the Big Day Out shows. Kisschasy is booked by the Harbour Agency and published by Sony/ATV.