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How My Morning Jacket, After Considering a Breakup, Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Jam

Any fantasies of rock-star glamour are efficiently dispelled the moment Jim James materializes on a computer screen.

Hopping on Zoom from a neutral-looking North Carolina hotel room — gray wallpaper; functional, forgettable furniture — James, an actual rock star, patiently answers questions while oscillating between the room’s desk and a stuffed chair. Mellow and thoughtful, dressed in a black t-shirt with his long hair framing his face, he’s perhaps a bit worn-out-looking, after performing the night prior eight hours north at Queens’ Forest Hills Stadium.

James is in the midst of what must be the most pragmatic tour that his band, My Morning Jacket, has done during its more than 20-year tenure as one of the most righteous live acts on the road. Abiding by a litany of protocols in order to protect the band and crew — and ultimately to keep the 26-date tour in motion — James and his four fellow MMJ members aren’t seeing their friends in any city they play, with reunions and backstage revelry traded for the air conditioner hum of an anonymous Marriott.

“It’s been not the normal kind of fun, frolicking tour experience, you know?” James tells Billboard. “It’s just kind of a keep-it-real-tight COVID bubble, but the shows have been great.”

My Morning Jacket’s return to performing after a four-year hiatus — and 18 months where we’ve all been tucked away at home — has been like sonic manna for the group’s dedicated (bordering on devotional) fanbase. For the beloved Kentucky-bred band, touring during the lingering pandemic is just another variation of the many flavors of solitude that have defined the most recent era of the My Morning Jacket mythology.

But despite this isolation, and also because of it, the group has delivered its ninth studio album, an excellent, eponymous 11-song collection out today (October 22) via ATO Records.

The LP’s creation story started with the group — vocalist/guitarist/lead shaman James, bassist Tom Blankenship, drummer Patrick Hallahan, guitarist Carl Broemel and keyboardist/drummer Bo Koster — wondering if they even wanted to make another album together. In 2019, the band was deep into a hiatus, having last toured together behind their 2015 LP, The Waterfall. The album hit No. 11 on the Billboard 200, becoming their third-highest charting LP after 2008’s Evil Urges (which peaked at No. 9 in 2008) and Circuital, which hit No. 6 in 2011. (The Waterfall II, a collection of outtakes from The Waterfall sessions, was released in 2020.)

But the band — which roared out of Louisville at the turn of the millennium — is the first to say they’re not an act whose success lies in streaming numbers or album sales, with their heady, jammy live shows serving as their primary revenue driver. (According to Billboard Boxscore, 18 shows by MMJ in 2015-16 grossed $2.3 million and sold 52,600 tickets.)

Thus, not knowing if they’d ever make music or tour again put them in both a practical and existential pickle. I think there was a period where we weren’t really sure of how it was going to work out and whether we would still do it or not,” says Blankenship, who considered shifting to creative writing when it wasn’t clear if the band would come back.

Meanwhile, James was physically and spiritually fried. “It’s not like there was like interpersonal drama [in the band] or anything,” he says, “but it takes a lot of energy to conjure up old versions of yourself, and My Morning Jacket’s, been going for so long now. When we perform, I’ve got to find the 20-year-old Jim and the 25-year-old Jim to do these songs. I think that combined with the nonstop touring and how we lived and just being unhealthy kind of burnt me out.”

So for a while, the mighty My Morning Jacket existed in relative silence. That shifted when the group had to decide whether or not to play a pair of shows scheduled at Red Rocks in August 2019. The performances weren’t tied to any release, instead just free-floating gigs on an otherwise vacant calendar. They decided to play them. About 15 minutes into the first night, it was clear My Morning Jacket wasn’t over.

“I mean, I felt it during the show,” says Blankenship. “Afterwards we were just looking at each other, and it was a reaffirmation of the dynamic and how well it works when the five of us are together, and just the love that we have for each other. A couple years can go by, but it’s still there.”

To step into the next phase, the band decided to go into seclusion in the studio, recording at 64 Sound in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, not far from where James lives. “I told the guys not don’t bring a ton of gear,” James says, “and to just bring like, one thing you like, and let’s just have fun and play.”

Unlike their typical recording sessions, this time there was no producer, no engineer, no complicated gear — just five guys who’d been making music together for two decades, playing around with the song ideas James brought to the sessions. “There was no there was no other set of eyes or more importantly ears,” say Broemel. “It was kind of up to us to figure it out.” 

After four weeks total in the studio, My Morning Jacket had a plethora of songs to choose from for their next LP, a list they narrowed down to a tight 11. With song lengths ranging from the three-minute, kaleidoscopic Pet Sounds homage “Love Love Love” to the seven-minute jam “In Color,” the focus was attempting to capture more of the essence of the band’s triumphant live shows in the studio.

“There are moments on the album that sound just like us playing a show, and that’s been really difficult for us to capture at times,” says Broemel. “When we play live, we’re in flow state or whatever, and we’re just going and we don’t care. To bring that mindset into the studio, I think we needed to eliminate anyone else being there. We either need to have no one there, or a crowd.”

The band was ready to release the album by early 2020, and then greater forces took the seclusion they’d been cultivating and multiplied it to a global scale. With the onset of the pandemic, My Morning Jacket postponed the album’s release until they’d be able to tour behind it. And so, just like the rest of us, they went into lockdown… and waited.

“It was a nightmare for me,” James says of the days spent alone in his house during quarantine. “I mean, it was complete isolation. I felt like an astronaut at the end of the Earth.”

About six months into the pandemic, he realized spending 10 hours a day binging Netflix and Instagram were creating an existence he calls “profoundly depressing.” He went back to his native Kentucky and formed a bubble with his family, then eventually returned to L.A., where he formed a small bubble with some friends and took his first trip to see the state’s magnificent giant sequoias. It changed him.

“I was out in these woods and was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to break out of this way of life,’” he says. “So I canceled my Netflix, I canceled my HBO, and I got off social media. I swear, within a few days of doing that, my creativity started to come back. The more I walked, the more I went into nature, the more I just sat and didn’t look at social media and didn’t watch 18 hours of streaming television a day, the happier I got.”

For James, it was a real-time experience of some of the themes explored on My Morning Jacket, with songs like the solemn, lightly psychedelic “The Devil’s In The Details” exploring the vacancy of consumer culture and “going to Sephora to find a different face, with enough paint I’ll disappear without a trace.”

James’ stage ensembles are often accentuated by sequined jackets and hooded capes, but when Zooming in a t-shirt from a hotel room, he exudes the same introspective quality entrenched in the music the band has been making. He naturally shifts the conversation from the importance of self-love (“That’s one of the reasons I started playing music, because I thought maybe if I sing a cool song, then maybe people will love me and then I’ll love myself — but that’s not how it works”) to government (“Politics and religion are just big business, and until we can get past that aspect of deep seated human greed, we won’t be able to get to a place where we have a fair government”) to his own current outlook (“I mean, I’m fine, I’m definitely in a better place than I have been, but I’m searching”). All of these ideas function as themes that make My Morning Jacket’s music both current and durable.

Certainly the loneliness of modern existence is one of the focuses on the new album, as is the healing power of love, with both forces expressed through the music and necessary to the creation of it. Songs about isolation were made in isolation by a band now forced into isolation in order to share them with audiences. But while circumstances will necessitate at least six feet between My Morning Jacket and their fans for the foreseeable future, the power and spirit they exude from the stage is the same as ever — as is the satisfaction they get from playing there.

“I guess for me,’ Blankenship says, “this album is us saying ‘we’re still here’ to ourselves.”

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2 Live Crew Hit With Lawsuit Over Bid to Reclaim Their Catalog

The members of rap provocateurs 2 Live Crew are facing a courtroom fight from a small record label over efforts to win back control of their catalog, in the latest music industry battle over copyright law’s so-called termination right.

In a complaint filed Thursday, Lil Joe Records Inc. asked a Florida federal court to rule that 2 Live Crew is not allowed to use the termination right — a provision that allows creators to regain ownership of their works decades after they sold them.

2 Live Crew is just the latest musical act to become embroiled in a termination battle. Both Cher and KC and The Sunshine Band have recently kicked off such lawsuits, and major record labels are facing class actions from huge groups of artists who want to recapture their masters.

In Thursday’s lawsuit, Lil Joe said it purchased 2 Live Crew’s catalog when the group’s previous label, Luke Records Inc., went bankrupt in 1995. The deal included both publishing rights and masters, as well as the trademarks to the group’s name.

The current dispute kicked off in November 2020, when members of the band notified Lil Joe that they planned to invoke the termination provision and take back control of their music. The notice was filed by surviving members Luther Campbell and Mark Ross, as well as the heirs of late member Christopher Wong Won.

In basic terms, Lil Joe’s lawsuit is asking a federal judge to rule that 2 Live Crew is ineligible to use the termination provision. Among other arguments, the label claims the group failed to file proper notices, and that aspects of bankruptcy law trump the termination right.

Most notably, Lil Joe plans to argue that 2 Live Crew’s music was created as a so-called work for hire on behalf of their record label – meaning the group never owned any rights to their music in the first place. That’s an argument that could come into play in future termination battles between artists and labels.

2 Live Crew’s termination notice was sent to Lil Joe by attorney Scott Burroughs of the firm Doniger / Burroughs, who did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday morning.

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Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar Founders On Celebrating 25 Years and Moving Beyond ‘The Sound of White Male Depression’

This story is part of Billboard’s third annual package spotlighting the trends defining the independent music business.

Long before Secretly Group formed in 2013, two of its initial label divisions, Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar, were just getting off the ground in the Midwest in the mid-1990s.

Neither Darius Van Arman, co-founder of Secretly Group and founder of Jagjaguwar nor Chris Swanson, president of A&R and co-founder of Secretly Group, thought they would become label heads: The former was a math major at the University of Virginia before dropping out. Meanwhile, Swanson had become an active participant in his college radio station at Indiana University. As they individually started to lay the groundwork for their labels, they eventually ran into the same issue: distribution.

“That was how Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian became entwined,” says Van Arman. Early on, he had struck up a relationship with Swanson because Secretly Canadian had started a distribution cooperative of five to 10 labels called Secretly Canadian Distribution. “The idea was to get record stores to return calls. That was the Wild West, where stores were very flaky about paying for what they took in, so the cooperative really lifted the tides for all the labels,” says Van Arman, who in 1999 joined Chris and his brother, COO and co-founder of Secretly Group Ben Swanson, in Bloomington, Ind. “I joke with [Chris] I was his best signing ever.”

Looking back, Van Arman counts Jagjaguwar’s relationship with Justin Vernon and the release of Bon Iver’s acclaimed 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, as an early “game-changer” for the label, while Swanson says one such win for Secretly Canadian was selling thousands of copies of Jason Molina’s Songs: Ohia “way faster than we thought it would,” leading to a repressing that became a crash course in exclusivity: “We hand-numbered [the debut LP original pressings], and it’s like, ‘Are we cheating by pressing it again? What’s the protocol?’ ”

Since then, Swanson says Secretly Group has taken more risks, citing the Secretly Canadian campaign for Antony & The Johnsons’ 2005 album, I Am a Bird Now, as a “watershed moment” that required an “outsize budget.” “There wasn’t anyone doing what [former bandleader ANOHNI] was doing at the time, and it clicked in a way that showed us how much bigger the world was than we had imagined,” says Swanson.

But over time, he “noticed a pattern” with Secretly Group’s releases. “We were really proud of it, but there was a big gap between what we released and what we listened to as fans,” he says. During a 2016 road trip with Jagjaguwar director of A&R Eric Deines, driving through the South at a heated political time in the country, “we were like, ‘Why is it that we pretty much only release white music for mostly white people?’ ” recalls Swanson. “We used to joke, ‘Are we the sound of white male depression?’ And then soon the sound of white female depression as well — and could we be more?”

Today, Van Arman and Swanson stress a key component of Secretly Group that sets it apart from competitors: The label group “partners” with artists rather than “signing” them, and while Swanson says Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian (and Secretly Group overall) have always had a “light touch” when it comes to offering input on an act’s music, “when it comes to the presentation of the album, the marketing of the album, that’s what we love to do.” Which is why, he says, “when I think about our present and our future, [I think of] the work we’ve been doing with Phoebe [Bridgers] and her Saddest Factory Records.”

Looking ahead, Jagjaguwar is doubling down on its digital marketing savvy. Van Arman cites new hires in creative director Robby Morris and digital marketing director Steven Pardo, who reports to newly promoted global director of streaming and digital sales Emily Puterbaugh. “We’re investing more into trying to be more predictive with analytics and looking at signs of ways things can go,” says Van Arman. “Trying to put ourselves in a position where we can see something’s happening in the marketplace and we can do something actionable [rather than] just look at a pie graph and go ‘Ooh, ah.’” At Secretly Canadian, Swanson is set on hiring someone focused on merchandise and soft goods. “The appetite is endless for new services or experts to get in the room,” he says. “It comes down to, ‘What can we afford?’ We don’t want to lose track.”

As both labels now celebrate 25 years — during which Jagjaguwar helped launch Bon Iver, while Secretly Group supported bold artists like ANOHNI, among other feats — Van Arman and Swanson look back on their respective label’s history — and reveal what’s to come.

Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian launched in the mid-90s, why was there an open lane to start an independent label at that time?

Darius Van Arman: One thing happened in the 90s that really [changed] the music industry — this was before peer-to-peer and music sharing and the internet really gutted the value of the music industry — and it was the compact disc. It was fairly cheap to make, much simpler than making vinyl and people were buying it like crazy. It was possible as a label to get the $1-2 per unit it costs together to make 500-1,000 CDs and sell them for $8-12 bucks per unit. There was enough margin…to really spark a lot of small labels to try to do the same. There were still challenges, distribution was a challenge, but if you were able to be one of those lucky labels that figured it out, both in and outside the U.S., then you had these partners who were like, “Please give us as many quality titles as you can.” And it helped really drive growth for your business.

Chris Swanson: I am a little more of a realist with it. I don’t know that there was a need, I think it was more selfish. I wanted to participate on a deeper level in the process, I wanted to engage in music culture more than just as a consumer. It was like, “We could do this, let’s be part of this party.” It wasn’t so altruistic like, “Let’s do it for the artists.” We did come up with a rubric for what our altruism was and what we believed in and everything, that did come, but I think I would be lying if I didn’t say at first it was like, I just desperately wanted to participate.

As your respective labels were getting off the ground, what did you do to better yourself as a label head?

Van Arman: [I was] totally learning on the fly. We had labels we looked up to and had people who helped along the way. In Charlottesville I kept hustling multiple jobs after dropping out of college. I became close to and spent time with David Berman of the Silver Jews and he helped by suggesting I send the second record I released, A Derby Spiritual by the band Drunk to this writer Jennifer Nine of the Melody Maker. And so I sent it in a mailer and then six weeks later or whatever, opened up the NME and there’s a review of the Drunk CD and I’m like, “Wow. People are actually going to review this stuff.” And then about six weeks after that, I’m checking my PO box for the label and there was a check in there for $350 from a distributor who wanted to buy 50 copies of A Derby Spiritual by Drunk. And so it was kind of like, “Okay, I can see now how this works.” And I was naive, I was like, “So if I send out 300 CDs, I’ll get 300 reviews and sell 1500 CDs?” Which is not crazy, but it’s not always that easy.

Swanson: We were very driven and just sopping up any information from all angles that we could, whether that was as music fans and spending all our hours obsessing about records and shows and stuff, or reading everything we could about labels or even more so connecting with other people in the music industry through our radio jobs at first. We would be on the phone, doing office hours as music directors, Eric Weddle and I, and we’d be shooting the s–t with people who either work for or had started labels and it was invigorating. Every conversation was almost like a little mentorship. And so we were just absorbing everything we could, especially being kind of landlocked in Bloomington, it felt like those office hours were so critical to connecting with the outside world, especially with people who were in more active music markets.

How has the role of an independent label changed over the last 25 years?

Van Arman: I remember being on a SXSW panel discussion with a big, very successful artist manager over 10 years ago and he was talking very confidently about, “Hey, artists don’t need labels anymore. I can fund the releases, I can market these releases, I can hire the publicist, I can provide creative consultation to the artist. I can do everything a label does.” And he was absolutely right. And in a sense, I think what he was getting at is we have these traditional notions of what labels are — and the name “label” came from what’s actually put on vinyl, there was a very conventional approach to it. We started entering a time when it really wasn’t the right way to look at our industry as, “Okay, here’s a recording artist and they’re in this box and they only do these things. Here’s a label, they only do these things.” It started to become better to look at it like, “What are the functions necessary for an artist to have a career, to get music heard, to have cultural impact?” So I think when artists were starting to question what labels are and what is the value proposition — and there’s been a many-decades long tradition of very uneven, theoretically unfair contracts that artists had no choice but to sign in order to get access to some of these functions — I felt like there was a healthy independent movement that started to emerge.

Swanson: Especially now in an era where artists can self-distribute, self-release, release something to their fans overnight through Bandcamp or Distrokid, that’s really attractive. Especially because for artists there is a real desire to have close proximity once you’ve finished creating something to have it be expressed publicly. We’ve had to really drill in and figure out what it is that we want to provide to artists and their managers that is going to differentiate us from other labels and from the self-release [format] or working with the distributor option. I think people love to look at the Chance The Rapper model and be like, “Chance did it, I want to do it.” And what you don’t realize is that someone is providing those label services, someone is doing the work.

Van Arman: Now that artists are in a place where they have access to the marketplace more directly I think that’s a very good and healthy thing. That means that the record labels or distributors or marketing companies that actually deliver value, they’ll continue to thrive and survive. Those that aren’t will go away. The marketplace will become more efficient; for every dollar spent on records, there will be, over time, a greater return. And artists have choices, they can call the shots on who they’re partnering with and how things are getting out there and whatever team they put together or whatever pathway to the marketplace seems the most appropriate for them, it’s their decision. I think that’s good, but I don’t think it’s necessarily [true] that artists being more independent means there isn’t still a very important place for labels like Secretly Group or Jagjaguwar.

What are the most tangible ways Secretly Group helps an act grow while staying true to the label and an artist’s independent roots?

Van Arman: The truth is that you can make great art, but you also have to help people get invested in exploring that art. So we have these conversations with our artists about “What kind of storytelling can we do here? What are you comfortable with? How vulnerable can you be, or want to be, in being a character in this story?” But at the end of the day, we want the artists to have complete artistic control. Nothing comes into the world unless it’s fully approved creatively by the artist — and we don’t strong-arm artists into approving one thing or another. We’ll speak honestly and frankly about what we think is best, [but if] the artist disagrees and wants to go another direction and we say, “We commit to your vision, let’s do it.” And I think that has built trust. An example of that was Are We There by Shannon Van Etten and the song “Every Time the Sun Comes Up.” We’re having a conversation [about] the sequence of the record and I shared an opinion that, “Hey, I love the record except this one track just feels too happy,” and the A&R team always makes fun of me because I’m the one who always likes the sad songs. And so I was like, “It doesn’t seem like it should be on the record, is that crazy to say?” And of course Sharon wanted [it] to be on the record and it’s one of her best songs ever, one of the most successful recordings ever.

What continues to set Secretly Group as a whole apart from competitors in the space?

Swanson: I think we try to remain uncynical. Like anyone who’s been obsessively listening to music and sorting it in your brain and in your record bins and your digital record bins or whatever, it’s not hard to become jaded. And we all have jaded moments, but I think the one thing that we’ve tried to maintain is to not become dissuaded by earnestness. I feel like we have competitors out there that become too easily dissuaded by that. It’s really trying to approach things with the same curiosity as adults professionally as we did as kids when you’re just really starting to stir your early obsessive fandom with music. What sparks the inspiration, what gets you excited?

A version of this story originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2021, issue of Billboard.

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How $uicideboy$ Became the Multi-Million Dollar Brand You Never Heard Of

This story is part of Billboard’s third annual package spotlighting the trends defining the independent music business.

New Orleans-bred punk-rap duo $uicideboy$ has never charted on the Billboard Hot 100 or any airplay tally, but it has turned its SoundCloud-era success into an underground empire — and collected 5.3 billion streams along the way, according to MRC Data.

Known early on for its shock-rap style and depression-laced lyrics, the duo’s origin story (which dates back to 2014) involved a long-mythologized suicide pact: If the music didn’t work out, there would be nothing left to live for. Thankfully, it has more than worked out. Today, cousins $crim and Ruby da Cherry are entrepreneurs, launching their own label collective, G*59 Records, in 2017 with distribution from Virgin. This year, $uicideboy$ signed a “strong eight-figure deal” with The Orchard; meanwhile, the duo is on a headlining U.S. tour that has sold almost 500,000 tickets, including shows at Pier 17 in New York and back-to-back dates at the Shrine Outdoors in Los Angeles, following the release of their latest album, Long Term Effects of Suffering.

“When we first started, we wanted to do the exact opposite of what everybody in rap was doing,” says Ruby da Cherry. “We didn’t have nice cars or gold chains, so we just flexed that we were losers, and mixed in some shock-rap and stuff about our mental health issues. We’re just trying to catch people’s attention.”

$uicideboy$ was fully DIY for a while. What made you want to start working with your managers, Kyle Leunissen and Dana Biondi?

$crim: Ruby and I were handling everything for a long time. He’d do the merch, graphics and videos, I’d do the audio engineering and production. We had our roles, but by late 2016, we really needed help. Kyle has been a close friend since high school. I remember he called me one day and said, “You’re letting 70 grand fall through the cracks every year.” That caught our attention. For my cousin and I, $70,000 might as well have been a million at the time.

From there, Kyle and our other manager, Dana, came over and we did a trial run, but it turned into a full-time thing. These guys have been instrumental in helping us get to where we’re at, and by handling a lot of the business side, they’ve helped us focus on doing our creative stuff.

You formed your own label, Grey*59, better known as G*59 Records, the following year. Why was that something you wanted to do?

Ruby da Cherry: $crim and I are from New Orleans. We grew up with [labels like] Cash Money and No Limit, and those guys really inspired us, because we loved seeing a gang of people that acted as one collective, supporting each other and all. I come from a punk background. I’ve always said, “F–k labels, I’d rather start my own.”

$crim: It’s not just business for us. The guys we’ve signed to G*59 are brothers. We aren’t even necessarily looking for hits, we just sign people that we are a fan of. I’m not trying to make a bunch of money off anyone.

$uicideboy$ have a distinct merchandise strategy, with drops about three times a year. Ruby, do you still design everything yourself?

Ruby da Cherry: I used to design everything, and $crim would give his input. Once we got managers, we also decided to get one of our buddies, Adam Arriaga, to take over [our merch]. I don’t have the skills of a designer, so Adam helps me get my ideas out of my head and execute them. Our fans b-tch sometimes about how “Ruby doesn’t do merch anymore,” but what they don’t get is that I’m still approving and working on everything. Adam just has the skills.

How has it felt being back on the road?

Ruby da Cherry: $crim and I were f–ked up on drugs during almost all our other tours. We never got to experience it in the way we should’ve because one of us would be high. The Last Grey Day tour in 2019, I don’t remember at all. It’s nice to have us both in the right states of mind to take it all in. Back then, we didn’t appreciate it the same. I feel so fulfilled during this tour.

When did you both get sober?

$crim: My sobriety date is February 19, 2019. Long story short, I finally got to a place where I wasn’t able to talk to Ruby or my team. I was in psychosis for like, nine months because I was combining so many downers and uppers. I was literally out of my mind. The guys did the healthy thing and they got to a point where they pulled back from me. You know, it’s hard to give motherf–kers like us consequences. Kyle told me at Thanksgiving in 2018 that he couldn’t watch this anymore, and I still walked away. I said I’d get help, but I basically disappeared on him. Then I ended up isolated from everyone I loved. I got to the point of pain where it was unbearable and that’s when I started detoxing at a place in California. To maintain it, I’ve done a lot of therapy and I’m in a couple 12 Step programs that really help out.

Ruby da Cherry: I went to rehab the night of October 26, 2020. It happened after we had a team meeting at $crim’s house and I kept going in the bathroom and snorting s–t. Eventually I took so much I was f–king falling asleep on them in the meeting. Then they had an intervention. I was kicking, fighting, cursing them out. I said I’d never talk to them again. Then I did go and it was one of the best experiences in my life. It made me realize I had my head so far up my own ass. I thought I knew everything. I’ve been trying to rebel my whole life because I hated myself so much. To clarify, I’m not fully sober, but I don’t do any opiates or hard shit anymore. I still smoke weed.

How has being sober affected your latest album Long Term Effects of Suffering?

Ruby da Cherry: Some of those songs I was still f–ked up, but a lot of them were us both being clean. We wanted the album to start off dark and then lift you up with positivity. “The Phone Number You Have Dialed Is Not in Service,” the last track on the album, ends it all on a positive tip; We say, “If life moves on, keep marching on/Even if the finish line is far or you have to push the car, keep marching on.” I’ve learned so much. I don’t want to have learned how to be happy and feel good about my self worth and feel productive and not share that with other people. I’m not going to sit here in this new space and then tell fans I still want to kill myself. $crim and I feel responsible for the messages we put out there.

$crim: For me, when I got clean, I had this overwhelming fear, like, “Will I be able to keep making music if I’m sober?” Obviously that’s bulls–t, and it took a lot of therapy to realize that.

What kind of message do you hope to put out with your music?

Ruby da Cherry: I think our music has a lot of substance to it. I remember this one day we were recording a new song, and we actually had both relapsed with heroin that day. We wrote the song “Low Key.” We looked at each other and said, “Let’s write something real today.” I think that’s when $uicideboy$ really started to speak to what our fans were going through, especially with drugs, anxiety and depression. We all know [those things] exist and people act like they want to help, but they don’t ever do anything. That’s why I hate mental health awareness sometimes, you can’t just make everyone aware. We hope we can do more than that with our music.

Has a fan ever shared a story about how your music affected them that’s stuck with you?

Ruby da Cherry: I remember we played a show in Dallas in 2015, it was the first time we played a show to a crowd of people who were freaking out over the music. Later that night we were selling our merch and I’ll never forget this kid coming up to the table. He told us that the new mixtape we dropped helped him through these tough times, like losing his mom to cancer a few months before. Our jaws f–king dropped. We didn’t know what to say. That’s when we realized, “$uicideboy$ is an ironic name — we are saving people’s lives.”

$crim: There’s been plenty of times where I’m like, “I don’t even know if I want to do this s–t anymore,” and when I hear something like that from fans it gives me a bigger purpose.

You’ve managed to thrive as independent artists. What’s it like to achieve such a tough dream?

Ruby da Cherry: Honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever processed it.

$crim: I just love making music. I work so much, which is not a bad thing. That’s just what I love. I’m always wanting to do more, more, more. But my team helps me slow down and take it all in. When you’re used to growing up without having much, you’re always searching for the next thing. We were doing a soundcheck the other day and Ruby just stopped and said, “Dude, let’s just take this in and stop for a second. Holy f–k.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2021, issue of Billboard.

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3 Categories to Watch at the 2022 Grammys

This story is part of Billboard’s 2022 Grammy Preview issue, highlighting the artists, issues and trends that will define awards season. Read our cover story on Halsey, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross here.

Changes at the Recording Academy — and in the way music’s coolest names make their art — mean these down-ballot categories could be just as exciting (and informative) as the night’s marquee awards.

Best Música Urbana Album

As reggaetón and Latin trap music have become major forces in pop culture, the Recording Academy has seemed unsure of how to recognize those genres’ influence. Over the years, the organization has shuffled the “urban” label among multigenre categories, at different times making its biggest names compete against more traditional Latin pop stars, as well as rock and alternative artists. This new category gives urbano music a chance to shine. Likely contenders include Bad Bunny (El Último Tour Del Mundo) — who won his first Grammy in March for YHLQMDLG in the best Latin pop or urban album category — as well as Anuel AA and Ozuna (Los Dioses), Karol G (KG0516), Rauw Alejandro (Vice Versa) and Myke Towers (Like Myke).

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

A narrower category than the Big Four awards by definition, best pop duo/group performance has often felt just as competitive since its introduction at the 2012 Grammys, especially as pop’s biggest stars have embraced collaboration more in the past decade. This eligibility year has no shortage of offerings: Justin Bieber has released not one but three smash collaborations (“Holy” featuring Chance the Rapper, “Peaches” featuring Daniel Caesar and Giveon, and “Stay” with The Kid LAROI), Megan Thee Stallion gave BTS a continent-spanning assist on a “Butter” remix, and Doja Cat linked up with SZA for the inescapable “Kiss Me More.” Meanwhile, Grammy favorites Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak formed suave supergroup Silk Sonic, but don’t expect to see them compete here — the duo’s chart-topping “Leave the Door Open” will likely be deemed a better fit for the R&B categories.

Best Global Music Performance 

Last year, the Grammys revamped its long-running best world music album category and unveiled best global music album in order to depart “from the connotations of colonialism, folk and ‘non-American’ that the former term embodied,” according to the academy. The impact was immediate: Genre-blurring Nigerian artist Burna Boy won the category with his Twice As Tall album, the closest thing the award had to a contemporary pop star among recent winners, like Angélique Kidjo and Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble. The category makeover will continue to reflect the ways the internet has eroded language and geographic barriers, and it may provide a Grammys foothold for more African pop stars (like “Essence” hitmaker Wizkid) and K-pop artists (whose undeniable chart success has so far barely translated into Grammy recognition).

This story originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2021, issue of Billboard.

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First Spin: The Week’s Best New Dance Tracks From Whipped Cream, Benny Benassi & Ne-Yo and More

This week in dance: There were major moves from Swedish House Mafia, with the trio announcing a set at Coachella 2022 set, dropping their collaborative track with The Weekend and announcing a 44-date 2022 arena tour.

Meanwhile, David Guetta went deep on why he was nervous to release his 2011 genre-defining classic “Titanium,” Elton John and Dua Lipa hit No. 1 on Dance/Electronic Songs via the PNAU remix of “Cold Heart,” Day Zero announced the lineup for its 2022 event in Tulum, UK garage legend Todd Edwards answered 20 questions, and Insomniac dropped a massive EDC Las Vegas compilation, along with the news that this weekend’s festival will also stream in the metaverse via Roblox. And if you still need something to do this weekend, you can also rave at home for a good cause.

And new music? We’ve got it. Let’s dig in.

Whipped Cream & Jimorrow, “Light of Mine”

We’re living in pretty dark times, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had and love to be shared. Next time you’re feeling down, put on this latest single from Whipped Cream, the producer’s first in about a year. Out via Monstercat, the song incorporates a children’s choir singing “This Little Light of Mine,” a traditional gospel tune we all grew up with in one way or another, but of course, Whipped Cream and her producer buddy Jimorrow put a beautiful, hard-hitting bass-trap twist on the classic. 

“‘Light of Mine’ is a song that resonates with me fully,” Whipped Cream says. “The meaning behind the lyrics, ‘this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine,’ is just something I think we all need to understand. We are all born with this light, it’s just a matter of time until it shines. We all have something to offer and at the right time, the light will find its way out of us and into the universe. Keep the light shining!” — KAT BEIN

Benny Benassi Feat. Ne-Yo, “Let Me Go”

Benny Benassi needed the right voice for his new breakup anthem “Let Me Go”; few fill that role better than Ne-Yo. The pop-R&B star has tugged at our heartstrings for years with ballads like “So Sick” and “Do You,” but for many of us, he was also a Trojan horse into the world of thumping dance-pop via 2008 radio hit “Closer.” (Benassi is no stranger to crossover himself, having worked with Chris Brown, John Legend and Jeremih.)

On “Let Me Go,” Ne-Yo isn’t reflecting on a breakup — he’s pleading for one, bringing a sense of devastation and frustration to the dance floor through lyrics like “You treat me like you hate me/Then you beg me to stay.” The production, dark with melancholic undertones, powers up with him as he lays it all out: enough is enough. “This song feels like heartache at a party,” says Ne-Yo. “I see girls singing it at the top of their lungs! Dance to it, cry to it, do em’ both at the same time!” — KRYSTAL RODRIGUEZ

Sonny Fodera Feat. Poppy Baskcomb, “Silhouettes”

After releasing five album singles, including collabs with Diplo and Vintage Culture, Australian house mainstay Sonny Fodera drops his sixth studio LP, Wide Awake. Packed with chic, often darkly hypnotic production, the album deals heavily in hooky melodies and vocal-forward future house and UK garage productions that smartly balance a pop lean with club credibility. Fodera is currently on tour behind the album (out via his own Solotoko label), and will play dates in the U.S. through early November before trekking across the Atlantic for a U.K. run. – KATIE BAIN

Jlin, “Embryo”

“I was just writing trying to get out of my own head,” says Indiana-based producer Jlin of her upcoming Embryo EP on Planet Mu. “I wrote all these pieces in between commissions and trying to stay afloat mentally.” Its title track embodies the restlessness of a brain locked in overdrive. A buzzing, almost mosquito-like lead synth darts every which way among sprinting and whirring electronics. Were “Embryo” a visual, it’d be like trying to follow a pinball in the machine once it’s entered the silver field of bumpers.

Embedded within all this frenetic energy are moments of negative space, which even in their brevity halt all motion with the finality of a brick wall. According to Jlin, “Embryo” was written for Chicago-based new music ensemble Third Coast Percussion, who will release their version of the track in May 2022. That will definitely be a sight to see (and hear). — K.R.

Tibasko, “Icaro”

The UK duo sample a Bulgarian folk chant to haunting, propulsive effect, further establishing Tibasko as one of the most exciting acts currently rising out of the UK. “Icaro” is a swirling heater that reverberates with spiritual-level intensity — the benchmark of a truly great night on the dancefloor. Pete Tong gave Tibasko (a July 2021 Billboard Dance Emerging Artist) his esteemed nod on his Future Stars of 2021 list, and this song  is now out via Three Six Zero Recordings, where Tong is currently president. Star light, star bright indeed. — K. Bain

Ross From Friends, “Grub”

It took Ross From Friends a couple years locked up in the studio to give birth to his sophomore album, Tread, released today by Flying Lotus’ label Brainfeeder. Lucky for him, the rest of us were in lockdown, too. Though the album was not entirely inspired by quarantine living, it does fit well into the quiet, thumping introspection being frozen-in-time can elicit.

This is the kind of music to soundtrack a late-night solo swim in a lukewarm pool, a journey through the darkest recesses of the universe, or perhaps a trip to the astral plane. The album was preceded by the glitchy, bouncy singles “The Daisy” and “Love Divide,” but we’re putting a spotlight on “Grub” for its extra heady appeal. You can’t go wrong with any of Tread’s 12 tracks, so go ahead and dive in head first. – K. Bein

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Nirvana Beats T-Shirt Copyright Lawsuit Involving Dante’s ‘Inferno’

Nirvana has defeated a lawsuit that claimed one of the band’s famous t-shirts was based on a copyrighted illustration of Dante’s Inferno, but the dispute is likely to resurface in a British court.

A California federal judge on Thursday (Oct. 21) dismissed the case against Nirvana and Live Nation’s merchandise unit, which centered on the band’s “Vestibule” shirt – an iconic design that features a drawing of a “seven circles of hell” below the band’s name.

According to accuser Jocelyn Susan Bundy, that drawing was created by her grandfather in 1949 and remains under British copyright. She sued in April, saying she had only just recently learned about Nirvana’s shirt, which was first released way back in 1989.

But U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer dismissed the lawsuit on Thursday, ruling that the case would be a better fit for the British legal system than a Los Angeles courtroom.

“Given that one of the core disputes in this case concerns ownership of the copyright in the Illustration, which is governed by U.K. law, the U.K. likely has a stronger interest, on balance, in this case,” the judge wrote.

More than 25 years after Kurt Cobain’s death, Nirvana merchandise remains popular – and a source of litigation. The band is currently in protracted litigation against Marc Jacobs over the fashion designer’s use of a “smiley face” logo similar to the one used on Nirvana tees.

Bundy’s lawsuit, filed April 28, claimed the image on the “Vestibule” t-shirt was “virtually identical” to her grandfather’s “Upper Hell,” which was published as an illustration in a 1949 translation of the Dante’s Inferno. She cited widespread sale of the shirt and other merchandise.

“Defendants’ infringing products are (or were) sold online and at retail, both in the U.S. and abroad, including but not limited to major retailers such as H&M, Hot Topic, and Walmart,” she wrote at the time.

In addition to Nirvana LLC, the case also named Live Nation Merchandise LLC as a defendant. The band is repped by Mark S. Lee of Rimon PC; Live Nation is repped by Zia F. Modabber of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP.

Nirvana and Live Nation argued that the case was “forum non conveniens” – a legal term for arguing that a case was filed in an inappropriate court. On Thursday, Judge Fischer agreed with that argument, but only with certain stipulations. She said her ruling would only become final if Nirvana agreed to litigate the case in the U.K., and if a British court agreed to hear it.

Taken together, those conditions mean the case will likely continue in the U.K. if Bundy chooses to bring a new case. Inge De Bruyn, the attorney who represented Bundy, told Billboard on Friday that “we are currently evaluating all options, including refiling the case in U.K. court.”

Attorneys for Nirvana and Live Nation did not return requests for comment on Friday.

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Doja Cat Stuns as Princess Kita From ‘Atlantis’ In Star-Studded Birthday Party

Doja Cat celebrated her 26th birthday on Thursday (Oct. 21), and it was a star-studded affair. The “Need to Know” rapper invited several of her celebrity and musician friends to the event — which had an underwater theme — to party with her as she rung in another year of her life.

The 26-year-old arrived to her party dressed in a sky blue two piece outfit, a layered platinum blonde wig, blue contacts and a staff, a costume that made her the splitting image of Kidagakash Nedakh — more commonly known as Princess Kita of Atlantis — from the 2001 movie, Atlantis: The Lost Empire. On Instagram, the Hot 100-hitmaker credited a team of individuals for helping her bring the stunning look to life, and captioned the photoset of images with a wave to symbolize the party’s underwater theme.

Later in the evening, Doja was spotted dancing with a few of her musician friends. In video taken from the event, Doja was seen dancing with Billie Eilish, who stuck to the theme of the evening by dressing up in a red lobster suit and matching Nike sneakers. Normani attended the underwater party and wore a unique interpretation of the theme — a shiny orange mini dress that gave the effect of fish scales. Others notable celebrities in attendance included model Winnie Harlow and Justin and Hailey Bieber, who dressed as a chill King (and Queen) Poseidon.

See all the photos and video from Doja’s star-studded birthday party below.

.@DojaCat dresses as Princess Kida from ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire’ for her birthday party. pic.twitter.com/1JeY5IruAL

— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) October 21, 2021

justin bieber at doja cat’s party. pic.twitter.com/52aCOfFKGp

— beliebers comfort (@irenicbieber) October 22, 2021

#spotted: Billie eilish and doja cat dancing at Doja cats party last night pic.twitter.com/sXp9weNlMw

— Destini’s child (@bitch1sbroken) October 21, 2021

doja cat dancing to mariah carey’s “shake it off” at her 26th birthday party last night pic.twitter.com/ZMjgTwS0A3

— (@butterflyrares) October 21, 2021

Billie spotted at @DojaCat‘s birthday party last night pic.twitter.com/a9yXwsFuEL

— Billie Eilish Tours (@billieeilishtrs) October 21, 2021

.@DojaCat with Winnie Harlow at her birthday party! pic.twitter.com/hcFJhGQ7mC

— Female Rap Room (@girlsinrap) October 21, 2021

| Doja Cat and Normani at Doja’s birthday party. #DojaDay pic.twitter.com/Tcx27Ejw2V

— Doja Hub (@HubDoja) October 21, 2021

Hailey looking stunning at the doja cat’s birthday party pic.twitter.com/yWojmMQGRb

— . (@rhodemode) October 22, 2021

Justin Bieber and Hailey Bieber at Doja Cat’s birthday party. pic.twitter.com/IBe9BTl9Xp

— Bieber Central (@biebercentraI) October 22, 2021

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The adidas YEEZY BOOST 350 V2 “MX Oat” Releases Tomorrow

Initially teased in mid-June, the adidas YEEZY BOOST 350 V2 “MX Oat” finally releases tomorrow, October 23rd.

While the pair’s core color palette isn’t novel to Ye’s adidas-backed footwear empire, the marbling across the Primeknit upper is. And evidenced by other rumored options, the “MX” (which presumably stands for “MIX(ed)”) styling isn’t going away any time soon. hits of navy, orange and muted gold animate the otherwise tonal cream arrangement, with the pattern seemingly having no “rhyme or reason.” Semi-translucent mesh strips at the lateral profile interrupt the colorful flair that takes over much of the YEEZY‘s upper. Underfoot, the ribbed midsole maintains its semi-transparent makeup, revealing the BOOST cushioning it houses.

Enjoy more imagery of the pair here below, and try your luck tomorrow, October 23rd, via the stockists listed ahead.

For more from the Three Stripes, check out the latest adidas Forum styles.

Where to Buy

Make sure to follow @kicksfinder for live tweets during the release date.

UPDATE (09/29/2021):

A US release date is confirmed fo October 23rd, 2021.

Yeezy Boost 350 V2 “MX Oat”
Release Date: Oct 23rd, 2021 (Saturday)

Color: MX Oat/MX Oat/MX Oat

Mens: $220
Style Code: GW3773

Images: Asphaltgold

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Steph Curry’s Under Armour Curry One Retro To Drop In November

In 2015, Steph Curry took the NBA and the surrounding world of basketball culture by indefensible storm. His long-range bombs rewrote the highlight reel, while the Under Armour brand, off the strength of the Warriors star’s meteoric rise, was finally standing toe to toe with the industry giant Nike in the highly competitive basketball shoe category. Before Curry signed with Under Armour and dropped his first signature shoe, the Davidson product was originally signed with Nike, but a half-assed pitch by Swoosh execs, which included mispronouncing his name and forgetting to change out a few details in a copy-pasted template, led to Steph taking his sharpshooting talents to different pastures in the Fall of 2014. What followed was a magical season for the all-time storybooks, the beginning of a dynasty, and a new signature athlete in the mix that would prove to be among the Swoosh’s most irrevocable mistakes in company history.

Smack in the middle of that 2014-2015 season, the Curry One was unveiled and released. Before Steph even won his first ring, the Curry One signature shoe was selling like hotcakes as the 3pt-specialist amassed new fans on the daily by the tens of thousands. An MVP award and a championship was just the plump and juicy cherry on top as it led to a long-running signature shoe line and the formation of the Curry Brand in late 2020.

Over a half a decade has passed, which in this day and age simultaneously feels like mere months and eons ago. The retro of his most successful shoe was entirely expected, and it’s coming this November 2021 according to retailers. The specific colorway is not disclosed, but a release date of November 11th is tentatively set. And based on the product number, we can expect something heavily blue, similar to the popular Dub Nation colorways that have become a tradition in the Curry shoe line.

Stay tuned for updates and photos and we’ll offer updates as they arrive.

Where to Buy

Make sure to follow @kicksfinder for live tweets during the release date.

Under Armour Curry One
Release Date: Nov 11th, 2021 (Thursday)
Color: N/A

Mens: N/A
Style Code: 3026047-400

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Big Money’s Pouring Into Music — Where Do We Go From Here?

Less than a month after a $54 billion stock spinoff by Universal Music Group (UMG), three of the world’s biggest private equity players — KKR, Blackstone and Apollo Global Management — are making billion-dollar bets on the music business.

KKR, which has $429 billion in assets under management and in March announced that it would partner with BMG on a $1 billion fund to buy recording and publishing rights, on Oct. 19 closed its own deal to buy Kobalt Music Royalty Fund II, a package of recording and publishing rights, for $1.1 billion, with a group of investors called Chord Music Partners.

Blackstone, which has $684 billion in assets under management, is also doubling down on the music business. After purchasing performing rights organization SESAC in early 2016 for what sources say was $1 billion and then spending another $385 million earlier this year to buy eOne Music — which was just renamed MNRK — Blackstone has bought a stake in Merck Mercuriadis’ investment management and publishing administration company, Hipgnosis Song Management (renamed from The Family (Music) Ltd.), plus earmarking $1 billion to buy music assets for a private fund separate from the public Hipgnosis Songs Fund.

Apollo Global Management, which has $455 billion in assets under management, is also getting into the music industry by committing up to $1 billion in funding to Sherrese Clarke Soares’ newly launched HarbourView Equity Partners, which will buy entertainment assets such as recording and publishing rights.

Together, these three investments amount to “a game-changer,” according to Guy Blake, managing partner at Granderson Des Rochers, which advised on the sale of Timbaland’s producer royalties to Hipgnosis, among other deals. “This is the highest level of investors coming into the music market,” says David Pullman, the investor who did the “Bowie bonds” deal in the 1990s and now runs The Pullman Group, which buys music publishing rights and other entertainment income streams. “The industry doesn’t get any more accepted by Wall Street.”

Even bigger funds could be waiting on the sidelines, say sources — including PIMCO (with $2.2 trillion in assets under management and currently sniffing around music asset deals; and BlackRock (with $9 trillion in assets under management), which invested $300 million with Primary Wave Music in 2015.

Smaller private equity players have been investing in the music business for years. That list includes the likes of Northleaf Capital, with $18 billion under management, and Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (“CDPQ”) entering a strategic alliance just last week with the Spirit Music Group and bringing $500 million to the table; Providence Equity, with $45 billion in capital commitments, backing Tempo Music to the tune of $1 billion. While besides having backing from Blackrock, earlier this year Primary Wave did a deal with Oakview Capital Management, which invested ing $350 million in Primary Wave Music, buying an undisclosed piece of the company as well as providing funding for music asset acquisitions.

What’s drawing the bigger investors now into the music space are the number of recent deals that near or exceeded the $100 million mark. Some executives believe big players like these won’t be interested in transactions smaller than $25 million; and some, like Barron International Group chairman/CEO Lisbeth Barron, think they’re aiming for deals worth $250 million or even $500 million. And while they may be initially committing $1 billion to the market, Pinnacle Financial Partners executive vp music sports and entertainment Andy Moats says they can afford to pull the trigger on bigger acquisitions should a deal prove attractive enough. “They don’t have maximum investment ceiling,” he says.

Other factors attracting big equity is the search for higher returns. “Interest rates are so low that institutional investors have no ability to invest in bonds, which leaves investment managers with a mountain of cash that needs to go somewhere,” says a music asset trader. Or, as Moats puts it, “There is a ton of liquidity in the market looking for a place to invest when they can find yield.”

When investors look around, they see music as a growing marketplace, with steady and reliable income streams that are recession proof and are not correlated to the stock market — as was proven during the pandemic.

“Where better to invest that to put their money in an industry that is recession proof, with reliable and growing revenue,” asks Lisa Alter, partner with the law firm Alter, Kendrick & Baron, which often handles the legal aspect of many music asset deals. Or as the investment banker Barron puts it, the private equity investors “see positive cash flow in a growing industry unrestricted by geography and unhindered by political events or how the economy is performing.”

Over the last five years, the music industry has experienced changing circumstances that have attracted private equity firms, Barron elaborates: The growth of streaming has transformed consumer behavior and whereas the music industry was once concentrated in Europe, North America, Japan and a few other territories, “it is now undergoing globalization with a growing presence in China, India, Korea and throughout South America.” On top of that, she adds, millennials are spending more money on music than past generations, while technology advancements in smart phone and speakers are boosting music’s availability. And new income streams are also coming from social media, gaming sites and fitness businesses like Peloton.

At a time when music assets are already trading for historically high multiples, it’s possible that this influx of more potential buyers with even deeper pockets could turn out to be too much of a good thing. “That has to cause pricing to go up in the short term,” says one music asset buyer. As demand grows, there’s also a question of whether supply can hold up. “It seems like now we have a lot of money chasing a finite amount of assets,” says another music asset buyer.

It’s also possible an increase in the capital gains tax could slow music assets coming up for sale. President Biden seems intent on raising taxes and some fear any increase to the capital gains tax might be retroactively applied, affecting deals already made this year. This would diminish the payout rights holders have been receiving and, if that increase is large enough, sources say it will absolutely impact the sales of music assets. In fact, if the capital gain tax is raised too high, songwriters who want to cash out might instead revert to taking loans out against their publishing rights and royalty payments or even look to securitize debt similar to Bowie bonds, according to financial sources.

The bigger question, though, is whether one or more of these private equity firms will try to roll up its investments, either by combining recording and publishing rights or matching them with a distribution or technology platform. (Blackstone and KKR could already be making tentative steps in that direction.) While it would be difficult to buy any of the major labels, there are plenty of smaller companies that would make tempting targets for a roll-up, says Barron.

And when private music companies are trading at 20 to 22 times EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) and UMG now trades at 30 times EBITDA, the market is obviously rewarding scale, notes Round Hill Music founder/CEO Josh Gruss, who says, “That is quite an arbitrage there.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2021, issue of Billboard.

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Neumos in Seattle, in a Pandemic: Ticket Sales Have ‘Dropped Off a Cliff’

As co-owner of Seattle’s popular independent venue Neumos in Capitol Hill, Steven Severin has been a staple in the Seattle music industry for more than 20 years. Roughly 10 years ago, he helped create the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association to bring together the area’s live event insiders, and for the past 16 years has helped run Neumos with its sister club Barboza and the accompanying Runaway bar.

As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we have been speaking with Severin regularly to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the last installment here and see the full series here.)

What’s been going on with you since we last talked?

I’m trying to wrap up the SVOG stuff and get it done. It’s still not done. We’re waiting for our invitation to apply for the supplemental grant. There are so many layers to it. So many fingers to point and blame people for stuff. It was also a monumental task, so I don’t know how frustrated or really bummed we can be. Even though I am frustrated and bummed. A bunch of people have gotten their supplemental grants, we just aren’t one of them yet. It will come. I am not sweating it too hard. I am sweating more all the shows and cancellations and no shows.

Are a lot of shows still getting cancelled?

All of that is still really tough. It depends on the crowd if they are coming or not. It depends on the age and the genre. Young kids, they’re coming. Older people, they’re not really coming. When we made offers six months in advance, we didn’t think to take age into account. ‘Oh, it’s a 40+ crowd? They aren’t going to come.’ Sh*t. I just lost thousands of dollars now. We thought we would be in the clear by now, but we’re not. Other parts of the country are similar. But it is really pronounced here because we’re taking the virus seriously. People are being really careful about it, which is smart to some extent and paranoid to some extent.

Are you losing out on ticket sales for shows or people buying tickets and not showing up?

It’s both. We’ve seen a dip in ticket sales for a while now, but over the last month they have dropped off a cliff if it’s an older crowd. Hip-hop and EDM fans, they’ll come out. They don’t care. Quicksand, not a chance. We’ve sold them out every time they’ve played here. This time, we didn’t even make half of what we normally do. It was bad and a bummer for the band. It’s not the band’s fault. The no-shows are a little bit better than they were earlier in the year (20-30%), but not a whole lot. This is October. November is usually even busier.

Are the people who aren’t showing up requesting refunds?

No. Nobody is requesting refunds. I think that people understand. They are going to buy a ticket and they may or may not come. We need ticket sales to cover bands, but that 20-30% no-show rate is rough. We make our money selling beer and booze. If people aren’t showing up, we can’t make money. It’s still a big sh*tshow and I don’t know when it is going to even out.

Is the COVID-19 situation getting better in the Seattle area?

For sure. The number of vaccinated people is up. Hospitalizations are down. Things are moving in the right direction for us, but I don’t think that is really changing consumer confidence.

How are things going with the National Independent Venue Association?

It is so nice to be thinking on the offense instead of on the defense. Like, how do we push the music industry forward. It is such a refreshing place to be since we’re always chasing something. NIVA has done a fantastic job and we’re really going to be able to make some noise in the next five years politically. We’re a trade organization so we won’t be saying, ‘Back this candidate,” but there will be chapters and we’ll talk about who supports what. We’ll give everyone the information and let them decide. That is influence we will have because of what we were able to accomplish. People listen to us now who would have never ever listened to us. It’s pretty cool.

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