Kellie Pickler Embarks on Sixth USO Tour; Ray Price, Willie Nelson Work on New Albums; Carrie Underwood Donates Concert Proceeds to Charity

Juli Thanki | December 18th, 2012

  • Kellie Pickler embarked on her sixth USO Tour, entertaining service members in Afghanistan and aboard the USS John C. Stennis.
  • LeAnn Rimes will perform her new single on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno tonight. (via press release)
  • After losing her voice, Carrie Underwood donated the proceeds from a recent Des Moines show to charity because she wasn’t satisfied with her vocal performance.
  • Jewly Hight interviewed Reckless Kelly’s Willy Braun for CMT Edge.
  • Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, Brad Paisley, and Rascal Flatts made Billboard’s list of the 25 highest-grossing tours of 2012.
  • Restless Heart is kicking off a 30th Anniversary Tour in January; they’re also planning to release some new material in 2013.
  • Willie Nelson’s got two: “I have one coming out called Face The Music And Dance, with my band. I’ve always loved that Irving Berlin song. Then I have an album of duets with girls called Who All The Girls Are. I sing with Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash and Barbra Streisand – that’s something I have long wanted to do. There will be 12 collaborations in all, with songs old and new. One song, brought by the producer Buddy Cannon, is a unknown song written by Waylon Jennings, one of the last he wrote, called ‘She Was No Good To Me.’ And I get the chance to sing with Dolly Parton again, on a beautiful song she has written called ‘From There To The Moon And Back.’”
  • Big Machine is withholding new releases from Spotify. Says Scott Borchetta, “We’re not putting the brand-new releases on Spotify.  Why shouldn’t we learn from the movie business? They have theatrical releases, cable releases. There are certain tiers. If we just throw out everything we have, we’re done.” 
  • Jon Caramanica of The New York Times writes about Nashville and its music: The soundtrack goes out of its way to ground the show in the city’s un-flashy side. The alt-country Allison Moorer sings background vocals on one song, and the perennially almost-made-it Sarah Buxton on another. The recordings feature well-regarded Nashville musicians like the mandolinist Sam Bush, the fiddler Casey Driessen and the guitarist Ilya Toshinsky. In one episode the local roots rocker Lindi Ortega appears to spoil Avery Barkley’s (Jonathan Jackson) dreams of opening for the Lumineers. But these are insider references on a show that is more “Desperate Housewives” than “Austin City Limits.” When Mr. Miller and Mr. Burnett make music for Rayna and Juliette, they rely on musical density and heavy Auto-Tuning, which falls somewhere between a true-to-life representation of pop-country and a critique of Nashville’s center, a not-so-subtle assault on the town’s mystique. If a bunch of actors (some with formal musical backgrounds, some without) can come along and, in the right hands, make music as credible as the people who get paid to do it as a career, then has the music been devalued? That’s a case only an outsider would make.
  • Ex-University of Montana basketball player Sam Riddle is a “budding country music star” in Vegas.
  • Robert Plant joined Patty Griffin onstage Saturday night at a benefit show in Austin.
  • Bluegrass Today’s John Lawless previews the upcoming John Driskell Hopkins-Balsam Range collaboration, Daylight.
  1. J.R. Journey
    December 18, 2012 at 10:52 am

    I think Big Machine and Mr. Borchetta are making a big mistake – one motivated by greed, I might add – by keeping their new releases off Spotify. Today, with an never-ending number of artists and new releases literally at the consumer’s fingertips, there’s no place for the old exclusion economics model. (Are you hearing this, Garth Brooks?)

    If the consumer cannot hear Big Machine artists on Spotify or other streaming services, odds are he’s just going to move on to the next artists and forget about yours. By not throwing out everything you have, you’re done.

  2. Jon
    December 18, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    WTF? You think Taylor Swift needs to give Spotify her music for what amounts to nothing – on the same day that it’s released for sale in physical and digital formats (which is what Borchetta’s talking about; see “brand-new releases”) – in order to bring it to the attention of fans?

    Big Machine almost certainly made more money from the 1st 10 minutes of sales of Red than it will *ever* make from Spotify. Given the insanely grotesque difference in revenue between sales and streaming, any other strategy for artists on the level of Big Machine’s roster than the kind of windowing Borchetta’s talking about is tantamount to heaving fistfuls of $10 bills into a furnace.

    The only way your argument makes any sense is if the demand for music is utterly fungible – that if a listener can’t hear Taylor Swift’s new music on Spotify when she wants to, then instead of opening iTunes (or browsing over to amazon.com or running down to Target) and buying it, she’ll just move on to listen to someone else’s music on Spotify AND BE JUST AS HAPPY. Which is one of the dumbest notions imaginable.

    I suggest that for the New Year, you resolve to give up mindless (and manifestly inaccurate) platitudes like “there’s no place for the old exclusion economics model” and buckle down to actual music business analysis. Because that sure as h-e-double-hockeysticks ain’t anything close.

  3. Ben Foster
    December 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    I agree with J.R. I understand the conventional wisdom of making the consumer have to pay to hear the music, but in this day and age, it will only dissuade would-be fans from checking out artists’ music.

    Can’t wait to hear that new Ray Price record!

  4. Michael A.
    December 18, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Oh, good. Since we’re assigning New Year’s resolution to everyone, I suggest Jon learns how to be more diplomatic and less condescending in his comments. He may find that it facilitates a more enjoyable conversation.

    Regarding Spotify, I would guess it’s a generational thing. It is how many listeners (most under 30, I would guess) find new music and probably make decisions about purchasing.

  5. Barry Mazor
    December 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Perhaps JR and Ben will explain to us if they believe “fans” should have to pay to see live shows, and why THAT’s different from paying for recorded work. Maybe it’s just “conventional wisdom” that you need, so far, to pay for tickets-and what could be more “exclusionary” than that.

    -Barry ( a loss leader since birth)

  6. nm
    December 18, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Jon’s right, though, however rude he may be. Taylor Swift’s numerous fans have demonstrated that they are more than happy to pay to own her music. The idea that they will stop wanting to own it, and won’t take the trouble of clicking a mouse a couple of times to get it, if Spotify doesn’t have it the day it comes out, strikes me as missing something important about fandom. And even if every single one of her fans is so detached from insider music stuff as not to know when she’s got a new record coming out, I’m sure Big Machine’s advertising budget can get the word out to them.

  7. Jon
    December 18, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    There wasn’t anything enjoyable about the original post.

    And the plain fact is that, as far as anyone is able to measure, terrestrial radio is still a much more widely used and effective means of music discovery than Spotify, including with people under 30. In fact, if every single Spotify user were under 30 – which is manifestly untrue – terrestrial radio would *still* be kicking its *ss in raw numbers of listeners in that age group.

    Don’t get me wrong, I know what the trend is, just as I know what the trend is with respect to CD sales. But just as there are still hundreds of millions of CDs being sold right now in this country alone, there are still hundreds of millions of radio listeners in this country alone; compared to that, streaming services, including Spotify and Pandora (which, to those with an actual interest in the business, aren’t the same kind of thing), are still pretty puny – and, more importantly for this discussion (which is about a record label’s strategy to MAKE MONEY FROM ITS RELEASES), they, unlike, say, satellite radio, don’t make up for in revenue what they lack in delivery of ears.

    With Spotify, the unmistakable high-level assessment is this: great for the user (which is why I’ve been a paying subscriber almost since the day it debuted in the US), terrible for the artist, label, songwriter and publisher. Especially if you’re a high-profile artist on a big label who’s already getting significant terrestrial radio airplay and enjoying significant popularity. Which is kind of a description of Big Machine’s roster, isn’t it?

    And since it seems to have passed unnoticed by J.R. and Ben, at least, let me point out – again – that Borchetta did not (N-O-T) say that these artists’ work wouldn’t be available on Spotify; what he did say is that the label would be controlling *when* their latest releases would be made available. Not the same thing.

    If you’re going to stick words and phrases like “today” and “in this day and age” and “conventional wisdom” and “old models” into your discussion of a subject, you ought to have some idea of what is actually going on in this day and age and what the models actually are; similarly, if you’re going to talk about business strategies, you ought to have some actual knowledge of the business involved.

    So here’s a challenge, phrased with all the diplomacy I can muster: without resorting to platitudes about “old models” or far-fetched propositions (like, for instance, that Spotify subscribers aren’t already familiar with Taylor Swift), can anyone describe exactly what the downside is for Big Machine’s bottom line in following the strategy Borchetta describes?

  8. J.R. Journey
    December 18, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    I didn’t say music fans are entitled to free music, whether it’s streaming, live, or physical copies. But I do think a label – any label, even one with the best-selling artist in the world right now – should be promoting its acts in every avenue possible. Like Spotify: where every other artist on every major label gets their music released immediately.

    And yes, I do think the music should be on Spotify for “nothing” as you say. It’s on the radio for not much more than those same pennies. Radio/streaming and where the twain shall meet is pointless to this discussion anyway. They’re both the delivery systems to the public. Why wouldn’t a label head want his artists and their product to be in as many places as possible? And as soon as possible? Services like Spotify are primarily a sampling place for most of us. Out of the last 10 albums I purchased, I’m sure I listened to more than half in their entirety on Spotify before I bought them.

    With an artist like Taylor Swift, there probably isn’t much downside to not releasing the album for streaming. She has the selling power to post big number right out with or without ‘traditional’ modern outlets. Can I say that Red not being a streaming release hurt Swift’s sales? No. Can Borchetta and Big Machine say for certain this strategy boosted its sales? Certainly not. U.S. sales of Red are pretty even with Speak Now as of this many weeks in stores. And I think your grand statement “Big Machine almost certainly made more money from the 1st 10 minutes of sales of Red than it will *ever* make from Spotify” is terribly flawed. I’m sure the company recouped its investment several times over in first week physical CD sales alone, but what part of public delivery system do you not understand? When the album is available for 24/7 streaming, sales of the entire album and individual singles (and the music videos, etc.) are boosted exponentially. Yeah, yeah, it’s going to be on there eventually you’ll say …

    Here’s where I think this kind of ‘show me the money’ attitude will hurt Big Machine/Valory – and lots of other labels if they follow suit – is with less established artists than Swift. And if a delayed-streaming release business model is deemed to work, you can bet it will trickle right on down to every artist on the label. The record buyers are a lot less likely to buy an act’s album/songs if they can’t hear everything first. Because they can hear everybody else. On every other label.

  9. Rick
    December 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I think Scott Borchetta’s idea is the only logical way to maintain CD and download purchase sales numbers with artists other than Taylor Swift. It motivates existing fans to make a purchase when an album is released rather than the label getting paid a pittance from an online cloud source like Spotify. If other labels don’t follow the same policy, I think they are cutting their own throats.

    Since ABC’s Nashville cast members had to prove they could sing prior to being hired, it’s not surprising they could make decent sounding music. Also having top flight songwriters, musicians, and producers involved doesn’t hurt matters any. T-Bone Burnett is doing a fine job and I commend him for it. I will admit I purchased the soundtrack song “I Will Fall” featuring the Gunnar and Scarlett actors. Good stuff!

  10. Jon
    December 18, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    “Like Spotify: where every other artist on every major label gets their music released immediately.”

    Sorry, but that’s just not true. See Rihanna, whose latest release was withheld from Spotify *after* T-Swizzle’s (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/rihanna-spotify-singer-withholds-unapologetic_n_2198213.html). See Coldplay. See the Black Keys. See Adele. All of whom have been reported as windowing releases at one time or another, leading Spotify execs to complain publicly. Pay attention!

    “With an artist like Taylor Swift, there probably isn’t much downside to not releasing the album for streaming.”

    Exactly my point, and exactly the opposite of what you originally said. Especially given that you keep leaving out the not irrelevant word “immediately.”

    “Can I say that Red not being a streaming release hurt Swift’s sales? No.”

    And yet, that’s exactly what you did: “By not throwing out everything you have, you’re done.”

    “Can Borchetta and Big Machine say for certain this strategy boosted its sales? Certainly not. U.S. sales of Red are pretty even with Speak Now as of this many weeks in stores.”

    In a market where CD sales have noticeably declined between then and now. So what reason is there to think that windowing has hurt? Indeed, it’s thoroughly plausible that the same level of sales now as opposed to 2 years ago is a sign that the strategy is at least marginally successful.

    “When the album is available for 24/7 streaming, sales of the entire album and individual singles (and the music videos, etc.) are boosted exponentially.”

    This claim has been made – for streaming, for piracy, etc., etc., etc. – for many years now. And, for just that long, it’s been essentally unsubstantiated. It’s getting to the point where one begins to wonder if maybe there isn’t a tiny bit of ignorance, or wishful thinking, or downright dishonesty behind its incessant repetition.

    “And I think your grand statement “Big Machine almost certainly made more money from the 1st 10 minutes of sales of Red than it will *ever* make from Spotify” is terribly flawed.”

    It’s a bit hyperbolic, I’ll admit, but do the math. The most charitable estimate that I’ve seen suggests that it takes one hundred and forty 140 Spotify plays of a track to generate the SRCO royalty accruing to one (1) sale thereof. The most charitable. By a considerable amount.

    “And yes, I do think the music should be on Spotify for “nothing” as you say. It’s on the radio for not much more than those same pennies.”

    Ah, that’s wrong – well, to be precise, it’s wrong as far as songwriters like Ms. Swift are concerned; the songwriting royalties she collects from terrestrial radio dwarf those from Spotify. Similarly, the royalties that Big Machine collects from satellite radio dwarf those from Spotify. And in other countries, where terrestrial radio pays royalties to SRCOs, those dwarf those from Spotify.

    “Radio/streaming and where the twain shall meet is pointless to this discussion anyway. They’re both the delivery systems to the public.”

    I’m sorry, but “delivery systems” covers up more than it reveals. The critical distinction – recognized in law, by the way, when it comes to setting royalty rates for digital transmission – is between services that allow users to select what they want to hear when they want to hear it and those that don’t. Radio – terrestrial, satellite – is the latter, and so are many webcasts. Spotify is the former. (Pandora is something of a hybrid, which is one of the reasons why it’s so controversial from a royalty point of view).

    This means that, as long as Spotify has the rights to a record, you can listen to it whenever you want, wherever you want, as many times as you want, as long as you’ve got a data connection (and if you’re a premium subscriber, you don’t even have to have that; you can store it for offline listening). As long as you keep paying your $10 a month, you effectively own a bazillion recordings. And that is hardly pointless (sic) to this discussion.

    Like I said, Spotify’s great for the consumer (that is, any consumer who would otherwise buy an average of one (1) CD or its equivalent or more per month), but terrible for artists, songwriters, record labels and publishers, because its payouts are UNBELIEVABLY LOW, and the purported promotional value is speculative, even for relatively unknown artists. For major ones, like Swift and others on Big Machine (you have heard of Rascal Flatts, haven’t you?) windowing a release in the manner Borchetta described – and don’t forget, you can listen to the current *single* from Red on Spotify right now – has no observable downside.

    Which means that your original post, the one that I took exception to, was just wrong.

  11. J.R. Journey
    December 19, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    I’m not going to get into a pissing contest with you over this because it’s obvious you have nothing else to do but drink bottles of water and wait for the next round. I do not have that luxury so this is my last reply. I do have to say that you are implying I flip-flopped my stance after my first comment and that’s not so. I still say that stalling the streaming release is a cash grab attempt by the record labels. Read: bad for business in the long run. And I’m not at all convinced that because music is on a streaming cloud service that consumers are less likely to buy the music themselves.

  12. Jon
    December 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    I’ve done lots of other things since this discussion began, many of them related to deeper interests in and knowledge of the country music business (and quite possibly the music business in general) than yours.

    Hobbyists, though I hasten to add that many choose to forego them, can afford platitudes. People living off of what they make working in an industry, whether it’s Borchetta, or Swift, or Barry Mazor or me, can’t; they have to pay attention to specifics and details, make thoughtful assessments and regularly test them against reality. If they don’t, they’re likely to wind up – unless they’re unusually lucky in some form or fashion – becoming hobbyists.

    When you pay attention to details, you notice that the differential between what the purchase of a track pays and what a Spotify play pays is so big – the former is at least 140 times bigger than the latter – that *if* windowing results in even a minor (i.e., 1 or 2%) bump in sales, it more than pays for itself. And if it doesn’t, what harm is done in the case of artists already known to millions of listeners and viewers, already reaching the ears of their core audiences with (essentially windowed) single releases to radio, already selling millions of records, already selling millions of dollars worth of concert tickets? These are artists with generally developed audiences, not in great need of exposure – especially to listeners who are already demonstrably more interested in music than the average Joe. Even you acknowledge that for such artists, there “probably isn’t much downside” in windowing a new release.

    No, comparing the apparent risk-reward ratios here, I’ll take windowing as a sensible, winning strategy – at least until I’m shown some concrete reason to revise my opinion.

    Which a platitude ain’t.

  13. SMunro
    December 20, 2012 at 10:54 am

    You know that someone has had their ass kicked when you read these words: “I’m not going to get into a pissing contest with you…”

  14. Eric
    December 22, 2012 at 9:34 am

    I’ve enjoyed this discussion about Spotify. However, it’s largely a moot point considering that all of the songs from Red are on Youtube anyway.

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