Opinion and analysis of the day's music news.

'Trial of the Century' Set To Begin Monday
-- It’s called the “Trial of the Century” in London and in the States it’s a pretty big deal too. Terra Firma’s lawsuit against Citigroup starts in New York on Monday. Media coverage is ramping up this week and will reach a fever pitch when the trial begins. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and several British dailies have mid-week articles that previewed the trial but gave very little new insight.

According to a report at The Telegraph, the lawsuit stands as chance of succeeding as a negotiating tactic. It also mentioned some of the witnesses who are set to testify. Terra Firma witnesses include Riaz Punja, who led the EMI acquisition, and Lenard Tessler, a managing director at Cerberus Capital. Citigroup’s list of witnesses includes David Wormsley, Citi’s head of UK investment banking, and other Citi employees. (The Telegraph)

The Economist on the State of the Music Biz
-- The latest issue of The Economist has a very good, very long article on the parts of the music business that are working. Some parts are doing better than other. For example, a greater emphasis on the concert industry has paid dividends for merchandise companies. From the article: “However much fans pay to get into a venue (and thanks to ticket touts they often pay more than even the greediest artists charge) they tend to have cash left over. This they spend on merchandise. ‘We have grown along with the touring business,’ says Tom Bennett, the head of Bravado, which sells T-shirts and other paraphernalia. Bravado’s revenues have more than doubled since 2007, when it was acquired by Universal Music Group—although that is partly because it has signed up new acts. And merchandise has moved well beyond the arena. Nearly all Bravado’s turnover used to come from sales at concerts. Now about half comes from retail stores.”

It’s a broad article that inserts facts and trade group talking points without needed clarification. Yes, Nokia has bundled the price of music into a mobile phone. No, it hasn’t been popular yet. Yes, publishing looks more stable as the years pass. No, publishing departments are not exactly “cash machines” as long as mechanical royalties are sinking and the sync marketplace is overcrowded.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to see a positive take on the state of the music industry. There are bright spots to stop and admire if you don’t get sucked into the gloom.

It’s best to remember that the industry is transitioning along generational lines. Older fans buy older formats. Younger fans experience music in new ways. What does it mean for the future? The Economist doesn’t seem particularly worried about the future of the superstar musician. The article concludes with this: “Some music executives fret that the stadium-filling acts will not be replaced. It is true that the starmaking machines run by the record companies are creaking. But this does not mean there will be no more popular acts. Musicians will build fan bases in other ways—through social networks, by recording music for TV or simply by trekking from gig to gig (which is how bands became famous for much of the 20th century). Some will rise with a speed that would have shocked their predecessors—witness Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, a 16-year-old singer who was almost unknown a year ago. Those who doubt their staying power may wish to consider that adults have long believed the music their teenage children listen to will not endure as long as the tunes they grew up with." (The Economist)

Weekly Sales Hit 4.88 Million
-- Last week’s album sales were a SoundScan hit 4.88 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That’s barely above the low of the SoundScan era of 4.83 million set in the week ending September 12. As Billboard has noted, new releases have been regularly having weak first-week sales lately. Albums that were expected to debut with sales in the 200,000 to 400,000 range were tallying first-week sales from 100,000 to 200,000.

But what about the other end of the chart? Also worth noting is how many unit sales it takes these days to crack the Billboard 200 album chart. Last week the 200th album sold about 2,000 units. In September 2008 it was 3,000. In September 2006 it was 4,000. As you can see, the minimum to land on the album chart was been halved in about four years. Hit albums are definitely down, but middle class titles as well.

Ke$ha Releases New EP
-- Ke$ha is the latest artist to release an EP while a full-length is still hot on the album chart. “Cannibal” will be released November 22, nearly a year after her album “Animal” hit stores. Once again, Ke$ha has worked with producer Dr. Luke. The EP is practically an album – it will have eight tracks and its first song to radio, “We R Who We R” goes to radio this week.

In years past new material was often bundled with (or chained to, depending on your perspective) an artist’s previous album and released as a special edition. Then the EPs started getting released on their own. With the rise of digital stores, it became easier to put out a release with fewer tracks. Many of them had remixes and live songs and were meant to give fans some new material during the long wait between albums.

EPs are nothing new, but they’re becoming more common with hit artists. Lady Gaga’s 8-track “The Fame Monster” EP has done very well. Justin Bieber quick-released the 11-song “My World 2.0.,” more an album than EP. These releases are not just meant to hold over fans between full-length albums. These are full-fledged releases with songs pushed to radio, videos made and big marketing budgets.

Why are EPs a more common sight on the charts? Maybe they’re being released out of a fear the artist will lose visibility if the label is not releasing a more steady stream of new music. There is a school of thought that says an artist and label needs to actively work to stay in the public’s attention (CMT’s Jay Frank is a vocal proponent of this). Labels today are certainly more adventurous (see Blake Shelton’s six-song EPs) and are no longer satisfied with the old way of getting music to market. And EPs are one way to put out music with a lower price tag.

In any case, this Ke$ha EP shows there is no longer a standard method for releasing music. Releases will come more often and sometimes in smaller packages. It may not mean the death of the album format, but it points to the birth of something else. (Los Angeles Times)

Assorted Links
-- Watch (unless you understand Swedish) Spotify on a TV via Swedish telco Telia’s integration of the music service with digital TV. (Telia)

-- A slideshow on the future of radio. (Media Futurist)

-- Should copyright be treated like property? (Copyhype, via Barry Sookman)