Revealed: The Top Power Moves of 2019

Daniel Ek and Dawn Ostroff, Sylvia Rhone and Elicia Felix-Hughey, Maren Morris and Irving Azoff, Nile Rodgers and Merck Mercuriadis
Portrait Illustrations by Ëlodie

Clockwise from top left: Daniel Ek and Dawn Ostroff, Sylvia Rhone and Elicia Felix-Hughey, Maren Morris and Irving Azoff, Nile Rodgers and Merck Mercuriadis

Accompanying the 2020 Billboard Power List, Billboard editors identified four of the boldest actions of the past year by music industry leaders.

Below, read about the top four power moves from 2019, ranging from Spotify's efforts to reduce costs and approach profitability to Jon Platt setting the example in hiring women to top music business roles at Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

Spotify Flexes Its Muscles

"Every songwriter and fan of music should stand up and take notice," said National Music Publishers’ Association president/CEO ­David Israelite, reacting to Spotify’s March 2019 notice that it would appeal the Copyright Royalty Board’s decision to boost payments to songwriters and publishers by 44% between 2018 and 2022. It was one of three moves by the streaming service — with 113 million subscribers, the world’s largest — that riled the industry as it sought to reduce costs and approach profitability.

In February, Spotify launched in India despite a legal injunction from Warner Music Group over songs published by WMG’s Warner Chappell (the two sides reached a deal this month). Spotify also filed an antitrust complaint with the European Commission about the way its rival Apple sets and changes its app store practices. Spotify “is using its particular moment in the marketplace to protect the moat they’ve built,” said one industry executive at the time. “Why wouldn’t they?”


The Music Artists Coalition Muscles In

“Artists don’t really have a seat at any table. Just the fact that we have a powerful group of people will scare everyone else to the table,” said Irving Azoff, who, in July 2019 — along with fellow talent managers Coran Capshaw and John Silva; a group of artists that includes Don Henley, Dave Matthews, Maren Morris, Anderson .Paak and Meghan Trainor; and a number of industry executives and attorneys — formed the Music Artists Coalition to advocate for and protect artists’ rights.

The organization hired Jack Quinn, former White House counsel under the Clinton administration, as its president; partnered with the RIAA and American Association of Independent Music to secure an amendment to California’s AB5 “gig economy” law affecting independent artists, songwriters and producers; and spoke out in support of Taylor Swift over her claims that her former record label Big Machine had prevented her from performing a medley of her hits at the American Music Awards.


Women Take Bigger Music-Biz Titles

“It is a responsibility, but certainly not a burden, to bring talented, diverse people along," said Jon Platt in an interview with Billboard shortly before taking the reins as Sony/ATV Music Publishing chairman/CEO. In the interview, he spoke about the need for more diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He then set an example, over the past year hiring three women for high-level positions: senior vp global human resources Elicia Felix-Hughey, senior vp broadcast and media rights Cathy Merenda and senior vp corporate communications Dana Baxter. And though women are woefully underrepresented in the songwriting and production ranks of the industry, according to the second investigation by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (released in February 2019), there were some positive developments in the industry’s C-suites: In April, Sylvia Rhone was promoted to chairman/CEO of Epic Records.


Hipgnosis Snaps Up the Hit Songs

“I can’t play the guitar. I can’t write a song. But I can advocate very well for artists,” said Hipgnosis Songs Fund founder Merck Mercuriadis, discussing his yearlong spree acquiring songwriter catalogs. The former manager of Elton John and Beyoncé, who deals directly with songwriters, has raised over $800 million to purchase the catalogs of Jack Antonoff, Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart, The-Dream, Timbaland and Snow Patrol keyboardist Johnny McDaid, who co-wrote “Shape of You” with Ed Sheeran, among other hits.

Behind the scenes, executives in music publishing and the recorded-music industry express concern over how Hipgnosis, which went public in 2018, has driven up valuation multiples for songwriter catalogs, but Chic co-founder Nile Rodgers, who joined Hipgnosis’ advisory board (and is managed by Mercuriadis), offered a different perspective in an interview with NPR. Hipgnosis, he said, “has demonstrated to the financial community that hit songs are as investable as financial instruments as gold or oil.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 25, 2020 issue of Billboard.


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