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Taylor Swift could make history on Sunday if she wins the most prestigious music award, album of the year, for the fourth time, becoming the first female artist to do so since the Grammy Awards were created in the 1950s, besting legends like Frank Sinatra.
But behind its commercial and cultural triumphs is a music industry that seems less certain this year.
Swift was truly the toast of Los Angeles this week, as the music industry's most influential executives and artists gathered for events surrounding the industry's biggest night. In addition to the glamor of the ceremony and red carpets, the Grammy Awards carry business implications, with winning artists typically receiving a boost in sales and streams as well as more clout in future contracts.
Swift, whose sales accounted for an estimated 2 percent of the total US music business last year, was larger than the entire jazz or classical music genre. crowned Most Powerful Person in the Industry by Billboard – an accolade the music publication typically bestows on male executives.
At 34, Swift defeated a room full of them on Wednesday night, including the head of her own label, Universal Music CEO Lucien Grainge, who was bumped to No. 2 on the Billboard rankings. “Never in my entire career have I been so happy to be number two on the list.” Sarcastically Grainge is super competitive.
However, Swift's success is an anomaly, not an indicator for the rest of the business.
Universal, the industry giant that Swift was signed to, is set to lay off hundreds of employees in the coming weeks. The company will not hold its annual pre-Grammys showcase of artists, a typically lavish event, for fear of appearing insensitive amid the sales, according to people familiar with the matter.
The CEO of a major music label described the mood in Los Angeles this week as “hangover” after several years of explosive growth. “We are in a different phase now,” the CEO said. “Let's face it.”
Other music companies have also been cutting jobs — notably Spotify, the streaming service that laid off more than 2,000 workers last year. Warner Music last March cut about 4 percent of its staff, or 270 jobs, while publishing company BMG laid off nearly 40 employees in October.
The music industry is still growing, but at a slower pace than it boasted in previous years when streaming was in its infancy. In the nine months to September 30, 2023, Universal's revenue rose 7% year-on-year. In comparison, its revenue growth in the corresponding period in 2022 was 24 percent. Other music groups are seeing a similar slowdown.
Meanwhile, anxiety over artificial intelligence has swept the music industry in recent months, while two industry pillars, Universal and TikTok, are locked in an all-out brawl over money. After heated licensing negotiations collapsed, Universal made a dramatic move this week by pulling its music from TikTok.
In a sign of how tense relations between the two countries are, the two companies have publicly traded barbs in the past few days. TikTok called Universal's move “greedy” and “self-serving” while Universal accused the Chinese social media group of “bullying.”
Starting Thursday, Swift's music was systematically removed and muted on TikTok, along with songs from Universal's massive lineup of stars like Ariana Grande, Drake, Lana Del Rey, ABBA and Olivia Rodrigo. Fans are already getting used to it Covers Their favorite songs to listen to are their TikTok posts.
Noah Kahan, the rising star who was nominated for “Best New Artist” at the Grammy Awards, expressed concern about his label's decision. “I won't be able to promote my music on TikTok anymore… I'll probably be okay, right?” he said in a post on the app. “I'm going to land on my feet, right? Right?”
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