Why some record deals are being fast-tracked during Coronavirus lockdown

On Saturday April 4, over 350,000 people watched an Instagram Live beat battle between Lil Jon and T-Pain, the right hand side of the screen flooded with heart emojis, the left with comments from numerous verified account holders.

Instigated by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz in late March, the Instagram Live event is a lockdown iteration of the beat battle concept perfected live on stage by the two producers at Summer Jam in 2018.

Timbaland and Swizz Beatz’ Instagram Live battle has since been followed up by a number of other high-profile face-offs from the likes of Sean Garrett and The-Dream, plus Lil Jon and T-Pain.

During one of Lil Jon’s ‘goes’ (on April 4, remember), he played a clip of a new and unreleased song featuring Ludacris and Usher, called SexBeat.

By the Wednesday (April 8), according to entertainment lawyer Doug Davis –  founder of The Davis Firm, which represents Lil Jon (and Swizz Beatz) – a “three-way record deal” had been signed with RCA for Usher, Ludacris and Lil Jon to release SexBeat that Friday (April 10).

“Tunji’s [Balogun] label [RCA] immediately seized the opportunity,” said Davis during a Zoom panel discussion held last week. Called ‘The New Normal’, it was presented by digital marketing agency Gupta Media and also featured RCA’s EVP of A&R (and Keep Cool co-founder) Tunji Balogun, Friends At Work founder and CEO Ty Stiklorius and moderator Bill Werde.

The beat battle was Saturday, we were doing the record deal on Monday and Tuesday,” continued Davis. “We had done a three-way record deal, Usher, Ludacris, Lil Jon by Wednesday to get the record out on Spotify by Friday. That’s how fast we are moving and seizing an opportunity.

“Tunji’s label was unbelievable in how they seized it. That’s how fast it is happening. We are trying monetize these things on the fly and not wait for touring to come back”.

“We are trying monetize these things on the fly and not wait for touring to come back. Sit and wait is not a good business model for what we do.”

Doug Davis, The Davis Firm

This particular story is just one example – as explained during the conversation – of how artists and execs are adapting to the new live-stream dominated, concert-less and self-isolated world, while at the same time trying to maximize revenue opportunities where they can.

One of the key themes across the conversation, in fact, was act fast.

“We’ve been trying to brainstorm where the deals are right now,’ added Davis.

“A lot of that comes down to how you engage with an audience and on what basis. I’m tying to figure out for the near term, in the next few weeks, how we monetize engaging with an audience and not waiting until we’re back on the road selling tickets. Sit and wait is not a good business model for what we do.”

Commenting on hearing Lil Jon’s track preview on Instagram, RCA’s Balogun said: “We have this group chat, where a lot of the A&R team talk about what’s going on and we were all watching the battle and as soon as that song started to get previewed, everyone was like, ‘This needs to drop immediately’.”

“You are going to see the livestream world continue to grow.”

Tunji Balogun, rCA / Keep Cool

Added Balogun: “The  livestream space, mostly on Instagram, but a little bit on Twitch as well, has become the new venue and the new way of seeing a concert or having that live experience.

“The people at Twitch, which is a monetizable platform, unlike Instagram, are working with a lot of different artists and tapping into that technology and looking forward to finding new ways for artists to make money in that space.

“In that capacity, they don’t necessarily have to be playing music.  It can be an artist that loves video games, that wants to play games with their fans. You are going to see the livestream world continue to grow. It wasn’t really a legitimate form of entertainment until this happened. I have literally spent hours on Instagram Live in the last few weeks and it’s been great.”

Asked by moderator Bill Werde if there are conversations taking place behind the behind the scenes at Instagram to make it “less of a limited platform”, Balogun responded that “I know they are trying. They are working hard. They are having a ton of meetings trying to increase the capacity of the platform.”

“Tech companies are going to get smarter about how to empower artists.”

Ty Stiklorius, Friends at Work

Later in the conversation, in response to a question about what parts of the COVID-19 era of the music business will be carried into 2021 and beyond, John Legend manager and Friends At Work founder Ty Stiklorius suggested that artists will continue to live stream in a post-COVID world, but that tech firms will get better at sharing data and allowing artists to generate revenue from live streams.

“I can’t imagine that DJs and artists aren’t going to continue doing [live streams],” said Stiklorius.

“Tech companies, Instagram Live, are going to get smarter about how to empower artists in those spaces, how to make it worth our while, so that we are not just having 300,000 people tune in and not have any access to data around that or access to income from that. That is going to keep evolving in a way that is long lasting and will create new revenue streams for artists”.

Stiklorius also predicted that ticket prices will be “much reduced” when artists can tour again: “Even though we are postponing tours, we are not thinking about touring next year being at the same prices.”Music Business Worldwide

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