The Good News is the Bad News is Wrong: Universal Invests in the Future with UMUSIC Hotels Venture

According to some good news in Fast Company, Universal Music Group has announced that “the first three locations for the music-focused hotel partnership with Dakia U-Ventures are Atlanta, Orlando, and Biloxi, Mississippi.”

These locations will be pretty massive music-themed hotels under the UMUSIC hotel brand and at least one casino built around live music venues and integrated into the local music culture in Atlanta, Orlando, and Biloxi, Mississippi.

At first blush, the venture may look like the Hard Rock chain, but as someone who remembers the Hard Rock when it was a kind of cheesy bar in Mayfair where the lads went to make new friends, the project is well above that rather low bar so to speak.  Frankly, the Hard Rock franchise was never a place that seemed more welcoming to music than it was to tourists (or perhaps the AVN Awards).   (“Look, mommy, there’s a musician! Can we feed him?”)  The Universal venture looks far more sophisticated with a far more thoughtful integration of music into the brand and the local music economy.  And, of course, with a much, much bigger on-site investment.

You may be asking why would anyone invest in hotels during a pandemic and that is exactly the question.  It takes a certain fearlessness and optimism to undertake this venture.  Another good thing about the project is that it will be in a different end of the market than typical local venues.  If anything, once we get to the other side of the lock down the UMUSIC hotels will complement and even drive business to the local venues if typical festival economics is a guide.

Given the scale of the plans, it will take years to complete the project and open for business.  Right away, this tells you that these are patient investors who are making a very big bet on the future of live events and especially the future of live music.  

Of course, what I like most about the project is that the venues are not being built in New York, Nashville or Los Angeles and are locating in areas that have rich music cultures away from the “centers”.  I don’t know that this was part of the planning, but after the lockdown it will take a while for fans to be willing to travel long distances to experience live music, so why not bring it to the fans.  (You could make the argument that all three of the proposed locations are within driving distance of a major megaregion.)  

The Universal project should also be a big message to Congress that the Save Our Stages movement is not a bunch of hippies they can ignore.  It should also be a message to people like the Mayor of Austin that you cannot just shut down an event like SXSW that contributes over $300 million in economic impact to your city with no plan to make up the vast amount of harm they inflict from a single government action–other than turning independent venue spaces into Uber Eats.  Eight months later, they still have no plan, and frankly I don’t see any other “music city” stepping up either.  Which is no excuse for any of them, but makes the UMUSIC hotel project even more important.

Live music is as deserving of strategic industrial planning as is competing for an Amazon facility or a Tesla plant, and we should thank Universal for their leadership in putting together the optimistic partnership that highlights that reality–even for the dim lights in the Live Music Capitol of the World.  

A long term commitment to live events and the infrastructure that supports a live music culture is desperately needed now.  It’s fitting that a music company puts together the private investment to show the rest of the public and private sectors the good news that we are coming back and that the bad news is wrong.  And guess what?  It’s not digital.

 

Pandemic: Virtual Venues, Old School Collections and Audits Become a Practical Reality

As the effects of coronavirus quarantine efforts keep expanding, artists who were able to survive into the second decade of the age of piracy are now watching their live show revenue dry up, too.  From festivals to major tours, club shows, everything is cancelled or cancelling, sometimes months out.  Show guarantees are evaporating.  Even if there were a vaccine and a cure tomorrow, it will take months for the industry to reorient itself and rebook cancelled shows–assuming the venues survive.  Many will not.  (If you doubt this is happening because it hasn’t happened to you–yet–see David Crosby’s sobering interview with GQ.)

And that’s the crux of it.  We need to keep the artists alive and we also need to keep the venues alive, including the bars and restaurants that provide the infrastructure for “entertainment districts”.  I’m working on the “Keep Austin Weird Pledge” that is focused on the venues, but this post is going to focus solely on the artists.

Artists facing a sudden constriction in their base line revenue really have to bust a move right about now.  I think you need to plan for the worst and hope you are pleasantly surprised.  But realize that you may also be unpleasantly surprised.  Like the First Rule of Electronics Repair, you have to make sure that you are collecting what you are owed and perhaps consider auditing your royalties, particularly for indie labels and publishers.  Signing up for collections, reviewing black box and the more complex virtual venue set ups are all things you can do from isolation as long as you have a phone and an Internet connection.

Remember–just like you can’t pay your rent with exposure or data, social media alone won’t save you.  It’s time to start monetizing.  We are leaving the age of promotion and entering the age of sales.

Virtual Venues

Virtual venues have been a growing sector for years now, often as an afterthought for artists who are accustomed to higher end touring.   No longer.  A virtual venue relationship is not a “nice to have” anymore.  Getting paid is not something to be sneered at as a “paywall”, an expression invented by the ad supported, but this requires some thought.

The grand daddy of virtual venues is Stageit run by Evan Lowenstein and backed by partners like IBM.  (I’ve been a fan of Stageit for years, starting with a 2011 post.)  There are a handful of others as well as listed in a good checklist generously assembled by Cherie Hu that is well worth reading and following as she updates it.

Not only will virtual venues exist as part of an artist’s commercial repertoire, they may actually come to be part of reality for brick and mortar venues, too, a la the old Digital Club Network.  If a venue has a strong brand, just like an artist with an active fan base, there may be value in considering an installed simulcasting package.

Make Sure You Are Signed Up With Collecting Societies

The first thing that an artist should do when concerned about cash flow is make sure that  you have tied down the obvious–if you are a songwriter, make sure your PRO  knows where to find you and that they are not holding any money for you (this would be ASCAP, BMI, GMR, SESAC).  On the mechanical side, check in with HFA, Audiam, CDBaby for the same reason.

For artists and label owners, be sure you have joined SoundExchange.  To my knowledge, SoundExchange is the only PRO that pays on a monthly basis.  I always urge artists and labels to join SoundExchange as a member (as opposed to simply registering) as you can tap additional income streams.

SoundExchange also has a look up portal so you can see if they are holding money for you, which is a box you need to check.

You should also check and make sure that the union intellectual property funds are not holding money for  you or can’t find you.  If you are a union member, check with your local to see if there are any residuals floating around that haven’t found their way to you yet.

Although it’s not a collecting society, you should also check the Spotify class action claiming portal at Song Claims (powered by Crunch Digital).

If you were signed to a record company or music publisher at some point in the past, even if you are currently signed, make sure they know where to find you.  They may have money for you.  If you have your own distribution agreements, then take a look at those, too.

You can also look at companies like Lyric Financial that may give you an advance on more substantial royalty earnings, and companies like AdRev can go out to collect YouTube monies for you.

Audits

While not an immediate source of funds, it may be worth it to consider a “royalty compliance examination” or “audit”, particularly if you are a label or publisher with audit rights against digital distributors.  Audits can be conducted largely remotely, and sometimes even a desktop audit can shake loose some monies based on undeniable mistakes.  Consult your business manager or accountant to look into this as desktop audits can be conducted remotely.