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Music Business Lessons of 2014 Meet Predictions for 2015

With the new year already upon us and the old one in the review, here are some of the lessons 2014 taught us, along with a few fearless predictions for 2015.

First the lessons:

1. Steve Barnett is a hero. He took Capitol from zero to the top of the heap. Shows what an individual can do.

2. Festivals are king. There’s still a question of how many we need, but more will come.

3. Warner Music is an enigma.

4. Publicity is everything. Taylor Swift proved that.

5. Max Martin is the biggest star in music.

6. “The Voice” helps the career of the coaches, but does nothing for the acts competing.

7. All the money is in the ticketing. Conversely, consumers can’t get a good ticket unless they know someone, have a credit card which is sponsoring the gig and has a pre-sale or pay a scalper. Income inequality lives large in the live space.

8. Electronic music still did not break through. The Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas was the biggest festival in the U.S. but it got a fraction of the press of Coachella and Lollapalooza. Then again, the EDM-focused Sahara Tent at Coachella dominates.

9. Streaming won — you can tell by the debate. Just as with Napster, when everybody starts talking about it, the new era is here.

10. A great record transcends genres. Sam Smith sounds nothing like anything else on the radio, yet he triumphed. The public is hungry for new and different — if it’s great.

11. In an era with no credibility, the one-hit wonder is king.

12. We live in a mobile world. Everyone’s wired and connected. Sell to the handset.

13. Sound may be lame on recordings, but it’s living large at the Forum, where a dedicated music space has touring acts and Southern California fans smiling.

14. Art is just a pawn in the game. As illustrated by the Amazon/Hachette war. It’s the writers who suffered. This was a corporate battle fought in secret. We never learned what the deal points were.

15. Universal Music Group chief Lucian Grainge is God.

And the predictions:

1. The major labels will only get stronger. We live in a money economy, and the labels are the only ones willing to invest in artists. The players want cash, the major labels have it, and no one else will get involved because the returns are so bad. The majors have got the radio relationships, which are key to developing acts, and they’ve adapted to the Internet. All the hogwash about disruption was just that — at least for now.

2. The concert business will burgeon. We’re in the midst of a long journey from ownership to access; people want experiences more than ownership of status items. If you’re all about acquisition, the millennials are laughing at you; you’re branding yourself a baby boomer. This is an important change in our country. Virtual goods have value.

3. YouTube may not dominate. That’s the story of the month — how competitors are trying to lock up talent. Once again, it’s all about the acts: The acts have all the power. And he who pays most wins. Google’s deals suck. Just check their ad shares. But artists would rather bitch about Spotify, which pays so much more.

4. We live in an on-demand culture. People want everything at their fingertips instantly. Which is why the concept of windowing in music doesn’t work. If you won’t sell it to me right away, I’ll steal it. Your business model is not sacred: Just ask TV outlets.

5. Baby boomers will continue to run the music business. No significant change will happen until they retire — which is at least a half decade off.

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