Music Notes

Concord and Fantasy: Berkeley, CA–based Fantasy Records has been sold to Concord Records of Beverly Hills in a deal valued at $83 million, according to a December 4 report from Billboard. The music enterprise of film producer Saul Zaentz and partners, Fantasy is well known for its huge catalog of works by jazz greats Count Basie, John Coltrane, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk, Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson, and Sarah Vaughan, as well as soul and blues stars the Dramatics, Isaac Hayes, Albert King, the Staple Singers, and Johnnie Taylor.

Dave Brubeck was the first artist to sign with the label; its most successful act was Creedence Clearwater Revival, a local rock band from El Cerrito, just north of Berkeley. The band's lead singer, John Fogerty, was a shipping clerk at Fantasy. In the early 1970s, CCR put out a string of hit albums that took Fantasy into the big time, but also set the stage for prolonged animosity between the band and the label's executives.

Old-school artists on the Concord label include Charlie Byrd, Rosemary Clooney, Herb Ellis, Stan Getz, Gene Harris, Tito Puente, and Mel Torme. More recent acts include Karrin Allyson, Patti Austin, Peter Cincotti, Michael Feinstein, Nnenna Freelon, Robben Ford, Marian McPartland, Barry Manilow, Ozomatli, Eddie Palmieri, Poncho Sanchez, and Curtis Stigers. Concord's latest hit is Ray Charles' last recording, Genius Loves Company, a joint production with Starbucks' Hear Music. Together, Fantasy and Concord enjoyed $42 million in global sales in 2003. The combined entity will be known as Concord Music Group, Inc. (CMG), to be headquartered in Beverly Hills, with a San Francisco Bay Area office in the Fantasy building. The combined company has a workforce of about 120 employees, which will be pared down as redundant jobs are eliminated. The Fantasy Records building and recording studio weren't included in the deal, but will be leased by CMG. (The San Francisco Chronicle's in-depth report on the deal can be seen here.)

Scotching piracy: On December 2, police in central Scotland reported that they had confiscated more than $19.3 million (£10 million) in counterfeit CDs, DVDs, and computer games in raids conducted in Scottish cities. The police arrested 28 people; authorities also seized computers, replicating equipment, and bogus copies of hit albums and recent films. David Martin, anti-piracy director of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) expressed amazement that such a successful operation could have been carried out "by one of the smallest police forces in the UK."

Indies vs Sony BMG: Making good on its announced intentions, a coalition of 2500 independent European music labels has made a formal appeal to the European Commission, seeking to overturn the approval granted in July to the merger between the music units of Sony Corporation and Bertelsmann AG. Impala, as the trade association is known, asserts that the presence of the recorded music giant is a monopoly that unfairly controls the market in Europe. It has sought a quick resolution of its complaint by applying to the EC's "Court of First Instance" in Luxembourg. The EC will also consider a complaint referred from the British Office of Fair Trading on Friday, December 4, charging that Apple Computer overcharges UK music fans for songs downloaded from the iTunes music service. UK customers pay 20% more than their counterparts in France and Germany, the complaint charges, according to The Financial Times. UK customers are also barred from downloading from French or German sites, British officials claim.

Canadian iTunes: Apple launched its Canadian iTunes Music Store on Thursday, December 2, pitting it against a north-of-the-border version of Napster, Puretracks.com from Toronto-based Moontaxi Media, and Quebec's Archambault.ca from Quebecor Media, Inc. Canadian music fans can choose among 700,000 songs from the service, priced at CAN$0.99 (US$0.84).

Fanning bounces back: Napster creator Shawn Fanning, now 24 years old, is back with a legitimate download service, Snocap, Inc., which he claims will hinder piracy and improve the bottom line for the music industry by giving the industry stronger control over distribution and pricing. Based in downtown San Francisco, the startup has inked a deal with Universal Music Group. The world's biggest record label, UMG will provide its entire catalog to music fans through Snocap's database. The company is also in discussions with Sony BMG. Snocap has received approximately $10 million in financing, led by venture-capital firms Morgenthaler and WaldenVC, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. A competing legitimate download service, Peer Impact, is expected to launch early in 2005.

Hi-fi online? Santa Cruz, CA–based BlueBeat.com has announced what it believes is the antidote for music lovers fed up with the low quality of most online audio streams. BlueBeat claims to deliver its selections at 320kps (kilobits per second), a vast improvement over the average streaming rate of 64–96kbps. With DSL or broadband cable connections, music lovers can log onto BlueBeat and enjoy "spectacular, crystal-clear sound" via the company's secure online broadcasts. BlueBeat requires downloading dedicated software to stream its content, and expects as many as one million users by spring 2005, according to a December 1 press release. It's a "high fidelity haven, and all free of charge to the user," BlueBeat claims.

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