“The music industry landscape is now being rearranged on a daily basis” Mark Sutherland

So here they come: primped, preened and desperate to “couple up” while a huge audience watches and ponders what the hell the world has come to. No, I’m not referring to the Love Island contestants, currently “cracking on” to each other somewhere much sunnier than South London. I’m talking about the music industry, which right now is indulging in the sort of acquisition/joint venture/strategic partnership frenzy that would probably see the Casa Amor crew referred to Ofcom were it to be broadcast on ITV2. Are you ready for Hot Deal Summer?

Maybe it’s the industry-wide excitement at the prospect of a return to normality post-pandemic. Maybe it’s the financial impact of 15 months in isolation on some sections of the business. Or maybe it’s because, for the first time since the mid-‘90s, other parts of the music industry are awash with cash, whether self-generated or from external investment vehicles.

Either way, if you’re not currently in discussions to sell or buy something – anything! – you’re in serious danger of being left behind.

So Atlantic UK forms a JV with Ireland’s Trust It Entertainment. Tencent invests in Gaana. Sony buys a majority stake in Alamo Records. Universal Music Group sells a 10% stake to Pershing Square Tontine Holdings. And that’s just in the last few days!

The music industry landscape is now being rearranged on a daily basis, often with eye-watering sums being exchanged. And that’s before we even consider the publishing and masters buyout gold rush that’s been going on across the business ever since Merck Mercuriadis’ Hipgnosis first spotted an opportunity. We now live in a world where David Guetta’s recordings catalogue sells (to Warner Music) for over $100 million and where Noel Gallagher can basically tout his song collection for sale for hundreds of millions several years before he’s in a position to actually offload them.

Of course, few people would begrudge veteran artists and songwriters a big payday, although I suspect the younger creatives also selling off their rights may live to regret it, one way or the other. But the sheer amount of cash sloshing around the business is distorting things for many.

That’s why PIAS – a storied independent music company that’s released countless classic artists over the years – recently announced a “strategic alliance” with Universal Music Group: to help it compete with the new breed of IPO and private equity-fuelled disruptors (although PIAS remains fully independent). Not so long ago, indies and majors rarely cooperated, now they’re very much better the devil you know, rather than dealing with the City and Wall Street sharks currently circling the industry like the Love Island lads when a new bombshell arrives.

The influx of outside cash is also creating ownership webs so complex they make the average LI love quadrangle look straightforward. Once its IPO goes through, Universal will be owned by Vivendi (10%), Tencent (20%), PSTH (10%) and whoever buys in during the stockmarket float (60%). Tencent also has a stake in Warner Music following the WMG IPO, and has a slice of Spotify (which has a similar stake in Tencent). Universal also still owns Spotify shares, while Warner owns a controlling stake in Deezer. In this world, it seems like pretty much anyone is 100% someone’s type on paper.

Does any of this actually matter? After all, the music industry has seen M&A frenzies come and go in the past, and it’s still here, so why not just make like all of those wannabe influencers in the villa – shrug and say sagely: “It is what it is, babes”.

Because to plenty of people in the industry it remains important that artists have as many options as possible when it comes to bringing their music into the world, that’s why. Yet, purely because they’re independent, indie companies are the most likely to be swallowed up by bigger fish. How many services companies have gone that way in recent years? Even Kobalt-backed AWAL, recently bought by Sony despite being built to disrupt the major label system the way Kobalt has the publishing world, ultimately couldn’t compete.

And the other big question – one that is all too rarely addressed when these deals are done – is how much of the money filters down to the people who make and write the music? Most of the companies involved in these deals have been built on the blood, sweat and tears of artists, yet rarely will those creatives benefit directly – or even indirectly, if they have the misfortune to have the wrong sort of deal.

True, to their credit, Sony has recently written off recoupment for older contracts and BMG has made huge strides in making itself a truly artist and songwriter-friendly company. But all too few others have followed suit and the deal frenzy will mean that many industry players, particularly the newcomers, won’t look beyond the bottom line, let alone do anything progressive that might potentially impact it.

As the industry and the world returns to normal, it’s important to not forget to reassess how this industry works. Artists and songwriters are the key workers of the business and they’re sick and tired of being mugged off with a round of applause rather than a fair share of the proceeds (especially with the ongoing live music and post-Brexit touring farragoes). The industry should be concerned that so many creatives think they can only secure their financial futures by selling their rights, rather than by holding onto them.

From the #FixStreaming and #BrokenRecord campaigns to the spate of artists telling it how it is on social media, there’s a clear direction of travel for the industry if it wants to do the right thing. Yet with consolidation narrowing the options and putting dollar signs in eyes, there’s a danger that commercial interests once again trump creative ones.

And, lest we forget, whether you’re on reality TV or in the music industry, the best unions are true partnerships that endure for ever based on mutual respect, not just brief liaisons based on a mutual love for attention and a desire to make a fast buck.