Milk & Honey Expands, Rebrands With New Sports Division

Management firm Milk & Honey is expanding into the sports arena. In tandem with rebranding the company as Milk & Honey Music + Sports + Ventures, founder/CEO Lucas Keller has appointed Jacob Presser and Rawleigh Williams as partners in the sports division, which is launching immediately with 15 NFL players.

In a release announcing the rebranding, Keller said, “It was always a vision to launch other verticals within Milk & Honey once we became a mainstay music company. That day is today. We’re incredibly excited to have Jacob, Rawleigh and their roster of great athletes to lead us into sports. Also being from Packer country, where football is the most important thing, makes today an extra special one.”

Dave Frank and Alex Harrow, co-heads of artist management at Milk & Honey, will oversee the firm’s new sports department. The division will operate out of the company’s New York and Los Angeles offices with the addition of a Dallas presence to support the company’s relationships with universities and NCAA Division 1 programs in the South. The sports division’s future plans include expanding into basketball, baseball, hockey, golf and soccer.

Among the NFL players that veteran agent Presser brought with him are NFL players Courtland Sutton (Denver Broncos), Damien Wilson (Kansas City Chiefs), Xavier Jones (Los Angeles Rams), Damiere Byrd (New England Patriots), Kamren Curl (Washington Football Team) and James Proche (Baltimore Ravens). Rounding out the roster are players from the Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Presser’s background includes an eight-year tenure with the Sportstars agency in New York City. Williams, a Texas State Player of the Year, led the NCAA Southeastern Conference (SEC), while playing with the University of Arkansas’ Razorbacks football team. Since earning a master’s degree in operations management, Williams has been working in recruitment.

“After cutting my teeth as an NFL agent over the past 10 years, I couldn’t be more excited to take the next step in my professional journey with Milk & Honey,” said Presser. “From the company’s deep relationships and expertise in the larger entertainment world, to the culture they’ve built and to our shared ethos and vision to scale the company and service our clients, I can’t think of a better group to partner with. Working alongside Milk & Honey’s talented and versatile executives, managers, and support staff has afforded us a unique opportunity to position ourselves as a multi-dimensional next-gen agency where the sky is the limit.”

“Jake and I have talked about working together for many years now,” added Frank, “and I’m thrilled that day has finally arrived. With degrees in sports management and entertainment law, coupled with my immense passion for sports, I couldn’t be more excited to usher Milk & Honey into the space. I look forward to continue building on Jake and Rawleigh’s collective successes and cementing Milk & Honey’s place as a full-service global representation company in both music and sports.”

Milk & Honey, which also has offices in Nashville, London and Amsterdam, was established in 2014. David Hodges, Oak Felder, J. White Did It and Oliver Heldens are among the songwriters, producers, artists and DJ talent the firm represents. Its clients have written hit songs for Drake, Justin Bieber, Post Malone, Selena Gomez and Ed Sheeran, among others.

Olivia Rodrigo Went From Writing One Direction Fanfic to Texting Niall Horan for Advice

Olivia Rodrigo is cruising to global stardom at just 17 years old with the success of her Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single “Drivers License,” and Niall Horan is helping her navigate it all.

In a recent interview with Capital FM, the High School Musical: The Musical: The Series breakout star discussed getting music industry advice from the Irish pop singer while revealing an “embarrassing” One Direction-related hobby she had in middle school.

“I actually was the hugest One Direction fan when I was younger,” she confessed to Capital FM’s Will Manning. “This is sort of embarrassing, but I’m going to tell you anyway. … I used to write One Direction fan fiction when I was in middle school.”

She went into detail about the “cheesy” fantasies she composed, including a proposal from Harry Styles. “Just like the cheesy [stuff], ‘Oh, Harry proposes to you and asks you to be his wife.’ … I was that die-hard of a fan.”

She continued, “So the fact that [Niall’s] reached out to me is amazing. We’ve actually been texting. He’s been giving me advice about the craziness of the music industry. So it’s been really amazing.”

She’s been navigating the craziness of the biz fairly well for a teenager with the biggest song in the world right now. “Drivers License” became her first No. 1 song, debuting atop the Billboard Hot 100Billboard Global 200 and Billboard Global Excl. U.S. charts (dated Jan. 23). “Truly cannot believe this is real life. thank u thank u thank u,” Rodrigo wrote in a celebratory tweet while sharing Billboard’s post.

Rodrigo has also received celebrity support from Halsey, who delivered a cake that read “Congrats Olivia!” and featured an image of a fake Olivia Rodrigo California drivers license with macarons and candy stars along the edges, and Taylor Swift, who commented, “I say that’s my baby and I’m really proud” on Rodrigo’s IG post about “Drivers License” being underneath Swift’s deluxe Evermore tracks on the iTunes chart.

See Rodrigo’s Capital FM interview here.

10 Cool New Pop Songs To Get You Through The Week: Luna Shadows, Audrey Mika, Zoe Wees & More

Looking for some motivation to help power you through another week? We’re right there with you, and with some stellar new pop tunes, we’ve got you covered.

These 10 tracks from artists like Audrey Mika, Luna Shadows, Zoe Wees and Baby Queen will get you energized to take on the week. Pop any of these gems into your personal playlists — or scroll to the end of the post for a custom playlist of all 10.

Baby Queen, “Raw Thoughts”

All hail South African-born, London-based Baby Queen, who continues to demonstrate her promise with new single “Raw Thoughts.” While her latest opens with the detached cheekiness that defined her 2020 output, “Raw Thoughts” then floats higher and higher before landing upon a downright euphoric hook at the one-minute mark.

Audrey Mika, “Excuses”

Twenty-year-old Audrey Mika’s sound gets a little more polished with every new single release: “Excuses,” a light piece of rhythmic pop, recalls Ariana Grande’s early explorations in R&B, with Mika only deploying her full range when necessary and grooving along with the production in the meantime.

Zoe Wees, “Girls Like Us”

Hamburg-based Zoe Wees impressed last year with her debut single, “Control,” but new track “Girls Like Us” is even more well-rounded; it’s a call for female solidarity with a steady vocal take and tons of pop smarts. Under the right circumstances, “Girls Like Us” could make major waves on U.S. pop radio.

Mills, “Hollow”

With his long curls and Kentucky roots, Mills will have you thinking about Jack Harlow — until you press play on his lovable new single and set aside thoughts of “Whats Poppin.” “Hollow” is sun-kissed singer-songwriter music, with a beautifully loping hook that gains texture as the harmonies fully arrive.

Stephanie Poetri, “How We Used To”

The first song that Indonesian artist Stephanie Poetri wrote after moving to the United States for her career, “How We Used To” allows the talented singer-songwriter to reflect on change and look back at the past that delivered her to the present. The interplay between the guitar and percussion here isn’t flashy, but the arrangement effectively helps Poetri tell her story.

Luna Shadows, “Nite Swim”

Catch us diving in to the latest from L.A.’s Luna Shadows, who has unveiled the most luminous cut yet from her upcoming album, Digital Pacific. On the hypnotizing track, Shadows employs some masterful wordplay: “Be the Romeo and the Juliet of our generation/ Except without the dying and the devastation / Infatuation/ Oh, without the miscommunication.”

Christian Leave, “Your Life Your Time”

In an alternate timeline, Texas-born Christian Leave is on tour, opening for Conan Gray or Wallows. Alas, we’re in this 2021, so we’ll have to settle for catchy gems like “Your Life Your Time,” penned alongside Ethan Gruska and appearing on the 20-year-old Leave’s forthcoming EP, Heavy Hitting Hurts My Head.

Julietta, “Not Today”

“Not Today” is an outstanding, optimistic new offering from indie-pop artist Julietta, whose smoky vocals play nicely alongside a ridiculously snappy piano melody. “I know what rock bottom feels like, to be in the dungeons of my mind,” the Angeleno says of the track in a statement. “I’m not scared of it, but I refuse to go back.” Hear, hear!

Dreamers, American Teeth, Wes Period, “Still Not Dead”

Tragedy inspired “Still Not Dead,” as Dreamers lead singer Nick Wold lost a childhood friend to suicide. But he wanted to write a track about one’s “gratitude for all the small things and the big things that we have — our thanks for getting to be alive.” Indeed, this energetic effort will make you want to celebrate all of life’s positives.

Chloe Moriondo, “Dreams”

Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” came about long before 18-year-old Chloe Moriondo was born, but her alluring take on the hit is so good it could have only been her true destiny to cover it.

AJR on Following Top 10 Hit ‘Bang!’ With the ‘Most Extreme’ Album They’ve Ever Made

It looks like it’s time for AJR to plan their “No. 8 Party”: The brother trio of Adam, Jack and Ryan Met broke through to the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 for the very first time last week, thanks to their unstoppable, nearly year-old single “Bang!” hitting No. 9. “We’re not 10, we’re 9!” Jack Met recalls saying to his brothers when the chart updated last week. “So we had the 9 celebration.”

Now on this week’s Hot 100 (dated Jan. 23), it rises yet again, to No. 8, and when the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast spoke to the guys late last week, they said they’ll keep the celebration going as long as the song keeps rising.

“For us, every single one of our songs got big in a different way,” Adam Met says on the latest episode (listen below). “We had a song that blew up on Spotify; ‘Weak’ was just huge on Spotify. ‘Sober Up’ and ‘Burn the House Down’ got really big on alternative radio. And this is our first song that actually is growing on pop radio, and it’s funny that it’s still growing after a year. But it’s crazy that we’re reaching new audiences every time we have a new single. Seeing it grow for so long, I don’t know, I like things that take a long time to grow, because that’s how our whole career has been. It’s just been a slow grow, step by step every year. And for us, that’s better than a massive hit single and then no one ever hears from us again.”

Fans will definitely be hearing from AJR again soon: After tabling their touring plans last year — like so many other artists had to because of the COVID-19 pandemic — the trio was able to buckle down and put together their next album, OK Orchestra.

“‘Bang!’ was originally supposed to be for the deluxe version of Neotheater, our last album,” Ryan Met recalls of their 2019 project. “Because it was like, ‘We need a song out to just get some fresh music because we’re about to tour all year, nonstop!’ … Obviously none of that happened. So we ended up putting out ‘Bang!’ and then we were like, ‘This song’s actually a little different than Neotheater.’ I’m not sure it would have gone on Neotheater, sonically. It feels a little darker, it feels like a next step, being disillusioned a little bit. Neotheater was kind of about putting up a veil, like ‘I’m gonna be young forever!’ And this was kind of like the next step of ‘Oh shoot, what happens after “I’m gonna be young forever”?’ So we thought, ‘That’s kind of the blueprint of this next album — these realizations hitting you.’ So because we couldn’t tour, we spent the entire year of 2020 writing our next album.”

OK Orchestra — due March 26 and being wrapped up “right now, like as we speak,” Ryan says, “a second before we did this podcast, we were working on the last song” — is the most “extreme” of their recent albums, the brothers promise. “We’ve really thought about it as the third chapter in the trilogy that was The Click, Neotheater and now OK Orchestra, which has been both artistically and musically three steps of growing up a little bit,” Ryan says. “And they’ve all been in the same world of these musical swirling trumpets and orchestra stuff. So this feels like kind of the final chapter of that little saga. But more specifically, musically, I think it’s the most extreme we’ve ever been. … We’re just working on a song right now that’s very like Americana, like Dave Alvin, Brandi Carlile, that kind of feel. We’re going extremely in that direction, and extremely in the hard hip-hop direction, and extremely in the classical direction. It’s more extreme than any album we’ve ever made before, sonically.”

In the absence of touring, the guys put together their “One Spectacular Night” livestream concert for fans last month (get a taste of it here), and Adam says it might start a trend for the band. “So many people saw this show that had never been to an AJR show before,” he says, and it made them think, “OK, maybe we should do this in addition to touring so everyone can see the show we’re putting together even if we’re not coming to their city.” The guys also talked about performing “Bummerland” at Sunday’s We the People Concert as part of Joe Biden’s inaugural festivities — and it wasn’t the first time they’ve been invited to perform at a presidential inauguration.

“Four years ago, when Trump was elected, he asked us to play at his inauguration,” Jack recalls. “And I remember being super shocked and then being not so shocked, because I realized what had happened was he obviously went to the A-list artists, and they all said no. And then he went to B and C, and everyone said no. And then he went down to like E or F, which is where we were at the time, and we also said no, fairly quickly, so I’m guessing he just kept going down the alphabet. So now this is a really cool moment that we actually get to do this for real with Joe Biden.”

Also on the show, we’ve got chart news about two eye-popping debuts, as Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License” explodes straight in at No. 1 on the Hot 100, while Morgan Wallen makes country music history with the chart-topping arrival of Dangerous: The Double Album on the Billboard 200.

The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard’s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard’s deputy editor, digital, Katie Atkinson and senior director of Billboard charts Keith Caulfield every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.) 

Tencent Music Entertainment Shares Jump 21% on News of Lazy Audio Acquisition

Shares in Chinese music streaming leader Tencent Music Entertainment rose 21.1% Monday morning (Jan. 19) on news it will acquire Lazy Audio, a Chinese-owned service with spoken word content such as audiobooks and podcasts, for RMB 2.7 billion ($417 million). The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2021.

At Monday’s high point, Tencent Music’s market capitalization was $45.2 billion. That’s well behind Spotify’s $61 billion but still among the most valuable publicly traded media tech companies in the world. The share price retreated to $26.10 by midday. Tencent owns China’s most popular music streaming apps — QQ Music, Kogou Music and Kuwu Music — and the karaoke app WeSing. It was spun off from Chinese tech giant Tencent Corp. in December 2018, raising $1.1 billion in an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange.

Over the past year and a half Spotify has led the streaming industry’s investment in podcasts and other audio content, using the formats to grow beyond music and become a broader audio service. Lazy Audio, available at lrts.me, offers a selection of fiction and non-fiction audiobooks, podcasts and news shows. Tencent Music had already upped its audiobook offerings by reaching a partnership with China Literature in March 2020 to add its long-form audio catalog. (China Literature is a shareholder in Lazy Audio along with the company’s management team and other financial investors.) Now, Lazy Audio will allow Tencent Music to “cater to the increasingly nuanced needs of our customers,” Tencent Music CEO Cussion Pang said in a statement.

Streaming companies are spending big money to chase growth and market share. Lazy Audio’s $417 million price tag alone exceeds the $400 million to $500 million that Spotify earmarked for acquisitions of content producers and podcasting platforms in 2019. Since 2020, Spotify has acquired podcaster production houses Gimlet, The Ringer and Parcast, and bought Anchor, a podcast creation tool for smartphones, and Megaphone, a podcast advertising platform. Not to be outdone, in December Amazon purchased Wondery, producer of such podcasts as Death of a Starlet, Over My Dead Body and Business Wars. Apple Music, Pandora and iHeartRadio are also betting that podcasts are a basic requirement for a music streaming service in the 2020s.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Postponed to Fall: See New Dates

On Tuesday (Jan. 19), AEG Presents announced that the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival will push its 2021 dates from spring to fall. Jazz Fest 2021 is now scheduled for Oct. 8‐17.

“We are all ready to get together again and share that special spirit that lives at Jazz Fest. It’s taking longer than we want, but we’ll all have our celebration when the time comes,” said producer/director of Jazz Fest Quint Davis in a release. “Your health, along with the health of our musicians, food and crafts vendors, and all of the folks that work to make the magic happen, remains the priority as we plan the return of Jazz Fest.”

The festival regularly takes place at the end of April and early May but was forced to cancel in 2020 due to the pandemic. The traditionally eight-day event was once again scheduled for that time of year, but has been postponed.

The event intends to share lineup and other details in the spring on their social media accounts. In the coming weeks, the festival will also announce the process for exchanging or refunding tickets for those who currently maintain tickets for the postponed April event. Ticketholders will receive emails directly from the Festival Ticket Office.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation Inc. is the nonprofit organization that owns the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell. The foundation uses the proceeds from Jazz Fest, and other raised funds, for year‐round activities in education, economic development and cultural enrichment. The annual event is a co‐production of Festival Productions, Inc.‐New Orleans and AEG Presents.