Cheer up, flat earthers - at least EMI was bought by a record label

Fri, Sep 28, 2012, 01:00

IT WASN’T THAT many years ago that EMI had The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd Radiohead, Paul McCartney, Coldplay, Sigur Rós, Lily Allen and Kylie – an almost perfect portfolio of high-selling heritage, contemporary cred and commercial chart bankers. It was also an “artist-friendly label”, spiritually an indie but with the financial clout of a major. They also had Abbey Road studios.

But the music industry began to feel the financial chill of rapidly declining CD sales in 2006, and EMI had a collective panic attack when its market share fell from 16 per cent to 9 per cent and it sustained losses of £260 million.

When it was bought by a company called Terra Firma Capital Partners, high-profile artists jumped ship saying the company was no longer a “music” label, more an “asset” that was only there to be stripped.

Stripped it was, and last week the recording part of EMI was bought by Universal (the company’s lucrative publishing division had earlier been swallowed by Sony).

There has been the predictable hand-wringing from “music” people at the prospect of the Universal-EMI merger. Beggars Banquet’s Martin Mills said: “Universal’s arrogance has paid off for them, they destroyed a significant competitor in EMI.” Beatles producer George Martin said: “The takeover is the worst thing that music ever faced.”

Then the Guardian weighed in with “more than 100 years of British musical history extinguished after a sorry tale of greed, piracy and incompetence” under the headline: “Universal-EMI deal: The Day The Music Died”. Goodness me.

Other comments about the end of EMI are merely the music world’s equivalent of jumpers-for- goalposts nostalgia. There’s plenty of talk of the “glory days” and the sort of mawkish sentiment you get from people writing about vinyl records and independent record shops.

What hasn’t been mentioned – and indeed should be celebrated given all that’s happened – is that at least EMI has been taken over by a music label and not another shower of “capital partners”. For the flat earthers who still haven’t got over the demise of the seven-inch vinyl single (and I speak as someone who can almost be moved to tears by my beautiful collection of Ramones’s seven-inch singles), the merger is a victory for “The Man”. But the new reality is there really isn’t any “Man” in the music industry anymore. Now it’s all Apple and Google.

What this merger is reallyabout is the world’s biggest label bumping up its “content” (and what are record labels these days if not libraries with expensive signing out fees?) as it begins to work on “emerging” markets and get on top of the smartphone/tablet music migration.

Lucian Grange, Universal’s chairman, has told a business publication that the new, beefed-up label expects to benefit from the growth of smartphones and tablets in new territories such as Brazil, India and Egypt. This is where all the action is going to be over the next few years as the current best-selling music markets – the US, Japan, the UK and Ireland, Germany – simply aren’t showing any growth.

And going into these territories waving around Beatles and Stones back catalogues – as Universal can now do – is a very attractive proposition.

The mundane truth is that the day the music died was not when Universal took over EMI, or even the day Terra Firma took over EMI. The music “died” when it was first put into digital form (on the CD format) by the industry itself, knowing it could be copied, back in the 1980s. Once the computer went mainstream and Shawn Fanning put up the first illegal music file in 1999, there was never any way back.

Just one loose end from the Universal-EMI deal. For a variety of boring EU regulatory reasons, Universal cannot have (from the EMI stable) Coldplay, David Guetta, Blur, Lily Allen, Pink Floyd, David Bowie or Tinie Tempah. All are currently in a label-less holding pattern. The way things are going now, would anybody really be surprised if they were all signed up by Supermacs?

Mixed bag

One Direction stands accused of “borrowing” from a Clash song on their new single. The world has officially turned upside down.

Muse’s Matt Bellamy says he no longer believes 9/11 was “an inside job”. Fine Matt, but we much preferred you as the indie David Icke.

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