Meanwhile, back to the independent label community, where opinions remain divided about the Universal/EMI deal. Though – cynics might argue – if the major does opt to go with a BMG purchase of Parlophone, the mega-major might lose some of those new-found friends in the indie world, whose recent views on the merger may have been affected by the prospect of being able to buy chunks of the EMI catalogue.
Universal chief Lucian Grainge said he’d give the European indie sector first bidding rights on EMI assets for sale, ahead of any private equity types, if indie labels trade body IMPALA ceased its opposition to his takeover deal. Of course IMPALA did no such thing, even though over half of its board thought it should, so presumably that deal is off. Though, technically, selling Parlophone to BMG would be doing a deal with an independent music company. Albeit one half owned by private equity.
Anyway, as previously reported, not everyone in indie-ville is now supporting Universal’s bid, and the boss of the UK’s Association Of Independent Music, Alison Wenham, is among them. In a letter published in Music Week this week, Wenham confirmed her organisation remained opposed to the EMI deal, even if some of its members had differing viewpoints, stressing that she didn’t buy commitments made by Grainge to IMPALA about his good intentions post an EMI acquisition.
Wenham: “The offer to IMPALA from Universal is beguiling, and is clearly intended to make us believe that a company that has controlled the market for ten years has undergone an epiphany, has seen the light and wants to stimulate the market for others, including smaller companies and digital start-ups. Why such ethical corporate generosity of spirit now?”
Meanwhile Beggars chief Martin Mills, who spoke out against the EMI deal in US Congress last month, has written to the Financial Times to reaffirm his opposition, though, interestingly, he says that if the acquisition does go ahead he reckons any concessions package should include the provisions proposed by the Featured Artists Coalition last week – ie that first bid rights on any EMI assets should go to artists not indie labels.
He wrote: “The proposed sale of EMI Music to Universal will lead to the creation of an unacceptably dominant behemoth and should, I believe, be blocked outright in the interests of open and competitive market, of artistic diversity and of consumer choice. If, however, the European Union decides to go down the remedies road – hard though it is to imagine how any could be sufficiently constraining – my opinion is that there is one place they should start with possible divestments and that is with artists”.
“If there is any adequate compensation and counterbalance for the creation of the controlling entity that would result from this deal, it should be that any artist signed to any Universal or EMI label, currently or historically, should have the opportunity when the companies combine to buy their rights back at discounted market value. This would create a happy single moment of opportunity for artists and allow those who so wished to regain control of their masters and utilise the services of the independent sector to distribute their music, thus strengthening the music community and mitigating some of the worst potential effects of the acquisition”.
He concluded: “Universal should not fear this given what they have said about their motives and artist relationships”.
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