Thursday 21 June 2012, 12:39 | By

Mills reaffirms opposition to Universal’s EMI deal, but Sean Parker comes out as a supporter of the takeover

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Martin Mills

As some key figures from the music industry prepare to discuss Universal Music’s proposed acquisition of the EMI record companies in the US Congress later today, Billboard has published a great interview with one of them, Beggars Group’s Martin Mills (of course every interview Mills gives is great, but a focus on the EMI sale makes this one particularly interesting).

Reconfirming his opposition to the proposed takeover, the Beggars man told the US trade mag: “I believe that this [deal] will damage the market and will hurt the opportunity for independents and other smaller majors to access the market. I think it’s about dominance in market share, market control, and I just don’t think that music is a commodity, using the word loosely, which should be subject to that kind of dominance”.

With Universal now expected to offer concessions to regulators in the Europe to address concerns listed in the Statement Of Objections they handed to the major this week, Mills was asked if that would allay any of his fears. “I don’t really think that’s the issue” he replied. “I don’t think that some small divestments really solve the problem. I think the problem of having one super dominant player in the industry is too big to be solved by small remedies”.

But what about recent reports that Sony Music actually had a bigger market share in the first quarter of 2012 than Universal? Does that not show that opponents to the EMI deal are exaggerating UMG’s dominance, Billboard’s Andy Gensler wondered. Mills: “There was a week last year in the UK where my company had a bigger share than Universal, let alone Sony. Maybe it was more than one week. But I think the Adele record has been a phenomenon [and] you can’t draw any conclusions from that. What you should do is look at the second biggest independent record label. I think what this is about is the biggest player trying to increase and re-establish control of the market and put the genie back in the bottle, when I think [the rest of us] like the genie out of the bottle”.

Mills was also asked about why he – as the British boss of a British record company – had been asked to speak in front of America’s Congress. Admitting he wasn’t really sure why he’d been approached, he pondered: “I did a similar thing at the House Of Commons quite a few years ago on consumer pricing, so I have done it in the UK. I guess my label is fairly prominent in the independent world these days and I’ve been fairly outspoken about this merger and so I guess they probably wanted somebody to put that point of view”.

You can read the full interview with Mills, including his thoughts on Sony’s bid to buy the EMI publishing company, here.

Meanwhile, as Mills, former Warner Music CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr and Gigi Sohn of American lobby group Public Knowledge prepare to diss Universal’s bid to buy the EMI labels in Congress later today, the mega-major won a new supporter for its EMI ambitions yesterday in the surprise form of Napster co-founder, former Facebook President and current Spotify advisor Sean Parker; though you do sense that whenever Parker takes part in a Q&A at a conference these days he arrives with a killer voxpop that will grab the headlines, and I’m never sure how much he really believes what he says.

The EMI deal came up right at the end of a conversation at the New Music Seminar between Parker and the event’s founder and Tommy Boy Entertainment boss Tom Silverman. According to Billboard, Parker said, after stressing he wasn’t speaking for Spotify on this issue, that after “twelve years of the music industry languishing” and with it still being in a “difficult transitional period”, Universal buying EMI would “ultimately be a good thing for an industry that needs leadership willing to drive change”.

Of course, regulatory investigations into Universal’s EMI bid are still ongoing in the US and Europe, though according to Music Week the previously reported (and only slightly pointless) separate investigation in New Zealand has given the acquisition the all clear, despite opposition from Warner and key independents.

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