While plenty of music industry players have hit out at Universal’s plans to buy the EMI record companies – Beggars chief Martin Mills and legendary producer George Martin perhaps most notably – some others have expressed indifference to the acquisition, while others still have given their backing to the proposal that the EMI labels be absorbed by the world’s biggest music firm.
Joining that latter camp this weekend just gone was Jim Beach, manager of Queen, a band signed for most of their career to an EMI label, before moving over to Universal once the private equity twonks at Terra Firma were in charge at the British major. Remembering his experiences of EMI of old, and then under Terra Firma’s leadership, he wrote in a letter to the Times on Saturday: “Today’s music business is very different to that of 40 years ago, when the band I represent, Queen, began its career with EMI Records. Then the company was a hugely influential creative force in the UK and overseas. It gave us extraordinary music across virtually every genre, and its artists shaped the tastes of more than one generation”.
“But”, he continued, “the latter-day EMI Records under private equity proved to be a very different place. Investment was slashed to the detriment of the artists, Queen among them, and we were not alone in jumping ship. I look forward to when EMI Records will again be owned by a music company as there are still great artists and executives there who need more creative people at the top”.
Over in the US, a recent feature in The Tennesean on the EMI acquisition, while noting Warner Music’s opposition to the deal, also quoted three players from the local indie music community who expressed indifference or even a positive attitude to the merger. Tom Baldrica of Average Joes Entertainment told the paper: “Whether you’ve got four majors in town or three – it’s still the same battle for us, but there’s one less Goliath”.
Meanwhile David Robkin of Bigger Picture Group said: “The merger might even help independent labels, which attract artists precisely because they aren’t big, mainstream companies. We’re competing not necessarily based on dollars, but based on time available and creativity and flexibility, and I think that’s something that as companies consolidate and get bigger – it actually creates opportunity for us”.
And Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Records remarked: “Consolidation doesn’t matter as much in a digital world. When the major labels controlled the distribution channels, it was a different deal, but now the barrier to entry is literally turning on your computer. If I continue to make great records by great artists, nobody can stop us”.
In the interests of balance, let’s remember George Martin – a former EMI employee – recently said: “I am saddened that great companies have been swallowed up by the giants, and the domination of the recording and music publishing industry by Sony and Universal can only lead to a virtual monopoly in the European market”.
Meanwhile Beggars chief Mills said: “We fear Universal’s acquisition of EMI. The mere fact that it controls 50% of the artists that media and retail want already gives them leverage other companies don’t have. [Adding EMI's artists] obviously gives Universal more access, but it also gives other people less. When one party has the ability to be so dominant, it’s going to be difficult for anything outside the mainstream to come through”.
Competition regulators in both the US and European Union continue to investigate Universal’s proposed EMI acquisition.
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