At the moment, Guy Hands, the newest owner of EMI, in unveiling his new plan for the company. He will cut 2000 jobs, refocus on A&R, rewrite the model to attract more revenue from touring and merchandise, and do away with things like advances* (in favour of a reward system) and even management structure throughout the world.
There is a lot I can say about why this model is insane. But the point is - EMI don't sell CDs. They sell artists. And yet their whole plan is about making more money of the artists' output, than investing in the artist.
So you have a company that has no staff left to take care of the artist, and a very public backlash from the major artists, and they expect to sign new bands for less money and ask them to give EMI more ways to make money off them?
Worse still, this could kill EMI. And it’s smaller, more famous labels. Parlophone, who had the Beatles. Capitol, home of Sinatra, Beach Boys and Crowded House (also the Beatles in the US). Virgin Records. Hands will either sink it, or turn them into corporate brands like Paramount.
So maybe I’m being a stick in the mud here. Yes, I’m biased. I’m a big fan of the old labels. They loom large in my legend. Mo Ostin is my hero the same way Bob Dylan is my hero. My interests in music extends past the sound, to the culture of it all. Album covers to radio stations, great music venues to musicians favourite films. To me that’s all part of the rich tapestry of being a music fan.
I also played in bands for a long time. And in a funny twist, I hated marketing anything I was involved with. When it came to playing music, any thoughts about leaking tracks or viral campaigns (let alone corporate sponsorship and digital royalties) were not anything I gave a shit about. I didn’t start writing songs so I could make my childhood dreams come true of assigning ISRC codes to tracks.
(Fuck, I didn’t even like mastering)
And I know a lot of people in bands, and want to be in bands. And I have conversations with those people. And we all want to make money, but we all want to play music. Its common for a band who has some audience to take a low advance for higher royalties. REM did that back almost 20 years ago. Are EMI going to try and convince bands to take the money over exposure? Where does that lead them on their second album?
It’s the problem with the Radiohead model. They made more money than ever, but sold less albums. Sure, they do more than enough of both to survive. But so many bands don’t. And will Radiohead continue to lose their audience now?
But at the heart of this is the philosophical argument for me. I work in the industry of music. There is a ‘coolness’, an un-attainability. A credibility, at heart, to put out music to the world. And by the world, I mean taxi drivers, nurses and kids in the suburbs, not what the Indies are doing.
This could all come from the fact I watched Jerry Maguire recently. And yes, he went for the money. But the success came with the personal touch. Investing in your artist – taking the risk together. You have to protect, as well as exploit, your artists. But artists don’t work for the record company. The record company works for the artist. And EMI is going on about putting artists on a salary.
Strange comment alert: the music industry is a beautiful thing. When it works. Elvis Costello’s career was so well managed. He had a talented artwork person behind him. Great label. Good manager. And they rode the pipes to a degree of superstardom. Now he plays around the world all the time. There arer so many, many positive stories. The Zombies in America scoring a hit with Time Of the Season. Drums on Sound Of Silence. Musicians having a sympathetic circle around them can only lead to good.
The general consensus seems to be: from the music industry – shock and disgust. From the two guys in the Indie sector – joy. From the business sector – loud applause. Time will tell. I hope he doesn’t destroy EMI, but if I was a betting man I would be betting he will.
Today is not a good day for music.
Other points to note.
Hands, from an investment background, is sending out a lot of press to the business side of newspapers. It is, of course, great copy in that section of the paper. If a company like, say, Motorola, can cut staff and costs, in actually encourages people to do business with them. The same cannot be said in music. Why would a band sign to you if you have no support staff or money? It’s a really fundamental error there.
Guy Hands has done an interview where he claims to have paid £40 for the In Rainbows box set. His credibility is paper thin. Geez. Doesn’t he know that what we deal in is credibility? That is number 2 from music. That’s image. Idiot.
* Advances. Bands get ‘advances’, that is, a sum of money, that is paid back to the record company through album sales. It can come in all sorts of ways. A recording advance is simply a label putting up the money for studio time. Tour advances is when a label puts up the money for a band to go on tour. The most talked about advances at the moment is the signing advance. When you sign a band, you usually give them an advance. There is DEFINITELY a side of it where it’s a back slap, but essentially, it’s money for the band to live on. Buy some new guitar strings, get a haircut, don’t worry about where your next meal is coming from, you concentrate on doing what we are paying to be.
It is, essentially, NHS/Medicare for musicians.