Archive for the ‘Artists & Bands’ Category


Guy Hands: EMI must dump artists to survive

January 22, 2008


The model of Nipper, the gramophone-fixated dog, remains in the chairman’s office – but that is about the only piece of EMI’s 77-year history that looks likely to survive under the ownership of Guy Hands.

Since Hands, a titan of the private equity world, paid £3.2 billion for the record company last summer, the former bell-wether of the British music industry has been rocked by an artists’ revolt, with Paul McCartney and Radiohead already gone and Robbie Williams, Coldplay, Kylie, Snow Patrol, Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz and The Verve threatening to follow suit.

The press has resounded with lurid tales of excess, after Terra Firma, Hands’s company, unearthed a supposed £200,000-a-year slush fund to buy sex and drugs for artists (disguised as “fruits and flowers” in the company accounts), bizarre bills of £20,000 for candles, and revelations of a £5 million company house in Mayfair for the use of senior executives.

This week, Hands stunned staffers with proposals to slash 2,000 jobs worldwide, bulldoze the management and turn a blowtorch on the sprawling roster. EMI has more than 14,000 acts under contract, an absurd total, and one that no company could hope to promote effectively.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, the new owner reiterates the point: “About a third of the artists who sign with EMI never make an album,” he says. “We’re going to drop a fair number of them. You’ve got to get them to a level where you can provide a super service.”

Hands’s operations are usually only reported in the business pages, but the intoxicating mix of big money, outraged superstars and internecine warfare has guaranteed him front page headlines.

When he presented his job-cutting proposals to employees this week, he was surrounded by minders to protect him from the paparazzi. Terra Firma finds itself cast as a villainous asset-stripper, ram-raiding the family jewels and crushing delicate artistes underfoot.

But when the smoke clears, it has to be acknowledged that Hands has faced the facts that EMI had tried to hide from.

The firm paid lip service to the new era of digital downloading without ever giving up hope that CDs could somehow be made profitable again. Instead, the pace of technological change has cruelly exposed the company’s wastefulness and sluggishness.

One bright spot had been its £80 million “multi-streamed” deal with Robbie Williams in 2002. Hailed as a daring innovation, it covered not just album sales, but also tours and merchandising.

But now, as the news trickles out that a million surplus copies of Williams’s last album, Rudebox, are being shipped to China to be recycled for use in road surfacing, the artist is threatening to go on strike, and his manager, Tim Clark, has accused Hands of behaving like a “plantation owner”.

The refusal of the best-selling band Radiohead to sign a new deal last year has also been seized upon as a symbol of the short-sightedness of the new regime. But the most significant comments came from Paul McCartney.

When a sixtysomething knight of the realm complains that working for his record label has become “mind-numbing” and “a treadmill”, it is clearly time for radical surgery.

The 48-year-old Hands has no music industry experience, but he tells the Telegraph that he shares more of the innovative spirit that helped build the record business than his detractors would allow.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” he says, “and I invest my money alongside that of others, rather than being a fund manager. I will continue to use my money to invest in businesses where I can make a positive difference to how they are run.”

Even when he was a student at Oxford, Hands showed his flair.

“If you were a student and you needed a few pounds, you went to Guy and he would give you an opportunity to sell paintings door to door, that had been bought directly from the artist. That was partly how we got through university financially,” recalls his close friend William Hague, who was best man at Hands’s wedding in 1984.

“By the end of it, he owned the house and the shop down the street.”

Today, Hands owns houses in Hawaii, California and Spain, along with his estate and vineyard in Tuscany. This is thanks to a gift for buying poorly run companies, replacing management, and extracting underlying value.

Analysts gasped when he paid British Rail £700 million for the Angel Trains rolling stock company during the Nineties, but he sold it for a £390 million profit, and has since added the Odeon and UCI cinema chains to his portfolio. However, he still appreciates the scale of the EMI challenge.

“It’s probably the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life, from a business perspective,” he admitted after his presentation to staff on Tuesday. “People were excited about a new vision for EMI, and a number of people said this should have been done years ago, but clearly they were nervous for their own jobs. They clapped and applauded, which was very nice of them.”

One of the chief obstacles, apart from the artists’ managers lined up against him, under the sobriquet of The Black Hand Gang, is the perception that people like Hands don’t belong in the business.

There’s still a sense that it ought to be populated by free-thinking bohemians who value artistic adventure over profit. Surely a rapacious venture capitalist, even a Bunterish and dishevelled one like Hands, shouldn’t be allowed?

“No disrespect, but the question’s irrelevant,” says Ed Bicknell, the former manager of Dire Straits and Bryan Ferry and a founder of the Music Managers Forum.

“Record companies are just like anything else – everything’s for sale. Whether it’s a Saudi prince or Guy Hands, it’s just a matter of who’s got enough money to buy a majority of the voting shares. It’s very rare these days that I hear anybody in the business talk about music – they’re all talking about ‘synergy’, ‘branding’ and ‘360-degree business models’.”

Hands insists that “unless the industry finds a way to provide something that the consumer is willing to pay for, there is not going to be any music. If the industry doesn’t want to move, it will die.”

Some EMI insiders have been outraged by his claims of waste and inefficiency, but Bicknell suspects he’s right. “When I dealt with them, which was before the era of Tony Wadsworth [the ex-chief executive], EMI was like the Civil Service of the record business.

“It was uninspired and uninspiring. It was so much like a government department that a tea lady would come round with a trolley every afternoon.”

Hands sees the industry as an entrepreneurial opportunity rather than a calling. When he expresses admiration for Mick Jagger, it is not for musical reasons: “He is creative, very intelligent, realistic and focused. He is a real gentleman and would make a super chairman of a FTSE company.”

Unfortunately, Sir Mick has repaid the compliment by turning his back on EMI to sign a one-off deal with Universal for the next Rolling Stones album, the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s documentary Shine a Light. Although Hands is scheming to bring him back, his most pressing problem is to persuade managers like Tim Clark that swingeing cuts won’t damage their artists’ releases.

“Whenever you restructure something, you have a lapse before the new model hits its groove,” says Bicknell. “It could take him two years to get this where he wants it, and Tim and everybody are concerned about falling into that void.”

There are signs, though, that Hands’ message is not falling on deaf ears. After a meeting with the Black Hand Gang, The Verve’s handler Jazz Summers felt Hands was “beginning to understand the industry”.

Jonathan Shalit, who manages Jamelia, was almost euphoric: “The way the record industry has been going in recent years is to bury their heads in the sand. EMI was going nowhere, and EMI has now got the balls to make changes.”

Even if his plans fail – and much of the responsibility will fall on Roger Ames, one of the industry’s smartest executives and now in charge of signing artists in Britain and the US – observers suspect that Hands’s long-term goal may be to keep the highly profitable music publishing part, and sell the troublesome recording bit.

Hands’s bid for Chrysalis, which includes the publisher Chrysalis Music, supports the theory that he’s building a publishing empire.

“If Terra Firma was just thinking about making a profit, they should dump all new releases, reduce overheads to a minimum and just resell back catalogue,” says Bicknell. “It wouldn’t be exciting, but it would be much more profitable.”

It’s not exactly a rock’n’roll attitude, but it might have got the thumbs-up from the Beatles, when in 1963 they sang: “The best things in life are free/But you can keep them for the birds and bees/Now give me money.”

Thirty-five years later, the man who owns their record company could find himself singing along.

in The Telegraph, by Adam Sweeting and Juliette Garside


Hands in challenge to music industry

January 21, 2008


GUY HANDS is throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of the music industry to match his much-criticised turnround plan for EMI.

“I would like to be as big as the big three [music groups] and bigger,” he said, after visiting EMI staff in New York and Nashville to explain his scheme to strip out £200m of costs and reengage with music-buying consumers.

“We have a sensible plan to survive. The other labels need to have a plan to do that. They haven’t put anything forward yet. I would hate to find that we are the largest simply because the others have died.”

That seems unlikely for some time because Universal dwarfs EMI, particularly on its home British turf, where it has been losing market share. Hands’s Terra Firma is also fighting a rear-guard action to hold on to top-selling artists such as the Rolling Stones and Robbie Williams.

Hands is adamant that he won’t pay “ludicrous sums” to retain talent. “People move from label to label over time. The thing we are doing differently is that we are being realistic with what we are willing to pay in advances,” he said.

He is talking to artists at other labels to try to persuade them to defect to EMI, which announced last week that it was cutting up to 2,000 jobs and stripping record labels of their traditional sales and marketing role. He has told investors he wants recorded-music profits to soar from £60m to £528m by 2012.

But Hands remains at odds with the music-industry trade bodies, including the piracy-fight-ing International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, and is set to cancel EMI’s membership by March. He claims the issue is not the annual cost, but more to do with how the industry has bullied consumers into buying music on its own terms.

“The trade bodies need to change the way they operate,” he argues. “If they change, EMI will remain a member. If not, EMI will leave. I have a very, very strong view that we can’t cajole and sue our customers into buying music.”

Many artists from EMI’s 14,000-strong roster will be kept on but have their releases distributed only digitally in future to make them economically viable. The company is also examining plans to pair some performers with corporate sponsors. Hands, who is also bidding for the music publisher Chrysalis, hopes to line up a new chief executive by the end of June.

in Timesonline


Sir Paul McCartney: ‘I Also Downloaded Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows”

December 26, 2007


British rock legend Sir Paul McCartney criticized his former record label EMI for its “boring” approach, and accused it of taking him for granted in an interview with the UK’s “The Times.”

Sir McCartney said he also became frustrated with the amount of time it took for EMI to release a song – while he wanted them released within weeks, record label executives expected to take months.

“I’d started saying to them: ‘Look, we could write a thing and have it released the next week.’ And they would say: ‘You can’t do that these days.’ So I would say: ‘Well, how much time do you need?’ And they’d say six months. I said: ‘Why do you need that long?’ And do you know what they said? ‘To figure out how to market it.’ I said: ‘Wait a minute, are you sure you need six months for that? Couldn’t some bright people do that in two days?’ Jesus Christ. I said: ‘Look boys, I’m sorry, I’m digging a new furrow.”

He also noted that he too was one of the millions who downloaded Radiohead’s “In Rainbows,” paying “something reasonable.”

“This was how we used to operate,” he noted. “I remember John [Lennon], for instance, writing Instant Karma and demanding it was released the following week.”

EMI, on the other hand, wasn’t able to perform such a “miraculous” task and he lamented that music artists there “had become a part of the furniture.”

“I’d be a couch; Coldplay are an armchair. And Robbie Williams, I dread to think what he was … But the most important thing was, I’d felt (the people at EMI) had become really very boring, y’know? And I dreaded going to see them.”

Asked what he meant by accusing the record company of being “boring”, Sir McCartney responded: “Well, because I could guess what they were going to say.” He added that he became frustrated with what he described as the “treadmill” approach of the company when it came to marketing music. “You go somewhere, speak to a million journalists for one day, and you get all the same questions. It’s mind-numbing.

“So I started saying: ‘God, we’ve got to do something else’.” McCartney split with EMI earlier this year, and released his latest album Memory Almost Full with coffee giant Starbucks’s newly-launched Hear Music label.

Now I can only imagine what it was like when EMI execs would meet with Sir McCartney, but you’d think that they’d give him carte blanche to do as he pleases. I think as a former Beatle, and as a music artist in every sense of the word, he’s at least earned that courtesy. When a guy like Sir McCartney says “Well this is what John and I used to do,” and “John” is the John of all Johns besides that baptist fella, it’s probably safe to bet that his plan will work out just fine.

I mean honestly, 6 months to market what he can do in 6 hours? No wonder the music biz is falling apart.

What’s also telling about Sir McCartney is that he really is all about the music. Always has and always will. Unlike Prince and others who seem to try and sue any website that allows fans to hear their music unless they benefit financially, he has own official YouTube channel. Sure he can afford it, but can’t Prince?

in ZeroPaid


Radiohead Slam New Owners Of EMI Records

December 24, 2007


Radiohead have said that the new owners of EMI Records – private Terra Firma – “don’t fully understand” the music industry.

Speaking about the reasons for their departure from the label’s offshoot Parlophone, which came during Terra Firma’s takeover talks earlier this year, guitarist Ed O’Brien said they were glad to leave the label.

“We’ll miss the people we work with, all the people at [EMI subsidiary] Parlophone. The rest of the stuff about maybe not understanding the music industry? Terra Firma don’t fully understand.”

“Because one of the great things about the music industry is that it’s not an industry. It’s a collective of a series of relationships with people.”

Frontman Thom Yorke added that ultimately Terra Firma weren’t able to give the band the artistic freedom that they wanted.

“They didn’t seem very interested and neither did we,” he told the BBC.

“They [EMI] had us on a very, very long leash, for a very long time and that was because they had a series of artist that they allowed to do that like the [Pink] Floyd and Queen and everybody, and its really worked.

“And now when you’re in a situation with private equity firms, it [Terra Firma] looks at music as something to buy and then sell on.”



Wallpaper – Led Zeppelin 2

December 23, 2007



Wallpaper – Led Zeppelin

December 22, 2007



Spice Girls have ‘backstage bust-up’

December 21, 2007


The Spice Girls’ UK comeback was marred by tension between the singers on their big night, according to a report.

The atmosphere backstage at London’s O2 Arena reportedly turned sour on Saturday night when Geri Halliwell, Mel B, Mel C and Emma Bunton complained that Victoria Beckham was receiving special treatment.

A report in the Daily Mail claims that Posh’s microphone was turned down lower than her fellow group members’, while there was also resentment about her being given the highest heels to wear. The article also suggests that Beckham annoyed the rest of the girls by refusing to put up the hood on one of her costumes – because she did not want her hair to get messy.

“All of these silly petty things just got on the nerves of the other girls,” a source told the newspaper. “And to top it off when Victoria kept getting the loudest applause and cheers, it really grated on the others.

“The fact Posh probably had the least to do but was getting the best reception was a bit disheartening. It all blew up backstage afterwards and there were some very stern words and evil looks exchanged.”

However, a spokesman for the group denied the rumours, insisting: “All of the others were thrilled by the response Victoria got from the crowd.”

in Showbiz News