So it seems last night we saw the death bell toll for another iconic British company. It now seems inevitable that EMI has but months to live. Guy Hands has rolled his last dice on the deal that, from the music industry’s perspective, looked doomed from the start. In an industry where failure of your peers is often celebrated as much as success of yourself the demise of EMI will mean we are left with just 3 ‘majors’, but on this occasion none of them can take much comfort as all are locked in their own fights for survival.
EMI has already passed executive control of the group to its publishing execs so it seems logical that publishing will now be sold and the recorded music side shut down. It will be probably be bought by Warner or BMG and EMI will become a pure rights management machine with new signings evaluated on their long term rights potential than the ability to look cool and deliver top 10 hits.
Meanwhile, the industry continues to try to understand and navigate the new digital landscape that continues to be completely obscured by the over-financed slew of VC backed music streaming companies that mean commercial clarity is still a year or two away. Mogg seems to be losing traction, Sky Songs feels like a distant memory, Rdio has been discounted by serious commentators and the Rhapsody subscriber base continues to shrink. Meanwhile, by my calculations Spotify must currently be in frantic fundraising mode – first because they almost certainly have no cash left (filing of their UK accounts are a couple of months overdue) and second because the US labels are reputedly requesting around $100m to issue Spotify with a Green Card. However great a service Spotify is, its beginning to look like money invested there is about as secure as with EMI owner Terra Firma.
There is however one trend that is becoming clear – broadly speaking radio is doing just fine. RAJAR figures last week confirmed that listener numbers are higher than ever before and it remains a truism that other than The X Factor (go Wagner!) radio remains the only viable place to break a new song and a new artist. Its the only mass market music medium left. It is only a matter of time before radio realises that they control the music industry, not the other way round. Perhaps then the airwaves will fill with genuinely good music/talent than the bland, middle of the road, lowest common denominator product peddled out by the labels of today…after all, people still want to listen to great music - they just don’t want/need to buy it anymore. Radio thrives on listeners not sales, a distinction that will ultimately fracture the cosy label/radio relationship.