On leap-year day I had blogged about Universal Music Group (UMG) and Sony frothing at the mouth over EMI, mentioning that IMPALA, an European trade body, was putting up some resistance to the acquisitions. Not so their American counterparts; to the contrary, in fact. The American Federation of Musicians and SAG-AFTRA are actually gung-ho about the buyout. These organizations’ pooh bahs have expressed much concern and solicitude about EMI’s future, and based on nothing but this oh-so selfless concern and solicitude they are endorsing the buyout.
Hmm, so let me get this straight: co-opted American groups that function akin to PACs care more than European trade bodies for the well-being of European music’s jewel in the crown?
SAG-AFTRA self-righteously wrote to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): “It has been wrenching to watch EMI wither over the past decade.” ‘Wrenching,’ eh? So why didn’t we hear about it back then? What did SAG-AFTRA ever say – let alone do – about it? Were they just ‘wrenching’ in silence? What’s ‘wrenching’ is to watch a mongrel like UMG chasing a purebred like EMI.
SAG-AFTRA also argued that “for EMI to be acquired and sold off in pieces by capital investment speculators with no appreciation for, or commitment to, artists who fuel the recording industry, would ill serve the industry.” Ah, so is the only alternative to an UMG buyout a “[sell] off in pieces by capital investment speculators”? Sounds like sophistry to me. If EMI is indeed in a bit of trouble, then simply try to get for it what’s always on tap for irresponsible auto-makers and avaricious banks: a cash injection; a bailout.
Not that any such thing is needed. Make no mistake: this is not about music, it’s about profiteering. In the interest of music, EMI should remain proud and independent.
Some serious news on this leap-year day. In the Music Biz, how big is too big? How big should be deemed too big? The M&A mania that started in the 1980s did not leave record labels untouched and today’s ‘labels’ are actually the Frankenstein’s monsters put together from numerous M&As. Now, three Frankenstein’s monsters are wanting to combine to make two super-monsters – but not if IMPALA, an European trade body, gets its way.
Sony plans to acquire EMI’s music publishing business and Universal wants to get its hands on a prestige trophy, the blue chip EMI recording label itself. For Heavens Sake! La Scala and the finest opera houses, singers, orchestras, and conductors have been on EMI for literally over a century. To me, this deal is akin to McDonald’s buying out Maxim’s or La Tour d’Argent in Paris. Or Coca Cola buying Moet & Chandon (yes, I know it could happen).
Unlike me IMPALA does not care about the upstairs-downstairs marriage; their position is that the two super-monsters that would result would be too big and would suffocate the competition. Yesterday they filed objections with European regulatory bodies citing various grounds including concentration of power and potential price fixing.
Hooray for IMPALA! but what do you think? Aren’t Sony Music, Universal Music, and EMI big enough as they are? Time was when RCA, Columbia, Decca, and Capitol were America’s four major record labels. Now each is merely a piece of a Frankenstein’s monster that is one or another entertainment-cum-publishing conglomerate that cares two hoots about music. As for labels like Atlantic, Sun, Dot, Mercury, Verve and so on which enriched the American music scene in its most vibrant days, farewell forever – in today’s America everything music marches in lockstep, and talent is relatively homogenized. How will indy labels and music thrive?
Teddy Roosevelt, where are you?! Come back, you King of the Trust-Busters! And please ‘trust-bust’ this entertainment-cum-publishing industry racket before we’re left with ‘One World Music Label’.
Richness in Diversity!