EMI blames artists for its failures

by Jason Gross

6 November 2007


It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that an investment banker takes over one of the last major labels and demanded that the artists take up the slack for the label’s failures.  It’s good to know who the real culprits are as EMI and Guy Hand are leading the way in yet another ill-advised crusade in the music biz (along with the beloved RIAA lawsuits).
If fairness, Hand does have part of the equation right.  The labels themselves have not only been rewarding their own execs with huge salaries, bonuses, perks and such but they’ve also lavished these on some stars who probably didn’t deserve it.  For the former, the massive cutbacks now happening are evidence that they might be getting the message except that many of the pink slips are getting handed out to people in the middle or bottom of the corp ladder (which means that they pay for the mistakes of the higher-up’s, much like many other industries, unfortunately).  For the artists who get huge advances, the article notes one Ms. Carey as the prime example of this, especially when her label had to spend a fortune to buy her out of her contract.  The thing is, she went on to sell a LOT of records next time up which probably means that part of the problem was that her ol’ label didn’t know how to handle her.

But what about the ‘lazy’ artists that Hand’s talking about?  With all of these bad decisions that the labels have made in the digital age, passing blame along to the consumers wasn’t good enough so some of the execs sniffed that the problem was that frankly a lot of the music sucked.  But then again, who foisted this music on the public in the first place? (the labels themselves actually).  Now the tact is to say that they’ll have to squeeze more out of artists to make up for the label’s short falls.  For a company like EMI that was going to sink or swim on the fortunes of two acts (Coldplay, Gorillaz), this is a pretty ballsy thing to say.  Luckily, both acts came through for them on the charts but they realize that they’re still on thin ice.  So the answer is to make the other acts work harder to make up for their problems.

Would that actually work though?  If you make these artists do more interviews, more shows, more appearances, more merchandising (shirts, ringtones, etc), is that necessarily mean that they’re gonna do better work?  Will that also distract them from the all-important task of making good music to support these other facets of their career?  And obviously, all artists don’t work at the same pace and the same way so how sensitive is EMI and other labels going to be to this?  Wouldn’t this drive some of the acts to other, smaller labels who are more patient and more hands-on when dealing with their acts? (though not always admittedly). 

While there is a lot of fat in the biz that needs to be thinned out, if it means pushing acts to meet higher output expectations, this might be another way that they’re committing commercial suicide.  It’ll be interesting to see how Hand carries this out and if other labels follow suit.

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