EMI in the news again (previous discussion from last winter), as more and more high profile musicians decide they would do better negotiating their own deals. The model of music behemoths like EMI holding all the advantages is rapidly changing, and this change is for the better from where I sit.
EMI’s corporate roots stretch back to a pioneer of recorded sound, a German-born American named Emile Berliner, who founded the Gramophone Company. As a result of a merger in the 1930s, it was renamed Electric and Musical Industries Limited.
It was 30 years later that a man named Brian Epstein walked through the doors with a tape from a new band called the Beatles. Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones and Marvin Gaye have all called EMI home.
“EMI and the companies that formed it made London a center for musical culture in a way it never was,” said Peter Martland, a professor at Cambridge University and author of “EMI: The First 100 Years. “There is a lot of history there.”
But the music business, even in good times, is not welcoming to outsiders. The sensibilities of a financier like Mr. Hands are usually starkly at odds with the folkways of a creative enterprise. Artists’ egos need stroking, and the measurement of success is not the same in music as it would be in running service stations along the autobahn.
“You have to understand the artist’s psyche to make it work,” said Jazz Summers, who manages The Verve, a band signed to EMI, and was present at the dinner last autumn.
The story has even turned comical at times. After Mr. Hands discovered that some employees were laundering costs for things that were illegal (drugs and prostitutes, he said), by itemizing them on expense reports as “fruit and flowers,” he set a strict travel and entertainment policy that required receipts for every expense.
Artists, too, have clashed more openly with Mr. Hands: the band Radiohead has fled and the singer Joss Stone has asked to be let out of her contract. The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, have been talking with other record companies about a new label. (If the Stones left EMI, it would have little impact financially, because the company would still have the rights to the band’s catalog).
“They hate him,” said Hugh Hendry, a British hedge fund manager and former EMI shareholder who had publicly criticized past management, of artists’ opinions about Mr. Hands. “He’s rude. He’s abrasive. He wants to make money. He’s the first to say to artists, ‘We are not going to pay you too much money. Now get out of my office.’ ”