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Music biz changes behind EMI shakeup

EMI logo outside the music publisher's headquarters in London.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Doug Krizner: This week, British record label EMI announced a restructuring. A third of the staff was laid off, and some new artists were let go.

EMI was bought last year by the private equity firm Terra Firma. Now the challenge is making that investment pay off. Let's bring Bill Werde, executive editor at Billboard. Bill, we hearing some major EMI artists are very upset with this plan.

Bill Werde: Yeah, that's right. That's been the buzz and the grumblings... And clearly, I mean, this is the label that lost Radiohead. Yesterday, news broke that the Rolling Stones were going to put out their next album and potentially take their catalog to Universal, leaving EMI behind.

I have to say, in the big picture, I think people will probably settle down. We have some great reporting that's going to hit newsstands today that really puts you in the room when Guy Hands presented to a large crew of artists' managers in the U.K. And I think the general consensus in that room was, listen, these changes are scary, but we need to give this a chance. What's happening elsewhere in the major-label realm and what was happening at EMI was really not working.

Krizner: So this is a story that goes well beyond EMI -- this is something that the industry itself has got to deal with, right?

Werde: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, let's face it, the music industry -- CD sales have been down basically every year since 2001, and last year they really fell off a cliff.

Krizner: So do people think that Hands can turn around EMI in this time?

Werde: I think the hope is that, listen, here's a guy taking a chance with a new approach to the music business. And since none of the old approaches seem to be working particularly well, let's see how this plays out.

Krizner: You mentioned the Rolling Stones, yesterday saying they will release their next album through Universal, and we were hearing rumblings that Robbie Williams and Coldplay might withhold releasing their next albums through EMI. Do you think there's a real risk of them doing that?

Werde: I do think there's a risk of them doing that -- but I also think in the big scheme of things, it's not going to matter. This is a much bigger story than whether a Coldplay record comes out on EMI or not. This is an industry really struggling to completely redefine itself.

And so this is either a plan that's going to work on its merits -- this whole new approach of developing new artists from the ground up, getting them out there in whatever way makes the most sense, spending less money up front, finding new ways to sell music... You know, this plan is either going to work along those ideas or not. It's not going to come down to the success of any one band or any one album.

Krizner: Bill Werde is executive editor at Billboard magazine. Bill, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Werde: Always a pleasure, Doug.

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