The Final Days Of EMI: A Sad Tale

7th June 2019

Title: Selling the Pig

Author: Eamonn Forde

Publisher: Omnibus Press

I’ve been waiting for a book like this to appear for months now. Finally, here it is and it’s been written by a music business journalist which is a relief because this story is largely about finance. 

It’s a sorry affair and signifies the end of an era in terms of the greater music business, the dominance of the physicality of music in sales terms, the nature of major label dominance and the time when big music labels strode over the earth and controlled artists in a similar way to the old movie studio system and the Golden Age of Hollywood. 


I personally feel sad that, if any of the big names was going to fall, that EMI should have been the one to go but that’s what this book details over its 358 pages.

The popular consensus is that EMI died at the hands of Hands. Guy Hands, the head of a private equity company called Terra Firma. Hands took control of EMI in 2007 and completely failed to keep control of the company which died in 2010. Long-term EMI staff pointed the finger at him and accused him of killing a 113 year old company in just three years. 

Yet Forde digs further than this. He looks back at 1996 when EMI separated from its former parent, Thorn and, because it lost a protective shield, one that was previously part of a multi-interest affair, became increasingly vulnerable.  


Busy (and apparently very happy) working at EMI’s Hayes pressing plant

What ifs? There’s plenty of those. EMI chairman Sir Colin Southgate could have sold EMI to Seagram’s Edgar Bronfman Jr. Instead, Bronfman bought Polygram from Philips. Then there was the European Commission’s block of the Warner merger with EMI in 2000. EMI then thought about buying BMG. But then that same European Commission said that Sony was fine to merge with BMG.

What would have ultimately happened to EMI if any one of these business moves had been completed?

Forde talks about the lead up to the laying on of Hands, as it where and even at this early stage, I was impressed by Forde’s willingness to get up off his backside and talk/track people down. There’s lots of voices here and it helps to provide comment from all sides, filling in all kinds of gaps in the picture. Sometimes the sources are anonymous but the voices also emerge, directly or indirectly, from the head of Parlophone, Miles Leonard, the co-manager of Radiohead Bryce Edge, Guy Hands himself, David Kessler (Terra Firma partner), ex-BBC head honcho John Birt who was with Terra Firma at the time, songwriter and creative advisor Billy Mann, Uli Mücke who was part of EMI Europe, Marco Alboni who was head of pop/frontline music at Capitol/EMI in Italy, Daniel Miller the head of Mute Records, Roger Faxon the CEO of EMI at the time and many more.


The old Shipping Building

Issues discussed include how Terra Firma were welcomed into EMI and how Terra Firma meshed with EMI…or didn’t, the growth of internal politics, Terra Firma’s friction with artists and established EMI staff members including the loss of Radiohead, its negotiations with The Rolling Stones, the digital landscape, courtroom dramas and much more.

Then we get to the final chapter entitled, Putting the Old Girl Out of Her Misery and a final Vox Pop section where a number of voices give their opinion on the failure of EMI as an ongoing entity. 

As one anonymous EMI executive has it, “People say that Terra Firm killed EMI. Terra Firma did not kill EMI. EMI, one way or another, would have ended up in the hands of someone else – Warner or whoever. [Terra Firma] where the ones holding the parcel when the music stopped.”

A sad yet informative read, this is a story that had to be told. Forde has told it well.

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