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The Beatles. The Beach Boys. Blur, Bowie, Kylie Minogue, Kate Bush and Coldplay. EMI was one of the big four record companies, with some of the biggest names in the history of recorded music on its roster. Dominating the music industry for over 100 years, by 2010 EMI Group had reported massive pre-tax losses. The group was divided up and sold in 2011. How could one of the The Beatles. The Beach Boys. Blur, Bowie, Kylie Minogue, Kate Bush and Coldplay. EMI was one of the big four record companies, with some of the biggest names in the history of recorded music on its roster. Dominating the music industry for over 100 years, by 2010 EMI Group had reported massive pre-tax losses. The group was divided up and sold in 2011. How could one of the greatest recording companies of the 20th century have ended like this? With interviews from insiders and music industry experts, Eamonn Forde pieces together the tragic end to a financial juggernaut and a cultural institution in forensic detail. The Final Days of EMI: Selling the Pig is the story of the British recording industry, laid bare in all its hubris and glory.


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The Beatles. The Beach Boys. Blur, Bowie, Kylie Minogue, Kate Bush and Coldplay. EMI was one of the big four record companies, with some of the biggest names in the history of recorded music on its roster. Dominating the music industry for over 100 years, by 2010 EMI Group had reported massive pre-tax losses. The group was divided up and sold in 2011. How could one of the The Beatles. The Beach Boys. Blur, Bowie, Kylie Minogue, Kate Bush and Coldplay. EMI was one of the big four record companies, with some of the biggest names in the history of recorded music on its roster. Dominating the music industry for over 100 years, by 2010 EMI Group had reported massive pre-tax losses. The group was divided up and sold in 2011. How could one of the greatest recording companies of the 20th century have ended like this? With interviews from insiders and music industry experts, Eamonn Forde pieces together the tragic end to a financial juggernaut and a cultural institution in forensic detail. The Final Days of EMI: Selling the Pig is the story of the British recording industry, laid bare in all its hubris and glory.

30 review for The Final Days of EMI: Selling the Pig

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    The collapse of EMI is one of those stories everyone thinks they know: beancounters and asset-strippers descending like locusts on a once-proud company, leading to another business which actually did something measurable wiped out, more people unemployed, and yet more millions squirrelled away somewhere unreachable by capitalism's parasites. I followed it in a fair bit of detail as it was happening, not least through the excellent CMU newsletter, and that was more or less how I understood the ma The collapse of EMI is one of those stories everyone thinks they know: beancounters and asset-strippers descending like locusts on a once-proud company, leading to another business which actually did something measurable wiped out, more people unemployed, and yet more millions squirrelled away somewhere unreachable by capitalism's parasites. I followed it in a fair bit of detail as it was happening, not least through the excellent CMU newsletter, and that was more or less how I understood the matter. What makes this such a fascinating read is that the story everyone knows both is and isn't true. At the simplest level, there's the divide between the private equity firm who purchased the label, Terra Firma, who really did want to make EMI a viable concern, and their backers Citigroup, who were providing the financing and were just interested in the bottom line. Who were to fall out spectacularly, with allegations of sharp dealing, mixed loyalties and misleading advice culminating in a high-profile trial. Even that, though, isn't the whole story. Yes, there are problems here particular to late-stage capitalism – obscenities like a company whose whole business is founded on the vagaries of artistic inspiration, but who are having to justify to the City why a given big album is late. There are various financial instruments which might as well be black magic, except that their use is considerably more damaging to the soul, not to mention more destructive. But there are also problems as old as humanity, indeed older – like making a poor choice because you're jumpy after  too many missed chances. EMI, already feeling nervous as the smallest major label, had gone through various attempts at a merger with Warners, but the timing or the will or something was always missing and so none of them ever quite happened. Terra Firma, their biggest success story the slightly bathetic rehabilitation of a German petrol station chain, had been rebuffed in an effort to buy Boots and wanted to prove they were a major player by getting another household name. In short, it was a rebound relationship on both sides, and while that can sometimes work out, you probably wouldn't put money on it – and certainly not the billions invested in this one. More than that, though, it takes place against a background of persistently and almost comically poor timing – so you have one Warner merger nixed on competition grounds, because the music industry is still high on the profits of the golden age of CDs. But then the Internet upends all that, meaning a merger between two bigger plays, Sony and BMG, gets pretty much waved through. Except that once that's happened, an EMI-Warners merger would be excessive consolidation, so they still can't catch a break. And so on. All of this against the background of the looming financial crash, meaning that Terra Firma buy EMI pretty much at the top of the market, only to be left holding the baby as everything crashes and freezes and generally goes to pot. It's weird being reminded how long ago all this happened, too. I suppose in part because it's a reminder of quite how long the world has been in the toilet. But there are so many blasts from the past in amongst the still-familiar stuff. BlackBerries! Napster! Prinzhorn Dance School! Indeed, the mention of how many promo CDs the latter had floating around was the first time I laughed out loud at this*, because oh boy I remembered that (though even then, I'd say Clor, also on EMI but understandably not mentioned herein, narrowly had them beat). Still, this is part of the point: Terra Firma and Citigroup did not take over and then dismember a previously healthy company. The music industry in general was a mess, complacently continuing in the practices of the good times even as its revenues were crashing. And within that general mess, there were several reasons (some recent and some long-standing) why EMI was particularly exposed. Insights from outsiders, people with some idea of how to run a business more generally, could well have helped. Too often, though, neither side was willing to understand the other, with many music industry veterans dismissive of what they saw as clueless suits, and some of the business types entirely certain that they could sell bands like they'd sold cleaning products. Missed opportunities, unnecessarily hardened positions – a foretaste of what the wider world was becoming. At the helm of it all, probably the best-known name in the whole sad tale, Guy Hands. A man who, in the popularly understood version of it all, was pretty much the villain of the piece, at least until the sequel revealed Citigroup's armada and enabled him to do a vaguely unsatisfying Kylo Ren antihero redemption bit. But in this fuller account he becomes more of a tragic hero – as a neurodivergent ex-punk, there's even a faint air of Chris Packham to him at times, except that because he's wearing a suit and running with the moneymen, nobody believes he gives a toss about music. He didn't even want to be running EMI, which also gives the story shades of Clerks. This is a man happy to delay Coldplay's Viva La Vida six months if needs be, because he'd rather have a massive album the band are happy with later instead of a so-so one now (though of course some of us might object that instead of delaying it six months, a real hero would have delayed it six decades). He even, and this is the first time I recall seeing Goodreads named in a book, refers to an ambition of making the EMI website a Goodreads for music – and Hands clearly knows his stuff here, arguably better than Forde or the editor, because it's ended up as 'Good Reads' in the text. Some of the stuff he and Terra Firma were looking into, while initially mocked, is now standard – whether that be streaming, or different editions of albums to suit different price points and different degrees of fandom. There's even a case that, had the ruinous financing not taken EMI down altogether, they might now be doing better than the other majors. But always, always in this story, that terrible timing, with these initiatives all coming too soon or too late. One could object, of course, that with Hands interviewed extensively for the book, it's no wonder if his account exonerates him, but Forde has spoken to most of the major players here (plus plenty of other unnamed sources) – the biggest exceptions being from the Citigroup side. Which might be part of why they come across the worst, but equally, there are plenty of players here damned by their own words as well as what others have to say about them. Even Hands certainly doesn't come across exactly well a lot of the time – you can tell the music industry's acceptance of a 90% failure rate clearly offended him at an intrinsic level, and he could never quite get his head around that being on some level inevitable in any creative industry. For the most part, though, you can sympathise to some extent with the participants here; nobody is a villain to themselves. Which is not to say there aren't some absolute arseholes, and yes, they are almost all among the business types Terra Firma hire to turn EMI around. John Birt, for instance, the Butcher of the BBC – a man I can't understand why you would hire for any role anywhere near the arts ever again, or indeed in any other position except maybe 'crash test dummy', or 'new partner for a knife-thrower whose aim is going'. Likewise, from ITV there's Charles Allen, a man less widely hated but certainly a plausible candidate for why one of Britain's main channels didn't produce a single programme worth watching in the near-decade between Primeval season 3 and Timewasters. Inevitably, there are times this revolving door of executives, and the mountains of financial specifics, make tough reading for anyone who's not generally into this stuff. Forde does a pretty good job of guiding the amateur through, though elsewhere he can be prone to a slightly Day Today line in metaphors. Still, pare that away and one day this exhaustive account will be just the Holinshed somebody needs to write one of the great Shakespearean tragedies of late capitalism. *I'm normally unabashed about cracking up at something I'm reading in public, but I was faintly embarrassed at this one, and indeed at reading this in public more generally, because it could be considered a business book, and I can tell you that I absolutely judge middle-aged men reading business books while commuting to the City, so though I could make explanations and excuses, I would absolutely deserve the same treatment.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Dredge

    Disclosure alert! a.) I work with the author Eamonn Forde and consider him the best of people, and b.) I got an advance reading copy from the publisher for my job as a music-industry journalist. But judging it on its merits: this is a pacy, very-enjoyable breakdown of, well, the breakdown of one of the UK’s most famous record labels. Pretty much everyone involved has been interviewed, up to and including Guy Hands of Terra Firma, the company whose ill-fated ownership of EMI led to its demise. It’s Disclosure alert! a.) I work with the author Eamonn Forde and consider him the best of people, and b.) I got an advance reading copy from the publisher for my job as a music-industry journalist. But judging it on its merits: this is a pacy, very-enjoyable breakdown of, well, the breakdown of one of the UK’s most famous record labels. Pretty much everyone involved has been interviewed, up to and including Guy Hands of Terra Firma, the company whose ill-fated ownership of EMI led to its demise. It’s very good indeed, and also very fair in representing the different views on what went wrong and whose fault it was.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rory Harden

    Is this a music book or a business book? Actually, it’s both - and that’s why it’s important. Despite its problems, EMI was a great company. It made money and it enriched not just British culture, but global culture too. It gave us The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Queen, David Bowie and Radiohead. Yes, and Coldplay too. Nobody’s perfect. What did for it? Two things: American ‘innovation’ and modern British capitalism. Record companies are popularly believed to have been dinosaurs who didn’t see the asteroid Is this a music book or a business book? Actually, it’s both - and that’s why it’s important. Despite its problems, EMI was a great company. It made money and it enriched not just British culture, but global culture too. It gave us The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Queen, David Bowie and Radiohead. Yes, and Coldplay too. Nobody’s perfect. What did for it? Two things: American ‘innovation’ and modern British capitalism. Record companies are popularly believed to have been dinosaurs who didn’t see the asteroid of file-sharing coming. This book says that EMI did see it, and tried to cope with it. They failed, but they made a better go of it than the other record companies – the ones who ended up swallowing EMI after it was carved up into pieces by its bankers and the regulators. Modern British capitalism, in the form of private-equity swashbucklers Terra Firma, thought they could reinvent the recorded music business in the modest space of time before the asteroid impacted. In typical style, they first sought rents, which they spied in EMI’s profitable music publishing business. And then they fancied a high-risk gamble with someone else’s money: the recorded music business. There were some issues from the beginning. Terra Firma paid far too much for the company. As a result, they struggled from the start to meet their obligations to lender Citibank. No amount of financial engineering could fix this fundamental problem. The financial crash of 2008 which – allegedly - no one saw coming, didn’t help. Interestingly, Eamonn Forde says that both Terra Firma and Citibank got seriously cold feet before the deal went through. They were all hoping, desperately, that EMI’s board would fail to persuade its shareholders to sell. But the shareholders – more fool them – took the money, and it was too late to back out. And a lot of people lost their jobs. Almost every EMI employee quoted in this book says that the new executives parachuted into EMI to run it did not understand the music business. Of course they didn’t. The soap-company executive tried to run EMI like a fast-moving consumer goods company. Didn’t work. Thom Yorke is not a bottle of detergent (even if he sometimes sounds like one). The guy from Google – to his credit, the only person interviewed here to admit he screwed up – failed to reinvent EMI as a data-mining business. But Terra Firma had fixed up a German motorway services business, by cleaning the toilets. And they’d sorted out the Odeon chain of cinemas, by piling up the popcorn. Why were these cynical, lazy, record-business people so reluctant to embrace their saviours? All the things that are wrong with modern British capitalism were on display at EMI: amateurism; over-confidence; under-investment; greed; class divisions; arrogance; avoidance of responsibility; short-termism; management fads; seat-of-the-pants planning; delusions of grandeur; reliance on consultants (multiple firms simultaneously, in this instance); philistinism. The old artists mostly left in disgust, not wanting to participate in the mind-blowingly daft money-making schemes that the visionary new bosses dreamed up in order to sweat their new assets. The artists didn’t think of themselves as assets, for some reason. But the old record-business people at EMI still managed to find decent, if not great, new artists - all while the company was collapsing around them. This book achieves a number of very worthwhile things. It gives us a feeling for of the culture of this unique company, before it was trashed. EMI was a company whose mission was not merely to make money. Its employees knew that they were custodians of culture. The book explains why the recorded music industry had to change, and how its efforts to do so weren’t always as self-harming as they were portrayed at the time. It demonstrates, on almost every page, how foolish it is to think that you’re going to increase profitability simply by dumping all the artists who aren’t currently making money; or by rejigging all the company’s operations in different countries into a single management ‘matrix’. Or by turning Abbey Road Studios into a hotel. And it confirms, in gory detail, the suspicion that many people have that, despite their outward bluster, many titans of business don’t really know that they’re doing. Sometimes they’re lucky and they get rich. And they think it’s because they’re brilliant. And when they lose? Well, Terra Firma sued Citibank. Twice. And lost both times. Bottom line? Art and business can – and must – co-exist. But it takes special people. And simply cleaning the toilets won’t cut it. RIP EMI. We’ll miss you.

  4. 4 out of 5

    David

    I worked at HMV throughout the ‘90s and was Product Director, responsible for the Buying and Range Departments and negotiating our trade terms with record companies and film studios, so I had been looking forward to diving into The Final Days of EMI (Omnibus Press) by Eamonn Forde. It is an in depth look into their 20 year decline and rather public downward spiral under Guy Hands’ Terra Firma, which saw Radiohead, The Rolling Stones and Queen jump ship. HMV used to be part of EMI and we always h I worked at HMV throughout the ‘90s and was Product Director, responsible for the Buying and Range Departments and negotiating our trade terms with record companies and film studios, so I had been looking forward to diving into The Final Days of EMI (Omnibus Press) by Eamonn Forde. It is an in depth look into their 20 year decline and rather public downward spiral under Guy Hands’ Terra Firma, which saw Radiohead, The Rolling Stones and Queen jump ship. HMV used to be part of EMI and we always had a fondness there, and we do projects together such as the HMV Classics own label series which sold over a million units in 10 or so years. It is a little strange to see it all played out again here but nice to recognize the contribution of those one admired at the time and the recognition that a few others are painted as the villains that I remember.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Barkingstars

    I feel like I am being slightly unfair in giving this three stars. As a summary of the business wrangling that saw the death of EMI, this is excellent. The author has managed to interview and get quotes from most of the major players in this saga. He happily gets into the business nitty gritty. If that’s what you want then this easily a five star book. Truthfully I would have preferred a book that had more about the personalities involved and more colourful anecdotes. A bit more ‘Blood on the Ca I feel like I am being slightly unfair in giving this three stars. As a summary of the business wrangling that saw the death of EMI, this is excellent. The author has managed to interview and get quotes from most of the major players in this saga. He happily gets into the business nitty gritty. If that’s what you want then this easily a five star book. Truthfully I would have preferred a book that had more about the personalities involved and more colourful anecdotes. A bit more ‘Blood on the Carpet’ and a little less ‘The Money Programme’. If this is what you want, and it is what I hoped for, it is a fairly dry read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Phil Devereux

    This book is a beast! A lot of it very, very interesting, but it is EXHAUSTIVE so there is a LOT of detail and some parts can get a bit repetitive.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    Very dry. A lot of different names and organisational changes, but that is probably part of the reason EMI isn't still around. Very dry. A lot of different names and organisational changes, but that is probably part of the reason EMI isn't still around.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Patti Medina

    DNF for me

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

    Very good detailed breakdown of all the people, trends, market forces, changing nature of consumer purchases o music; and why you should never trust a money man with an arts company

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Bell

    I was really looking forward to starting it but realised straight away that it would be a real slog. I only finished it because it cost be £10. It was like reading a transcript from a management meeting. Full of boring quotes from people moaning about their job. I wanted to here about the artists, buildings, parties etc. If anything demonstrates that white, rich, middle-aged heterosexual men rule the world and that this needs to change then read this book. Or rather take my advice and listen to I was really looking forward to starting it but realised straight away that it would be a real slog. I only finished it because it cost be £10. It was like reading a transcript from a management meeting. Full of boring quotes from people moaning about their job. I wanted to here about the artists, buildings, parties etc. If anything demonstrates that white, rich, middle-aged heterosexual men rule the world and that this needs to change then read this book. Or rather take my advice and listen to a Pink Floyd or Bowie album instead.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    The Final Days of EMI: Selling the Pig by Eamonn Forde. A lively, unsparing account of Terra Firma’s takeover of EMI and the music giant’s subsequent collapse tells us much about modern-day Britain The Final Days of EMI: Selling the Pig by Eamonn Forde. A lively, unsparing account of Terra Firma’s takeover of EMI and the music giant’s subsequent collapse tells us much about modern-day Britain

  12. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rob Allen

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rostrum Records

  15. 4 out of 5

    Martin Michel

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Marchant

  17. 5 out of 5

    Stanimir Ruskov

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mr L J Batchelor

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael Brown

  20. 5 out of 5

    John

  21. 4 out of 5

    Martin Fish

  22. 5 out of 5

    Robert McGovern

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jon

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stephen J

  25. 4 out of 5

    David Jones

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Bauer

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cody

  28. 4 out of 5

    William H. Hein

  29. 4 out of 5

    Paul Toomey

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Green

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