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EMI Records is “reborn”

By | Published on Wednesday 17 June 2020


EMI is “reborn”, everybody! Well, to be more precise, the EMI Records label is “reborn”, everybody! Well, to be more precise, the Virgin EMI Records label is binning the pesky Virgin brand once and for all and will be known henceforth as EMI Records, everybody! Well, to be more precise, the Virgin EMI Records label is demoting the Virgin brand to imprint status so that the parent label will henceforth be known as EMI Records, everybody! It’s a brave new world!

So, yes, as Universal Music loudly declared yesterday afternoon, EMI is “reborn”, everybody! And with that in mind, I feel I should back up a bit here and provide some context. Would that be helpful? OK, here we go. Context. In 1898 William Barry Owen and Trevor Williams set up The Gramophone Company with the inventor of the gramophone itself, Emile Berliner.

Actually, no, that’s too far back. Scratch that. In 1931 The Gramophone Company and its rival The Columbia Graphophone Company merged to create Electric And Musical Industries and… thinking about it, do you know what, that’s still too far back. Forget I said that.

In 1956 the company known as Electric And Musical Industries set up a corporate entity called EMI Records to group together the various record labels it had launched and acquired in the preceding decades. Actually, that’s a bit dull, isn’t it? So no, not that.

OK, in 1973 the EMI Group rebranded its pop labels as EMI Records. Yeah, that’s probably a good place to start. Because at that point the EMI brand became a label signing artists, rather than just a corporate entity buying labels. And labels signing artists is what we’re interested in.

Actually, the following year EMI Group also rebranded the music publishing catalogues it had acquired under the EMI name, so that the EMI brand was now also a publisher signing songwriters. But forget that. That complicates things. And it’s not relevant. Actually, it probably is relevant. Sort of.

But anyway… from the 1970s onwards EMI Records was a groovy record label signing groovy artists. Well, by the 1990s all the groovy artists were signing to the standalone EMI-owned Parlophone Records and Virgin Records, while in the US it was all about Capitol Records. But don’t worry, there was still a separate EMI Records label in the UK for the less groovy artists to sign to.

Well, actually, by that point EMI Records had been merged in with the Chrysalis Records label that the EMI Group had bought in 1991 and no one seemed too certain whether to call that particular division EMI Records, Chrysalis Records or EMI:Chrysalis Records. But at some point in the 2000s they definitely dropped the Chrysalis bit of the name once and for all making it EMI Records for certain. Except on Robbie Williams records, for some reason.

But anyway, that neatly brings us to 2007 which is probably where I should have started this story. Sorry, I really didn’t plan this out very well, did I? But yes, 2007, that’s the year. That’s when this story begins. Because that’s the year private equity firm Terra Firma bought the entire EMI Group. And that’s when a fucking shitstorm began. And by the time the storm was over and all the shit had been mopped up, Universal Music somehow owned all the EMI labels.

Well, not all of them. The pesky competition regulators in Brussels had forced Universal to sell on the Parlophone business and Chrysalis catalogue (minus all the records released by The Beatles and the aforementioned Williams) to Warner Music. But by the end of 2012, Universal had the rest.

Universal bosses then had to work out what to do with all those EMI assets they had just acquired. In the US they stuck most of them under the Capitol name. While in the UK they combined two of their newly acquired brands to launch Virgin EMI, which basically brought together the Virgin Records catalogue and roster they had just bought with their own Mercury Records label.

By creating the Virgin EMI brand in early 2013, Universal could get itself involved in the 40th anniversary celebrations of Virgin Records that were due to take place later that year, getting all chummy with label founder Richard Branson in the process. It also meant that the newly created label division would be distinct from EMI Music Publishing, which had been separately acquired by a consortium led by Sony/ATV the previous year. See, told you the EMI publishing outfit was relevant.

But that was then. And this is now. And who, in 2020, wants a complicated name like Virgin EMI? No one, that’s who. I mean, nobody wants to get chummy with Branson anymore after all that “hey there tax payer, you should bail out my airline” nonsense. And EMI Music Publishing isn’t used as a brand name anymore since Sony/ATV took complete ownership of the songs business in 2018. And so, as I think I may have mentioned sometime in the relatively distant past, EMI is “reborn”.

“Universal Music Group has mapped out a bold new future for one of the most renowned British record labels of all time”, the major said yesterday, having first run its press release through a fully-functioning hype machine. “Virgin EMI is being renamed EMI Records with immediate effect”, it stated, insisting that this latest label brand reshuffle “marks the rebirth of one of the defining labels in popular music history”.

“Growing up in London, EMI was the most iconic brand in British music”, added Universal boss Lucian Grainge, having also had a sneaky little play with his company’s hype machine. “When we acquired the company, we committed to new investment, innovation, creativity and, of course, leadership. Not only have we delivered on that promise, but we continue to position EMI for the future”.

Good times. Talking of leadership, following the somewhat sudden departure of Virgin EMI President Ted Cockle last week, the all new completely different totally reborn EMI Records will be headed up by Rebecca Allen, who jumps on over from running another Universal UK division, Decca Records.

Says she: “Being asked to reimagine one of the UK’s most important record labels is an incredible opportunity, as is the chance to work with some of the world’s biggest and most innovative artists. Working with artists, and finding and developing the talent of the future, is what drives me and I can’t wait to get started with building on what the brilliant Virgin EMI team have already achieved”.

Anyone out there who reckons Virgin Records is a much more iconic brand than EMI Records, don’t worry, that name will live on as an imprint of the new division. After all, there’s a 50th anniversary just three years away and everyone might have forgotten about the whole “billionaire Branson demands a bailout” business by then. But in the meantime, all hail once more Electric And Musical Industries Records. Or what I, ever the traditionalist, will continue to insist on calling The Gramophone Company.