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Radiohead catalogue moves to XL, suggesting Warner’s offload of Parlophone assets to indies is underway

By | Published on Tuesday 5 April 2016


A load of chitter chatter as to why some of Radiohead’s catalogue had disappeared from the streaming services – was this long-term-Spotify-disser Thom Yorke making a stand? – is actually, possibly, a sign of something much more interesting: Warner Music is finally making good on its commitment to relinquish control of a chunk of the Parlophone repertoire it acquired back in 2013.

As you may remember, after Universal Music acquired the EMI record company in 2012, competition regulators in Europe forced the mega-major to sell off a bunch of assets, and most notably the UK-based Parlophone business (minus a few crown jewel assets, like the Beatles catalogue).

Warner then bought the Parlophone business, a deal that also needed regulator approval. But the mini-major did a deal with the indie community – via trade group IMPALA and digital rights body Merlin – which had lobbied hard against Universal’s original EMI acquisition.

Under that deal, the independents would support Warner’s Parlophone purchase on the condition the major would relinquish control of between a quarter and a third of the label’s repertoire (based on revenue) to the indies, via actual catalogue sales, and/or distribution and licensing deals. That commitment was then reaffirmed in 2014 after Warner’s Parlophone acquisition was completed.

Radiohead’s first six albums were part of the Parlophone catalogue. The band’s relationship with EMI soured after its 2007 acquisition by private equity firm Terra Firma, and while that management regime is long gone, there are still some tensions, resulting in litigation relating to EMI-era activity last year. Meanwhile, since parting company with EMI, Radiohead, and Yorke himself, have principally worked with Beggars label XL.

Now, it seems, XL is repping the band’s back catalogue too. The indie is listed as the releasing label of those older albums on some digital services, while it’s the original versions of the long players that are now streaming, rather than the special editions EMI put out without the band’s participation, which, in part, explains the disappearing tracks.

Asked about the change in the Radiohead catalogue on its platform, Spotify told reporters: “As a result of a change in rights ownership of Radiohead’s catalogue, the band’s catalogue on Spotify has been streamlined, meaning that a small number of products are no longer available. However, the band’s core album catalogue remains available to their millions of fans on Spotify as before”.

So, has XL taken control of the Radiohead catalogue as part of Warner’s 2013 repertoire-offload commitment? Probably. And that’s presumably an offload that will be welcomed by the band themselves. Though official reps for Radiohead, Warner and XL are yet to comment.

However, Warner is quoted by Billboard as saying: “We are making good progress with the voluntary divestment process that IMPALA/Merlin and WMG agreed as part of our acquisition of Parlophone Label Group. Numerous independent labels are involved in these negotiations and we are not commenting on individual deals at this stage. We expect to make a joint announcement with IMPALA/Merlin in due course”.