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Zelnik and Branson speak about their Virgin ambitions

By | Published on Friday 20 July 2012

Virgin Records

The boss of French independent Naïve, Patrick Zelnik, has been talking to Billboard about breaking rank with the official line of the European indie label community on Universal’s bid to buy EMI.

And he has confirmed rumours that just over half of the board of indie labels trade body IMPALA shared his viewpoint at a meeting earlier this week – that Universal’s EMI acquisition is inevitable and the indie community should now push to get maximum remedies out of the regulatory process – but that a technicality in the trade body’s constitution means it will officially continue to oppose the deal outright.

As previously reported, in an article in the Financial Times earlier this week, Zelnik – despite having opposed past major label mergers via IMPALA – said that he would now support Universal’s bid to buy EMI subject to some key concessions, including a commitment by the mega-major to give indie labels first rights to bid on any assets it is forced to sale, something Universal boss Lucian Grainge has indicated he is willing to do. This is important for former Virgin Records exec Zelnik, who wants to join with Richard Branson to buy back the Virgin label, which has been in EMI’s ownership since 1992.

Asked about how IMPALA, of which he is a Co-President, reacted to his new stance, he told Billboard: “IMPALA itself is quite divided regarding the merger of Universal with EMI: 58% of the board voted in favour of it, [but] our rules state a two third majority is required to [change our stance]. You cannot speak about a refusal when you have such a majority of votes in favour of the agreement. Martin Mills is still opposing the merger, with very good arguments, as I have been using myself for 12 years. We have a different perspective in this case”.

He added that he had offered to resign from the IMPALA board given his public opposition to its stance on the EMI deal, though for the time being he remains Co-President. On the Virgin Records bid, he confirmed he has already spoken to Universal about the possibility of him buying the label, and that he is interested in acquiring the division globally, including in the US, where the Virgin Records name has not been used since 2007. If he and Branson did succeed in acquiring the company, it would be merged with Naïve, he added.

Zelnik reckons that Virgin Records “lost a large part of its seductive power” after being merged with EMI, while in a separate interview confirming his involvement in Zelnik’s grand plan, Branson told reporters this week that he believes the Virgin label has been “mismanaged in the last 10 years”.

Saying that the Virgin label was a “sleeping beauty” that could yet become an “innovative and leading label once again with the right management and investment”, he added: “I have known Lucian and Patrick for both 30 years. They are great record men and Patrick has committed to revitalise Virgin Records. The potential disposal of Virgin Records by Universal is an exciting opportunity and I am keen to try to work on an arrangement with Patrick to acquire the company I started in the 1970s”.

Meanwhile Universal’s bid to get regulator approval for its EMI purchase, on both sides of the Atlantic, is ongoing.

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