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Review: Eamonn Forde - The Final Days of EMI

Just finished reading Eamonn Forde’s highly readable ‘The Final Days of EMI - Selling The Pig’ (the porcine reference comes from some of the unflattering comments made by employees at the bank who loomed over this entire story).

I was at EMI before, during and after the events of this book so obviously took a very close interest in it. Forde has spoken to the majority of the key people involved in the story of Terra Firma’s ill-fated acquisition of EMI in 2007 so it is definitely accurate and authoritative and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in what went on behind these very public events as well as seeing what happens when outsiders come in and try to shake up a creative business.

Terra Firma head Guy hands gives a very honest and detailed account of his actions and decisions. If you’re not a fan of Hands and his foray into the music business then this isn’t going to change your mind, but equally he isn’t the pantomime villain he is sometimes portrayed. Nonetheless many bad choices were made and there was nothing pre-ordained about things turning out the way they ultimately did - with EMI's ownership passing to the bank and its subsequent break-up and sale to the three remaining major labels.

For me there are a number of interesting lessons and insights from everything that happened:

  • Culture clash is very real and a very powerful force and when any two cultures impact the results can be very unsettling for all concerned. In this specific case, private equity and their financial engineering approach, which is heavily driven by maths and science, colliding with music, which is first and foremost a people business, most importantly artists, but also their representatives, the relationships between them and their partners, labels, etc was explosive. We live in a commercial world, the music business is of course a business, but it’s a people business. Forget that you’re reliant on people and not just systems and the business will go wrong.

  • Speaking of people, one thing that always strikes me is how people from outside the music business who want to get involved almost never understand or appreciate the importance of artist managers. The thinking and analysis always seems to me to focus around artists, consumers and labels, how those connections work and how they can be changed, improved, disrupted, whatever. All very interesting and relevant, but unless you understand the critical role that managers play in the music industry you’re not going to get very far. Managers are the gatekeepers to artists and their key advisers. Fail to factor them in and you can forget getting much of anything done.

  • And finally with all creative and artistic businesses and individuals, if you are looking to get involved and don’t have direct experience, please team up with people who do and listen to them. Please. It just makes life better for everyone.

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