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London Media Summit: EMI Invites Entrepreneurs With New Digital Music Models

Alain Levy, CEO EMI MusicEMI Music’s Chairman and CEO Alain Levy seems a rather reluctant convert to the digital age. For starters, he was more than a little skeptical today about the influence of MySpace. In A&R terms, it heralds the end of trawling smoky bars hunting for new music talent, he lamented – now it means trawling MySpace and that’s not quite so charming. “I challenge you to spend a day trying to find a band on MySpace that you like,” he said. (I’ve found plenty; maybe I should send him an add?) He conceded the Arctic Monkeys did well to capitalize on their cult online following, but ultimately needed the finance, marketing skills and infrastructure of a traditional record company to take their career to the next level. He relished pointing out that UK MySpace darling Lily Allen was actually signed to Parlophone before she joined the site, and YouTube geniuses OK Go in the States (who do truly impressive things with treadmills, amongst other things) is another example of a campaign that was the result of hard work by the label’s communications team.
Some more bits:
– EMI has launched an online demo submission service.
– He estimated that digital formats would account for 25 percent of EMI’s revenues by 2010.
– He said in four years’ time, 10 percent of EMI’s revenues will come from non-music activity – but that he revises that figure every six months.
On the dominance of iTunes: “I have to be very careful what I say. Last time I ended up in front of the antitrust division in the US for six hours and that’s not fun. All I will say is that closed systems are not good for the consumer.”
He said it is consumer foresight that drives innovation and growth. “It is increasingly difficult to forecast the mix of the digital revolution. The consumer himself doesn’t even know because they need to live and experiment with the product itself first. We need to be increasingly flexible because this has fundamentally changed our way of operating. In this age the closed media company will die – we have to be more open to innovation and be proactive, not defensive.” Despite his words of caution, he ended by saying that a flexible approach to innovation and customer focus will be the best thing that ever happened to the industry. Part of that innovation will involve looking at ad-supported models which, said Levy, particularly addressed the time-rich, dollar-poor consumer. He added that his door is always open to entrepreneurs seeking financial support for new models that will “drive digital music forward”. Don’t all rush at once.

This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.

4 Responses to “London Media Summit: EMI Invites Entrepreneurs With New Digital Music Models”

  1. Levy misses the point r/e trolling bands on Myspace: It's not about finding new names you'd never heard of, but looking up acts that have gotten buzz and giving a listen to see if you like it. I use Myspace rarely, but absolutely go there to sample sounds I won't hear on the radio. Matisyahu, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, My Morning Jacket, TV on the Radio, all are acts I'd read about but not yet heard. Also decided against the new Flaming Lips thanks to Myspace.

    Bottom line is Levy sounds just like the newspaper publishers who claim the moral high grounds while their distribution systems evaporate all around them. Both are good a spewing hubris but helpless against the inevitable tide.

    The challenge isn't users finding new bands — it's getting old media stalwarts to admit they're becoming switchboard operators faster than you can say 'charlie zebra 4 I'll connect your call.'

  2. Capitol didn't do much for OK Go's career, though Levy took credit for it. The band put in all the work, made their own videos, have done well in spite of the label's lukewarm support. After the MTV Video Music Awards, for which OK Go performed, Capitol had a really soft push on the album at retail.

    Re: Arctic Monkeys: It's often overlooked that the band had signed to Domino (home of Franz Ferdinand) when they hit it big on the radio. No label, no radio support, no Arctic Monkeys frenzy, no American insistance that the band owes it all to file sharing and MySpace.

  3. Jemima Kiss

    Nice plug! Yes, it was a good event and very well organised – but then you'd expect that at LBS. Andy Bell from Mint Digital was particularly inspiring, but more on that later…