Blog Post

Conversations With David Munns, CEO, EMI North America

At the last week’s Web 2.0 conference, I had a detailed conversation over dinner with David Munns, the CEO of EMI North America and a grizzled music industry veteran if there ever was one. The Munns who I talked the night before was very different from the one who was up on stage the next day talking about piracy…I guess the spotlight/on-the-record aspect does something to clam up execs.
I asked him in detail about EMI’s position in the digital music industry, being the only “indie” big label, so to speak. Time and again he emphasized the artist relations aspect of his role at the company, and the company itself, and that as the continuing thread even in the digital age.
I asked him about the discussions and agreements music labels have had with YouTube…EMI has been a holdout, but Munns said they should come to an agreement soon. The company has been very careful in the talks, because once this is hashed out, it will probably become the template for deals with other video and content sharing sites. He also mentioned in passing that the deals that other labels have done with YouTube are not what everyone thinks they are, though he did not elaborate on it.
I also asked him the eternal question: when will Beatles catalog be available through online music stores? He said with a particular twinkle in his eye: soon. Again, no more details.
In that A&R role, Munns mentioned that most of the artists have been very vocal to him about piracy and how to market and sell music online and on mobiles. When I asked him about why we don’t get to hear about such issues directly from the artists (except some exceptions) he said that’s the role of the label, to be the voice of the artists, and let them do what they do best: music.
He also explained in some details about the evolving nature of label contracts with artists, and mentioned the extended rights deal, where the artist career is managed almost akin to how a startup would be managed in the technology/software world, and labels acts like VCs…there’s a lot more to it, but I need to understand it better before I talk about it more.
I asked him about whether EMI would consider acquisitions of startups and he did say: absolutely, though it would have to be a pureplay in the music business, or something that will help in distribution.
On the margins in the business, I asked him whether online was better than mobile, or vice versa…he had an honest answer: it is tough to say, because of all the people involved in the value chain on both ends. He did say it is probably more difficult to deal with mobile operators than it is to deal with online music service providers.
Then there was the controversial issue of variable pricing and Apple’s role in it…on that he refused any comments on the record, so that’s how it will be for now.
The music category is sponsored by Javien.

2 Responses to “Conversations With David Munns, CEO, EMI North America”

  1. Crusty Brit

    Foureyes18's comments show a juvenile understanding (or lack thereof) of the issues surrouding what is going on in music. Having spent 15 years of my life devoted to the music business, including having worked with Munns and other smart and passionate people (most people work in the music business because they love music as much (usually more) than every one else, I am now working in the mobile space travelling the lonley role of an entrepreur. Trampled Napster…lets see if you came home and found someone had stolen all your possessions do you go "Cool" or do you dial 911? or is that just the whinings of a rich westerner who is overly attached to his property bought and paid for with blood sweat and tears ? No one is looking to control music. Dont confuse art and the business of music. Would iTunes exist today if it wasnt for the music catalogues of the majors? Of course not. If one spent more than thirty seconds with any of the people that dedicate their life to the music business you would see that conceit and attitude are pretty rare. The reason fiel sharing etc was/is popular? People like getting (stealing?) stuff for free with little or no chance of getting caught. If it was just about good service at the right price iTunes would have put file sharing services trading in copyrighted material out of business a while back. Why dont people steal groceries? I would hazard a guess it is because your ass gets thrown in jail, not that people see the inherent immorality of theft. By launching law suits the RIAA woke middle class parents up to the fact that file sharing of copyrighted stuff by their kids was not ok. You would be amazed at the number of parents that thought their kid, by burning albums and selling them at school for a few dollars was being entrepreneurial rather than being the same as selling stolen car radios. You dont have to feel bad for guy like Munns that have made millions by being good at what they do but you should consider the thousands of normal hard working music lovers (and their families) (tower employees, studio staff, delivery guys, ordinary staff at record companies, publishers and all allied industries) that have lost their livelyhoods as this industry goes through seismic transition

  2. foureyes18

    While EMI is to be commended for not sitting on their hands and wishing the problem to go away (the Universal and SonyBMG approach), Munns and the rest of the people who run this dying business are not suited to take the music industry into the digital stage. These are the same people who trampled Napster, whined about the iTunes pricing structure, and have generally cared about two things — protecting their corporate largess and insisting on controlling the discussion and distribution of music. All to the detriment of their business. Their conceit and attitude toward the art, the business, and, most importantly, the consumer is their undoing. The fact that they have never honestly addressed a way to resolve payment via the enormous P2P activity out there tells me they still don't get it.