The fact that the two classical brands were not included in the deal is made clear in a leaked memo from Warner Music Group ceo Steve Cooper. In the memo he says: ‘Our acquisition of the renowned labels, EMI Classics and Virgin Classics, will open up huge scope for us to reinvigorate our approach to classical music, starting with the development of a new brand for our activities in this genre.
‘We intend to be ambitious and innovative custodians of this revered catalogue and will strive to create the first-choice home for contemporary classical talent.’
One strong possibility is that artists such as Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Antonio Pappano, Ian Bostridge, Philippe Jaroussky and Alison Balsom will find their recordings appearing under the Warner Classics banner. The switch from brands that have strong public followings to one that has made very few classical recordings in recent years will add to many artists’ concerns about the purchase.
Warner is refusing to comment about details of the deal ahead of expected European Union regulatory approval in mid-May, to be followed by completion of the deal in July or August. Cooper stresses in his memo to staff, however, that WMG and the Parlophone group are complementary and adds: ‘By bringing them together, we will unite many of music’s crown jewels under one roof and that will open up countless creative and commercial possibilities. This transaction will be a catalyst to refreshing our global catalogue strategy and we will be devoting considerable resources to connecting fans everywhere with this incredible body of work.’
He hints at dramatic announcements once the deal is sealed: ‘Acquiring EMI Music’s operating companies in Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden will further enhance our ability to nurture European music talent, not just in those markets where we are already established champions of local artists but in new territories as well.
‘We recognise that the appetite for local repertoire has never been stronger, so increasing the size and diversity of our European roster will be an area of renewed focus as we go forward.’
The EU stipulated that for Universal to purchase EMI it must sell on the classical divisions to another existing recording company. However, Universal retains the two brands’ non-classical catalogues and recording contracts, so having a rival company releasing recordings under the EMI or Virgin Classics brands would only create confusion. Many observers consider that the EU’s attempt to lessen UMG’s market dominance in recorded music by stipulating sale to another industry player rather than encouraging a new entrant was mistaken and betrayed a lack of understanding of the recording industry.