Alain Lanceron has been confirmed as president of Warner Classics and Erato following Warner Music Group’s purchase of EMI and Virgin Classics’ catalogues and recording contracts last year. And one of his priorities is signing new artists.
Last year’s acquisition of the Parlophone labels group from Universal ‒ dictated by regulators following Universal’s acquisition of the EMI group ‒ has left Mr Lanceron with ‘an incredibly strong’ catalogue, but he admitted he faces a tough task establishing Warner Classics’ identity in the market place.
Universal refused to part with the EMI and Virgin Classics brands, so Len Blavatnik, the Ukrainian-born businessman and arts patron who owns WMG, has decided to focus on two classical brands: Warner Classics and Erato.
The revival of the 60-year-old Erato label, which Warner killed off last decade, had been ‘extremely well received’ in his native France, Mr Lanceron said.
High-profile catalogue reissues would also boost brand identity, he said, as with the recently released 13-CD remastered edition marking the 25th anniversary of Karajan’s death, to be followed in the autumn by a Maria Callas edition.
‘EMI and Virgin were very weak on Rameau, but now with Erato we will be able to mark the anniversary with a box set featuring [Nikolaus] Harnoncourt, [William] Christie, John Eliot Gardiner, [Mark] Minkowski ‒ the crème de la crème.’
Lanceron faces a challenge repairing years of neglect that both classical groups suffered. Warner had issued almost no new classical releases over the past 10 years and its market share had slumped from 10% to about 2%, he said. EMI under venture capital ownership and then on the auction block for years had been focused on short-term profit. Many artists quit EMI because of the insecurity but 65-year-old Mr Lanceron, who joined EMI in 1972 and in 1996 became president of Virgin Classics, shaping it into a successful core classical label, boasted that he had not lost a single exclusive artist. But, he said, he had not been able to sign any new artist since recruiting Alexandre Tharaud in 2009.
Now he is on the hunt in particular for a mainstream tenor, plus other vocalists,and a ‘very select’ array of instrumentalists. Sacred and baroque music ‒ Lanceron specialities at Virgin Classics ‒ are in-demand repertoire, he added.
Any signings will find a long-term mentor in Mr Lanceron, who decries some labels’ policies of ‘signing an artist for two or three years and if they do not sell terminating their contract. We like to work in partnership with and it is a responsibility for everyone to work for the long run.’
Universal retained the EMI/Virgin sales and marketing departments for some territories such as France, Spain, Belgium and Scandinavia, so Mr Lanceron will have to fill those gaps.
While his roster includes potential crossover artists such as Natalie Dessay, the John Wilson Orchestra and Alison Balsom, he does not intend for now to challenge Universal’s supremacy in the genre, and is also cautious about digital delivery. ‘About 90% of our sales in major territories such as France and Japan is of CDs. Only in the US is digital a big seller, and that is because of the loss of physical retailers such as Tower. In any case, digital sales are slowing as streaming increases. Maybe that is the future. We will see.’