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Doherty out, Gatfield up, Rhone across, time for more major label musical chairs

By | Published on Friday 22 July 2011

Sony Music

So, put your hand up if you saw Ged Doherty’s sudden departure from Sony Music UK coming. Most didn’t, it seems, with the news yesterday that the major’s British boss man would be replaced by one time Universal/Island chief Nick Gatfield taking some by surprise.

Then again, the move does fit in with a wider story, I suppose. That being the rise of former Universal execs within the Sony music empire, now that it’s being run, ultimately, by former Universal Music chief Doug Morris. Though preparations for Doherty’s departure possibly preceded Morris’ recent arrival at Sony; I think several of us did wonder what the incumbent CEO would be doing once Gatfield was brought into a new role heading up Sony Music UK’s ‘music division’ in February, introducing, as it did, a whole extra level of management when most majors are trying to trim their executive structures.

Elsewhere in the Universal-execs-take-over-Sony story, there has been wide speculation in America this week that former Universal Motown President Syliva Rhone is also heading to Sony where she will rejoin her former boss Morris, and work alongside former Universal colleague LA Reid (even though gossipers say they don’t really like each other), to relaunch the defunct Portrait Records label.

As previously reported, although Rhone is technically still employed by Universal, she has been in limbo since Universal Motown was merged into a division of the major headed up by former Sony US exec Barry Weiss. The plan was she would stay with Universal to head up a new 360 degree style business unit but, according to the Hollywood Reporter, Rhone told bosses at the major this week she would be taking up an opportunity at Sony instead.

Finally in Sony Music executive changes news, Doherty wasn’t the only sudden departure from the major yesterday. It was announced that Richard Sanders, the US-based head of Sony Music International, is also out, though he won’t be replaced by a former Universal dude. Word has it Edgar Berger, boss of Sony’s Germany, Switzerland and Austria division, will be promoted into that vacant role.

Of course, some might wonder if this game of musical chairs within and between the major labels is really what the record industry needs. Given just how spectacularly wrong the major label old timers got it ten years ago when the internet first arrived on the scene, perhaps what the sector really needs just now is some new blood, rather than just moving the old blood into new offices.

Said old guard might point out that EMI did try bringing in talent from outside the traditional music business, and it didn’t work out especially well. Then again, the company was being run by idiots at the time, so it possibly wasn’t the best moment to be testing such an approach.

Of course, a total ‘out with the old, in with the new’ policy wouldn’t be a panacea either. As former EMI owners Terra Firma learnt to their cost, reinventing your business relies on artists playing ball, and that requires good artist relations, and that requires A&R execs and label chiefs who the artists already know, like and trust. And that’s where the old guard – some of them, anyway – add real value.

But you do wonder why the majors aren’t plundering more prolifically the indie label and management sectors, and the British urban music community, where you sense the real innovators lie. Or perhaps they’ve tried and, unlike in the eighties, entrepreneurs in the indie sector just aren’t interesting.