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Universal appoints Sony man to run EMI USA

By | Published on Tuesday 27 November 2012

Capitol Records

Universal Music yesterday announced the appointment of a Sony man to run the EMI business in America. The Capitol Music Group, which incorporates Capitol Records, Virgin Records US, Blue Note, Astralwerks, Harvest, Capitol Christian Music, Caroline and the Capitol Studios, became part of the mega-major’s empire, of course, as a result of its acquisition of the EMI record company, completed back in September.

Steve Barnett has been with Universal’s rival Sony Music since 1996, most recently as Co-Chairman and COO of its Columbia Records division in the US. In his new LA-based role at Universal he will oversee most of the frontline label operations that previously belonged to EMI, which between them have artists like Norah Jones, Katy Perry, 30 Seconds To Mars, Rosanne Cash, Van Morrison and The Beach Boys on their rosters.

The American exploitation of The Beatles catalogue will also be handled by Barnett’s Capitol division, Universal having held on to EMI’s most valuable asset, despite agreeing to sell the UK-based Parlophone catalogue, in which the Fab Four’s music sat, on a worldwide basis.

While spending much of the year convincing competition regulators that they should green light a deal that would make the world’s biggest music rights company even bigger, Universal, of course, crafted a story in which the EMI of 2012 was a baron wasteland of a place, where once great catalogues and label icons gathered dust, having long since ceased to function thanks to five years of under-investment and draconian rule from the bean counters at equity group Terra Firma and subsequently the bankers of Citigroup.

The only solution, the story went, was to wash the whole place down with Universal’s cash, and to pump some much needed mega-major oil into the system. That story sort of ignores the fact that, out of the chaos that Terra Firma undoubtedly created in 2007, a leaner more efficient EMI had emerged, arguably better positioned for the music industry of the future. But hey, whatever, if Universal wants to pump in lots of money, who’s going to complain about that? And it’s true that if you have a bit of fat around the edges, you don’t feel the rough and tumble of a shifting industry so badly.

And “investment” to “revitalise” EMI remained the mantra yesterday as Universal big cheese Lucian Grainge announced Barnett’s appointment. He told reporters: “As we begin to invest in and revitalise EMI globally, the Capitol Music Group, including Virgin, will play a central role in our creative and commercial initiatives. And there is no one better to spearhead this than Steve. His entrepreneurial approach and intuitive ability to build, strengthen and transform artists into powerful global brands has resulted in remarkable success. I’m confident that under his leadership, a new and reinvigorated Capitol will provide the kind of environment needed for artists to develop, resulting in more opportunity than ever before”.

Barnett himself added: “Throughout my career in music, I’ve always been keenly aware of EMI’s impact on the world’s culture, so I could not be more excited and grateful for the opportunity Lucian has given me to build the Capitol Music Group into an exceptional record company. I greatly appreciate his confidence in me, and I will work tirelessly to create a welcoming and supportive home for great artists while carefully tending the hugely important catalogue that defines the Capitol legacy”.

He continued: “It was not an easy decision to leave such a successful company as Columbia, with its incredibly talented artists and the team of people who work so hard on their behalf. However, I know that the label is in great hands and I wish them all the best in the future as I move on to my new company home”.