28
Feb 08

Hands in the air like you don’t care

FTPost a comment • 429 views

One of my ongoing dream projects is to do some research exploring possible links between the generation who lived through punk in the 1970s, with its apparent ideal of radical change, and the way radical business change has become a kind of ideology in business in the 00s: the seduction of being the changemaker, the Strummer or Rotten in your own boardroom.

Because change is seductive – and because I’m a pop fan – I have a strange fascination with the travails of Guy Hands, EMI owner and venture capitalist who is shaking up the UK music giant: his latest scheme being to take power away from A&R and “back to the suits” – that link takes you to the Guardian coverage, which gets the outraged reaction of Richard Ashcroft’s manager. Other papers take a more sympathetic tone, and it turns out that the power being removed from the A&R men isn’t the power to recommend or sign artists but to determine marketing budgets – which seems a bit more reasonable.

As a “boss bashes marketers” story this isn’t anything new – what’s interesting to me about the Hands revolution at EMI is the way it suggests changes in the stressed relationship between business and ‘cool’ in a rapidly shrinking music industry. Both sides are painting themselves as radical and the other as conservative – the A&R men accusing “the suits” of going backwards, Hands insistent that EMI’s business practises belong to a lost era. One subtext of Hands’ comments and actions is that credibility is now a nice-to-have, rather than a need-to-have element of selling music. If so, then it’s not just the A&R men’s ways of doing business that are entrenched, but possibly their entire aesthetic and value system.

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