Who’s Afraid of the Universal-EMI Merger?

The financial crisis has been the subject of grudges and grumbles for the past four years now, but not everyone has done so badly from it. After all, it’s the reason that Universal Music Group is able to continue crunching its way to global music domination, and the latest target is iconic British label EMI.

A victim of the crash, EMI has been passing hands since its financial difficulties were laid bare back in 2007. On the 28th September of this year, Universal Music Group officially announced its successful acquisition of fellow ‘big four’ music company EMI Recorded Music. Whilst Universal’s proposed takeover has not gone unchallenged, its recent approval by the European Commission has sent a shudder throughout the music industry.

The industry giant will now be able to boast an estimated 38% share in the global music market, just 2% shy of the threshold beyond which the commissioners would deem dangerous for competition. This has come at a price; the £1.2 billion purchase was made with the stipulation that parts of the corporation be broken up and sold off in the hope of preventing Universal’s monopolisation of the market.

It may come as no surprise that artists signed with these labels might be unhappy to be traded around like Pokémon cards, their talent filling the pockets of an ever more remote organisation. Universal now benefits from the lucrative ownership of The Beatles back catalogue, as well as the contracts for the likes of the legendary Rolling Stones and U2 to top grossing international artists such as Rihanna and Jay-Z.

Whilst these transactions may seem a little immaterial to the average consumer, they signify a big shift occurring within our generation for which we only have ourselves to blame and which we will ultimately suffer from. The economic crisis isn’t the only thing weakening the industry in general: it’s an ugly truth that most students don’t bother to pay for music anymore. Why would we, when we are on a budget and it’s easily obtainable for free via the wonderful World Wide Web?

Failing to pay for music has reduced the influence of individual artists and labels, now increasingly bunched together under the umbrellas of large multi-national corporations. In doing so they can pool their resources and gain strength as a group. Whilst this may be advantageous in rescuing the sinking ships of some valued and respected establishments; it results in the decreased ability of those left swimming outside to bid for the benefits of fresh new talent, promotional facilities and distribution networks. Music in general is becoming more and more commercialised as these associations tighten up and close in.

The outcome of this is not wholly negative. Wider developments have made waves in the flourishing of the underground music scene. Promoted online via YouTube and shared through P2P networking, fledgling acts riding the crest can catapult to success almost instantly. Tired of the same sounds and always searching for fresh talent, popular demand for new artists is often combined with an allergy to anything considered too ‘commercial’. Recent years have brought us the likes of Adele and The XX, both acts achieving international acclaim on independent label XL, part of The Beggars Group, a collection of independent record labels attempting to combat the autonomy of the major labels.

However, whilst these Internet and independent outlets may have diversified the industry, their effect on record sales endangers the benefits we reap from them. Free downloading runs the risk of fuelling a kind of disposable culture whereby music, obtained all too cheaply, can easily be discarded. The majority of music that is purchased nowadays is acquired via iTunes, with whom Universal now enjoys an incredible amount of influence as it claims such a large share in the industry.

In order to avoid seeing the same people deciding what music merits investment, it’s time to start investing ourselves and paying for the music we download. Supporting the labels you love and purchasing from their own websites can help ensure their survival without the need to sell out to the big bad bosses.

Bella Mackenzie


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