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emi declares war on us all

Record industry giant EMI has begun a war of commerce against its rivals. This is a serious, real war. This is major league shit. The outcome will change the face of the music industry beyond all recognition.

On Wednesday 24th November, EMI issued a statement saying that it was giving serious consideration to ceasing the manufacture of the Compact Disc format. Just 48 hours before that the company declared profits for the first six months of the year well in excess of 80million pounds (a substantial increase on previous figures). Six weeks before that the EMI owned HMV and Virgin record store chains threatened to ban any artist who attempted to distribute their material via the internet. As in, they were going to ban the artist's entire catalogue, not just a specific title. Now they say they're planning to drop CDs altogether and concentrate on electronic distribution. This bombshell has shaken the industry to the foundations. Why? This is why:

Market analysts say that EMI is now big enough to manipulate the market, and that this is what they are now doing. Ten years ago CBS famously failed at the same trick when they tried to force the premature deletion of vinyl. They became a takeover target, and were bought by Sony, who immediately started pressing vinyl again (and still are, actually). EMI will not make the same mistakes, be assured of that. A company with EMI's share of a market, yet which is only third in the overall investors field is evidently a company that doesn't take anything but the most calculated of financial risks. Market analyst David Rees:"What EMI is doing is literally all or nothing. And you can bet it won't be nothing. They are too big. They can take the heat far, far longer than anyone else."

This is Rees' analysis of EMI's tactics

1. Because they own HMV and Virgin stores other labels depend on EMI for widescale distribution and retail outlet. The only serious rivals are Tower and Our Price, and both are some distance behind. EMI's retail muscle means that every other label must regard their retail policy. Barring labels from online distribution means that labels continue to rely on retailers. EMI, however, have exempted themselves from their stores' policy on this.

2. If EMI ceases production of CD, or even threatens to, their share price will plummet. This will devalue the overall industry significantly. Smaller companies will be devalued out of existence, or taken over by larger companies, such as EMI. Even if the bigger labels, such as WEA, Sony and RCA succeed in resisting the devaluation, the best they can hope for is some sort of corporate partnership with EMI. A takeover of EMI is plausible, but EMI has such a degree of influence over the wider industry that it would simply swallow any apparent partner, as it has previously done with Thorn. Also, a takeover bid against EMI is dangerous. EMI is a European based company, and the EU law on monopolies and mergers is strict. Any company big enough to bid for EMI would most likely have their bid thrown out, as their combined strength would almost certainly contravene the law.

3. In order to fight the deletion of CD, other companies would have to make the prices more competitive. CD prices would fall, and company profits would follow suit. The distributor, however, would not have to take a cut in profits. In many cases this distributor is going to be EMI. As share prices drop across the industry, EMI's would be the first to show signs of recovery.

EMI are clearly engaged in a war of commerce that they could apparently win. If they do they will increase their stranglehold on the industry to a point of world domination. If they lose, which is unlikely, the music world will lose both its commercial impetus and its retail muscle. But would that be a bad thing?


a little help from your friends, i.e: usÖ

The gig thing. It's often simple enough in Britain, 'til you get to London (which you have to sooner or later). Then it becomes a minefield. Take it from someone who knows. We can't tell you how to avoid all the pitfalls, but we can make you aware of the more common ones.

1. You're first London gig will probably be a pretty dismal affair. This is to be expected. Anything marginally better than a miserable, loss making failure should be regarded as a major triumph. Don't let it get you down. It's not a competition. Don't use up all you favours on your first attempt. Don't worry about the size of the audience. Don't worry about anything.

2. If a promoter ever asks you for money, blow him out. Don't go reporting him to the MU, or even threaten to do so. This may not be the righteous thing to do, but you have to be realistic and consider the consequences. He'll warn off other promoters. But never give him money. If his only income is from the night's takings, he'll have to work for it, which is what he should be doing. "Pay To Play" was once a common practice, but it is thankfully now illegal. If he tells you the money is for the PA or lights, he's probably shitting you. Besides, there are hundreds of venues that have their own facilities. Call his bluff by offering to hire your own and bring it with you. But don't actually do it. Just don't take the gig.

3. With a couple of notable exceptions, promoters are universally appalling at actual promotion. Always promote yourselves. Make sure all the publications which carry free listings know about your gig. Even if the promoter is doing this, better they hear about it twice than not at all. But never promote someone else's group with your own publicity. They won't thank you, and they may get arsey about it, and you don't want to make enemies if you can avoid it.

4. At the soundcheck, insist on the sound you want, but never be rude to the house engineer. That way lies disaster. Always be very grateful, and if you need to slag him off, only do it behind his back. Many engineers work at several venues. You don't want to have to eat humble pie if you meet again. Remember, the engineer has the power to crucify you on stage.

Choosing your gig

Crunch time. It's dead easy to get that first gig if you know where to go. A promoter will always want to know how many people you think you can pull. Just lie. The Rock Garden, in Covent Garden, is probably the best place to start. I have never met anyone who actually got paid for this gig, and the promoter is notorious for reneging on his "contract". That said, it's not a shithole in the scheme of things (well, there are worse, much worse), and it's pretty easy to blag a slot if you've got a decent demo. As this is your first gig, it frankly doesn't matter if you play the Rock Garden. You shan't need to play there ever again anyway.

Steer well clear of places like The Monarch in Camden or The Hope & Anchor in Islington, as these venues have impossibly bad sound, despite what you may have heard. Try to find out which promoters work more than one venue. Check the music press to see if their gigs are advertised. Promoters at well known venues get so many tapes that they often have four bands a night. Don't necessarily fall for the idea that going on last is "cool". If these other bands bring people to the gig, they will all just fuck off after they have played. Obviously, the opening slot is the graveyard shift. Push for second (or third, unless there are only three bands). Be on time for the soundcheck, or you may not get one. Don't waste time during your soundcheck, just get the job done.

If you land a gig with one of the more reputable promoters, you will have to work hard to get people to come. This will, however, be well worth it. By far the best promoter for unknown bands in London is the Mean Fiddler Group. They have most of the best venues (although this is no guarantee of a good sound), and operate the fairest deals. They will almost certainly book you a second time, possibly for a more prestigious affair, and they will always pay you the right amount on the night. If this sounds too good to be true, that's why the Mean Fiddler is number one in London. It is worth aiming for one of their venues from the outset, but I urge you to get a crappy gig first, even if it just means you can tell them that you've played in London but the promoter was useless. They'll sympathise. If you get a Mean Fiddler gig, they'll probably start you off at The Mean Fiddler itself or The Powerhaus. The former is the better venue, the latter the easier to promote as nearby Camden has the principle "indie vibe" in the city at the present time. You may get offered a slot at The Garage, although this is unlikely first time round. The Garage is a hugely prestigious gig, with a fantastic PA and monitoring. It's also pretty damn big for unsigned bands, and can easily lack atmosphere if you don't get loads of punters.

The top gig in town is not actually a Mean Fiddler job. The Camden Palace is a real hall of fame (it was formerly the legendary Music Machine). The reasons it's so good are straightforward enough. It's a first class building with state of the art sound systems. Moreover, they have club nights six days a week. Tuesday is indie night ("Feet First" club). Admission is only £2 with a flyer. The place is always packed to the rafters, and holds about 2000 people. There are usually two live bands playing shortish sets during the course of the evening. Of course, this is a woefully difficult gig to get, but it is possible. The promoter occasionally books for the Electric Ballroom as well, another top notch club gig. He will probably want to see you live first, so if you get a Mean Fiddler show be sure to invite him.

Lastly, don't worry if the press don't bother accepting you're invitations. In terms of the music press, contacting the weeklies is almost always a complete waste of time. Fanzines are always far more on the ball anyway, and being taken increasingly seriously. As for the rest, in time they will come to you.

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