EMI executive expresses A&R concerns

Nick Gatfield makes remarks at Musexpo

LONDON -- Nick Gatfield, EMI Music's president of A&R Labels, North America and U.K., has outlined his approach to developing artists and expressed his concern about A&R departments in his first high-profile appearance at an industry event since joining EMI from Island six months ago.

Gatfield was among a panel of industry execs discussing the state of the A&R world at the inaugural Musexpo Europe event Oct. 29 at the Cumberland Hotel in London.

"There is a problem in today's A&R departments; it's a lack of confidence where the A&R person doesn't have proper dialogue with the artist," he said, pointing to situations where A&R scouts are elevated to senior positions with a lack of experience after happening upon a talented artist.

In response to a question on how to shape the troubled EMI for the future, Gatfield simply said, "Have more hits."

Gatfield also spoke of the importance of balancing all the elements involved in the A&R process -- from management to promoters, booking agents and the artists themselves -- to ensure the vested interests of the artists are being looked after.

"It's not just about record sales, we need to match ambitions with artist capabilities," he said. "We want the capability to sell 10 million Coldplay albums while also being able to support smaller bands."

Looking at the way the industry had changed in recent years, Gatfield added: "It's not about record sales, it's more about revenue driving."

Supporting this view was 14th Floor (home to Damien Rice and Ray LaMontagne) founder, Christian Tattersfield, who spoke of the need to sell millions of records becoming "redundant." He now focuses his energy on working with people who can generate income through different revenue streams such as physical product, digital and concert tickets.

This change in value proposition was illustrated by Gatfield with the example of French dance producer David Guetta, who had a worldwide smash with 2006 single "Love Don't Let Me Go (Walking Away)." Gatfield said EMI Music France's Guetta is more profitable as a synch artist than a recording artist.

Still, with a strong focus on the essentials of A&R, Epic Records U.K. managing director Nick Raphael rounded things off by saying, "It's about finding great music and great artists, and not getting distracted in the process."

The panel was sponsored by a new boutique artist development event, Is This It, to be held in Helsinki April 2 to 4, 2009.

On day two of the conference, held Oct. 27 to 29, Sony BMG U.K. chairman and chief executive Ged Doherty joined the opening Keynote panel to discuss the current climate in the music business.

Among his observations was the claim that Sony BMG had broken nine artists in the last 20 months, a feat he says is unmatched by any of his competitors. For this reason, he said he was looking at a profitable 2009.

Doherty also expressed frustration that it was primarily the two largest major labels -- Sony BMG and Universal Music Group -- that are breaking new artists.

However, the discussion ultimately came back to basics, with Doherty explaining that record companies must be respectful of the consumer. "This generation is paying the price of our previous generations' mistakes", he said. "We now need to re-establish trust with consumers."