On Friday EMI announced some major reshuffling to its org structure and additionally a repositioning of the company as a “comprehensive rights management company serving artists and songwriters worldwide.” Underpinning this is a closer alignment of EMI Recorded Music and EMI Publishing (which may have possible implications on EMI Publishing being sold as a standalone business).

The repositioning is the result of an internal strategic review, so it pays not to pass it off as consultant-speak window dressing for the re-org. Indeed Terra Firma has something of a track record of repivoting the structural focus of EMI.

So what does being a “comprehensive rights management company” mean? In principle it shouldn’t be that much different from what EMI and other labels and publishers already do (i.e., they create revenue for artists and songwriters by exploiting their works across multiple products and formats). Of course this core task is a much more complex one now than it was 10 years ago. As recorded music revenues continue to free fall, the importance of alternative revenue streams with brands, telcos, and device companies has risen exponentially. Add to that the numerous digital music formats, and you’ve got a complex mesh of revenue streams. And that’s without even considering other key revenue streams such as traditional synch and of 360 deals. The days of record labels just being record labels are long gone. 

So no big deal then, just a statement of the realities of the 21st century music business? Well one thing that this positioning does not focus on is the crucial role of record labels and publishers as nurturers of talent. Discovering and signing an artist is just part of the journey. Unless that artist is given the developmental support, mentoring, and of course investment, they will not realize their potential. And to deliver on these aims a label needs to have the right creative and supporting environment. EMI still has many of those great people who can create that environment. But the question is whether this was just an oversight in the press announcement or whether this repositioning means that they will find their contributions increasingly marginalized in favour of more cautious and short-term asset exploitation strategies?