February 3, 1999
"Unigram" Rocks Music World
Bohemia Drifts to Galapagos
"Unigram" Rocks Music World
The rock world has recently gotten much smaller. Seagram's $10.4 billion purchase of PolyGram and absorption of it into the Universal Music Group is more than just another business page lead: the deal reshapes the music industry on an unprecedented scale.
Last month's merger leaves 85% of the world's music markets divided among just five powers: Universal Music Group, Warner Bros. (WEA), Sony, Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG), and EMI-Capitolwhich is currently for sale. Seagram's new Universal Group will control some 25% of the U.S. and European music industries, the largest share of any group. Ever.
Where have favorite independent players like Motown, Subpop, and Atlantic gone? They and hundreds of others have become property of the now Big Five in buy-outs and mergers over the last decade. The Universal acquisition continues the trend, folding rock standard-bearers Geffen and A&M into eight-year-old rap/alternative phenom Interscope and merging Island and Mercury into one label.
What about the fallout? Chairman and chief executive of Universal Music Group Doug Morris pledges to cut $300 million a year in costs. That translates into roughly 3,000 personnel layoffs and some 200 bandsa whopping two-thirds of the combined rostersdropped from their labels. Universal will not name casualties until the ax falls in early February.
What about the artists? Universal's 100 or so "names" like Sting, U2, Elton John, and Kiss will find realigned places on the nation's crowded CD shop shelves and tightened radio playlists. Some artists got out before the storm hit, such as Tom Waits, who left Island for the punk Epitaph label, and Public Enemy, who opted to take their already completed latest album from Polygram subsidiary Def Jam and market it themselves over the internet. The rest, many who are recently signed artistsnone of whom would comment on the record for Rockbeatwill have to start from scratch.
What about the future? Music will be affected for years to come. Established acts will continue to be entrenched, if less relevant, over time. Expect more short-lived pop outfits who turn a quick buck in time for corporate quarterly reports.
Is there an upside? Universal's merger is only the latest in a decade-long industry consolidation that has freed up a generation of ambitious music executives. Optimists can hope for a wellspring of new, smaller independent labels to nurture rock-and-roll's reinvention.
Blondie released seven albums, three of which went platinum"Parallel Lines," "Eat to the Beat," and "Autoamerican"before disbanding in 1982 after Stein was diagnosed with pemphigus, an often-fatal genetic disease. Harry pursued careers in acting and as a solo artist, Stein and keyboardist Jimmy Destri became producers, drummer Clem Burke and guitarist Frank Infante continued as musicians, and bassist Nigel Harrison became an A&R executive. Since 1991 their greatest hits compilation, "The Best of Blondie" (Chrysalis/EMI), has sold over 1.1 million copies according to Soundscan.
After testing the waters with surprise appearances at last summer's Intel Music Festival and January's American Music Awards (working a rap groove with Coolio and members of the Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep at the latter gig), Blondie is back. The four original membersHarry, Stein, Destri, and Burkehave reunited to release their first original set in 17 years, "No Exit" (Beyond), due February 23. Blondie plans an indie circuit tour beginning April 1, with guitarist Paul Carbonara and bassist Leigh Foxx filling out the roster.
Not everybody is thrilled, though. Harrison and Infante are not part of the reunion and are suing over use of the band's name. Still, that shouldn't slow Blondie's album release or tour plans as Harrison and Infante are just seeking royalty payments while pursuing their own careers.
GalapagosWilliamsburg's newest nightspot and home to Ocularis, the Sunday night art-house repertory cinemahas upped the cultural ante. The candle-lit industrial space with reflecting pool is hosting weekly gigs and themed music series"New Music on the Northside." Manager Christopher Plant told Rockbeat, "This beautiful old mayonnaise factory is just the ideal space. Galapagos doesn't have any fixed musical format. Owner Robert Elms and I are open to all the possibilities." Interested parties may call (718) 782-5188.