I was lucky (well, I also have a pretty good skill set) to work in Capitol Studios for 5 years, the longest job I have ever held as an adult. And while there, I wasn't really privy to much of what went on at the label, as the studio tried very hard to remain independent. But I did see and hear things, and I was directly able to see the product coming out of the label. And folks, it wasn't pretty.
On Thursday, Apple Records — which is owned by surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and the families of George Harrison and John Lennon — launched legal action in the High Court in London against EMI Group and in the Supreme Court in New York against EMI subsidiary Capitol Records.
Apple Records said in a statement that an audit has determined EMI had not been fulfilling its contract and that the legal action is the result of a breakdown in negotiations between the two sides.
"Despite very clear provisions in our contract, EMI persist in ignoring their obligations and duty to account fairly and with transparency. Apple and The Beatles are, once again, left with no choice but to sue EMI," the company said, adding the claim that it is owed 30 million pounds (about $53 million US).
EMI owns the copyright, in perpetuity, to recordings made by the Beatles.
An EMI spokesperson has declined comment on the litigation, but said that artists requesting an audit of their record label's accounts are "not unusual, but sometimes there are differences of opinion, especially when the contracts are large and complex."
The label is getting a little, well, mature, shall we say, and while The Beatles have clearly been a tremendous revenue stream, still, Capitol will always be know less as the house that Frank built and more as the home of the Beatles and Beach Boys. And while the musical contributions by those groundbreaking groups largely changed the face of music and the music business forever, they haven't exactly been burning up the charts lately.
The person who ran the label most of the time I was there had been in A&R at another label where he did his career wonders by signing Nirvana. Insider stories abound regarding the truth of that situation, but regardless his name will evermore be connected with the band from Seattle. But as President of Capitol, he had yet to make his mark. In an effort to youth-ify the label, he downplayed releases by label stalwarts like Bonnie Raitt, and dropped aging yet still viable artists like Bob Seger and Richard Marx.
In what clearly seemed like an attempt to re-capture the market share of Nirvana fans, he signed Everclear. We see how that worked. They are finally starting to move some units, but still...
The interesting point about all this is that toward the end of every year, it seemed like suddenly a new Beatles product came out. I know, because I always got them as company Christmas presents. Again and again the company continued to strip-mine the Beatles catalog, in what seemed an effort to make year-end numbers and raise dividends.
Don't get me wrong, I love the Anthology. And how I feel about the Beatles' place in history has been recently made clear in my recent post here, cross posted at HuffPo and nicely covered by John @ Crooks & Liars.
But I can't help wonder, if the numbers are down for the company year after year, maybe the label treats to books like Paramount treated Art Buchwald, by reporting that the movie made no profit, by extremely creative book cooking.
I don't know, I'm just sayin'.