EMI wants to sell Abbey Road studios and I don’t really blame them. I haven’t been blogging recently due to being laid low for a bit, but I had been meaning to blog a bit on the state that EMI finds itself in. The company is a giant in the history of popular music, no question. The problem is that, as we are all aware, the music industry is changing beyond all recognition – we know that.
Now, I know very little about the finances or workings of EMI or any other record company, but I don’t think it takes an industry analyst to guess that the changes that have hit the music industry in the last 10 years have knocked all its member companies sideways. And I’m also guessing that the bigger they come, the harder they have been hit. Bigger companies have bigger outgoings as well as incomes. When things change quickly, they cannot react as quickly as smaller, leaner companies. Recently EMI posted massive losses and they are obviously looking at how they can turn things around. Owning a recording studio in central london probably doesn’t make much sense economically. Apart from the fact that most artists can record in so many more places these days apart from the “traditional” recording studios that were absolutely required right up until a few years ago, there is no real reason why a recording studio cannot be placed somewhere a little, well, cheaper. And the figure to buy Abbey Road has been quoted at about £30 million. That’s serious money for a house, albeit a pretty hefty one.
So, it’s going to be sold by EMI. There has been an outcry that it may be bought by developers who would change its use – possibly to residential. Obviously this won’t happen, for a few good reasons. They include having the space to record large orchestras for a start – which Abbey Road is known for. But the most obvious one is that it is where The Beatles recorded the vast majority of their work. Without going into detail here, it wasn’t just the sublime, timeless, massively influential music that they recorded at Abbey Road (which, wasn’t actually called Abbey Road Studios before the 70’s – the name was changed because of….. you guessed it) it was the massive strides in recorded music that were undertaken here. The Beatles started on 2-track, moved to 4-track when it became available and ended up using 8-track towards the end of their career. Although these advances weren’t created with The Beatles in mind, it was their huge influence that pushed these methods forward. The Beatles did it, everyone else tried to copy it. Also, due to their incredible success, The Beatles pushed the technical staff at Abbey Road to keep producing new things to try. Before them, bands simply didn’t demand new things as they didn’t have the clout to demand. The Beatles became a huge cash-cow to EMI and wanted to wring every last piece of ingenuity out of the pretty primitive equipment at their disposal. Automatic double tracking of vocals was invented by an EMI engineer and used by them. Lennon put his voice through a revolving Leslie speaker for Tomorrow Never Knows…. and Paul got people all over Abbey Road to hold pens with loops of tape going round them to be mixed live for the same song. Ground-breaking band. Ground-breaking technical ideas. Ground-breaking Studios. For these reasons, this important building will be preserved, either as a working studio (less likely as time goes by) or a museum/tourist attraction. In PR terms it would be a disaster if it was lost and if it isn’t stopped before getting as far as the PM or the Queen, Gordon and Liz will do the right thing for the nation. So stop worrying.
UPDATE: Since writing this post, EMI says that it isn’t looking to sell Abbey Road, just raise additional funds to “revitalise” it. So that’s OK then.