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Update: EMI Classics and Virgin labels to disappear in Warner churn

Just as we warned two months ago when Warner won the battle to buy EMI and Virgin Classics, a century of recording tradition is about to be wiped from the record.

Warner has no history in classics before 1990 and no record of success, never rising above two percent of global market share and not signing major talent for several years. It now intends to bury the two famous labels in  ‘a new brand’ that will also house Warner’s stuttering efforts,  while aggressively saving costs on all fronts at a rate of $70 million a year.

Here are extracts from an internal memo by Warner CEO Steve Cooper, obtained by Music Week:




Our acquisition of the renowned labels, EMI Classics and Virgin Classics, will open up huge scope for us to reinvigorate our approach to classical music, starting with the development of a new brand for our activities in this genre. 

We intend to be ambitious and innovative custodians of this revered catalogue and will strive to create the first-choice home for contemporary classical talent.


We are moving to make decisions as soon as we can following the transaction’s closing in order to provide employees with the greatest certainty and to retain the strongest team possible from the wealth of talent that exists within both companies. 


UPDATE: Corporate insiders tell us that Warner had no choice. Universal’s pop teams made sure to retain the EMI-Virgin brands after the Parlophone disposal.  Indeed the Virgin pop label team now operates as a fully-fledged label within UMG called ‘Virgin-EMI’. Warner has no rights to those names and must invent a new brand. Ex-Virgin, we guess, won’t do.

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  1. Craig Leon says:

    Unfortunately the names EMI Classics and Virgin Classics did not come with the labels in the Parlophone deal. That’s the reason why the iconic labels will disappear. Hopefully the talented people from EMI and Virgin will still be there when the dust settles.

  2. Jonathan says:

    It is always sad to see the death of what was once great but I really wonder if it matters any more what happens to these names and companies? Unfortunately there is no point in owning the right to use the name Rolls Royce if you are going to stick it on a Trabant, and, it seems to me, where once the great label names used to be synonymous with a certain quality threshold, they became the face of an industry openly seeking only profit without any real regard for artistry. It would have been still more challenging but had they held on to their integrity in the tough times, they might now be in a position to move forwards in some style. As it is, though, is it not the case that the game has changed beyond all recognition and they have made themselves redundant, of interest only to those who are happy to dig around in the ruins of their past glories in secondhand record shops?

  3. Fabio Fabrici says:

    Why does Warner get involved in classical music recording, when their bean counters so clearly dislike it?
    Wouldn’t it be better to invest in ringtones for mobile phones for them?

  4. Oleg Sherstiucoff says:

    ….there is no point in owning the right to use the name Rolls Royce if you are going to stick it on a Trabant,….

    or, rather, on a Geely equivalent of [God knows what] – the same goes for Ruskie-Ukrainkie ones

  5. EMI Classics wasn’t a renowned/iconic label. It was (global) brand, introduced in (or around) 1990 when EMI shut down what was still left of really legendary labels like Angel, HMV or Odeon.

    And Warner Classics, founded in 1988, might be more vintage than Virgin Classics..

  6. Didn’t Warner have an earlier hand in the business, through an association with the Nonesuch label?

  7. Neil van der Linden says:

    Warner once bought Teldec end Erato. And disrupted them. Inky lifestyle classics label Nonesuch was of interest to them.

    • craig leon says:

      Nonesuch originally was the budget classical arm of Elektra in the 1960s.Run by Jac Holzman and Teresa Sterne.When Elektra was absorbed into Warner it came into the company along with it. It remains at Warner but is by no means classical any more. It is more of a home for quirky heritage pop artists these days.

  8. Warner owned Nonesuch, Enigma, Erato and Teldec in the past. I worked at Enigma on Warner’s payroll until late January 1980 when it was closed down.

    Nonetheless Warner never had an operation anywhere near extensive as EMI and it is a shame to see the EMI brands bite the dust. There is a chance they will come back if the marketing team reconsiders the value of established brand names. Universal has made good use of its established brand names like Decca, DG, Mercury, now Archiv – even though the labels operate quite differently.

  9. These media conglomerates all sound like “Preaching water whilst drinking wine” with their “we intend to…”, sure you do.

  10. Does anyone know if the existing EMI catalog will remain in circulation (such as the classic analogue and mono recordings, made by great artists of the past)? I wonder if all serious music collectors need to buy the great EMI recordings before they vanish.

  11. Worms Laurent says:

    It seem to be a “contre nature” wedding. The only interest for classical music by warner took place at the begining of the CD life (1984/86) when the figures were high and the return on sales important. With the first decline of sales, Warner closed its classical division.
    This merge looks like a kind of an obligation to get Parlophoe and others EMI activities. Wait and see.

  12. Patrick Latimer says:

    I am not sure if anyone can answer this but I cannot help wonder who if anyone has still got the right to use the Nipper image in the UK on CDs. I bought a recent EMI CD from appropriately enough the doomed HMV shop in Prince’s Street Edinburgh. It was a repackaging of vintage Khachaturian performances. It is not promising with scant notes and minimal details about performances and no indication or better still warning that some pieces were recorded in mono and others in stereo with the stereo and mono pieces mixed together quite arbitrarily. I seem to recall the inset card did helpfully inform readers that the original masters were analogue but I suspect that most buyers would probably work that out considering the dates of the performances.

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