26 Oct 05Old news now, but something I've been trying to write about for a while, words don't easily come sometimes, if ever in my case.
SYDNEY AUSTRALIA: Ed St John, President and CEO, Warner Music Australasia, today announced the acquisition of Festival Mushroom Records (Australia and New Zealand).
Festival Mushroom Records was formed by News Ltd from the amalgamation of the operations of Festival Records Pty Ltd, Mushroom Records Pty Ltd and Mushroom Distribution Services (MDS). Festival Records has been operating in Australia and New Zealand since 1952.
Business and music have a funny old relationship – on one side sits a creative medium, an art form if you will, on the other is the black and white world of shareholders, balance sheets and the other considerations a business person understands and digs.
The music industry is a world where business and art does not sit happily, well perhaps unless it’s a very profitable co-existence and more often than in our modern world the music producing those profits is never going to be accused of being art, well not by me anyway. So when art and commerce collide as they must in our capitalist world, there will always be an uneasy relationship, between profit and artistic merit, or at least there should be.
The sale of FMR to Warner Music isn’t news to some and due to the time its taken me to finish this entry its old news fullstop. FMR had been on the market for a long time. I guess it’s a relief for some that finally a sale has been reached and the logical company to buy it has been for sometime, Warner Music. As the two companies have had a very solid relationship/partnership in Australia for sometime. I guess the sticking point all this time was price and maybe to a lesser degree timing.
There has been some news and information in the public domain about the merger and since the offshoot of that, the redundancy of the majority of FMR New Zealand staff – I assume the staff in Australia have the same thing happening, but I am only concerned and interested with the New Zealand office, for pretty simplistic reasons – I worked there for a period and it is with this in mind that I try to explain my feelings/thoughts in what is a awkward subject for me. I could distance myself from the actualities and emotional attachments I have by dealing with the business side, but numbers and the influence they have over people isn’t very interesting, well to me at least and particularly in this instance.
I’m more concerned about those I shared office space and time with. My time at FMR was some of the happiest in any workplace I ever had, which is saying a hell of a lot. For a multitude of reasons, I dug what I did and felt I made a difference to the musical landscape here, which is very self serving and no doubt ego driven and I hope at the least slightly accurate. Yet more than this, the largest reason I look back on my time there with such fond memories is the people of FMR, past and present.
FMR was an amalgamation of three separate NZ companies, Mushroom Records, Festival and my home at the time Flying Nun Records. Three very different companies with common ownership (Newscorp) that brought together a very talented team of people, a very mixed bunch too I might add. More freaks than professionals, maybe...
In the initial days of amalgamation three separate and different groups of people were brought into the fold and had to learn to work together and live together during working hours. The initial days and weeks were very strange as we got to know each other and were molded into a team by management – something they accomplished amazingly well considering the plonkers like me they had inherited. For all the growing pains we went though it was also such an exciting period too.
For any aspiring big management kind of type I suggest strongly that a well stocked and open beer fridge and pool table can really make a huge contribution to group relations…. Well in the music biz, at least. Oh the many happy hours of discussion, debate, hatching of dreams and drinking that took place around that pool table and the many slow and sluggish mornings that were had a as result.
Now beer and pool is all good now add the people - a more diverse and amazingly cool bunch I have never had the pleasure of working with before. Don’t get me wrong I’ve worked with some wickedly cool people in my time - I am a very lucky chap on that front, yet in most instances the groups I’ve worked with have been very similar, at FMR we were not. Whilst we shared many values and other things we most certainly didn’t all view the world through the same lenses. Perhaps this is what made FMR here the company it was, I'd like to think so.
Many of the team that was grouped together in the early days of FMR have gone onto other things however a significant number remained and remain for a tiny while longer. Of these people I can’t think of one I don’t respect for their passion and commitment to their job and their loyalty to the company, there’s not one I wouldn’t happily share a beer or two with and there’s not one I can think of who won’t be feeling very low right now.
Since the news I’ve been flooded with so many memories of my time there, filled with the faces of my then co-workers, funny stories spring to mind at a rate of knots. We had a hell of a lot of fun. We worked hard too, there were the obligatory growing pains, the office politics the ego clashes and all the other muck one expects in a workplace, yet when push came to shove we were all in it together and the team spirit of the place was a truly beautiful thing and credit to the freedoms given and manner in which the management team brought us together.
I personally learnt a hell of a lot. About the music industry and machinations of the biz at a level I hadn’t been witness to prior to my time at FMR as well as about a million other things, I also learnt a lot about myself – not all good I am afraid to say. I wish I could be more objective about the news, but alas I can’t due to the emotional attachment I feel to the people and to a much lesser degree the company.
Having left FMR some four years ago at a tough time for the industry, I have watched from the sidelines the company and thus people go through some tough times, times they got through and they went on to cement themselves as one of the most positive contributors to our musical landscape that NZ has seen for many a year.
The legacy that FMR leaves isn’t something that I feel any but a very few will ever realise nor understand. For its more than simply business, which it of course is yet this also effects music and thus art. I fear and know that many of the people effected will most probably not find similar roles or possibly roles within the music industry full stop – for it most certainly isn’t a growth period right now and as the majors continue to merge, rationalise and contract there are fewer opportunities for employment for anyone. The Independent sector whilst growing steadily isn’t a area that employs many other than those who have a ownership stake in the various companies and in the short term at least this will continue, for there simply isn’t the returns and thus profit for the sort of expansion that can accommodate additional full time employees.
So the passion and knowledge many of my friends have gained over their careers and lifetimes may be lost to the music industry, some of the skills are easily replaced, the passion and less tangible assets cannot.
On top of the direct casualties of the merger are the artists that FMR and its in-house labels represented and the back catalogue that they own, most particularly for me those of Flying Nun. In the big boots world of Warners the majority of these NZ artists FMR represents wouldn’t merit anyone’s time at a proper boardroom level as they are not the thing that produces the sorts of profits that the bigwigs could even lunch on for long, if at all.
So with all this crap floating around me head, I’m off tomorrow afternoon to share a few cold ones with the staff of FMR, to celebrate their successes and bid bon voyage to a small and significant contributor to mine and many others music collections.
I’m proud of the time I spent under the FMR umbrella and them that finish there soon can be too, big time!!!!
A damn fine bunch of people and company, whose legacy in our industry will not be repeated, at least not in the industries present form.
to the staff, the artists and all associated parties I say,