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"If we do our job in the digital space, and make it easier for fans to find and experience artists, who’s to say there won’t be a concomitant increase in sales for other channels?"
EMI GOOGLES MERRILL FOR WORLDWIDE DIGITAL POST
Six Questions for Guy Hands’ New Online Guru Douglas Merrill
Douglas Merrill was named President, Digital for EMI Music by Guy Hands last week. He joins the company from Google, where he was Chief Information Officer and VP Engineering. Before that, he was SVP at financial service provider Charles Schwab. Unfortunately, on his first day in the music business, he ran into HITS’ Roy Trakin.

Why would you leave a company like Google for the music industry now?
I have the opportunity to be a part of helping the music industry find its next chapter. Who can say no to that? I went deaf when I was three, then my hearing came back when I was six. I lived in a world without music when I was deaf. Can you imagine a more horrific world than that?

How did Guy Hands find you?
We have a mutual friend who thought we would find one another interesting. We met in an office in London that had a Sex Pistols album hanging on the wall, so I treated Guy to a spirited rendition of “EMI,” which he apparently found humorous.

What did you learn at Google that can be applied to the music industry?
The lesson at Google is you need to try different things, do a lot of experimentation. Because our first intuitions are often wrong. You have to look at the data and let it tell you the truth. Number one on Google’s Top 10 List of Things to Do is “Follow the user and everything else will happen.” I’m going to carry that same DNA twist in my new role. For instance, we’ve seen empirical data that shows file-sharing might not necessarily be a bad thing for the music industry. We just have to figure out what role the record label has in this system. And what is the right model for the artist to reach his fans. Somewhere in that chain, the record company has to create value. And if it does, there’s money to be made.

How do you see the transition in the music industry from a physical model to digital distribution?
If we do our job in the digital space, and make it easier for fans to find and experience artists, who’s to say there won’t be a concomitant increase in sales for other channels?

Do you feel it’s necessary to break Apple iTunes’ stranglehold on online sales?
Users will find ways to meet their needs. It’s possible there are other models that people would like. Subscription is another possible model. There are lots of different choices for business models, and the technological tools will follow those that are successful. We need to build a business model that doesn’t involve suing our users. We’re in a place where there are a lot of interesting ideas going on. What I’m excited about is that’s just the environment where innovation happens.

What’s your first task?
Finding my desk.

 

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