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No plans to sell Abbey Road, says EMI

test 23 February 2010

UK: The announcement follows a global outcry about the rumoured sale of the iconic London studio, writes David Davies. Little more than a year after EMI Group closed its other celebrated London recording facility, Olympic, 16 February saw a spate of reports suggesting that the label was about to offload what is arguably the greatest jewel in its crown: Abbey Road Studios.

For several days, EMI refused to comment on the reports, which prompted national and international campaigns seeking to ensure the studios’ future. But more than five days after the story first broke, the company finally went public on Sunday 21 February to deny the claims in a statement emailed to international media outlets. "In mid-2009, we did receive an offer to buy Abbey Road for in excess of _30 million but this was rejected since we believe that Abbey Road should remain in EMI’s ownership," it said, adding that in recent months it had been in discussion with "interested and appropriate third parties" about funding a "revitalisation" project.

Whilst the statement appears to ensure the studio’s future, there may be some questions about the need to ‘revitalise’ a facility that has successfully bucked the general trend for major studio decline. As well as remaining a first-choice for many leading artists and producers, it has a thriving film and game scoring business, and has also nurtured the idea of studio-as-brand via a Channel 4 series, Live from Abbey Road, a dedicated plug-in range and, as announced in December, a product partnership with Native Instruments.

Originally established in 1931 by a forerunner of EMI, the facility – for many years known simply as ‘EMI Studios’ – has played a profound role in the development of modern recording practices. Automatic double-tracking (ADT) was among the techniques to be pioneered there, while music-makers as diverse as Sir Edward Elgar, Glenn Miller, Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden and – more recently – Kate Nash and The Killers have benefited from the studios’ hard-won expertise.

But it is the long association with The Beatles and its four members’ subsequent solo careers for which the complex is most famous – to the extent that it was ultimately renamed ‘Abbey Road’ after the Fab Four immortalised the crossing outside the studio on the cover of their 1969 album.

EMI was acquired by private equity firm Terra Firma in 2007, and the label’s recent posting of a _1.75bn loss (for 2009) helped to give weight to the claims about the possible sale of Abbey Road. Not surprisingly, in the days before the official statement was issued, industry figures queued up to demand the studios’ continuation.

"Abbey Road has to remain fully active," APRS executive director Peter Filleul told PSN-e. "It is a very successful business and, beyond that, it has an extraordinary global reputation as the best recording studio in the world."

Dave Harries – who worked at Abbey Road from 1964-’70 and who has subsequently been involved with most of the UK’s other leading studios, including Air and Decca – added: "In its plaster and its brickwork there are so many souls that have worked there who have been leaders of their field in the world. Abbey Road Studios is a shrine to music."

For a full account of the public and industry reaction to the rumoured sale of Abbey Road, see the March edition of Pro Sound News Europe.



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