It probably won’t mean much to the music industry outside of Greater China, but, despite the rather humorous press release above, Warner Music’s recent purchase of Gold Typhoon has had those still with some interest in what’s purportedly the “music industry” scratching their heads as to why, and whether Lachie Rutherford, below, the semi-retired, or retired, or about to retire- fuck me dead, old Lachie has been retiring for twenty years- and still head of Warner Music Asia had a serious senior moment along with whoever else agreed to purchasing Gold Typhoon for a reported US$60m.
What exactly is Gold Typhoon?
In the beginning- 2003- and when dinosaurs ruled the music world, Gold Typhoon was a partner of EMI Music focussing on the Greater China market and owned and started up by Norman Cheng, below, then also Chairman of EMI Music Asia, with much advice from his longtime friend, partner, confidante and legal pitbull terrier in the late Eric Kronfeld- a colorful character whose bark was bigger than his bite and an acquired taste.
I liked Eric- or, as I called him, “Ringo” when he started combing his hair forward and wearing tracksuits and Air Jordans at seventy.
“Ringo” was not a stupid man and, along with NC- also not a stupid man- convinced then-Chairman and co-Chairman of EMI Music Worldwide- Alain Levy and David Munns, respectively, that the music company needed a “presence” in China- and gawd knows the presentations I made about China being “potentially the biggest music market in the world”- potentially- and all the truly creative and obtuse pitches made where shown were millions of Mainland Chinese on bicycles, millions on mobile phones, millions crossing streets…
Well, you get the drift; if millions could be riding bicycles, millions could be buying music.
As long as the China Dream was alive, the EMI Regional Office and the chump change received from our offices in Singapore, the Philippines, music cassette markets like Malaysia and Indonesia where all the “big sales numbers” trotted out meant diddly squat, was acceptable to Head Office.
Gawd knows, that Head Office had its own head cases and headaches- politics, dirty tricks, the leftovers from the Berry days, the nincompoops at Wright’s Lane who were given VP titles to swan around the world spreading the bollocks gospel and Levy and Munns- both good guys, but past their Use By date.
They were brought in from the cold to run EMI after their exit from PolyGram which they headed up when that VERY good music company was gobbled up by Edgar Bronfman Jr, head of Seagram, who was hell-bent on becoming a music mogul- which is what happens when Celine Dion records one of your crappy originals.
After a few years of tough talk, much swearing at worldwide conferences, weird artist signings, and false bravado, Levy and Munns were given the heave-ho- a surprise attack by the notorious Biscuit Bungler- Eric Nicoli aka “The Farmer”, CEO of EMI and known as the man who created the Yorkie bar when heading up United Biscuits.
Despite, say many, his monumental fuck-ups running the music company, Nicoli, the smiling, jovial assassin, was paid millions to go away after negotiating the deal that killed EMI- Every Mistake Imaginable- when, somehow, persuading Guy Hands- the fat chap from private equity group Terra Firma and his Terrarists- to acquire the one-time home of the Beatles.
Knowing fuck all about music- but he LOVED singing karaoke- that man Hands, whose experience was renovating nursing homes and toilets on the Autobahn- completely and utterly made EMI go tits up by being, well, daft and not understanding artists- and the business.
Back in Hong Kong where the EMI Regional Office existed on a wing and a prayer and corporate bullshit mixed with much fawning, we knew that the Hands Era meant that the gig was up.
We’d had a good run, a few feathered their nests by looking out for number one and screwing others- even “mates”- behind their backs while a few moved to Gold Typhoon as it had licensed the EMI catalogue for China and a “crisp” press release made everything look and sound like the second coming of The Long March with the China Music Syndrome becoming the battle cry.
Mainland Chinese artists and a few from Taiwan were signed, those once-obligatory “360 degree management deals” were conjured up, reality shows were bought, but never shown- who knows where the money went- and then- BOOM- Gold Typhoon went into partnership with investment group Pacific Capital whose Chairman was an Italian businessman named Silvio Scaglia, below, one of the richest men in Italy, who was a successful telecoms entrepreneur and had dabbled in music via Babelgum, the web platform.
Alas, a few days following the announcement of this partnership, Scaglia was arrested for tax fraud and put under house arrest and with one Louis Pong, aka “The Pongster”, based in Hong Kong, taking over the running of Pacific Capital.
“The Pongster” and Norman Cheng were like oil and water, fish and seaweed, rubber and cement with the former being LOUD, abrasive and a show-off- someone in love with the sound of his own voice, and, like Guy Hands, an entertainment groupie.
Cheng-san was inscrutable and seemed to look at his new partner as somewhat of a goofy loose cannon with a few lightbulbs missing upstairs.
Still, money talked LOUDLY and while various deals and projects were discussed- the Rights to F1 Rocks, the purchase of Nettwerk Records, even- gawd no, purchasing M1NT Shanghai- etc etc- all that happened was “The Pongster” purchasing the Elite modeling agency with his ‘master plan” being to turn models into singers and actresses. Well, so much for that goofball idea.
In 2010, tired of it all, Norman Cheng cashed in his chips, sold his stake in Gold Typhoon to Pacific Capital and went off to race horses in Macau while his former company plodded along with some well-known gaffes along the way- contracts with artists not worth the paper they’were printed on, little or no accounting, artists getting screwed over, a team of has-beens and never-been wannabe music industry people and extremely loose deals involving master rights to recordings whose usage legalities are still under scrutiny.
To top it all off, Ciara Scaglia, daughter of Silvio Scaglia, was despatched to Beijing to run Gold Typhoon as she spoke Mandarin. She now runs a lingerie business.
Still, none of this daftness did not deter- so say many, EMI Music from bidding for Gold Typhoon- though the former claims to have never thought about it.
However, after months of wooing, EMI is said to have walked away from any marriage with Gold Typhoon when Warner Music made that reported US$60m offer- and was sold to the guy over there with the big question mark over his head.
The bigger question is, what has Warner Music bought and how and where do they recoup any of this?
Many say it’s for the music company to increase its market share in China and, with the Gold Typhoon purchase, there is a fighting chance of achieving this against Sony and Universal Music.
Market share? But with what?
There’s the EMI Taiwan catalogue, the Gold Label Cantonese catalogue and a reminder of everything label head Paco Wong managed to bring to his own table- an interesting story of its own- plus a smattering of recordings by artists like Jolin Tsai, below, Elva Hsiao, A-Mei, Shao Lo and a few others.
I’m betting- and so are others who stupidly did business with Gold Flatulence- that there will be some rude shocks awaiting Warner when they realize that god- and the devil- are in the details- and that the company they purchased, which saw many key staff like Producer “extraordinaire” Sam Chan up and leave with “his” artists, was so poorly managed that much of what is meant to be won’t be there when the dust has settled.
There is another Spaniard In the Works: A totally new entertainment business model for Mainland China from an organization only recently getting its feet wet in the entertainment industry with the hardware well in place along with all the funding in the world, the sponsors, the backing and endorsement of the Chinese politburo, and ready to press Play to and with one of the country’s largest customer groups.