It’s been interesting watching EMI’s digital efforts from afar. Here was a record label that actually hired people like Douglas Merrill and Cory Ondrejka with flashy Silicon Valley high-tech resumes and chartered them to start innovating in digital sales and marketing of music. Both Merrill and Ondrejka blogged about their hiring.
The immediate red flag that went up for me was that neither Merrill nor Ondrejka are musicians, nor did they have experience in music software or music representation technology. If all you want to do is build a basic music e-commerce site, that’s not a big problem. But if you want to innovate in digital music, it seems you are tying your hands behind your back without senior people who have deep experience with both technology and music.
I have not met either Mr. Merrill or Mr. Ondrejka. From their track records it seems safe to assume that they are very bright people. But domain experience really does help tremendously in application software development, and the more specialized your domain the more valuable this experience becomes. In Mr. Merrill’s blog post, you can see that he worried about this too.
Many musicians have a well-deserved distrust of software tech people – whether due to music business issues, or wondering why the music software they are using is driving them crazy. It certainly has helped Recordare and MusicXML to be able to point to my musical resume (singing in opera and symphony choruses, playing trumpet on orchestral CDs still in print today) as well as my professional technical resume. Nearly everybody developing software at companies like MakeMusic and the Sibelius unit at Avid can make similar claims, whatever genre of music they perform. The need may not seem so obvious for music sales and marketing software as for music notation software, but that might be a case of not knowing what you don’t know.
So now Mr. Merrill is leaving EMI after less than a year. From my corporate experience, this looks related to Guy Hands’s decreasing involvement at EMI, since the reports were that Hands hired Merrill for the job. Mr. Ondrejka has been promoted, though to a position that has a lower-level title than Mr. Merrill had. I’m still waiting to see a record label make a high-level technology hire of someone who is deeply experienced in music and software, separately and together. The payoff would be even better for a group like EMI that includes music publishing too. Perhaps this has already happened, but in a lower profile fashion?