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History of the Music Industry

Nick Gatfield
Former Chairman and CEO, Sony Music, UK

Learning outcomes

  • How the music industry has developed pver the last 40 yeaars after multiple format and platform changes

Executive Bio

Nick Gatfield

Former Chairman and CEO, Sony Music, UK

Nick is a British music industry executive with over 34 years of experience scouting, signing, and working with global artists such as Amy Winehouse. Nick started his career as a musician in the band ‘Dexys Midnight Runners’ before moving into recorded music. At the age of 26, he was made Director at EMI Records, the youngest in the company’s history. Over the next 20 years, he went on to lead global labels such as PolyGram and Island Records and has worked at three of the four major record labels. More recently, as the Former Chairman of Sony Music, he was leading negotiations with Spotify and both new and old artists in the repertoire. Nick currently runs Twin Music, an incubator for new talent, which funds and services new artists coming to market.Read more

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Interview Transcript

Nick, can you provide a short introduction to your background and experience in the music industry?

I am a 30 year plus veteran of the recorded music business. I started my professional career as a musician, as a member of a band called Dexys Midnight Runners. By various osmoses and relationships, I ended up taking an A&R job at EMI Records, back in the mid-80s, after I had had enough of touring. The plan around that was always that I was putting my own band together and I was writing songs. I was explaining to people that I had nearly got the set together.

So I started in the recorded music side and the business side, in the mid-80s, at EMI Records, as an A&R manager. For the benefit of those who don’t know what an A&R manager is or does, A&R stands for artists and repertoire. We’re the people who go out and identify talent to sign and then work with that talent to develop their artistry, their material and really represent the artists within the major recorded music companies. I started doing that and some in-house production, so I worked in the studio with quite a few of EMI-signed artists at that time. As things evolved, I was lucky enough to have a reasonably good degree of success and became head of A&R at EMI in 1987. I was 26, at the time; apparently the youngest director in EMI’s history, for what it’s worth. Probably the worst paid, as well.

I worked with a whole range of artists and, again, we were lucky enough to have a good degree of success, in terms of reinventing the roster. Funnily enough, EMI in the mid-80s was actually in the doldrums. It was still considered The Beatles company. It always has been, which is always great, as well as being associated with Pink Floyd and Queen. But in terms of its recent history, at that time, breaking new artists had been pretty poor and, believe it or not, I was still getting queries as to why EMI dropped the Sex Pistols. From the artist’s community, it was a no-no, although I was at school at the time.

We went through a course of really reinvesting in the roster, rebuilding the artist’s roster and that resulted in developing breaking acts, such as Blur, Radiohead, who I was deeply involved with. We did unusual deals at the time, with imprints, like Food Records. In fact, Blur came via the Food Records imprint, as did an act called Jesus Jones, who is somewhat forgotten now, maybe, but there was a wonderful moment in the early 90s, where Jesus Jones and another act that we’d signed, called EMF, traded number one places in the US chart. I got calls about coming to America and I decided to go to the States in the early 90s. I went for Polygram, from 1992 to the end of that decade. At that time, Polygram was the biggest recorded music company in the world and were very European centric.

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