Andria Vidler: 'It’s not all about being No 1...we want what’s best for the artist'

The only woman in charge of a major label, Andria Vidler tells Adam Sherwin how she’s turning EMI around

In a cut-throat music industry, where even the biggest stars nervously await their weekly chart position, Andria Vidler expounds a heretical philosophy.

“Being No 1 isn’t necessarily always the right thing,” suggests the chief executive of EMI, the famous record company behind chart-toppers from The Beatles to Coldplay that is now facing a tearful break-up.

“Yes, we observe what our competitors are doing but we don’t do things just to beat them. We focus on the best route for the artist,” said Vidler, 46, who joined EMI in 2009 after a career as a senior executive working at the BBC and commercial radio.

“About three years ago as a team we said we’re not going to chase market share. We’re going to take on and prioritise a few artists. We’re actually offering a service to our artists. I know some of our competitors might have a different approach. But it’s worked for EMI.”

It’s a laissez-faire approach to chart success which might prompt raised eyebrows in the rival record giants, which are visible from the penthouse suite at EMI’s Kensington offices, where Vidler is speaking.

She cites a recent example. “Artists have careers that have light and shade to them. Damon Albarn’s Dr Dee soundtrack album (to the Blur singer’s opera) was an amazing piece of work. But it was about ensuring as many people heard it as possible, not necessarily where it came in the album charts.”

At first glance, it might seem that the strategy has not worked very well. Universal, the world’s biggest music company, swallowed up the debt-laden EMI in a £1.2 bn deal last year.  However, the EMI that Universal has acquired is a revived on which, under Vidler’s leadership and despite her professed coolness towards market share, has improved its performance on that measure from 10.9 to 15 per cent. Obvious successes include the Scottish singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé, a ubiquitous face during 2012 whose debut album was the UK’s only million-seller last year.

Universal will not be getting the whole EMI stable, however. In order to placate EU regulators, it has been forced to sell off one of EMI’s crown jewels, the lucrative Parlophone label, home to Blur, Coldplay, Lily Allen, Tempah, Kylie Minogue and Conor Maynard, the teen star tipped to become “Britain’s Bieber”.

The move has unnerved some of Parlophone’s artists with Dave Rowntree, the Blur drummer, expressing his reservations at becoming a pawn in a corporate industry takeover. But Vidler, who is over-seeing the sale, with Warners, Sony and the Spice Girls impresario Simon Fuller among the bidders, is keen to reassure him.

“I understand Dave Rowntree’s perspective,” says Vidler, who hopes to move with Parlophone to its new home.

“Artists aren’t pawns. They worry that they have built longstanding relationships with teams here and that can all be put at risk. But despite the disruption, we’ve had artists sign and re-sign with us because we’ve had phenomenal success. We must be doing something right.”

Vidler, a “media chick” who became managing director of the Capital and Magic FM radio stations before moving to EMI, is a lone female representative at the record company top table. “Shocking, isn’t it?” she says. “It’s puzzling when you have women in high-profile positions across other media companies.”

Yet she is firmly against any suggestion that women should be given a leg up simply to address the gender gap. “I personally don’t believe in an approach that says you need a certain percentage of women or that you need to dictate that women should be on certain boards,” she says.

“I don’t believe women should be given a job purely because they’re women. I think you need to prove you’re the right person for the job. I get a bit distracted by that gender agenda.”

So does Vidler, a rugby-loving, married mother, believe that women are less interested in the all-night parties and excessive lifestyles which traditionally allowed male music executives to demonstrate their commitment to the cause? “I don’t think people get promoted because they stay out late,” she says. But then she adds: “I go to lots of gigs and I’m happy to stay out late.”

But where are the female superstar DJs, or studio producers? “There are lots of superstar female artists and fantastic female managers,” counters Vidler, who says she believes that female mentoring is the best way of elevating more talented women to the boardroom.

She adds: “Women frequently have to spin more than one plate at one time. Some women have stronger EQs [emotional intelligence] than men. But that’s not to say no men have strong EQs.”

Meanwhile, one woman Vidler would like to see more of is Kate Bush, whose back catalogue forms part of the Parlophone sale. Vidler’s triumphs include negotiating an agreement with Bush to recommit to EMI. With seemingly every big name of previous eras making a comeback at present, could Bush be persuaded to return to live performance after more than 30 years? “She might. It would be lovely but Kate will do what she wants to do. The more people ask her to do something, the more she’ll tend to pull back.”

In the meantime, Vidler, who grew up worshipping the Bay City Rollers and Donny Osmond, is working with another comeback kid, David Bowie, and his team on a major rerelease programme of the star’s classic 70s albums, which may include a documentary film.

She is “very excited” about a new Damon Albarn solo album, which the Blur singer is currently working on, and doesn’t rule out new material from that band either. “You never know,” is all she will say.

On a more contemporary footing, a second Tinie Tempah album is set to capitalise on huge interest in the Plumstead rapper in the US. So despite the disruptive background of the Parlophone sale, it is business as usual, almost.

Yet behind Vidler, on the penthouse balcony, sits a giant rusting sculpture of Nipper the Dog and his gramophone, an appropriate symbol for HMV’s collapse and a reminder that the industry in which she works is going through turbulent times.

Digital sales of music, video and games exceeded the £1bn mark for the first time in 2012, an 11 per cent rise on 2011, while physical sales of CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray dropped by 18 per cent.

She is simultaneously unsentimental about the iconic chain’s demise and upbeat about the future of high- street music retail in general. “I’m relatively confident that there will be a specialist entertainment and music store on the high street in some guise,” she says. “I enjoy browsing and trying out new things.”

The record industry’s future, she believes, is a combination of digital downloads, video and streaming services along with physical offerings for hardcore fans, such as Blur’s £130 career-spanning box set. But will those stores of the future carry the name, HMV? “Who knows.”

Another musical name beloved of previous generations is the Now! That’s What I Call Music brand, which has been going for 30 years but is now also up for sale from EMI and facing an uncertain future.

Vidler would love to see it continue, but does not guarantee it. “The 2012 Christmas Now! was the biggest-seller since the middle of the 80s. We’d love to see it remain with whoever purchases Parlophone because the brand still has huge potential.”

At this month’s Brit awards, Vidler will wave goodbye to her protégé Sandé, pictured left,  who now joins Universal.   Was Vidler responsible for Sandé’s presence at practically every major televised event last year, from the Olympic Opening Ceremony to the X Factor final?

“Of course there was a plot to raise her awareness to as many people as possible. But the fact that her album is still in the top 10 after a year shows that there are still people finding her,” she says. It’s one chart-topping feat which Vidler is keen to claim.

On The Spot: Six Questions

Where was the last place you went for dinner?

E&O in Notting Hill

What was the last album you bought/listened to?

Pines by A Fine Frenzy, the stage name for American singer-songwriter Alison Sudol.

What was the last book you read?

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell

What was the last gig/concert you attended?

Gabrielle Aplin & Conor Maynard at the Electric Ballroom, Camden

What was the last sporting event you attended?

England vs Scotland rugby international at Twickenham on Saturday

What was the last film you saw?

Les Misérables – “I bawled my eyes out”

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot