EMI to sell iconic Abbey Road studios

by Enrico Borsetti



London, England (FT) -- Abbey Road, the London recording studios immortalized by the Beatles album of the same name, has been put on the market by EMI as the music group looks to extricate itself from the debt burden of Terra Firma's 2007 leveraged buy-out.

EMI would not comment but five people familiar with the situation told the Financial Times it had been courting bidders for the property in St John's Wood. A sale could raise tens of millions of pounds.

It was not immediately clear whether EMI would sell the Abbey Road brand name along with the property, but one media lawyer said: "The brand is worth more than the building... anybody who wants the studios will want the brand."

EMI bought the house at number 3 Abbey Road for 100,000 ($160,000) in 1929 and transformed it into the world's first custom-built recording studios.

In 1931, Sir Edward Elgar used studio one to record Land of Hope and Glory with the London Symphony Orchestra and by World War II Abbey Road was used for propaganda recordings for the British government and BBC radio broadcasts.

The Beatles put the studios on the map, using it for 90 percent of their recordings between 1962 and 1969 and naming their final album Abbey Road. EMI used the studios for last year's release of remastered Beatles albums.

Pink Floyd recorded Dark Side of the Moon at the studios, which have also been used by Radiohead, the Manic Street Preachers, Travis and Blur.

However, the studios have faced cheaper competition from recording facilities in other countries, and technological advances allowing artists to record using only a laptop computer have made it harder for labels to justify owning expensive recording infrastructure.

"What you have is a very, very expensive piece of heritage. If an artist goes to a label and asks to record at Abbey Road they will be met with maniacal laughter," the media lawyer said.

Abbey Road is still prized as one of the few venues able to accommodate entire orchestras, which has allowed producers to record scores there for films such as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

EMI has worked to exploit the Abbey Road brand name in recent years, launching a service called Abbey Road Live last November that offers fans the chance to buy instant concert recordings at venues.

Depending on the level of offers it attracts, a sale could bolster EMI's finances at a time when Terra Firma is seeking 120M ($188M) from investors by June to avoid breaching covenants on 3.3B ($5.17B) of loans from Citigroup. However, it is unlikely that the proceeds would arrive in time or be large enough to help significantly with that deadline.

Posted on Feb 16, 2010, 4:49 AM

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