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It was a momentous and sad day in the music business on Tuesday when the announcement came that the country’s oldest independent music company, Alberts, had been sold to the German multinational BMG. The Sydney-based company that brought AC/DC, the Easybeats and John Paul Young — among many others — to the world has been swallowed up by a global giant more able to cope with the technological demands and international marketing strategies required in the 21st-century music business. It brings to an end 131 years of trading under the Alberts name, begun in 1885 when Jacques Albert, a recent arrival from Switzerland, opened a small watch, clock and musical instrument repair business in Newtown, Sydney. Generations of the Albert family have been at the helm of the ever-expanding company since then, not least Ted Albert, who in the 1950s guided it through the rock ‘n’ roll era, establishing in the 60s the Albert Productions arm of the family business, a cornerstone of the Australian industry that has produced a wealth of pop and rock talent ever since, from the Ted Mulry Gang to Megan Washington, from the Angels to San Cisco, from Stevie Wright to Paulini. The last ever Alberts chief executive, David Albert, admitted to SD on Tuesday that it had been difficult for the family to reach the decision to sell, thus ending a brand name synonymous with local talent. “We as a family have been thinking about the changes in the music business for a good period of time,” he says. “The larger technology companies are having a greater impact on our business. We’ve been thinking about the challenges of running a full-service music publishing and recording company in the Australian market.” Those challenges, it appears, were too great. The Alberts can console themselves knowing they retain financial interest in one of the most profitable catalogues in rock ‘n’ roll history, that of AC/DC. That and the catalogues of long-time associates Wright, Harry Vanda and George Young are not part of the BMG deal.
The significance of Alberts’ demise was not lost on one of the industry’s leading and most enduring movers and shakers. Hours after Tuesday’s announcement, Mushroom and Liberation founder Michael Gudinski held court at a small Sydney venue to introduce one of his latest proteges, Brisbane singer Emma Louise, to a gathering of industry types at a showcase for her new album, Supercry (which sounded suspiciously like Supercrime each time he mentioned it). While not exactly basking in the Alberts sale, his speech prior to Emma Louise’s dazzling performance did make clear that his empire is a glowing example of an independent force that will not be going the way of Alberts anytime soon.
Next week sees the release of American tunesmith Michael Kiwanuka’s second album, Love & Hate, follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut, Home Again. This week the singer revealed that songs from the new album, including singles Black Man in a White World and Rule the World, will feature in a new television series by Australian director Baz Luhrmann. The Get Down, a 13-part drama that Luhrmann says he has been developing for 10 years, focuses on New York as a hub of hip hop, punk and disco music. It screens on Netflix from August 12.
Alberts brought AC/DC to the world