BMG is to part ways with Roger Waters, the Pink Floyd co-founder whose inflammatory comments about Israel, Ukraine and the United States have caused no shortage of controversy, Variety has learned. The German-based company signed a publishing agreement with the musician in 2016 and was scheduled to release a newly recorded version of Pink Floyd’s epochal 1973 album “Dark Side of the Moon” last year, but new CEO Thomas Coesfeld nixed the deal after taking up his new post on July 1, 2023. The album ultimately came out through U.K.-based Cooking Vinyl.
Now, sources tell Variety that BMG is preparing to separate entirely from the veteran musician.
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A BMG spokeperson declined requests for comment.
While Waters’ work with Pink Floyd is indisputably one of the most significant and lucrative catalogs of the rock era, his controversial political statements in recent years arguably have veered from anti-Zionism into antisemitism, and last year he spoke to the United Nations Security Council at Russia’s invitation, claiming that its 2022 invasion of Ukraine was “not unprovoked.” Waters has been widely criticized for his comments but has remained defiant, voicing them frequently on his recent tours while disputing any allegations of antisemitism. Those statements have infuriated his former bandmates, as they have driven off several suitors interested in acquiring the wizening band’s recorded-music catalog, which was said to be on the market for half a billion dollars.
Waters himself spoke of being “fired” by BMG in a video interview with Glenn Greenwald last November, although the news was buried some 24 minutes into the conversation and followed a long, familiar tirade in which the musician characterized his split with the company as the result of pressure from pro-Israeli interests toward BMG’s parent company Bertelsmann; Waters has spoken often of conspiracies against him publicizing his beliefs, particularly in a 2022 Rolling Stone interview. A source tells Variety that BMG does not agree with Waters’ version of events — he seemed to be referencing the Creative Community for Peace’s open letter calling for the company to “reconsider” its relationship with the musician” — and that Coesfeld, who is a member of the family that controls Bertelsmann, would certainly have discussed the matter with them, made the decision on his own. Bertelsmann issued a statement expressing “solidarity with Israel” shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on the country.
While it is common for artists to be “dropped” from their recording contracts by record companies, it is a far less frequent occurence for major publishing deals. In recent years, both R. Kelly and Kanye West’s actions or statements placed them at odds with their labels and publishers, despite multiplatinum sales; Kelly, who is serving decades-long prison sentence for multiple felonies related to sexual misconduct, has seen his royalties with Sony Music and Universal Music Publishing awarded by a judge to his victims, while West’s deals with Universal’s recorded-music division and Sony Music Publishing were allowed to expire without renewal.
The move is the latest in a series of culture-changing shifts at Berlin-based BMG’s music division from new CEO Thomas Coesfeld, who took the helm from founding CEO Hartwig Masuch last July. While a majority of those moves have been internal and structural, they do seem to signal a change in direction for the Bertelsmann-owned company, which has built itself into the fourth-largest global music company since its launch in 2008, primarily on mature yet reliable artists, from Lenny Kravitz and Motley Crue to Ringo Starr and 5 Seconds of Summer.
While the company has become a global powerhouse on the basis of those recorded-music artists and its formidable music-publishing operation, under Coesfeld the company seems to be pointing in a more contemporary direction, with a bigger focus on the U.S. While Kylie Minogue is a long-established artist in the third decade of her career, her latest album “Tension” is up for a Grammy this weekend and spawned a global smash single in “Padam Padam,” her biggest hit in more than 20 years. The company has also seen significant success with its Nashville division, via hits through its acquisition with BBR Music Group including Jason Aldean (who has his own issues with political statements), Dustin Lynch, Blanco Brown, Jelly Roll, Lainey and Parmalee; it is also releasing a new Jennifer Lopez album on Feb. 16.
Earlier this week, BMG Nashville President Jon Loba was promoted to president of the company’s entire frontline recordings division for North America, and Thomas Scherer, previously head of publishing and recordings in Los Angeles and New York, was named head of global recorded catalog, while retaining North American responsibilities for publishing in North America.
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