Walking into Warner Music Group (WMG), you half expect to bump into Phil Collins or Morrissey. But for WMG’s international general counsel Chris Ancliff, mixing with musical geniuses is all in a day’s work.
“I’ve always been interested in the music industry […] but I didn’t particularly set out to work in the music business. I guess I got lucky,” he explains.
But, like everyone, Ancliff does let his head-of-legal mask drop occasionally. “You work with some really fascinating, interesting people and you do get star-struck from time to time,” he admits.
WMG is one of the biggest record companies in the recording industry, alongside rivals EMI, Universal Music Group and Sony Music.
The current incarnation of the company was formed in 2004 when it was spun off from Time Warner and, as a result, Time Warner no longer retains any ownership.
WMG also has a music publishing arm called Warner/Chappell Music, which is currently one of the world’s largest music-publishing companies.
Ancliff admits that because he has only been in his new role for four months, he is still finding his feet and dissecting how the 85-strong legal team is working together globally.
But he has had plenty of experience in the music industry since he resigned from WMG’s arch-rival EMI in May 2009 after 11 years with the company.
Ancliff joined EMI as associate general counsel in 2002 following nine years at Polygram. He became general counsel in 2007.
During his time at EMI the company was involved in a bid and counter-bid from Warner Music before being taken over by Terra Firma.
It looks as if Ancliff left just in the nick of time: EMI recently reported that it crashed £1.75bn into the red last year and was even involved in a desperate search to find a buyer for its legendary Abbey Road Studios before making a U-turn.
“In many ways I was sad to leave EMI. I think everyone in the music industry would love to see a strong EMI. It’s such a big part of our collective heritage,” he insists genuinely.
Ancliff claims that whatever record company you are at, the music industry is still facing the same unprecedented turmoil of the extension of the term of copyright in Europe and internet piracy.
“We’re lobbying governments for better protection on piracy and trying to get the cooperation of the internet service providers,” he says.
In short, the music industry does not want to give away its music for free. An example of this is the spat between WMG and YouTube that broke out 2008 but was finally resolved last year.
The record company initially blocked or muted videos on YouTube that featured recordings belonging to its labels or to its publishing arm, Warner/Chapell Music.
“We have a really vibrant music industry and we have to keep it that way. But it’s not going to stay vibrant unless the people who create the music – the artists, the writers, the producers and also people whose livelihoods depend on the music industry – can make a living from it,” Ancliff explains.
The arrival of digital has fundamentally changed everything for the industry.
Ancliff says that it has not only changed the way WMG does business, but also the way in which it interacts and connects with its consumers, as well as the way in which it markets and promotes its products.
“The great thing about this job is that I never quite know what’s going to land in my in-tray on a daily basis,” he explains. “It has a very broad range all the way from the core of our business, which is the intellectual property side – making deals with digital companies and a whole variety of new business models – through to the whole contentprotection side, to litigation, employment and data protection.”
One thing that hits you about Ancliff is his genuine love of the industry. For him it is not about the swanky Brit Awards afterparty, but about protecting the music industry and its artists from being robbed by digital piracy.
“I still get really excited at seeing a band we’ve signed as a new artist suddenly explode and become superstars,” he enthuses. “And for everybody who works in this business, it’s what makes it such a great business to work in.”
In an industry where one-hit wonders are commonplace, Ancliff has carved out a long career worthy of some of WMG’s veteran performers.
Name: Chris Ancliff
Title: General counsel, International
Organisation: Warner Music Group
Company turnover:$3.18bn (£2.06bn)
Number of employees:3,400
Legal capability: 85
Main external law firms (UK):Herbert Smith, Olswang
Chris Ancliff’s CV
1984-87: LLB, University of Exeter
1988-89: College Of Law, Guildford
1989-1991: Trainee, Linklaters
1991-93: Corporate associate, Linklaters
1993-98: In-house counsel, Polygram
1998-2002: Head of business affairs, International and Europe, EMI
2002-09: Associate general counsel, then general counsel, EMI
2009-present: General counsel – International, Warner Music Group