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Execs move from Web to music companies

Google VP of Engineering Douglas Merrill leaves to head EMI's digital music initiatives, while Yahoo Music's Ian Rogers leaves for a mysterious digital music startup.

Maybe it's just coincidence, but this week two executives have left major Web companies for roles in the music industry.

Earlier this week, Google VP of Engineering Douglas Merrill left to lead EMI's digital music initiative. According to his Google bio, his core background is in finance--not music and not really technology, although apparently he has done a lot of work in information security. Apparently, singing the Sex Pistols' anti-label song "EMI" to EMI head Guy Hands helped him get the job. Too bad MCA's gone--maybe I could have gotten a job by singing Lynyrd Skynyrd.

This morning, Yahoo Music head Ian Rogers announced that he's leaving for Topspin Media, a mysterious startup that apparently hopes to "help artists earn a living through software"--based on the old Wired article that Rogers links to, I'm guessing Topspin is trying to pioneer some new form of digital distribution or rights tracking. Rogers has expressed some interesting ideas about standard labeling for downloadable music files, and while Yahoo might have been a great venue to help push these standards through, the attempted Microsoft acquisition throws everything into doubt. In fact, one of the first moves Yahoo made after the acquisition announcement was to scrap its own music subscription service and move customers to Rhapsody. I honestly can't see how a pure Web-based music service like Yahoo's could survive in a Microsoft that seems devoted to pushing its own Zune ecosystem as a competitor to Apple's iTunes.

Two pieces of news don't make a trend (although if you go back two years, I guess they're following MSN Music's Hadi Partovi, who left to help his brother start iLike). Even so, it's interesting that executives are leaving Web companies to make waves in an industry that's supposedly dying. The obvious answer: music isn't dying, but the current distribution models are, and whoever figures out the next distribution model stands to make a lot of money.