Labels overview … 2012

This is a table that got started many times in the years I’ve been playing with this project. Events, mergers, splits, takeovers all overtook it before it got completed. 

In 2004, Sony (who’d acquired CBS) and BMG (who had acquired RCA) decided to merge as Sony-BMG, thus bringing the arch-rival inventors of the LP and single formats, Columbia and RCA, into the same company.

In the same decade EMI tried to buy Warner and Warner tried to buy EMI. Finally, Universal bought EMI in 2012, but due to anti-competition rules, Universal sold the Parlophone and Chrysalis labels to Warner, then Russian-owned early in 2013. The Beatles were literally Back in the USSR.

In the end, I decided to freeze the chart in mid-2012. At this point we’re neatly back to where we started with just four majors, this time split into groups within each conglomerate.

Snapshot … 2012

In late 2012, four had become three, with EMI’s absorption by UMG (Universal Music Group). See below.

We’re in an era when every release has multiple label credits as every artist forms their own company. Four or five ascending credits has become the norm. So in 2012, Joss Stone is on S Curve, licensed from her own company, Stone’d, via Warner Bros.

Madonna has logos for Maverick, Sire and Warner Bros.

Warner Brothers … Maverick … Sire

The Beach Boys are still on Brother Records under license to Capitol, which is part of EMI. Paul McCartney deserted mighty EMI for Hear Music, a joint venture between Starbucks and Concorde Music Group.

Then there are a host of independents: with amazon, and huge distribution warehouses, a small label can go it alone. When you get to downloads as the main source of revenue, a contract with iTunes does the job.

Look back at the early 70s list, and see how labels have migrated. Minor labels like Def Jam are heading major groups. The specialist reissue label, Rhino, has its own division within Warner. The arcane Blue Note jazz label gives its name to EMI’s jazz and classical group. Sony on the other hand shows its Japanese heritage by continually reducing the number of brands.

Sony … Vogue, Epic, RCA Victor, Legacy, Columbia, Okeh, Jive

The conglomeration effect is illustrated by this Sony box set, The Perfect Blues Collection, with twenty-five original albums, on CD in replica card sleeves. The devaluing of music is shown by the price: £34 for the lot, or £1.36 an album.

They could draw from the catalogues of Sony (Legacy, Columbia, Epic, Okeh), RCA (once Columbia’s arch rival), Vogue and Jive.

Legacy, like WEA’s Rhino, is a logo often also added to other logos to mark reissue and archive material. A similarly priced box set Atlantic Soul Legends with twenty iconic albums, carries the logos of Warner Music, WEA, Rhino and Atlantic.

In 2013, UMG announced its new divisions for the conglomerate. First they merged Mercury and Virgin, and created a new Virgin EMI division, under which Mercury is a label. The Capitol arm of EMI became a separate UMG  division, just as it was separate while EMI still existed. The main divisions became:

Virgin EMI, Polydor, Decca, Capitol, Island / Def Jam.

Capitol included the Parlophone label group, but the European Monopolies Commission required UMG to sell some labels.

So the Beatles library was moved from Parlophone to Capitol, and the rest of Parlophone was sold to the highest bidder. Warner bought it for $765 million in May 2013, planning to treat it as a new major group next to Warner Bros Group, Atlantic Group and Rhino Group.

The 2014 Psychedelia box of five rare 60s albums says:

©Parlophone Records Ltd. A Warner Music Group Company. Marketed by Rhino Entertainment Company.

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