Music Group (abbreviated as WMG, commonly referred to as Warner
Music or WEA International) is an American multinational entertainment
and record label conglomerate headquartered in New York City. It is
one of the "big three" recording companies and the third largest in
the global music industry, next to Universal
Music Group (UMG) and
Entertainment (SME), being the only American worldwide
music conglomerate. Formerly owned by Time Warner, the company was
publicly traded on the
New York Stock Exchange
New York Stock Exchange until May 2011, when it
announced its privatization and sale to Access Industries, which was
completed in July 2011. With a multibillion-dollar annual turnover,
WMG employs in excess of 3,500 people and has operations in more than
50 countries throughout the world.
The company owns and operates some of the largest and most successful
record labels in the world, including its flagship labels Warner Bros.
Parlophone and Atlantic Records. WMG also owns
Warner/Chappell Music, one of the world's largest music publishers.
1.1 1950s and 1960s
1.1.1 Atlantic exerts autonomy
1.2.1 Worldwide distribution
1.2.2 Warner Communications
3 List of Warner labels
4.1 CD price fixing
Music streaming services
5 See also
8 External links
1950s and 1960s
The film company
Warner Bros. had no record label division at the time
one of its contracted actors, Tab Hunter, scored a hit song for Dot
Records, a division of rival Paramount Pictures. In order to prevent
any repetition of its actors recording for rival companies, and to
also capitalize on the music business,
Warner Bros. Records
Warner Bros. Records was
created in 1958. In 1963, Warner purchased Reprise Records, which had
been founded by
Frank Sinatra three years earlier so that he could
have more creative control over his recordings. With the Reprise
acquisition, Warner gained the services of Mo Ostin, who would be
mainly responsible for the success of Warner/Reprise.
The Canadian unit was opened in 1967 as Warner Reprise Canada Ltd, now
Music Canada Co.
Warner Bros. was sold to
Seven Arts Productions
Seven Arts Productions in 1967 (forming
Warner Bros.-Seven Arts), it purchased Atlantic Records, founded in
1947 and WMG's oldest label (until WMG completed its acquisition of
Parlophone in 2013), as well as its subsidiary Atco Records. This
Neil Young into the company fold, initially as a
member of Buffalo Springfield. Young would become one of Warner's
longest-established artists, recording both as a solo artist and with
groups under the Warner-owned Atlantic, Atco, and Reprise labels, as
well as making five albums for
Geffen Records during that label's
period of Warner distribution. The Geffen catalogue, now owned by
Music Group, represents Young's only major recordings not
under WMG ownership.
In 1969, two years after being purchased by Seven Arts, the Warner
Bros.-Seven Arts company was sold to the Kinney National Company.
Kinney (later changing its name to Warner Communications) combined the
operations of all of its record labels, and Kinney CEO Steve Ross led
the group through its most successful period until his death in 1992.
An earlier attempt by
Warner Bros. Records
Warner Bros. Records to create an in-house
distribution arm in 1958 didn't materialize. So in 1969, Elektra
Jac Holzman approached Atlantic's Jerry Wexler with the
idea of setting up a joint distribution network for Warner, Elektra,
and Atlantic. An experimental branch was established in Southern
California as a possible prototype for an expanded operation.
Atlantic, its subsidiary Atco Records, and its affiliate Stax Records
paved the way for Warner's rise to industry prominence. The purchase
brought in Atlantic's lucrative back-catalogue, which included classic
recordings by Ray Charles, the Drifters, the Coasters, and many more.
In the mid 1960s, Atlantic/Stax had released a string of landmark soul
music recordings by artists including Booker T & the MGs, Sam
& Dave, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Ben E. King, and Aretha
Franklin. But the sale led to Stax leaving the Atlantic fold because
the new Warner owners insisted on keeping the rights to Stax
recordings. However, Atlantic also moved decisively into rock and pop
in the late 1960s and 1970s, signing major British and American acts
including Led Zeppelin, Cream, Crosby Stills & Nash, Yes, Emerson,
Lake & Palmer, Average White Band, Dr John, King Crimson, Bette
Midler, Roxy Music, and Foreigner.
Atlantic exerts autonomy
It was soon apparent in 1969 that Atlantic/Atco president Ahmet
Ertegün viewed Warner/Reprise president Mike Maitland as a rival.
Maitland believed that, as vice-president in charge of the Warner
Bros.-Seven Arts music division, he should have final say over all
recording operations, and he further angered Ertegün by proposing
that most of Atlantic's back-office functions (such as marketing and
distribution) be combined with the existing departments at
Warner/Reprise. In retrospect Ertegün clearly feared that Maitland
would ultimately have more power than him and so he moved rapidly to
secure his own position and remove Maitland.
Maitland had put off renegotiating the contracts of Joe Smith and Mo
Ostin, the presidents of the
Warner Bros. and Reprise labels, and this
provided Ertegün with an effective means of undermining Maitland.
When Wexler—now a major shareholder—found out about the contract
issue he and Ertegün began pressuring
Eliot Hyman to get Smith and
Ostin under contract, ostensibly because they were worried that the
two executives might move to rival labels—and in fact Ostin had
received overtures from both the MGM and ABC labels.
In 1969, the wisdom of Hyman's investments was proved when Kinney
National Company purchased
Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
Warner Bros.-Seven Arts for $400 million,
more than eight times what Hyman had paid for Warner/Reprise and
Atlantic combined. From the base of his family's funeral parlour
business, Kinney president Steve Ross had rapidly built the Kinney
company into a profitable conglomerate with interests that included
comic publishing, the
Ashley-Famous talent agency, parking lots and
cleaning services. Following the takeover, Warners' music group
briefly adopted the 'umbrella' name Kinney Music, because U.S.
anti-trust laws at the time prevented the three labels from trading as
Ross was primarily focused on rebuilding the company's ailing movie
division and was happy to defer to the advice of the managers of the
company's record labels, since he knew that they were generating most
of the group's profits. Ertegun's campaign against Maitland began in
earnest that summer. Atlantic had agreed to help
Warner Bros. in its
efforts to establish its labels overseas, beginning with its
Warner Bros. subsidiary in Australia, but when
Warner executive Phil Rose arrived in Australia, he discovered that
just one week earlier Atlantic had signed a new four-year distribution
deal with a rival local label, Festival Records (owned by Rupert
Murdoch's News Limited). Mike Maitland complained bitterly to Kinney
executive Ted Ashley, but to no avail – by this time Ertegun
was poised to make his move against Maitland.
As he had with Hyman, Ertegun urged Steve Ross to extend
Mo Ostin and
Joe Smith's contracts, a recommendation Ross was happy to accept.
Ostin however had received overtures from other companies including
MGM Records and
ABC Records and when he met with Ertegun in January
1970 and was offered Maitland's job, he was unwilling to re-sign
immediately. In response, Ertegun broadly hinted that Maitland's days
were numbered and that he, Ertegun, was about to take over the
Unlike the Warner/Reprise executives, Atlantic's execs the Ertegun
brothers (Ahmet and Neshui) and Wexler owned stock in Kinney.
Ostin was understandably concerned that, if he accepted the position,
Warner Bros. staff would feel that he had stabbed Maitland in the
back, but his attorney convinced him that Maitland's departure was
inevitable, regardless of whether or not he accepted the post
(succinctly advising him, "Don't be a schmuck"). On Sunday January 25,
Ted Ashley went to Maitland's house to tell him he had been dismissed,
and Maitland declined the offer of a job at the movie studio. One week
Mo Ostin was named as the new President of Warner Bros.
Records, with Joe Smith as his Executive Vice-President. Ertegun
nominally remained the head of Atlantic, but since both Ostin and
Smith owed their new positions to him, Ertegun was now the de facto
head of the Warner music division. Ertegun was given the formal title
of executive vice-president-
Music Group. Maitland moved to MCA
Records later that year and successfully consolidated MCA's labels,
which he couldn't do at Warner.
During the 1970s, the Kinney group built up a commanding position in
the music industry. In 1970, Kinney bought
Elektra Records and its
Nonesuch Records (founded by
Jac Holzman in 1950) for $10
million, bringing in leading rock acts, including the Doors, Tim
Buckley, and Love, and its historically significant folk archive,
along with the successful budget Western classical-music label
Nonesuch Records. The purchase of Elektra-Nonesuch brought a rich back
catalogue of folk music as well as the renowned Nonesuch catalogue of
classical and world music. Elektra founder
Jac Holzman ran the label
under Warners for two years, but by that time, he was by his own
admission "burnt out" after twenty years in the business. Kinney
president Steve Ross subsequently appointed Holzman as part of a
seven-person "brains trust" tasked with investigating opportunities
presented by new technologies, a role Holzman was eager to accept.
The same year, the group established its first overseas offices in
Canada and Australia. By that time the "Seven Arts" moniker was
dropped from the
Warner Bros. name.
Warner Bros. also founded the
Casablanca Records subsidiary, headed by Neil Bogart; but several
years later Casablanca would become independent of Warner Bros.
With the Elektra acquisition, the next step was forming an in-house
distribution arm for the co-owned labels. By this time,
Warner-Reprise's frustrations with its current distributors had
reached breaking point; Joe Smith (then Executive Vice-President of
Warner Bros.) recalled that the
Grateful Dead were becoming a major
act but the distributor was constantly out of stock of their albums.
These circumstances facilitated the full establishment of the group's
in-house distribution arm, initially called Kinney Record Group
International. By late 1972, US anti-trust laws had changed and
the company was renamed Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, WEA for short, which
was renamed Warner
Music in 1991 (the word "group" was added after the
AOL Time Warner).
WEA was an early champion of heavy metal rock music. Several such
bands, including three major British pioneers Led Zeppelin, Black
Sabbath, and Deep Purple, were all signed to WEA's labels, at least in
the United States. Among the earliest American metal acts to be signed
to WEA were Alice Cooper, Montrose, and Van Halen.
Up to this point the Kinney-owned record companies had relied on
licensing deals with overseas record labels to manufacture, distribute
and promote its products in other countries; concurrent with the
establishment of its new distribution arm, the company now began
establishing subsidiaries in the other major markets, beginning with
the creation of
Warner Bros. Records
Warner Bros. Records Australia in 1970, soon
followed by branch offices in the UK, Europe and Japan. In July 1971,
the new in-house distribution company was incorporated as
Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Distributing Corp. (WEA) and branch offices
were established in eight major US cities; Joel Friedman a one-time
Billboard writer who had been the head of Warner's
advertising/merchandising division in its early years, was appointed
to head WEA's US domestic division, and Ahmet Ertegun's brother Nesuhi
was appointed to oversee its international operations. Neshui Ertegun,
originally a Turkish native like his brother, displayed a global
perspective and independence from its U.S. counterpart by successfully
promoting international acts in their target markets worldwide.
Ertegun headed WEA International until his retirement in 1987. A de
facto committee of three senior marketing executives—Dave Glew from
Atlantic, Ed Rosenblatt from
Warner Bros. and Mel Posner from
Elektra—oversaw the integration of each label's marketing and
distribution through the new division, but each label continued to
operate totally independently in A&R matters and also applied
their own expertise in marketing and advertising.
On July 1, 1971, following the pattern set by similar joint ventures
in Canada and Australia, the Warner labels entered into a partnership
with the British arm of CBS Records to press and distribute
Warner-Reprise product in the United Kingdom, although this was
undertaken as a cooperative venture rather than a formally
incorporated business partnership. The Billboard article that reported
the new arrangement also noted that, despite their intense competition
in the US market, CBS continued to press Warner-Reprise recordings in
the US. However the new UK arrangement was a major blow to Warner's
previous British manufacturer Pye Records, for whom Warner-Reprise had
been their largest account. With the scheduled addition of the UK
rights to the Atlantic catalogue, which would revert to Kinney in
early 1972, Billboard predicted that the Warner-CBS partnership would
have a 25–30% share of the UK music market.
In April 1971, thanks mainly to the influence of Ahmet Ertegun, the
Kinney group announced a major coup with its acquisition of the
worldwide rights to the Rolling Stones' new label Rolling Stones
Records, following the expiration of the band's contract with British
Decca (then separate from the American label) and the acrimonious end
to their business relationship with their former manager Allen Klein.
Under the terms of the deal, Atlantic subsidiary Atco would distribute
the Stones' recordings in the US, with other territories mainly
Warner Bros. international divisions.
One of Kinney's wisest investments was Fleetwood Mac. The band signed
to Reprise in the early 1970s after relocating to the US and the label
supported them through numerous lineup changes and several lean years
during which the band's records sold relatively poorly, although they
remained a popular concert attraction. Ironically, after their
Warner Bros. in 1975 and the recruitment of new members
Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, the group scored a major
international hit with the single "Rhiannon" and consolidated with the
best selling albums Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tusk.
Due to a financial scandal involving price fixing in its parking
operations, Kinney National spun off its non-entertainment assets
in 1972 (as National Kinney Corporation) and changed its name to
Warner Communications Inc..
In 1972, the Warner group acquired another rich prize, David Geffen's
Asylum Records. The $7 million purchase brought in several acts who
would prove crucial the Warner group's subsequent success, including
Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, Jackson Browne,
Joni Mitchell and later
Warren Zevon. On the downside, however, it was rumored that Warners
was soon concerned about their possible liability under the California
State Labor Code because of Geffen's questionable status as both the
manager of most of the Asylum acts and the head of the record label to
which they were signed. The sale included the
Asylum Records label and
its recordings, as well as Geffen's lucrative music publishing assets
and the interests in the royalties of some of the artists managed by
Geffen and partner Elliot Roberts. Geffen accepted a five-year
contract with WCI and turned over his 75% share in the Geffen-Roberts
management company to Roberts and Warners paid Geffen and Roberts
121,952 common shares worth $4,750,000 at the time of the sale, plus
$400,000 in cash and a further $1.6 million in promissory notes
convertible to common stock.
Although it seemed a lucrative deal at the time, Geffen soon had
reason to regret it. Uncharacteristically, he had greatly
underestimated the value of his assets—within Asylum's first year as
a Warner subsidiary, albums by
Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles alone had
earned more than the entire value of the Asylum sale. Geffen's
discomfort was compounded by the fact that, within six months of the
sale, the value of his volatile Warner shares had plummeted from $4.5
million to just $800,000. He appealed to Steve Ross to intervene, and
as part of a make-good deal, Ross agreed to pay him the difference in
the share value over five years. Acting on Jac Holzman's suggestion
that Kinney should take Asylum from Atlantic and merge it with
Elektra, Ross then appointed Geffen to run the new combined label.
In 1976, Warner gained a brief early lead in digital media when it
Atari computer company, and in 1981 it bought The
Franklin Mint company. WCI also blazed the trail in visual music with
MTV, which it created and co-owned in partnership with American
Express. In 1984–85, Warner rapidly divested many of these recent
acquisitions, including Atari, Franklin Mint, Panavision,
and a cosmetics business.
In 1977, Warner-Elektra-Atlantic formed Pacific Records for their
composers and distributed (appropriately) by Atlantic Records. Alan
O'Day was the first artist signed to the label, and the first release
was "Undercover Angel". The song, which he described as a "nocturnal
novelette," was in February 1977. Within a few months it had become #1
in the country, and has sold approximately two million copies. It was
also a hit in Australia, reaching #9 on the Australian Singles Chart.
"Undercover Angel" also landed O'Day in an exclusive club as one of
only a handful of writers/performers to pen a #1 hit for themselves
and a #1 for another artist.
New signings in the late 1970s placed WEA in a strong position for the
1980s. A deal with Seymour Stein's
Sire Records label (which Warner
Bros. Records later took over) brought in several major punk rock and
new wave acts including the Pretenders, the Ramones and Talking Heads
and, most importantly, rising star Madonna; Elektra signed the Cars
Warner Bros. signed Prince, giving WEA several of the
biggest-selling acts of the decade.
WEA's labels also distributed a number of otherwise independent
labels. For example,
Warner Bros. distributed Straight Records,
DiscReet Records, Bizarre Records, Bearsville Records, and Geffen
Records (the latter was sold to MCA in 1990). Atlantic Records
distributed Swan Song Records. In 1975, WEA scored a major coup by
signing a distribution agreement with Island Records, which only
United States and select other countries. For the next 14
years (initially with
Warner Bros. until 1982, then with Atlantic
afterward), WEA would distribute such artists as Bob Marley, U2,
Robert Palmer, Anthrax, and Tom Waits. This relationship ended when
Island was sold to
PolyGram in 1989.
A proposed 1983 international merger between
PolyGram and WEA was
forbidden by both the US
Federal Trade Commission
Federal Trade Commission and West Germany's
cartel office, so PolyGram's half-owner
Philips then purchased a
further 40% of the company from its partner Siemens, and bought the
remaining shares in 1987. The same year,
PolyGram divested its film
and publishing operations, closed
PolyGram Pictures and sold Chappell
Music to Warner for US$275 million.
WEA signed with
MCA Records a distribution agreement of this
disco-graphic house outside US in 1983, which lasted until 1990.
WEA Manufacturing in 1986. In 1988 WEA took over the
German classical label
Teldec and the British Magnet label.
In 1989, it was announced that
Warner Communications was to merge with
Time Inc. to form Time Warner, a transaction that was completed in
1990. Following the merger, WEA continued acquiring independent
CGD Records (Italy) and MMG Records (Japan) in 1989.
Through the 1990s,
Time Warner was the largest media company in the
world, with assets in excess of US$20 billion and annual revenues in
the billions of dollars; by 1991, Warner's music labels were
generating sales valued at more than US$3 billion, with operating
profits of $550 million and by 1995 its music division dominated
the US music industry with a 22% share of the domestic market.
Acquisitions and corporate changes within the Warner group of labels
continued after the
Time Warner merger—in 1990 WEA purchased French
label Carrere Records, WEA was renamed Warner
Music Group in 1991,
leading French classical label Erato (1992) and in 1993 WEA bought the
Spanish DRO Records, Hungary's Magneoton label, the Swedish Telegram
Continental Records and Finnish label Fazer Musiiki.
Atlantic launched two new subsidiary labels in the early 1990s: East
West Records and Interscope Records. In 1995, East West absorbed Atco
Records and was eventually folded into Elektra Records. In 1996,
Interscope was purchased by MCA
During 1992, the Warner
Music Group faced one of the most serious
public-relations crises in its history when a major controversy
erupted over the provocative
Warner Bros. recording "Cop Killer" from
the self-titled album by Body Count, a heavy metal/rap fusion band led
by Ice-T. Unfortunately for Warner, the song (which mentioned the
Rodney King case) was issued just before the controversial acquittal
of the police charged with King's beating, which sparked the 1992 Los
Angeles Riots and the confluence of events put the song under the
national spotlight. Complaints escalated over the
summer—conservative police associations called for a boycott of Time
Warner products, politicians including President George H. W. Bush
denounced the label for releasing the song, Warner executives received
Time Warner stockholders threatened to pull out of the
company and the New Zealand police commissioner unsuccessfully tried
to have the record banned there. Although
Ice-T later voluntarily
reissued Body Count without "Cop Killer", the furor seriously rattled
Music and in January 1993 the label made an undisclosed deal
Ice-T from his contract and returning the Body Count master
tapes to him.
Also in 1992, the
Rhino Records label signed a distribution agreement
Atlantic Records and
Time Warner bought a 50% stake in the Rhino
Records label. The distribution agreement allowed Rhino to begin
reissuing recordings from Atlantic's back catalogue.
In 1994, Canadian beverage giant
Seagram bought a 14.5% stake in Time
Warner, and the Warner publishing division—now called
Warner/Chappell Music – acquired CPP/Belwin, becoming the
world's largest owner of song copyrights and the world's largest
publisher of printed music. In 1996,
Time Warner made another dramatic
expansion of its media holdings, taking over the Turner Broadcasting
System, which by then included the Turner cable TV network,
the screen production houses Castle Rock
Entertainment and New Line
Cinema, acquisitions that would bring huge profits into the Warner
Group thanks to content assets like
Seinfeld and the highly successful
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
By the early 1990s, senior Warner staff like Ostin and Waronker had
remained in their positions for several decades—a highly unusual
situation in the American music industry—but the death of Steve Ross
Time Warner hierarchy, and over the next few years
the music group was increasingly disrupted by internal power
struggles, leading to a string of major executive upheavals in
1994–95, which The
New York Times
New York Times described as "a virtual civil
The central conflict was between
Mo Ostin and Warner
chairman Robert Morgado, who had joined the Warner group in the late
1980s. Because of his political background (he had been the
chief-of-staff to former New York Governor Hugh L. Carey) and his lack
of music industry experience—especially compared to the widely
revered Ostin—Morgado was viewed as an outsider at Warner.
Nevertheless, he gained favour with Ross and Levin and was promoted in
1985 to oversee the Warner international music division after helping
the company slash costs in its computer game sector.
Since his appointment as head of WBR, Ostin had always reported
directly to Steve Ross and Ross's successor Gerald Levin, but in late
1993, when Ostin's contract came up for renewal, Morgado asserted his
authority, insisting that Ostin should now report directly to him. The
tensions between them reached boiling point in July 1994 when Morgado
appointed former Atlantic chief
Doug Morris to head the Warner Music
Group in the US, a decision that many saw as a deliberate move to
hasten the departure of Ostin and Elektra head Robert Krasnow.
Morgado's new structure was announced in August 1994 and Bob Krasnow
resigned from Elektra the next day. Within days, after more than 30
years with the Warner music group and more than 20 years as President
and Chairman of
Warner Bros. Records, Ostin announced he would not
renew his current contract and would leave Warners when it expired on
December 31, 1994. There was more negative publicity the following
month, when leading Elektra act
Metallica launched a lawsuit against
the label, seeking a release from their contract and ownership of
their master tapes, and claiming that Morgado had refused to honour a
deal they had worked out with Krasnow before he quit.
Ostin's departure marked a seismic shift in the corporate culture at
WBR and the news was greeted with dismay by industry insiders and the
many artists whose careers he had helped to nurture. Lenny Waronker
had agreed to take over as WBR chairman and CEO but in October 1994 he
announced that he would not be taking up the position; he initially
said that he would remain as President of WBR but by this time
there was already widespread speculation that he would leave, and he
did so soon afterwards. The following year he re-joined Ostin and son
Michael as joint head of the newly launched DreamWorks label.
Beginning in August 1994, Morgado alienated Morris by his clumsy
handling of Warner's relationship with Interscope Records, the
successful label founded by
Ted Field and
Jimmy Iovine and part-owned
by Warner. Morgado had resisted making a decision about increasing the
Warner stake in Interscope, which encouraged other companies to make
overtures to the label; in response, Morgado threatened to send
cease-and-desist notices to executives at several record companies,
demanding that they stop approaching Interscope with buyout offers, a
move that reportedly infuriated Iovine.
By late 1994, Morris was gaining the upper hand over his rival and
media reports claimed that Morris had moved to settle with Metallica,
offering a deal that was reportedly even more generous than the one
they had worked out with Krasnow. Morgado now faced a showdown with
Morris, who felt he was not being allowed to run WMG as he saw fit. In
October 1994, Morris and 11 other Warner executives "staged an
unprecedented insurrection that nearly paralyzed the world's largest
record company". This led to a climactic meeting between Morris
Gerald Levin in late October, at which Morris reportedly
threatened to quit if he had to continue to report to Morgado.
Morgado gave in to the demand that Morris be granted autonomy to run
the North American operations and he was forced to upgrade Morris's
position from chief operating officer to Chief Executive of Warner
Music Group (US); Morris promptly named Danny Goldberg, former
president of Atlantic Records, to run WBR in defiance of Morgado, who
had a different candidate in mind and Levin also reduced Morgado's
power to oversee Warner's mail-order record club division and its
international operations. Morris then brought in
Sylvia Rhone and
Seymour Stein to stabilize Elektra, settled the
Metallica lawsuit and
persuaded Levin to purchase an additional 25% of Interscope,
although this initiative proved short-lived.
The power struggle between Morgado and Morris reached a dramatic
climax in May 1995 when Morgado was asked to resign by Gerald Levin,
following a welter of complaints from executives at the three major
Music labels, who said that Morgado was undermining Morris's
authority and damaging Warner's reputation among performers.
Morgado was immediately replaced by HBO chairman
Michael J. Fuchs
Michael J. Fuchs but
the corporate upheavals did not end there; in late June 1995 Fuchs
abruptly dismissed Doug Morris, saying that Morris had been "leading a
campaign to destabilize Warner
Music in an effort to seize control of
the company". As Morris's strongest ally, Danny Goldberg was also
under threat; he was initially told that he could stay on as President
of WBR as long as he refrained from office politics and concentrate on
the day-to-day management of the label, but he resigned as President
Warner Bros. Records
Warner Bros. Records soon after to pursue "other interests", and
was replaced by WBR vice-chairman Russ Thyret.
Despite early success with
Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, and Morris's
decision to increase Warner's stake to 50%, by the mid-1990s
Interscope Records was being seen as a liability for the Warner group.
Time Warner's board and investors had already been bruised by the
damaging 1992 "Cop Killer" controversy and now they were faced with
renewed criticism about the gangsta rap genre, in which Interscope's
Death Row Records
Death Row Records was a key label. In mid-1995, Time
Warner refused to distribute the Interscope album
Dogg Food by Tha
Dogg Pound, forcing the label to seek outside distribution, and late
in the year TW sold its stake in Death Row back to co-owners Jimmy
Iovine and Ted Field and soon after it sold off its share in
Interscope to MCA
The upheaval at Warner was beneficial to its rivals, who picked up
valuable executives who had left Warner. Goldberg moved over to
Mercury Records; Morris joined MCA
Entertainment Group and led
its reorganization into Universal
Music Group, now the world's largest
record company. In November 1995, Fuchs was himself sacked by Levin,
leaving the company with a reported US$60 million "golden
Time Warner co-chairmen
Robert A. Daly
Robert A. Daly and Terry
Semel took over the running of the music division.
Edgar Bronfman Jr.
Edgar Bronfman Jr. held talks aimed at merging
Seagram's Universal Music, headed by Morris, with the venerable
British recording company EMI, but the discussions came to nothing;
Bronfman then oversaw Universal's takeover by Vivendi. WEA meanwhile
continued to expand its publishing empire, buying a 90% stake in the
Italian recording and music publishing group Nuova Fonit Cetra.
Also in 1998,
Time Warner bought the remaining 50% of the Rhino
Records label they did not own. The
Rhino Records retail store in Los
Angeles was not included. Rhino then began reissuing the back
catalogues of the Warner/Reprise and Elektra/Asylum labels. In 1999
Rhino launched Rhino Handmade, which released limited-edition reissues
of lesser-known but still-significant recordings from the WEA labels.
Time Warner merged with leading American internet service
AOL to create
AOL Time Warner. The new conglomerate again
tried (and failed) to acquire EMI, and subsequent discussions about
the takeover of BMG stalled, with Bertelsmann eventually offloading
BMG into a joint venture with Sony. In 2002, AOLTW further
consolidated its hold over the publishing industry, buying 50% of
music publisher Deston Songs from Edel AG. By the early 2000s,
however, the effects of the dot-com crash had eroded AOL's profits and
stock value, and in 2003 the
Time Warner board sidelined its
under-performing partner by dropping
AOL from its business name.
Looking to reduce its debt load, Time Warner—the corporate successor
to Warner Communications—sold Warner
Music Group in 2004 to a group
of investors led by
Edgar Bronfman Jr.
Edgar Bronfman Jr. for US$2.6 billion. This
spinoff was completed on February 27, 2004. In the 2004 transition to
independent ownership, WMG hired record industry heavyweight Lyor
Cohen from Universal
Music Group (the result of the merger between the
PolyGram and MCA label families) to attempt to reduce cost and
increase performance. Contrary to common belief,
Time Warner no longer
retains any ownership in WMG, though it had the option to re-acquire
up to 20% of WMG for three years following the closing of the
transaction. WMG's current logo is the former Warner
Communications logo (originally designed by Saul Bass) and is used
under license by its former parent, which retains full ownership and
control of the Warner trademarks.
Once free of Time Warner, WMG began cutting costs by offloading
loss-making or low-earning divisions. Like its rival EMI, Warner
reacted to the growth of the digital music market by making a historic
change, moving out of record production by closing or selling off
disc-pressing plants, particularly in territories such as the US and
the Netherlands, where production costs are high. The US manufacturing
operations were sold to
Cinram in 2003, before the purchase from Time
In 2005, the Miami-based
Warner Bros. Publications, which printed and
distributed a broad selection of sheet music, books, educational
material, orchestrations, arrangements and tutorials, was sold to
Music Publishing, although the sale excluded the print music
business of WMG's Word
Music (church hymnals, choral music and
associated instrumental music).
On May 3, 2006, WMG apparently rejected a buyout offer from EMI.
Then WMG offered to buy
EMI and it also rejected the offer. In August
EMI was purchased by Terra Firma Capital Partners.
Talk of a
possible WMG acquisition of
EMI was fanned once again in 2009 after
WMG executed a bond offering for $1.1 billion, which brought to light
WMG's relatively strong financial position, which was contrasted with
the weakened and debt-laden state of EMI. The same year WMG
Rykodisc and Roadrunner Records.
On December 27, 2007, Warner announced that it would sell digital
Digital Rights Management
Digital Rights Management through AmazonMP3, making it
the third major label to do so. In 2008, The New York Times
reported that WMG's
Atlantic Records became the first major record
label to generate more than half of its music sales in the U.S. from
digital products. In 2010, Fast Company magazine detailed the
company's transformation efforts in its recorded music division, where
it has redefined the relationships it has with artists and diversified
its revenue streams through its expansion into growing areas of the
In 2007, Warner/Chappell sent a Cease and Desist letter to Walter
Ritter, the creator of a freeware program called PearLyrics that was
used to find lyrics of songs using the internet. In response to wide
negative publicity, it subsequently apologized and offered to
cooperate with him on the application. However, no subsequent
overtures seem to have been made, and the software remains
In 2008, WMG, Universal Music,
Sony BMG, EMI, and several Indies (via
Merlin) together with the Orchard licensed their full back catalogs to
the new concept of
Spotify in order to fight piracy with a legal way
of music streaming. However, in February 2010, WMG announced that
it would no longer be licensing music for
Spotify and other free
streaming services, claiming that they were "clearly not positive for
In 2009, Warner
Music took over its South-East Asian and Korean
EMI audio and video products, including newer
domestic releases, which was announced in September 2008. The two
companies already enjoyed a successful partnership in India, the
Middle East and North Africa, where
EMI marketed and distributed
Warner Music's physical product from 2005.
Warner formed a partnership with
MTV Networks in June 2010 that
allowed MTVN to exclusively sell ads on WMG's premium content; in
turn, views of WMG videos would be counted as views for MTVN. As a
result of the alliance,
MTV Networks overtook
Vevo as the top online
music video-sharing network.
In May 2011, the company announced its sale to
Access Industries for
US$3.3 billion in cash. The price represented $8.25 a share, a 34%
premium over the six-month-before average price and a 4% premium over
the day-before price but a drop of 70+% since 2007. Access is a
conglomerate controlled by Ukrainian-born billionaire Len Blavatnik.
"The deal cap[ped] a three-month sale process in which as many as 10
bidders vied" for the company, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Blavatnik was a former board member and still-substantial shareholder
of WMG at the time of the purchase announcement. Runners-up in the
bidding were Los Angeles-based brothers Tom and Alec Gores.
Another report valued the sale at US$1.3 billion plus the assumption
of US$2 billion of debt, for the same total. This report said cash of
US$320 million would change hands in the transaction and that, while
further job cuts were likely, CEO Bronfman would continue in his post.
The investment group, which has owned the company since 2004 was said
to have received a profitable return on its investment, and that
Blavatnik's current stake in the company was about 2%. Other
unsuccessful bidders included
Ron Burkle and No. 2 music company Sony
Vivendi SA's Universal
Music Group, ranked No. 1,
were said to be prospective buyers of parts of WMG going forward.
The purchase was completed on July 20, 2011 and the company became
In August 2011, Stephen Cooper became CEO of Warner
replacing Edgar Bronfman Jr., who became Chairman of the company.
Edgar Bronfman stepped down as Chairman of the company on January 31,
On October 31, 2011,
The Washington Post
The Washington Post reported that Warner Music
Group was once again in talks to acquire EMI's recorded music
business. The goal of WMG was to combine with
EMI and form a company
that would effectively compete with the two other largest music
groups: Universal and
Music Entertainment. Bloomberg News was
reporting that Warner
Music had submitted a bid of around $2 billion.
However, Universal ended up being the one buying EMI. In 2013, Warner
EMI division Parlophone, along with
EMI Classics and
EMI labels, from UMG for £487 million (around $764.54
Atlantic Records as WMG's oldest
unit upon completion of the sale. CEO Stephen Cooper announced plans
to launch a classical label, just as American and Brazilian feds
approved of the PLG acquisition. The European Commission approved
the sale in May 2013, and Warner closed the acquisition on July
EMI Classics roster was absorbed into
Warner Classics and
Virgin Classics roster was absorbed into the revived Erato
Records. In November 2013, WMG paid Universal an additional €30
As part of a deal with IMPALA and the Merlin Network, Warner
agreed to offload over $200 million worth in catalogues (roughly 30
percent of the
Parlophone acquisition value) to various independent
labels. The labels had until February 28, 2014 to inform Warner Music
of which artist catalogues they were interested in acquiring, and said
artists had to approve of the divestments. By March 2015, over 140
independent labels had placed bids on over 11,000 Warner
valuing $6 billion, far higher than expectations. In April 2016,
the first confirmed sale of a Warner
Music artist was the back
catalogue of English band
Radiohead to XL Recordings. At the end
of May 2016, WMG sold the catalogue of
Chrysalis Records to Blue
Raincoat Music, where Chrysalis' co-founder Chris Wright is now a
chairman. Chrysalis also acquired the catalogues of ten other
artists, including Everything But the Girl, Steve Harley &
Cockney Rebel, and Lucinda Williams. In September 2016,
Nettwerk acquired the rights to albums by
Guster and Airbourne from
In April 2017, Warner
Music agreed to sell the independent distributor
Zebralution back to its founders. On June 1, 2017, WMG divested
some more artists, including the catalogues of
Hot Chip and Buzzcocks
to Domino Records;
Tom Waits to Anti-; and Howard Jones, Dinosaur Jr.
Kim Wilde to Cherry Red Records. Cosmos
Music Group acquired
the rights to
Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson, while Neil Finn's
catalogue moved to his Lester Records label. On July 6, 2017,
Music acquired 10 French artists, most of London Records' back
catalogue, and The Beta Band, while Concord
acquired albums by Jewel, Sérgio Mendes, and several rock, blues and
jazz artists. In August 2017,
The Lemonheads and The Groundhogs
were transferred to Fire Records. In October 2017, Strut Records
acquired albums by
Patrice Rushen and Miriam Makeba. In November
2017, T.I.’s catalogue was reassigned to Cinq Music, Woah Dad!
acquired over 20 catalogues, including those of Ziggy Marley, Estelle,
and several Swedish artists and
Believe Digital acquired the
rights to EMF and several French artists. Other winning bidders
The Echo Label (Thomas Dolby),
Nature Sounds (Roy Ayers),
PIAS Recordings (Failure), Evolution
Music Group (Mr. Big), Playground
Music Scandinavia (Olle Adolphson),
Metal Blade Records
Metal Blade Records (King
Diamond), New State
Music (Paul Oakenfold), Snapper
Music International (Lulu), and Tommy Boy
reclaimed its catalogue). All the labels had to complete their deals
by September 30, 2017.
On October 29, 2012, Google announced that it had added Warner Music's
portfolio to its Google Play
In June 2013, WMG expanded into Russia by acquiring Gala Records, best
known as the longtime distributor of EMI. Later that year, Warner
Music Russia agreed to locally distribute releases by Disney Music
In September 2013, WMG closed a deal with Clear Channel Media that
will see Warner artists paid for terrestrial radio play for the first
time. On the other hand, Clear Channel will get preferential rates for
streaming songs through its iHeartRadio service and other online
platforms. The agreement giving Warner artists special treatment is
likely to put pressure on the other big labels,
Sony and Universal, to
reach similar deals.
On November 14, 2013, Warner Music's releases in the Middle East will
now be distributed by Universal
Music as a result of the integration
of EMI's branch in said region.
Music India will assume
distribution of WMG in India, Sri Lanka, and rest of
except Bangladesh. In Turkey, Warner Music's releases continue to
be distributed by
Music Turkey, a Universal
Music Group Company.
In December 2013, Warner
Music began operating the wholly owned South
African subsidiary after acquiring the Gallo's stakes that they did
In April 2014, WMG announced that it had acquired Chinese record label
In April 2016, WMG agreed to distribute most of BMG Rights
Management's catalogue worldwide through Warner's ADA division, though
a few frontline releases will remain distributed by other labels.
In March 2017, Warner
Music and BMG extended their distribution deal
to add the worldwide rights to roughly 8,000 albums.
Music UK launched
The Firepit in May 2016, a creative content
division, innovation centre and recording studio located at their
United Kingdom headquarters in London.
In March 2016,
Curb Records acquired Warner Music's 80% share of Word
Entertainment, though WMG will continue to distribute the label.
Around the end of May 2016, WMG acquired the Indonesian label PT Indo
Semar Sakti. On June 2, 2016, Warner
Music acquired Swedish
compilation label X5
In July 2017, Warner
Music acquired the concert discovery website
Songkick. In September 2017, one week after acquiring American
rock label Artery Recordings, WMG acquired the Dutch EDM label
In October 2017, Warner
Music Group relaunched its Asylum Records
label in the United States.
In February 2018, Warner
Music launched a division in the Middle East,
based in Beirut, Lebanon. Warner
Music Middle East will cover 17
markets across North Africa and the Middle East.
Music dates back to 1811 and the creation of Chappell
& Company, a sheet music and instrument merchant in London. In
1929, Jack L. Warner, president of
Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., founded
Music Publishers Holding Company (MPHC) to acquire music copyrights as
a means of providing inexpensive music for films and, in 1987, Warner
Bros.' corporate parent, Warner Communications, acquired Chappell
& Company. Its printed music operation,
Warner Bros. Publications,
was sold to Alfred Publishing on June 1, 2005.
Among the historic compositions of which the publishing rights are
controlled by WMG are the works of Cole Porter,
Richard Rodgers and
Lorenz Hart. In the 1930s and 1940s, Chappell
Music also ran a
profitable orchestration division for Broadway musicals, with house
arrangers of the caliber of Robert Russell Bennett, Don Walker, Ted
Royal and Hans Spialek. Between them they had orchestrated about 90%
of the productions seen up to late 1941.
List of Warner labels
Further information: List of Warner
Music Group labels
CD price fixing
Main article: CD price fixing
Between 1995 and 2000 music companies were found to have used illegal
marketing agreements such as minimum advertised pricing to
artificially inflate prices of compact discs in order to end price
wars by discounters such as
Best Buy and Target in the early
1990s. A settlement in 2002 included the music publishers and
Sony Music, WMG, Bertelsmann
Universal Music. In restitution for price fixing they agreed to pay a
$67.4 million fine and distribute $75.7 million in CDs to public and
non-profit groups but admitted no wrongdoing. It is estimated
customers were overcharged by nearly $500 million and up to $5 per
In December 2008, negotiations between WMG and YouTube broke
down. As a result, Warner
Music Group has continuously blocked or
muted videos on YouTube that feature music recordings belonging to its
labels or to its publishing arm, Warner/Chappell Music, citing
copyright infringement, although a number of artists were not signed
with the label. Although the majority of the blocked videos are not
official content of WMG, they include WMG recordings in a minor way
normally covered by fair use. Many of these claims to copyright
violation not only affect artists who are under record labels owned or
distributed by WMG, but also to artists who have songs published and
controlled by Warner/Chappell, regardless of label.
WMG began removing and muting songs that are covers rather than just
recordings, but on September 21, 2009,
CNET reported that Warner Music
Group had possibly struck a new deal with YouTube and WMG videos may
start appearing back on YouTube within weeks, and it was
confirmed on Warner
Music Group News and the YouTube Blog on September
29, 2009 that YouTube and Warner
Music Group were in a multi-year deal
with the two. In January 2010, there were new reports of the
site's accounts containing covered songs being completely closed due
to intervention by WMG.
Music streaming services
In February 2010, CEO
Edgar Bronfman Jr.
Edgar Bronfman Jr. said that WMG will stop
licensing its songs to free music streaming services. He said that the
focus will be on services that require payment, creating an increase
in boycotts of the label. The label also drew criticism for
refusing to put its music on Google's music site Google Music, but
relented a year after the public release of Google
Music with an
announcement on October 29, 2012 that it had added its music portfolio
to Google's offerings.
List of record labels
List of Warner
Music Group artists
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Music Group publishing
catalog at MusicBrainz
Music Group company profile at
SEC filings at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Warner Nashville A&R team contact list
Atlantic Records Group
1st & 15th Entertainment
Big Beat Records
Big Tree Records
Chopper City Records
Eardrum Records/Little David Records
Fort Knocks Entertainment
Fueled by Ramen
Full Surface Records
Photo Finish Records
Poe Boy Entertainment
Stone Flower Records
Alternative Distribution Alliance
East West Records
Parlophone Label Group
Warner Bros. Records
Warner Bros. Records Group
Festival Mushroom Records
Machine Shop Records
Warner Bros. Records
Atlantic Records Nashville
Reprise Records Nashville
Warner Bros. Records
Warner Bros. Records Nashville
Alternative Distribution Alliance
Music publishing and licensing
Music v. Fullscreen)
Warner Strategic Marketing
BMG Rights Management
Music Publishing Group
Independent: Independent UK record labels
Drum and bass
Album cover design
Artists and repertoire (A&R)
Professional audio store
Hip hop producer
Extended play (EP)/Mini album
Billboard Hot 100
Brasil Hot 100 Airplay
Canadian Hot 100
Irish Singles Chart
Italian Singles Chart
Entertainment Monitoring Africa
New Zealand Singles Chart
SNEP Singles Chart
UK Singles Chart
Musica e dischi
Top of the Pops
The Country Network
The X Factor
Best-selling music artists
Best-selling albums by country
Highest-grossing concert tours
Global Recording Artist of the Year
A-side and B-side
Christian music industry