Sony Music Entertainment (SME), recognized as Sony Music, is an American global music conglomerate owned by Sony Corporation of America and incorporated as a general partnership of Sony Music Holdings Inc. through Sony Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate Sony. It was originally founded in 1929 as American Record Corporation and renamed as Columbia Recording Corporation in 1938, following its acquisition by the Columbia Broadcasting System. In 1966, the company was reorganized to become CBS Records, and Sony Corporation bought the company in 1988, renaming it under its current name in 1991. In 2004, Sony and Bertelsmann established a 50-50 joint venture known as Sony BMG, which transferred the businesses of Sony Music and Bertelsmann Music Group into one entity. However, in 2008, Sony acquired Bertelsmann's stake, and the company reverted to the SME name shortly after; the buyout allowed Sony to acquire all of BMG's labels, and led to the dissolution of BMG, which instead relaunched as BMG Rights Management.
(incorporated as a general partnership)
|Predecessor||Bertelsmann Music Group|
|Products||Music and entertainment|
Number of employees
|8,500 (2019 )|
|Divisions||See List of Sony Music Entertainment labels|
Sony Music Entertainment is the second largest of the "Big Three" record companies, behind Universal Music Group and ahead of Warner Music Group. Its music publishing division Sony/ATV is the largest music publisher in the world. It also owns 50% of SYCO Entertainment, which operates some of the world's most successful reality TV formats, including Got Talent and The X Factor.
On July 17, 2019, Sony announced that Sony Music Entertainment and Sony/ATV would merge to become Sony Music Group. The merger was completed on August 1, 2019.
1929–1938: American Record Corporation
The American Record Corporation (ARC) was founded in 1929 through a merger of several record companies. The company grew for the next several years, acquiring other brands such as the Columbia Phonograph Company, including its Okeh Records subsidiary, in 1934.
1938–1970: Columbia/CBS Records
In 1938, ARC was acquired by the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) under the guidance of the chief executive William S. Paley. The company was later renamed Columbia Recording Corporation, and changed again to Columbia Records Inc. in 1947. Edward Wallerstein, who served as the head of Columbia Records since the late 1930s, helped establish the company as a leader in the record industry by spearheading the successful introduction of the LP record. Columbia's success continued through the 1950s with the launch of Epic Records in 1953 and Date Records in 1958. By 1962, the Columbia Records productions unit was operating four plants around the United States located in Los Angeles, California; Terre Haute, Indiana; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Pitman, New Jersey.
Columbia's international arm was launched in 1962 under the name "CBS Records," as the company only owned the rights to the Columbia name in North America. In 1964, the company began acquiring record companies in other countries for its CBS Records International unit and established its own UK distribution outfit with the acquisition of Oriole Records.
1971–1991: CBS Records Group
In 1971, CBS Records was expanded into its own "CBS Records Group", with Clive Davis as its administrative vice president and general manager. In the 1980s to the early 1990s, the company managed several successful labels, including CBS Associated Records, which signed artists including Ozzy Osbourne, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Jett, and Henry Lee Summer. In 1983, CBS expanded its music publishing business by acquiring the music publishing arm of MGM/UA Communications Co.. (CBS later sold the print music arm to Columbia Pictures.) By 1987, CBS was the only "big three" American TV network to have a co-owned record company. With Sony being one of the developers behind the compact disc digital music media, a compact disc production plant was constructed in Japan under the joint venture, allowing CBS to begin supplying some of the first compact disc releases for the American market in 1983.
In 1986, CBS sold its music publishing division, CBS Songs, to SBK Entertainment On November 17, 1987, Sony acquired CBS Records for US$2 billion. CBS Inc., now CBS Corporation, retained the rights to the CBS name for music recordings but granted Sony a temporary license to use the CBS name. The sale was completed on January 5, 1988. CBS Corporation founded a new CBS Records in 2006, which was distributed by Sony through its RED subsidiary.
In 1989, CBS Records reentered the music publishing business by acquiring Nashville-based Tree International Publishing.
1991–2004: Birth of Sony Music Entertainment
Sony renamed the record company Sony Music Entertainment (SME) on January 1, 1991, fulfilling the terms set under the 1988 buyout, which granted only a transitional license to the CBS trademark. The CBS Associated label was renamed Epic Associated. Also on January 1, 1991, to replace the CBS label, Sony reintroduced the Columbia label worldwide, which it previously held in the United States and Canada only, after it acquired the international rights to the trademark from EMI in 1990. Japan is the only country where Sony does not have rights to the Columbia name as it is controlled by Nippon Columbia, an unrelated company. Thus, Sony Music Entertainment Japan issues labels under Sony Records. The Columbia Records trademark's rightsholder in Spain was Bertelsmann Music Group, Germany, which Sony Music subsequently subsumed via a 2004 merger, and a subsequent 2008 buyout.
In 1995, Sony and Michael Jackson formed a joint venture which merged Sony's music publishing operations with Jackson's ATV Music to form Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
2004–2008: Sony BMG: Joint venture with Bertelsmann
In August 2004, Sony entered joint venture with equal partner Bertelsmann, by merging Sony Music and Bertelsmann Music Group, Germany, to establish Sony BMG Music Entertainment. However Sony continued to operate its Japanese music business independently from Sony BMG while BMG Japan was made part of the merger.
The merger made Columbia and Epic sister labels to RCA Records, which was once owned by CBS rival, NBC. It also started the process of bringing BMG's Arista Records back under common ownership with its former parent Columbia Pictures, a Sony division since 1989, and also brought Arista founder Clive Davis back into the fold. As of 2017, Davis was still with Sony Music as chief creative officer.
2008–present: Sony Music Entertainment and restructuring
On August 5, 2008, Sony Corporation of America (SCA) and Bertelsmann announced that Sony had agreed to acquire Bertelsmann's 50% stake in Sony BMG. The company completed the acquisition on October 1, 2008. On July 1, 2009, SME and IODA announced a strategic partnership to leverage worldwide online retail distribution networks and complementary technologies to support independent labels and music rights holders. In March 2010, Sony Corp partnered with The Michael Jackson Company in a contract of more than $250 million, the largest deal in recorded music history.
Doug Morris, who was head of Warner Music Group, and later Universal Music, became chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment on July 1, 2011. Sony Music underwent restructuring upon Morris' arrival; with some artists switching labels while other labels were shut down altogether.
Sony has experienced a number of changes with its international labels. In March 2012, Sony Music reportedly closed its Philippines office due to piracy, causing it to move distribution of SME in the Philippines to Ivory Music, until 2018 when SME resumed its Philippines operation. In July 2013, Sony Music withdrew from the Greek market due to an economic crisis. Albums released by Sony Music in Greece from domestic and foreign artists would then be carried by Feelgood Records.
In June 2017, Sony announced that by March 2018 it would be producing vinyl records in-house for the first time since ceasing their production in 1989. Reporting the decision, the BBC noted that, "Sony's move comes a few months after it equipped its Tokyo studio with a cutting lathe, used to produce the master discs needed for manufacturing vinyl records" but added that "Sony is even struggling to find older engineers who know how to make records".
On February 5, 2019, a group of 1970s-era musicians including David Johansen and John Waite filed lawsuits accusing Sony and UMG Recordings Inc of improperly refusing to let them reclaim the rights to songs they had signed away earlier in their careers. The lawsuit cites U.S. copyright law, which gives artists who formerly bargained away their rights on unfavorable terms a chance to reclaim those rights by filing termination notices after 35 years. The plaintiffs claim that Sony and UMG have “routinely and systematically” ignored hundreds of notices, having taken the position that recordings are “works made for hire” and are therefore not subject to being reclaimed.
Sony Music UK
Sony Music UK is owned and operated by Sony Music Entertainment in the United Kingdom. Since 2014, Jason Iley has been Chairman and CEO of Sony Music UK. Though owned by Sony Music Entertainment, Sony Music UK has standalone operations in the UK to promote musicians within the UK.
2014 saw Sony's best singles success for 33 years, with 11 number 1 singles. Sony Music artists won a total of five individual awards at the BRITs 2015, including Best Female Solo Artist for Paloma Faith, and Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk", which picked up Best British Single. Several other of the label's artists - Foo Fighters, One Direction and Pharrell Williams - also collected awards.
Sony's performance at the BRITs 2015 was the label's best in nearly 20 years, winning a total of 5 awards. In 2017, Sony Music UK celebrated the most successful BRIT Awards in the company's history, winning seven of the 11 awards.
In the last three years, Sony Music UK has made key acquisitions including forming Insanity Records with Insanity Management. Craig David became the first artist to sign an album deal with Insanity Records. Sony Music UK signed Robbie Williams, who released his 11th album The Heavy Entertainment Show in 2016. Jason Iley commented that the agreement was "a once in a lifetime signing with the biggest male solo artist of our generation."
Sony Music UK also incorporated the independent sales and distribution company Essential Music and Marketing - renamed to Red Essential. In August 2016, Sony Music acquired Ministry of Sound Recordings, home to London Grammar, DJ Fresh and Sigala.
On April 5, 2017, two of Sony Music UK's labels won awards at the annual Music Week Awards. Columbia Records received the 'A&R of the Year' Award, while Syco were awarded the 'Record Company of the Year' Award.
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. This was done in order to end price wars of the early 1990s among discounters such as Best Buy and Target. A settlement was reached in 2002 that included music publishers and distributors Sony Music, Warner Music, Bertelsmann Music Group, EMI Music and 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 that customers were overcharged by nearly $500 million overall and up to $5 per album.
Michael Jackson and Tommy Mottola
The release of Invincible was preceded by a dispute between Michael Jackson and Sony Music Entertainment. Jackson had expected the licenses to the masters of his albums to revert to him sometime in the early 2000s, after which he would be able to promote the material however he pleased and keep the profits; however, clauses in the contract set the revert date years into the future. Jackson discovered that the attorney who had represented him in the deal had also been representing Sony. He was also concerned that for years Sony had been pressuring him to sell his share in its music catalog venture; he feared that Sony might have had a conflict of interest, since if Jackson's career failed, he would have had to sell his share of the catalog at a low price. Jackson sought an early exit from his contract.
In July 2002, Jackson alleged that the then-Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola was a "devil" and "racist" who did not support his African-American artists, using them merely for his own gain. He charged that Mottola had called his colleague Irv Gotti a "fat nigger". Sony refused to renew Jackson's contract, and claimed that a $25 million promotional campaign had failed because Jackson refused to tour in the United States.
Prosecution of copyright infringement
In May 2012, Sony Music filed charges against the website IsoHunt. The plaintiff's claims in the court document filed at the Supreme Court of British Columbia read: "The IsoHunt Websites have been designed and are operated by the defendants with the sole purpose of profiting from rampant copyright infringement which defendants actively encourage, promote, authorize, induce, aid, abet, materially contribute to and commercially profit from." On February 2016, in a lawsuit filed at a California federal court, Sony Music Entertainment and its associated brands (Arista Records and LaFace Records) accused Belgian radio aggregator Radionomy (owned by Universal Music Group's parent Vivendi) of copyright infringement.
In February 2016, 100,000 people signed an online petition in less than 24 hours, calling for a boycott of Sony Music and all other Sony-affiliated businesses after rape allegations against music producer Dr. Luke were made by musical artist Kesha. Kesha asked a New York City Supreme Court to free her from her contract with Sony Music but the court denied the request, prompting a widespread public and media response.
List of Sony Music Entertainment labels
Previously affiliated labels
- 19 Recordings (2001–2010) (previously through BMG and RCA Music Group, now part of Universal Music Group through Interscope Geffen A&M)
- Def Jam Recordings (1985–1994) (previously through Columbia Records, now part of Universal Music Group)
- Loud Records (1992–2002) (previously through Zoo Entertainment, then RCA Records, and later Columbia Records, now a new company called SRC Records through Universal Music Group)
- Chaos Recordings (1993–1995) (previously part of Columbia Records, now dissolved)
- The Work Group (1993–2000) (previously through Epic Records, now dissolved)
- Date Records (1958–1970) (previously through Columbia Records, now dissolved)
- Aware Records (1997–2010) (now part of Universal Music Group through Republic Records)
- PiperWorld Entertainment (2008–2013) (previously through Columbia Records)
- The Echo Label (2013-2017) (owned by BMG Chrysalis; now distributed by Warner Music Group)
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