The music Industry has seen a lot of changes throughout the last 6 to 7 decades. From Jazz to Blues, to Progressive Rock and Heavy Metal, to Indie Rock and electronic. We saw the birth of defining genres like disco, pop and more recently, Dub Step and Trance, among others. During all these years, like in every other industry, masterminds were creating history. Behind some of the most successful projects and musicians, were some of the greatest producers and the most influential record labels. Many of these labels achieved iconic status due to their innovative ways and changed the music history forever. Here are some of them:
Formed in 1950 by Jac Holzman, who initially ran it from his dormitory at St. John’s College, in Annapolis, Maryland, Elektra became one of the top folk labels. Simply recorded albums by Jean Ritchie, Josh White, and Theodore Bikel achieved substantial sales. But, while the other labels mostly stuck to traditional notions of folk, Elektra adapted in response to the emergence of folk rock. They recorded Judy Collins, Tom Rush, and Phil Ochs. By the end of the 1960s it had merged with Warner and Atlantic to form one of the major companies in the recording industry.
Since its creation, VANGUARD RECORDS has carried forward a legacy of artistic excellence and achievement in blues. One of the most influential record labels ever, it includes folk, rock, country and jazz. Its catalogue includes pivotal works from artists such as Joan Baez, Doc Watson, Levon Helm, Buddy Guy, Country Joe and The Fish, Big Mama Thornton, Mississippi John Hurt, John Fahey and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Currently, Vanguard’s eclectic artist roster features Switchfoot, Flogging Molly, Indigo Girls, Chris Isaak, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Barenaked Ladies, O.A.R. and Sallie Ford.
Prestige Records is one of the most influential record labels ever, deeply rooted in jazz history. It is featuring the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Eric Dolphy, to name a few. The imprint still holds a vibrant presence today, represented both through new talent in the form of Jazzmeia Horn, as well as carefully curated reissues by Rusty Bryant, Charles Kynard and Azar Lawrence.
Prestige was launched in 1949 (originally called New Jazz). Like several other prominent jazz labels of the fifties, it started out as a traditional jazz label. However, it soon found itself amid cutting-edge, modern jazz. During the next decade, Prestige tracked giants, such as Davis, Coltrane and Rollins, often in informal “blowing” sessions. In 1958, Prestige slightly changed direction, soon becoming the leading purveyor of what is now known as soul jazz (also known as acid jazz). They have produced the albums of Jack McDuff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Charles Earland and others.
Run by CEO Rob Stringer, Sony Music counts brands such as Epic Records, Columbia Records and RCA within its frontline label family. Sony Music also fully owns The Orchard, the global distribution and services platform, following a $200m acquisition deal in March 2015.
Artists who have contracts to Sony Music and/or its labels today include Travis Scott, Adele, H.E.R, Pharrell Williams, Mark Ronson, P!nk, Future and Bob Dylan.
Sony Music started as the American Record Corporation (ARC). It appeared in 1929 through a merger of numerous record companies. ARC was then acquired in 1938 by the TV/radio broadcaster Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). The record label was then renamed Columbia Recording Corporation, before changing its name again to Columbia Records Inc. in 1947.
Columbia Records was a big success story in the ’50s. It launched sister label Epic Records in 1953. In 1966, Columbia was renamed as CBS Records as a unit of parent company, CBS-Columbia Group.
Sony entered the picture in November 1987, acquiring CBS Records for $2bn. Sony then renamed the record company Sony Music Entertainment (SME) in January, 1991.
Perhaps the biggest move in Sony Music’s recent history was its acquisition of Bertelsmann Music Group (the ‘old’ BMG). It began with a merger in 2004 that saw the launch of Sony BMG – in which Sony and Bertelsmann each owned 50%. In August 2008, Sony announced that it had agreed a deal to acquire Bertelsmann’s 50% stake in Sony BMG. In October of that year, the acquisition was final for $900 millions.
Located just north of the famed intersection of Hollywood and Vine, the landmark Capitol Records Building was Welton Becket’s design. It was the same architect who also designed the Music Center, Cinerama Dome, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and the department store that now houses the Petersen Automotive Museum. The 13-story tower, which resembles a stack of records, was the world’s first circular office building in April 1956, when its construction was over.
Johnny Mercer, Buddy DeSylva, and Glenn Wallichs founded Capitol Records shortly after the United States entered World War II. Mercer was a songwriter from New York City who came to Hollywood in 1935 to write songs for RKO Studios.
DeSylva was a successful songwriter and an executive producer at Paramount Pictures. Wallichs was the founder and owner of Music City, a popular record outlet located at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood. Over there, customers could buy radios, records, and sheet music for their favorite songs,. They could simply sample records in private listening booths. With $25,000 in start-up capital, provided by DeSylva, Mercer set about signing talent while Wallichs ran the business. And they succeded really well.