A Beginner’s Guide to Record Labels is our most recent series feature that will cover the current large record labels in the music industry. A record label can be defined as a business organization that holds most financial responsibilities over a group of artists. The company will also possess production, distribution, marketing, promotion, copyright, and A&R duties. Within this series we will discuss the top three major record label owning companies including Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, and Sony Music Entertainment, as well as other significant independent record labels. Be sure to check out our previous articles on Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group.
Sony Music Entertainment is currently one of the largest recording companies along with Warner and Universal Music Group. The company was created in 1929 under the name American Record Corporation. After transitioning to Columbia Recording Corporation and CBS Records, the company finally embellished the name it has today in 1991. Columbia, Epic, and RCA Records are SME’s most well-known labels. You can view Sony Music Entertainment’s three main record label groups below. Note that there may be overlap in the record label’s current artists and releases as a musician may choose to be handled by multiple labels.
Bio: Columbia Records was created in 1888 and was the first record company to manufacture recorded records instead of blank cylinders. The label is headquartered in New York City and owns many influential recording studios in the US. Executive vice president and general manager Joel Klaiman previously worked in Elektra, Epic, and Universal Republic Records. In 2014, Billboard Magazine named Columbia Records the top overall label of the year.
Notable Releases: Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic (1975), Blue Oyster Cult’s Agent of Fortune (1976), Billy Joel’s The Stranger (1977), Journey’s Escape (1981), Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance (1982), Alice in Chains’ Dirt (1992), Jerry Cantrell’s Boggy Depot (1998), The Offspring’s Americana (1998), Cake’s Comfort Eagle (2001), Kate Bush’s Aerial (2005), AC/DC’s Black Ice (2008), Motion City Soundtrack’s My Dinosaur Life (2010), Foster the People’s Torches (2011), Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks (2013), Depeche Mode’s Delta Machine (2013)
Current Artists: AC/DC, Pink Floyd, System of a Down, Aerosmith, Depeche Mode, John Mayer, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, The Offspring, Train, Bruce Springsteen, Foster the People, Slayer, Nine Inch Nails, Billy Joel, Tenacious D, Walk off the Earth, Kasabian, Jack White, Passion Pit, Neil Diamond, The Temper Trap, The Neighbourhood, The Shins, HAIM, The Civil Wars, Hozier, The Vaccines, Broken Bells, Manic Street Preachers, Sleigh Bells, MS MR, First Aid Kit, How to Destroy Angels, Magic Man
Summary: While the label recently hasn’t released the equal amount of classics as during the 70’s-90’s, this company still remains significant with the addition of many notable and aspiring modern acts
Bio: Epic Records was formed for the use of classical, jazz, and pop output in 1959. With time, the label expanded to all genres to compete with Columbia Records. The company is currently distributing releases from Immortal and Volcano Entertainment, while previously holding distribution responsibilities for 550 Music, Work Group, and Virgin Records.
Notable Releases: The Clash’s Combat Rock (1982), Joe Satriani’s Surfing with the Alien (1987), Pearl Jam’s Ten (1991), Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tears (1991), Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled (1992), Suicidal Tendencies’ The Art of Rebellion (1992), Social Distortion’s Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell (1992), Screaming Trees’ Dust (1996), Steve Vai’s Fire Garden (1996), Manic Street Preachers’ This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours (1998), Fuel’s Something Like Human (2000), Tenacious D’s self-titled (2001), Chevelle’s Wonder What’s Next (2001), Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004), Mudvayne’s Lost and Found (2005)
Current Artists: Ozzy Osbourne, The Fray, Judas Priest, Lamb of God, Chevelle, Modest Mouse, Fiona Apple, The Airbourne Toxic Event, KONGOS, The Last Internationale
Summary: Claiming their past catalog to be immensely versatile and game-changing would be the understatement of the century. Hopefully this label continues their legacy before their roster dwindles to artists past their prime
Bio: RCA Records was founded in 1929 by Emilie Berliner and Eldridge R. Johnson. The rock, pop, and hip-hop label is associated with Victor and Red Seal, who handle blues and classical music releases respectively. Chairman and CEO Peter Edge had previously handled J, Arista, and Jive Records.
Notable Releases: Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow (1967), David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972), Hum’s You’d Prefer an Astronaut (1995), Dave Matthews Band’s Crash (1996), Lit’s A Place in the Sun (1999), Velvet Revolver’s Contraband (2004), Foo Fighters’ In Your Honor (2005), Daughtry’s self-titled (2006), Kings of Leon’s Only by the Night (2008), Say Anything’s self-titled (2009), New Politics’ A Bad Girl in Harlem (2013), Cage the Elephant’s Melophobia (2013), Bring Me the Horizon’s Sempiternal (2013), Sleeper Agent’s About Last Night (2014), Weird Al’s Mandatory Fun (2014)
Current Artists: Kings of Leon, Foo Fighters, Bullet for my Valentine, Three Days Grace, Carlos Santana, Daughtry, Dave Matthews Band, Jimmy Eat World, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Cage the Elephant, Buddy Guy, Magic!, Kodaline, Walk the Moon, Everything Everything, Funeral Party, Smallpools, Bleachers, Sleeper Agent, Inward Eye
Summary: Their continual output of meaningful albums since the late 60’s proves this company’s significance among the other SME labels regardless of charting success