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Warner Music Group (WMG) is the third-largest business group and family of record labels in the recording industry, making it one of the "big four" record companies. The current incarnation of the company was formed in 2004 when it spun off from Time Warner, and as a result, Time Warner no longer retains any ownership. Warner Music Group also has a music publishing arm- Warner/Chappell Music, which is currently one of the world's largest music publishing companies.

History

1950s and 1960s

WMG's roots in what became Time Warner date back to the founding of Warner Bros. Records as a division of the Warner Bros. movie studio in 1958, in reaction to one of its contracted actors, Tab Hunter, scoring a hit for Dot Records, a division of Paramount Pictures. In 1963, Warner Bros. purchased Reprise Records, founded by Frank Sinatra three years earlier so that he could have more creative control over his recordings. Reprise was operated in conjunction with Warner Bros. Records.

After Warner Bros. was sold to Seven Arts Productions in 1967 (forming Warner Bros.-Seven Arts), it purchased Atlantic Records, now WMG's oldest label. For the next two years, Atlantic and its subsidiary label Atco Records were operated separately from WBR and Reprise.

In 1969, Warner Bros.-Seven Arts was sold to the Kinney National Company. Kinney (later to be known as Warner Communications) combined the operations of all of its record labels.

During the 1970s the Warner group built up a commanding position in the music industry. In 1970 it bought Elektra Records (founded by Jac Holzman in 1950) for US$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 classical music label Nonesuch Records. The same year, the group established its first overseas offices in Canada and Australia. By late 1972 U.S. anti-trust laws had changed and the company was renamed WEA Records (from the first initial of each of the three main labels, Warner Bros., Elektra and Atlantic).

Atlantic, its subsidiary Atco Records and its affiliate Stax Records paved the way for Warner group'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, Etta James and many more, and in the mid Sixties, Atlantic/Stax released a string of landmark soul music recordings by artists including Booker T & the MGs, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding 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 Cream, Crosby Stills & Nash, Yes, Led Zeppelin, The Average White Band, The Faces, Dr John, King Crimson, Bette Midler and Foreigner.

1970s-1990s

In 1970, Kinney bought Elektra Records and its sister label Nonesuch Records, and assembled the labels into a group known as Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, also called WEA for short, or Warner Music Group. In 1971, Atlantic executive Nesuhi Ertegun founded WEA's global subsidiary WEA International. The WEA name was also used as a label outside the U.S. Ertegun, a Turkish native, displayed a global perspective and independence from its U.S. counterpart by successfully promoting international acts in their target markets world wide. Ertegun headed WEA International until his retirement in 1987.

One of the Warner group's wisest investments was Fleetwood Mac. The band signed to Reprise in the early 1970s after relocating to the USA 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 transfer to Warner Bros in 1975 and the recruitment of new members Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, the group scored a major international hit with the breakthrough single "Rhiannon" and consolidated with the blockbusting albums Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tusk, becoming one of the most successful bands of all time.

In 1972 the Warner group acquired another rich prize, David Geffen's Asylum Records, which brought in the cream of the emerging 'West Coast' acts including Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon. Asylum was merged with Elektra to form Elektra-Asylum, though the separate names would still be used as well.

In 1976 Warner gained a brief early lead in digital media when it purchased the Atari computer company, and in 1981 it bought the Franklin Mint novelty company, but in 1984-5 Warner rapidly divested many of these recent acquisitions, including Atari, Franklin Mint, Panavision and a cosmetics business.

New signings in the late 1970s placed the Warner group 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 New Wave acts including The Pretenders, The Ramones and Talking Heads and, most importantly, rising star Madonna; Elektra signed The Cars and 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.

A proposed 1983 international merger between Polygram and WEA was forbidden by both the US Federal Trade Commission and 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. In 1988 WEA took over the prestigious German classical label Teldec and the UK Magnet Records 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.

Atlantic started two new subsidiary labels in the early 1990s: EastWest Records (which absorbed Atco Records) and Interscope Records. The former was later absorbed into Elektra, and the latter was also sold to MCA in 1995.

2000s

Looking to reduce its debt load, Time Warner -- the corporate successor to Warner Communications—sold the company in 2004 to a group of investors led by 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 and is used under license by its former parent who retains full ownership and control of the Warner trademark.

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 2007, 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.

In 2006, WMG acquired Rykodisc (home of the Frank Zappa catalog) and Roadrunner Records.

On December 27, 2007, Warner announced that it would sell digital music without 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 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 unavailable.

WMG was the first major media company to form a strategic relationship with YouTube, effectively embracing a business model around user-generated content. The arrangement with YouTube required that royalties be paid based on the number of views that videos featuring music from WMG artists received. However in December 2008, negotiations between the two companies broke down, and as a result, clips on YouTube featuring WMG music recordings have had their audio removed or blocked completely and replaced with a message indicating copyright infringement.

In 2008, WMG, Universal Music, Sony BMG, EMI and the Indies (via Merlin) together with The Orchard licensed the full repertoire to the new concept of Spotify in order to fight piracy with a legal way of music streaming.

Music publishing

Warner/Chappell Music dates back to 1811 and the creation of Chappell & Company, a sheet music and instrument merchant in Londonmarker. In 1929, Jack 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 40s, 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 90 percent of the productions seen up to the war years.

List of Warner labels

Controversy

In December 2008, negotiations between WMG and YouTube broke down. As a result, Warner Music Group has continuously blocked or muted videos on YouTube which feature music recordings belonging to their labels or to their publishing arm, Warner/Chappell Music, citing copyright infringement. 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. This makes the association between non-WMG artists and WMG much less apparent to YouTube users as music publishers, unlike record labels, generally do not brand themselves to their recordings. Muting also occurred to clips featuring people covering a song by a WMG artist or of a song controlled by Warner/Chappell. The response from YouTube users on affected videos has been overwhelmingly negative towards WMG. Notably, Seattlemarker band Death Cab for Cutie was affected when music videos streamed on their website from their Atlantic Records albums Plans and Narrow Stairs were removed by WMG. The issue and opinion of WMG has since worsened when they began removing and muting songs that are covers rather than just recordings.

With the rise of music video games, CEO Edgar Bronfman, Jr. has complained that "The amount being paid to the music industry, even though [these] games are entirely dependent on the content we own and control, is far too small," and he concluded that "we will not license to those games." However, if they found new and better ways to promote music and new ways to make profit, this would not be a problem. A Wired magazine article claimed that Rock Band publisher MTV Games has boycotted WMG as a result, but both parties have claimed this to be untrue. WMG has not made any new content deals with MTV Games since August 2008. This had led to a backlash against WMG by fans of these games.

Many anti-Warner videos have been popping up on YouTube from users with outrage over videos being blocked by WMG. There has even been provisions by these disgruntled YouTube users to boycott any material owned by Warner Music Group.

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. 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.

See also



References

  1. http://investors.wmg.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=182480&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=708718&highlight=
  2. When Time Warner sold its publishing division to Hachette Livre in 2006, the following legend appeared on its newly published books until Warner Books was renamed Grand Central Publishing: "Warner Books and the W logo are trademarks of Time Warner Inc. or an affiliated company. Used under license by Hachette Book Group USA, which is not affiliated with Time Warner Inc." However, no such legal fineprint notice has ever appeared on any Warner Music product since it was sold by Time Warner.
  3. Analysis: WMG's Moves Could Make Room for M&A
  4. Digital Sales Surpass CDs at Atlantic
  5. PR Newswire Europe Ltd.
  6. "The Boys That Make the Noise", Music section, Time , 5 July 1943.
  7. Warner Music Group Disappearing From YouTube: Both Sides Take Credit
  8. http://www.hollywoodtoday.net/2008/12/21/warner-music-group-pulls-the-plug-on-youtube/
  9. YouTube, Warner Music feud nearing an end
  10. http://youtube-global.blogspot.com/2009/09/warner-music-comes-back-to-youtube.html
  11. http://www.wmg.com/newsdetails/id/8a0af81223ca5ea0012406e5d0b7333b


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