Sony Music Entertainment (commonly referred to as Sony Music) is an American global music company, which is part of the Sony Music Group owned by conglomerate Sony Corporation of America, incorporated as a general partnership of Sony Music Holdings Inc. through Sony Entertainment, all of which are ultimately owned by the Japanese conglomerate Sony.[excessive detail?]
(incorporated as a general partnership)
|Predecessor||Bertelsmann Music Group|
American Record Corporation
Sony Music Entertainment Inc.
Sony BMG Music Entertainment
|Products||Music and entertainment|
|Revenue||US$7.27 billion  (FY 2017)|
|US$1.16 billion  (FY 2017)|
Number of employees
|8,500 (2019 )|
|Divisions||See List of Sony Music Entertainment labels|
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 Sony Music 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.
As of 2020, Sony Music Entertainment is the second largest of the "Big Three" record companies, behind Universal Music Group and followed by Warner Music Group. Its music publishing division Sony/ATV (now known as Sony Music Publishing) is the largest music publisher in the world. From 2009-2020, Sony owned 50% of Syco Entertainment, which operates some of the world's most successful reality TV formats, including Got Talent and The X Factor with Simon Cowell. Cowell acquired Sony's stake in 2020.
1929–1938: American Record CorporationEdit
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 RecordsEdit
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.
By 1966, Columbia was renamed as CBS Records and was a separate unit of the parent company, CBS-Columbia Group. In March 1968, CBS and Sony formed CBS/Sony Records, a Japanese business joint venture.
1971–1991: CBS Records GroupEdit
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 ViacomCBS, 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.
1991–2004: Birth of Sony Music EntertainmentEdit
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.
2004–2008: Sony BMG: Joint venture with BertelsmannEdit
In August 2004, Sony entered a joint venture with an 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 restructuringEdit
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 eliminated 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 Music Entertainment 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.
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