While we’re big fans of the independent record label, we know that the big three labels - Sony Music, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group - loom large over the industry and have brought tremendous history to the industry as a whole. Under those Big Three are many labels you know and love, and today we want to explore those big names and how they made a name in the industry themselves.
As one of the Big Three, Sony Music Entertainment is a conglomerate of music history dating back to the 1920’s, at its roots as the American Record Corporation. Through the years, it’s undergone many name changes including Columbia, CBS Records (with Clive Davis), and eventually Sony Music. Under their impressive umbrella are genre divisions such as Epic Records, Columbia Records, Sony Music Japan, Sony Music UK, and Nashville, proving just how global they’ve truly become.
Warner Music is an offshoot of Warner Bros Records, which was formed in the 1950’s when one of Warner Bros famous actors, Tab Hunter, decided to try his hand at music and released a number one chart-topper. Sensing an opportunity, Warner Bros Records was formed to make a stand in the music industry, and was transformed into Warner Music in 2011 after being privately bought. Over the years, Warner has taken many labels under their wing, including Atlantic Records, Fueled by Ramen, and the indie branch Alternative Distribution Alliance.
Liek Warner, Universal began as an offshoot of Universal Studios, but has now operated separately from the studio since 2004. What may come as a surprise is that Universal is actually owned by French media conglomerate known as Vivendi, but this has definitely increased their global reach. SInce then, they’ve ushered in pop-heavy labels like Island / Def Jam Records, Republic Records, Cash Money and Young Money.
Notable Artists: Shakira, Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine, Jennifer Lopez, DJ Khaled, Outkast, Camila Cabello
Epic Records started its like as a jazz and classical music label on the 1950’s, working with the likes of the Juilliard String Quartet and the Berlin Philharmonic. You wouldn’t think that today. Since its inception, they’ve broadened their artist library to include pop, R&B, and hip hop. Due to popularity, it quickly became one of Sony’s “flagship labels”, garnering
Notable Artists: Aviici, BTS, Lionel Richie, Bon Jovi, Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Kanye West, The Killers, Elton John, Shania Twain
Island Def Jam was the result of a 1998 fusion between Island Records, Def Jam Recordings, and Mercury Records, and later joined by Motown Records. They reached a peak in 2012 when they became the first to have seven number-one hits played on the radio, including songs from Rihanna, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, and Ne-Yo. They’re experiencing a similar explosion with the success of Korean sensation BTS making it big in the west.
Notable Artists: Adele, Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, Harry Styles, Frank Sinatra, Celine Dion, Pink Floyd
Columbia Records is the final form of a phonograph business that was started in 1887, which came from the District of Columbia where the business was founded. Over the years, the label has changed hands and gone through many evolutions, especially in the 1960’s under the tutelage of Clive Davis. Today it’s another flagship of Sony Music and has acquired enormous talent like the names mentioned above.
Notable Artists: 50 Cent, Eminem, Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, The Game, Eve, Raekwon
Aftermath is most notable for being founded by the incomparable Dr. Dre. Though it’s a subsidiary of subsidiary for Universal Music Group, their roster of artists have been anything but small-fry. Several artists on their roster have achieved either Platinum or Diamond status, and their newest artist, Anderson.Paak, has been making waves on his way to that same status.
Notable Artists: Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Lil Twist, Cory Gunz, Drake, Mack Maine, Flow
Young Money is the result of a sour break-up between Cash Money and Lil Wayne, after an ugly dispute between the label’s founder Bryan “Birdman” Williams. When Lil Wayne split off to form his own label, he brought the likes of Nicki Minaj and Drake with him. Since then, the label has achieved 12 number one albums among its roster of artists and shows no signs of stopping.
Notable Artists: Against The Current, Janelle Monae, Jill Scott, Kehlani, NEEDTOBREATHE, Bruno Mars, Cardi B
Atlantic Records is the name you think of when it comes to jazz, soul, and R&B, with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles among the other household names in their lineup. In 1967, after being acquired by Warner Music Group, the genre range expanded to rock and pop, but has still kept their groovy, sultry roots strong.
Notable Artists: Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, 3 Doors Down, Black Veil Brides, The Weeknd
You may have seen Republic Record’s name in the news recently, as Taylor Swift officially signed over to them this past year before her previous label, Big Machine, went on the market. Republic was born in 1995, and in 2000 was acquired by Universal Music Group. Their genre range is all over, like the many labels on this list, and they don’t discriminate. From pop artists Jessie J and Ariana Grande, to hip-hop powerhouses like Post Malone, Snoop Dogg, and Wiz Khalifa, Republic Records has definitely been doing well. They’re also taking a chance on TXT, an up-and-coming Korean boy band hot on the heels of BTS’s western success.
Well, there you have it! Ten well-known label names that you absolutely MUST know if you want to become successful in the music industry. While we always encourage artists to make the decision that will be best for their career, we know that these bigger names pack a huge punch in distribution, tour management, and music production. Let us know if you have any questions on how to build up your artist skill stack and make yourself stand out to these famous names.