Brief history of the ‘Majors’

The major record labels control the majority of wealth in the recording industry. However, they have seen a noticeable decline in the past decade due to declining music sales, piracy and self-releasing artists. Here is a brief history of the major labels over the past 25 or so years…

The Big 6 (1988-1999) 

In this decade the music industry was still healthy. The Big 6 consisted of Warner Music Group, EMI, CBS (which actually became Sony Music in 1991), BMG Music, Universal Music Group, and Polygram (a merger of Phonogram and Polydor).

The Big 5 (1999-2004)

In 1999 Polygram was absorbed into Universal Music Group. So, between 1999 and 2004, the majors consisted of Warner Music Group, EMI, Sony Music, BMG Music, and Universal Music Group.

The Big 4 (2004-2008)

Sony and BMG merged to form Sony BMG (very creative…) to form, along with Warner Music Group and EMI and Universal Music Group, the Big 4.

The Big 4 (2008-2012) 

Between 2008 and 2012 the Big 4 remained intact apart from the fact that Sony bought BMG to form Sony Music Entertainment.

The Big 3 (2012-Present)

As of 2012 EMI is no more. Universal Music Group acquired EMI (apart from two of EMI’s subsidiaries, Parlophone and EMI/Virgin Classics, which were acquired by Warner Music Group) and the Big 3 was formed.

As of 2012 the major labels are:

  1. Universal Music Group
  2. Sony Music Entertainment
  3. Warner Music Group

    Of course, as well as the majors there are the independent labels. Here are a few well known ones:

  • Rough Trade
  • Metal Blade
  • Domino
  • Glassnote
  • Fool’s Gold
  • Fat Possum Records

So, as an artist, which is best for you? Major or independent?

Next time I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both.


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