Known by the name “Sony Music,” this American music company has offices in more than 40 different countries in the world, and a dozen labels under its company umbrella. Sony Music Entertainment belongs to the “Big Three” major record labels in the United States and in the world, second behind Universal Music Group and ahead of Warner Music Group.
A global music conglomerate owned by the Sony Corporation of America, Sony Music Entertainment (SME) is initially founded in 1929 as American Record Corporation. It’s incorporated as a general partnership of Sony Music Holdings through Sony Entertainment, a Sony subsidiary.
The company is now run by CEO Douglas P. Morris and Vice President and CFO Kevin Kelleher. Headquartered on Madison Avenue in New York City, SME has additional offices in more than 40 countries in the world. The company is responsible for publishing various genre-specific labels.
Sony Music Entertainment owns and controls different labels, including Columbia Records, Epic Records, and RCA Records. In addition to these big labels, SME also owns genre-specific labels like Columbia Nashville, Legacy Recordings, Arista Nashville, Sony Music Latin, RCA Records Nashville, Masterworks, Provident Label Group, RCA Inspiration, and Vested in Culture. Some of the few music genres that these labels specialize are Latin, country, classical, and gospel or Christian music.
Sony Music Entertainment produces for some of the most prominent artists in the music industry today, including:
- Air Supply
- Alicia Keys
- Avril Lavigne
- Backstreet Boys
- Bob Dylan
- Britney Spears
- Bruce Springsteen
- Celine Dione
- Carrie Underwood
- Christina Aguilera
- Daft Punk
- David Bowie
- Enrique Iglesias
- Jennifer Lopez
- Justin Beiber
- Katy Perry
- Kelly Clarkson
- Mariah Carey
- Pink Floyd
- Ricky Martin
- Simon and Garfunkel
- Stevie Wonder
- Taylor Swift
- The Black Eyed Peas
- Whitney Houston
Sony Music Entertainment started as the American Record Corporation (ARC), founded in 1929. The company grew for the next years and acquired other brands like the Columbia Phonograph Company in 1934.
In 1938, the company was acquired by the Columbia Broadcasting System, renaming the company to Columbia Recording Corporation, which was later changed again to Columbia Records Inc. in 1947. The company became a leader in the record industry as it introduced the LP record in 1948. LP record was soon adopted as a new standard by the entire recording industry.
Columbia experienced continued success throughout the 1950s with the launch of Epic Records in 1953, and Date Records in 1958. By 1962, the company owned four production units in four plants around the United States located in Los Angeles, California; Pitman, New Jersey; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Terre Haute, Indiana.
Columbia launched internationally in 1962 as “CBS Records,” since the company owned the rights to the Columbia name only in North America. In 1964, the company began acquiring record companies from other countries for the CBS Records International. By 1966, the company was fully renamed as CBS Records and became a separate unit of the parent company, CBS-Columbia Group. In 1968, CBS Records formed a business joint venture with Sony, forming CBS/Sony Records. Later on, it expanded into its own CBS Records Group.
During the 1980s to early ‘90s, the company managed several successful labels, including CBS Associated Records. By 1987, CBS became one of the only big three TV networks in America to have co-owned a record company. Since Sony is one of the developers behind the compact disc, the company had a compact disc production plant in Japan under the joint venture, allowing CBS to supply the first compact disc releases for the American market in the early 1980s.
In 1991, CBS Records Group was renamed to Sony Music Entertainment to fulfill the terms set under the 1988 buyout, which granted a transitional license to the CBS trademark. That same year, Sony reintroduced Columbia label worldwide, which it previously held in North America only.
In 1995, Sony and Michael Jackson formed a joint venture that merged Sony’s music publishing with Jackson’s ATV Music, forming Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
Sony entered a joint venture with equal partner Bertelsmann by merging Sony Music and Bertelsmann Music Group in Germany in 2004. This joint venture formed the Sony BMG Music Entertainment. Due to this merger, Columbia and Epic became sister labels to RCA Records, which was once owned by NBC – CBS’s rival. It also started the process of bringing back BMG’s Arista Records under common ownership with Columbia Pictures.
In 2008, Sony Corporation of America and Bertelsmann acquired Bertelsmann’s 50% stake in Sony BMG, restructuring the company. In 2010, Sony Corporation partnered with The Michael Jackson Company, making the largest deal in recorded music history with its contract of more than $250 million.
Dave Morris, head of Warner Music Group and later Universal Music, became the company chairman and CEO in July 2011, causing a massive restructuring. Some artists switched labels, while somewhere shut down altogether. In 2017, he was replaced by Rob Stringer, former chairman and CEO of Columbia Records.
In June 2012, a consortium from Sony/ATV bought EMI Music Publishing, making Sony/ATV the largest music publisher in the world at the time.
Sony Music Entertainment faced a major lawsuit in 2019 filed by a group of 1970s-era musicians, accusing the company of improperly refusing them to reclaim the rights to their songs they had signed away earlier in their careers. The plaintiffs claim that Sony ignored hundreds of notices, having taken the position that the recordings are works made for hire and are not subject to being reclaimed.