Learn the Interesting History of Universal Music Group Recording Company


A subsidiary of Vivendi, Universal Music Group (UMG) is the largest recording company in the world, holding the most extensive catalog of recorded music. It’s an American global music corporation with headquarters located in Santa Monica, California. It’s one of the “Big Three” record labels, along with Sony Music and Warner Music Group.

Company Overview

Universal Music Group is a major music corporation owned by the French media conglomerate Vivendi. Chinese tech company Tencent also owns a minority stake at UMG. It also holds the world’s largest music publishing house, with more than a million copyrights under its control. It owns, or has a joint share in many record labels listed under different groups, including but not limited to:

  • Capitol Music Group
  • Republic Records
  • Def Jam Recordings
  • Island Records
  • Interscope Geffen A&M Records
  • Isolation Network
  • Caroline Records
  • Universal Music Group Nashville
  • Universal Music Latin Entertainment
  • Eagle Rock Entertainment
  • The Verve Label Group
  • Universal Music Enterprises

According to Fast Company in 2019, Universal Music Group is the most innovative music company. It is listed among the Top 50 most innovative companies in the world. The company also says that Universal redefines what a modern label must look like amid the digital transformation in the music industry. UMG has licensing agreements with more than 400 platforms around the world.

Company History

The origin of Universal Music Group goes back to the formation of the American branch of Decca Records in September 1934. Music Company of America (MCA Inc.) merged with American Decca Records in 1962.

In 1990, Matsushita Electric acquired MCA for more than $6 billion. Seagram acquired 80% of MCA from Matsushita in 1995. The year after, the company was renamed Universal Studios Inc., and the music division was renamed Universal Music Group. MCA Records continued as a record label within the Universal Music Group. PolyGram merged with Universal Music Group in early 1999 after Seagram purchased the company.

In 2004, Universal Music Group was put under separate management from Universal Studios after French media conglomerate Vivendi sold 80% of Universal Studios to General Electric. General Electric then merged the company with NBC, forming NBCUniversal. Vivendi acquired the remaining 20% of UMG from Matsushita Electric in 2006, gaining full ownership of the company.

In 2007, Vivendi completed the acquisition of BMG Music publishing. That same year, UMG purchased Sanctuary, which became UMG’s brand management and entertainment merchandising division, Bravado. The company represents artists like Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber, and Kanye West. It has partnered with retailers, including Bloomingdale’s, Barneys, and Selfridges. Universal Music Group made its catalog available to Spotify in 2008, which then was a new streaming service.

Starting in 2011, the Interscope Geffen A&M Records under UMG began signing contestants from the American Idol series. In 2012, the sale of EMI’s recorded music operations to UMG was approved in the United States and Europe. However, the European Commission approved the deal only because the merged company divests a third of its total operations to companies with a proven track record in the music industry. To comply, UMG divested Parlophone, Mute Records, Now That’s What I Call Music!, Jazzland, MPS Records, Cooperative Music, EMI Classics, Virgin Classics, Sanctuary Records, Chrysalis Records, Universal Greece, and EMI’s European regional labels.

In 2013, UMG extended its exclusive distribution deal with Disney Music Group worldwide. The deal granted UMG with unlimited access to all rights to Disney’s 85-year back catalog of albums and soundtracks. That same year, the gospel music division of Motown Records and EMI joined together to form Motown Gospel. UMG also became the first US company to have nine of the top 10 songs on the digital charts in August 2013. Weeks later, it became the first company to hold all ten songs of the Top 10 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.

Universal Music Group ventured into film and TV production with the purchase of Eagle Rock Entertainment in 2014. In 2017, PolyGram Entertainment was relaunched as a film and TV unit of UMG.

UMG’s Capitol Records earned all the major Grammy Awards for 2015, a recording company’s milestone.

In 2017, UMG signed a deal with Tencent and a new multi-year licensing agreement with Spotify. That same year, UMG signed a multi-year, global agreement with Facebook to become the first of the “Big Three” to license its publishing and recorded music catalogs for video and other social media experiences across Facebook, Instagram, and Oculus. The company also made a multi-year licensing agreement with YouTube.

In 2019, UMG and YouTube announced that they are upgrading more than a thousand popular music videos to high definition, releasing them in 2020.

Popular Artists

As the largest recording company, Universal Music Group signs a lot of the biggest artists in the music industry, including:

  • 2 Chainz
  • ABBA
  • Amy Winehouse
  • Andrea Bocelli
  • Ariana Grande
  • Backstreet Boys
  • The Beatles
  • Beyonce
  • The Black Eyed Peas
  • Bob Marley
  • Bon Jovi
  • BTS
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Cher
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • Daddy Yankee
  • Demi Lovato
  • DJ Khaled
  • Dolly Parton
  • The Eagles
  • Elton John
  • Emily Osment
  • Enrique Iglesias
  • Fergie
  • Flo Rida
  • George Michael
  • Gwen Stefani
  • Guns and Roses
  • Hozier
  • Iron Maiden
  • The Jackson 5
  • Jay-Z
  • Jennifer Lopez
  • Jonas Brothers
  • Justin Bieber
  • Kanye West
  • Katy Perry
  • The Killers
  • Lady Gaga
  • Lana Del Rey
  • Lil Wayne
  • Lionel Richie
  • Mariah Carey
  • Maroon 5
  • Metallica
  • Michael Jackson
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Ne-Yo
  • Nine Inch Nails
  • Nirvana
  • Paul McCartney
  • The Police
  • The Pussycat Dolls
  • Queen
  • Ramones
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Rick Astley
  • Rod Stewart
  • Robbie Williams
  • Rihanna
  • Sam Smith
  • Selena Gomez
  • Shaggy
  • Shawn Mendes
  • Smash Mouth
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Spice Girls
  • Sting
  • Taylor Swift
  • U2
  • Van Halen
  • Weezer
  • Westlife
  • i.am
  • Yoko Ono
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