Universal Music was once the record company attached to film studio Universal Pictures. The company's origins go back to the formation of the American branch of Decca Records in September 1934. The Decca Record Co. Ltd. of England spun American Decca off in 1939. MCA Inc. merged with American Decca in 1962.
In November 1990, Japanese multinational conglomerate Matsushita Electric agreed to acquire MCA for $6.59 billion. In 1995, Seagram acquired 80 percent of MCA from Matsushita. On December 9, 1996, the company was renamed Universal Studios, Inc., and its music division was renamed Universal Music Group; MCA Records continued as a label within the Universal Music Group. In May 1998, Seagram purchased PolyGram and merged it with Universal Music Group in early 1999.
With the 2004 acquisition of Universal Studios by General Electric and merging with GE's NBC, Universal Music Group was cast under separate management from the eponymous film studio. This is the second time a music company has done so, the first being the separation of Time Warner and Warner Music Group. In February 2006, the label became 100 percent owned by French media conglomerate Vivendi when Vivendi purchased the last 20 percent from Matsushita. On June 25, 2007, Vivendi completed its €1.63 billion ($2.4 billion) purchase of BMG Music Publishing, after receiving European Union regulatory approval, having announced the acquisition on September 6, 2006.
2007-2012 and EMI purchase
In June 2007, UMG acquired Sanctuary, which eventually became UMG's entertainment merchandising and brand management division, Bravado. The company represents artists such as Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Kanye West, and has partnered with retailers including Barneys, Bloomingdale's and Selfridges.
In 2008, Universal Music Group agreed to make its catalog available to Spotify, then a new streaming service, for use outside the U.S. on a limited basis.
With Lucian Grainge's appointment as CEO at UMG, Max Hole was promoted to COO of UMGI, effective July 1, 2010.
Doug Morris stepped down from his position as CEO on January 1, 2011. Former chairman/CEO of Universal Music International Lucian Grainge was promoted to CEO of the company. Grainge later replaced him as chairman on March 9, 2011. Morris became the next chairman of Sony Music Entertainment on July 1, 2011. With Grainge's appointment as CEO at UMG, Max Hole was promoted to COO of UMGI, effective July 1, 2010. Starting in 2011 UMG's Interscope Geffen A&M Records began signing contestants from American Idol/Idol series. In January 2011, UMG announced it was donating 200,000 master recordings from the 1920s to 1940s to the Library of Congress for preservation.
In 2011, EMI agreed to sell its recorded music operations to Universal Music Group for £1.2 billion ($1.9 billion) and its music publishing operations to a Sony-led consortium for $2.2 billion. Among the other companies that had competed for the recorded music business was Warner Music Group which was reported to have made a $2 billion bid. IMPALA opposed the merger. In March 2012, the European Union opened an investigation into the acquisition The EU asked rivals and consumer groups whether the deal would result in higher prices and shut out competitors.
On September 21, 2012, the sale of EMI to UMG was approved in Europe and the United States by the European Commission and Federal Trade Commission respectively. However, the European Commission approved the deal only under the condition the merged company divest one third of its total operations to other companies with a proven track record in the music industry. UMG divested Mute Records, Parlophone, Roxy Recordings, MPS Records, Cooperative Music, Now That's What I Call Music!, Jazzland, Universal Greece, Sanctuary Records, Chrysalis Records, EMI Classics, Virgin Classics, and EMI's European regional labels to comply with this condition. UMG retained The Beatles (formerly of Parlophone) and Robbie Williams (formerly of Chrysalis). The Beatles catalogue was transferred to UMG's newly formed Calderstone Productions , while Williams' catalogue was transferred to Island Records.
2012–2017: EMI integration and divisions reorganization
Universal Music Group completed their acquisition of EMI on September 28, 2012. In November 2012, Steve Barnett was appointed chairman and CEO of Capitol Music Group. He formerly served as COO of Columbia Records. In compliance the conditions of the European Commission after purchase of EMI, Universal Music Group sold the Mute catalogue to the German-based BMG Rights Management on December 22, 2012. Two months later, BMG acquired Sanctuary Records for €50 million.
On February 8, 2013, Warner Music Group acquired the Parlophone Label Group (consisting of Parlophone Records, Chrysalis Records, EMI Classics, Virgin Classics and EMI Records' Belgian, Czech, Danish, French, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Slovak and Swedish divisions) for $765 million (£487 million). Later in February, Sony Music Entertainment acquired Universal's European share in Now That's What I Call Music for approximately $60 million. Play It Again Sam acquired Co-Operative Music for £500,000 in March 2013. With EMI's absorption into Universal Music complete, its British operations consist of five label units: Island, Polydor, Decca, Virgin EMI and Capitol. In the Greek market, as part of its divesture plans, Universal Music retained Minos EMI and sold Universal Music Greece to Greek investors who renamed it Cobalt Music. Edel AG acquired the MPS catalogue from Universal in January 2014.
On March 20, 2013, UMG announced the worldwide extension of their exclusive distribution deal with the Disney Music Group, excluding Japan. As a result of this deal DMG's labels and artists have access to UMG's roster of producers and songwriters on a worldwide basis. The exclusive deal also saw UMG granted unlimited access to all rights pertaining to Disney's 85-year back catalog of soundtracks and albums.
On April 2, 2013, the gospel music divisions of Motown Records and EMI merged to form a new label called Motown Gospel. In May 2013, Japanese company SoftBank offered $8.5 billion to Vivendi for the acquisition of UMG, but Vivendi rejected it. In July 2018, JPMorgan said that UMG could be worth as much as $40 billion and then increased the valuation to $50 billion in 2019.
In August 2013, UMG became the first company in the US to have nine of the Top 10 songs on the digital charts, according to SoundScan and weeks later, became the first company to hold all 10 of the Top 10 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.
In September 2013, UMG received a SAG-AFTRA American Scene Award for the company's commitment to diversity as exemplified by its "entire catalog and roster of artists."
On April 1, 2014, Universal Music announced the disbandment of Island Def Jam Music, one of four operational umbrella groups within Universal Music. Universal CEO Lucian Grainge said of the closure, "No matter how much we might work to build 'IDJ' as a brand, that brand could never be as powerful as each of IDJ's constituent parts." Island Records and Def Jam now operate as autonomous record labels. David Massey and Bartels, who worked respectively at Island and Def Jam Records, were named to the new record labels independently. Barry Weiss, who previously moved from Sony Music to lead Island Def Jam Music in 2012 when Motown Records was incorporated into Island Def Jam, stepped down from Universal Music. Additionally, as part of the changes to the labels, Motown Records transferred to Los Angeles to become part of the Capitol Music Group and previous Vice President Ethiopia Habtemariam was promoted to Label President for Motown Records.
Universal Music Group entered into film and TV production with the 2014 purchase of Eagle Rock Entertainment. UMG's first major film production was Amy, which won an Oscar for Best Documentary, while taking part in Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck and The Beatles: Eight Days a Week documentaries. In January 2016, UMG hired David Blackman from Laurence Mark Production where he was president of production as head of film and television development and production, and theater producer Scott Landis as special advisor on theatrical development and production. UMG Executive Vice President Michele Anthony and Universal Music Publishing Group Chairman and CEO Jody Gerson have oversight of the pair. On February 11, 2017, PolyGram Entertainment was relaunched as a film and television unit of Universal Music Group under David Blackman.
In 2015, UMG's Capitol Records earned all the major Grammy Awards for the year, with Sam Smith receiving Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year awards and Beck winning Album of the Year.
In May 2016, UMG acquired Famehouse, a digital marketing agency. That same year, Paul McCartney and the Bee Gees both signed to UMG's Capitol Records, including their catalog releases.
In April of 2017, UMG signed a new multi-year licensing agreement with Spotify, the world's leading streaming service, and in May of 2017, UMG signed a deal with Tencent, China's biggest gaming and social media firm.
In July 2017, "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and featuring Justin Bieber, became the most streamed track of all time. By 2018, the song had broken several Guinness World Records, including Most Weeks at Number 1 on Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart and most-viewed video online.
In August 2017, UMG and Grace/Beyond agreed to develop three new music-based television series, 27, Melody Island and Mixtape. 27 would focus on musicians at the age of 27, an age at which several iconic musicians died. Melody Island was an animated series based on tropical island music with live craft segments. Mixtape had twelve episodes, with each episode connected to a song.
In October 2017, UMG announced the launch of its Accelerator Engagement Network, an initiative aimed to help develop music-based startups around the world.
In November 2017, USC Annenberg announced UMG's partnership in the "Annenberg Inclusion Initiative", becoming the first music company to do so. The initiative is meant to create change for representation of women and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in the media industry.
In December 2017, Universal Music Group acquired the catalogues of Stiff Records and ZTT Records, along with Perfect Songs Publishing, from Trevor Horn's SPZ Group. That same month, UMG signed a global, multi-year agreement with Facebook becoming the first major music company to license its recorded music and publishing catalogs for video and other social experiences across Facebook, Instagram and Oculus. UMG also signed a multi-year licensing agreement with YouTube that month.
In June 2018, Universal Music Japan announced an exclusive license agreement with Disney Music Group. With the addition of Japan, UMG distributes releases from Disney Music Group globally.
In July, The Rolling Stones signed a worldwide agreement with UMG covering the band’s recorded music and audio-visual catalogues, archival support, global merchandising and brand management. That same month, Vivendi announced it would explore selling as much as half of Universal Music Group to one or more investors.
In Nielsen's 2018 US Music Mid-Year report, UMG made history with eight of the Top 10 artists, including all of the top five, as well as all of the top eight artists ranked by on-demand audio streams.
In August 2018, UMG announced a strategic expansion in Africa, opening an office in Abidjan to oversee French-speaking Africa, and also unveiling a Universal Music Nigera office in Lagos to focus on signing local artists and taking them global.
In September, Elton John signed a global partnership agreement with UMG across recorded music, music publishing, brand management, and licensing rights.
On November 19, 2018, singer Taylor Swift signed a new multi-album deal with Universal Music Group. In addition to the promised ownership of her master recordings, UMG agreed to, in the event that it sells portions of its stake in Spotify, distribute proceeds among its artists and make them non-recoupable.
In December 2018, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" became the most-streamed song from the pre-streaming era and the most-streamed classic rock song of all time.
In February 2019, UMG fully acquired music distributor INgrooves.
UMG was named to Fast Company's annual list of the World's 50 Most Innovative Companies for 2019, the first major music company to be included on the list in a decade. UMG is also ranked number 1 in the music category.
UMG was named by Forbes as one of America's Best Midsize Employers in 2019.
Universal Music Group's executive management board consists of Sir Lucian Grainge, Michele Anthony, Frank Briegmann, Jody Gerson, Jeffrey Harleston, David Joseph, Andrew Kronfeld, Boyd Muir, Michael Nash, Gautum Srivastava, and Will Tanous.
Copyright termination lawsuit
On February 5, 2019, John Waite and Joe Ely filed a class-action lawsuit against (UMG) claiming the company is violating their right to terminate grants of copyright after 35 years in accordance with copyright law of the United States by ignoring Notices of Termination. May 3, 2019, UMG filed a motion to dismiss the case, stating the Notices of Termination were not valid because the songs were not grants of copyright but works for hire.
Universal archive fire (2008)
According to Jody Rosen of The New York Times, the fire which swept through Universal Studios Hollywood on June 1, 2008 caused "the biggest disaster in the history of the music business". In space rented from NBC-Universal, according to an official document marked "Confidential", the fire destroyed at least 118,230 "assets" (master recordings), or about 500,000 song titles, owned by UMG. "The vault housed tape masters for Decca, the pop, jazz and classical powerhouse; it housed master tapes for the storied blues label Chess; it housed masters for Impulse, the groundbreaking jazz label. The vault held masters for the MCA, ABC, A&M, Geffen and Interscope labels. And it held masters for a host of smaller subsidiary labels. Nearly all of these masters — in some cases, the complete discographies of entire record labels — were wiped out in the fire." In a statement issued on June 11, 2019, UMG said The New York Times article contained "numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets." Following the publication of the New York Times story, Questlove of The Roots confirmed that the master tapes for two of the band's albums, including unused material and multi-track recordings, were lost in the fire. Similarly, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic said he believed the masters for the band's 1991 album Nevermind were "gone forever" as a result of the fire. Representatives for R.E.M. announced they would investigate the effects the fire may have had on the band's archival materials, while Hole, Steely Dan, Rosanne Cash and Geoff Downes made statements on their possible losses from the fire. A representative for Eminem confirmed that the rapper's master recordings were digitally preserved months before the fire, but not did confirm whether the physical master reels of his recordings were affected.