South African Roots: Calder, Simon and Lange
In late 1971, Clive Calder and Ralph Simon began their two-decade partnership in forming businesses in record production and promotion, music publishing, artist management and concert promotion in South Africa. Because of the market in South Africa, there was a need to branch out into various aspects of the business, instead of just focusing on one aspect of the industry. "You couldn't do just one thing. It was too small," explained David Gresham, CEO of David Gresham Record Company. "This is not a country where you have a million-seller. A No. 1 record is a 10,000 unit seller. That only pays the rent for a month or two." While almost mandatory in South Africa, this early style of music company would be adapted to other markets throughout the companies history, and would become a staple of Calder's managing legacy.
Early companies formed by Calder and Simon were Sagittarius Management and Clive Calder Productions (CCP). CCP was distributed by EMI Records South Africa who purchased the company in 1972. Although Calder has no stake in it now, it still exists as a wholly owned subsidiary of EMI, specializing in the recording, development and marketing of domestic artists. Calder's relationship with EMI began when he had been an A&R Manager at EMI South Africa for eighteen months. There he had signed some big groups for the time such as Freedom's Children and the Otis Waygood Blues Band. During this time, Calder was also a bassist in a few bands. He formed the Four Dukes and the In Crowd with EMI artist Peter Vee, whom he also produced. Calder eventually paired Lee with a young producer named Mutt Lange,who at the time had produced for David Gresham and David Gresham Records local hit "Sunday Monday Tuesday" by Jessica Jones on Gresham's Nitty Gritty Records.
Zomba in London
The trio of Calder, Simon and Lange decided in 1974 that they had to get out of South Africa. "We were politically very much opposed to the old apartheid regime" says Simon. They pooled together what little money they had and moved to London. Having landed right in the middle of the British punk rock movement, they felt their experience would not be best utilized in marketing and promotion in such a different context. Instead, they opted to create a publishing company and Zomba Corporation was officially registered in Switzerland in 1975, operating out of Calder's bedroom space in London. The name "Zomba" referred to the capital of African country Malawi (Lilongwe superseded Zomba as Malawi's capital in 1974).
Next, Calder and Simon began looking for songwriters. The first was Henri Belolo, the French producer who helped create the Village People. Zomba became the disco group's British publisher. Though the band had been turned down by a few UK labels, Calder and Simon thought they could retain the most control of Zomba if they stayed in the publishing and management business, allowing other labels to release their artists' music. Meanwhile, Lange was building a name for himself as a producer, with albums by the Boomtown Rats, Graham Parker and eventually AC/DC's 1979 Highway to Hell, his breakthrough album. This led to Lange becoming one of the world's leading hard-rock producers, later adding Def Leppard, Foreigner and Bryan Adams to his resume. For Zomba, this meant increased exposure and credibility leading to many new producer and songwriter management deals. Additionally, artists would sign publishing deals, giving their publishing company a constantly burgeoning collection.
In early 1978, Zomba opened offices in New York City and began looking for more artists and songwriters. Clive Davis was one of the first to contact the group, who used his recently formed Arista Records to distribute Zomba artists. The first major signing was Billy Ocean. Over the next few years, Zomba's songwriters hit it big and the publishing profits kicked in, marking the beginning of the company's first major expansion into record labels. Though Davis wanted Calder to head his West Coast A&R operations, Calder had different plans altogether, and instead presented Jive Records to Davis.
Jive: taking a chance with rap
Arista had been having trouble pushing rock acts in the US, and Clive Davis had hoped that with Zomba's Mutt Lange connection, Jive would fill that role. However, Calder had other ideas. In 1981, Jive began operations by releasing British dance and pop music such as Q-Feel, A Flock of Seagulls and Tight Fit. By 1982, Calder was introduced to a young fresh college graduate named Barry Weiss who, for his job interview with Zomba, took Calder out to hip-hop and black clubs all over New York City. Calder was immediately impressed with the man and had him scanning sales data all over the country searching for unknown acts on small labels selling large numbers. Calder got one of his songwriters Thomas Dolby to create a catchy hook for a local DJ Mr. Magic to rap over. Mr. Magic had to cancel at the last minute, but fortunately he knew another rapper, Jalil Hutchins. Weiss's stress level shot up when Hutchins came to the session with another unknown rapper named Ecstasy and no rhymes. After two days, the group created and recorded "Magic's Wand" which turned into a hit single. Weiss named the group Houdini, but Calder changed it to Whodini. Calder flew the group to London to record an album, then to Germany to record with producer Konrad "Conny" Plank of Devo and Ultravox fame. While the group would eventually leave Jive after a few albums, the early success resulted in Jive becoming a label with a focus on hip-hop artists throughout the eighties. At a time when the record establishment wouldn't touch "ghetto" music like rap, a white South African successfully marketed some of the edgiest black music.
After Whodini, Jive began signing other rap artists into the later half of the decade. Boogie Down Productions was signed on the strength of their first record Criminal Minded, and their Jive debut By All Means Necessary was released in 1988. Young West Coast rapper Too Short was picked up by Jive after his independently released Born to Mack sold over 50,000 copies. Jive gave the album national distribution which led to gold status, and then quickly issued his follow up Life Is...Too Short which achieved platinum status. Meanwhile, Jive signed DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince in 1986 and released their debut Rock the House. The duo was a great success for Jive, helping make rap more accessible.
Jive continued supporting rap artists into the nineties. Most of the aforementioned groups continued on Jive into the next decade. KRS-One, the primary force behind Boogie Down Productions, released a string of solo albums with Jive beginning with Return of the Boom Bap in 1993. In 1991, Jive signed R&B artist R. Kelly who, along with his backing band Public Announcement, released their debut Born into the 90's in early 1992. R. Kelly's began his solo career with 12 Play in 1993 and continues to release with Jive today. A Tribe Called Quest was signed by Jive in 1989 following a successful independently released single "Description of a Fool." Their debut album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm was released by Jive in 1990 and framed the group as one of the most intelligent rap groups. Many other rap and R&B artists were signed throughout the eighties and nineties before the teen-pop explosion in the later half of the decade.
By 1990, Zomba was worth $225 million with over fifty companies. Contrary to most other record businesses at the time, Zomba spared no time with frills. "The Jive offices were crummy, cardboard desks. They just really did everything on the cheap", says attorney Gary Stiffelman. The company began to attract more major label attention when EMI attempted to buy the company, but was ultimately turned down. This period also saw Ralph Simon leaving Zomba at the start of the decade. Through an unspecified "ethical disagreement", Calder and Simon ended their relationship of over two decades. Calder bought out Simon's half of the company and subsequently gained full control of the company. In late 1991, BMG furthered its relationship with Zomba buy purchasing a 25% stake in their music publishing business, allowing them to sub-publish Zomba compositions in foreign markets. BMG continued with a 20% purchase of Zomba's records division in 1996.
Building on the successes of the Jive label, Zomba began expanding its reach by purchasing and creating new labels, and by creating new divisions that helped expose more people to Zomba artists and services. In 1988, Andrew Lauder formed the UK-based Silvertone Records under the Zomba Group. While Jive focused on hip hop, Silvertone focused on more rock-oriented music. The label's roster was initially bolstered by The Stone Roses, but quickly expanded to include blues, acoustic, and roots music. Other artists featured early on Silvertone include John Lee Hooker, J.J. Cale and The Men They Couldn't Hang. This period also saw one of the few times that Zomba attempted cracking the classical music market. In 1992, Zomba purchased UK classical music group Conifer Classics with the aide of the group's head Alison Wenham. Though the deal seemed to be solid, Zomba sold the company to BMG in 1995. Classical music activities have remained minimal within the company since then. Building on existing publishing deals, Zomba briefly co-owned the UK label Sanctuary Records. While the co-ownership only lasted between 1989 and 1991, the two companies continued dealing together in other avenues, including a publishing deal with Sanctuary artists Iron Maiden. In 1998, Zomba purchased a 50% stake in the troubled label Volcano Entertainment (called Freeworld at the time). The label had been under financial pressure due to various reasons, including a lawsuit from flagship artist Tool. The purchase was shared with management firm Q-Prime, though shortly after they sold their half to Zomba, making Volcano a wholly owned subsidiary. The first action was to settle the lawsuit with Tool, who would go on to become another Zomba success throughout the 2000s, representing the broad stylistic reach of artists under the Zomba Group. In December 2000, Volcano Entertainment purchased Capricorn Records from Phil Walden, an independent record label launched by Walden, his brother Alan Walden and Frank Fenter in 1969. With it, the Zomba subsidiary acquired a large catalog of music as well as active bands 311, Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish, 2 Skinnee J's and the jam bands Galactic and Widespread Panic.
In 1993, Zomba created Zomba! Music Services in order to facilitate publishing rights for those in the film and television industry. The division would act as a channel through which clients could acquire products and services from any company within Zomba. Songs published by Zomba Music Publishers Ltd., or released on any of the Zomba labels, or specialty recordings owned by the division itself, could be sourced for inclusion on film soundtracks, television shows or commercials. This move gave Zomba profits by providing an accessible method of accessing the company's vast publishing catalogue.
The year 1994 saw the first of many of Zomba's successful forays into the Christian music scene with the purchase of the Brentwood Music Group. Brentwood was an established company consisting of an extensive Christian distribution network, several labels, and one of the largest music publishing divisions in printed choral music in the U.S. Expanding on the Brentwood purchase, Zomba purchased the Christian label group Reunion Records from BMG in October 1996. In 1997, Zomba purchased yet another Christian music affiliated company, the Benson Music Group, from Music Entertainment Group. Benson became Zomba's third label to focus on Christian music following Brentwood Music and Reunion Records. An important asset of the Brentwood acquisition was the publishing arm, founded in 1902, that included 46,000 copyrights from artists such as Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Willie Nelson.
In reaction to the surge in Christian-oriented labels gathered over so few years, Zomba created the Provident Music Group in June 1997. The Nashville-based group was led by Jim Van Hook and was essentially a continuation of the Brentwood group and an amalgamation of the other Christian-oriented labels. The group consisted of the Benson, Brentwood and Reunion groups, as well as the Brentwood/Benson Publishing Group and newly formed Provident Music Distribution arms. This new group allowed the three main sublabels to have unified resources and distribution while still retaining their unique personalities in the market.
In 1996, Zomba acquired the Windsong Holdings which gave them control of many new companies including Windsong International, Pinnacle Entertainment and Music For Nations. It also gave them control of the established music company Rough Trade (80% of Rough Trade Records Germany/Switzerland/Austria (GSA) and 100% of Rough Trade Benelux). Rough Trade was primarily known as a distributor, but it also ran many electronic labels based in Germany. In July 1999, Rough Trade GSA was renamed Zomba Records GmbH, while the Benelux operation (which only had distribution at the time) was absorbed into Zomba Distribution. The Rough Trade name remained as an imprint of Zomba Records GmbH, but was largely abandoned by Zomba.
With the successful integration of Rough Trade into its operations in the GSA region and Benelux and to expand on recent teen pop successes, Zomba created a London-based international label group, Zomba International Records Group. Directed by Stuart Watson, the new organization allowed each new local territory to freely sign and develop acts on its own. If those artists could create a strong regional profile, it would be possible to "export" them to Zomba International for broader exposure. Simultaneously, it allowed Zomba artists increased international exposure. The expansion was largely unhampered, save for some legal issues with the Australian branch. Australian record company Festival Mushroom Group lost at least a dozen employees to Zomba in early 1999, and placed an injunction that stopped them from soliciting Mushroom employees, and accused former employee Scott Murphy of trying to bolster Zomba's presence while still working for Mushroom. However, the issue was resolved fairly amicably and ended with a distribution deal with BFM Distribution (a joint venture of Festival Mushroom Group and BMG).
As the record industry began evolving due to the widespread use of the Internet, and the increasing ease with which artists can record at home, Zomba made moves that illustrated their desire to change with the times. In 2000, they joined the growing list of record companies that made some music available via digital download with online distribution company Amplified Entertainment. In 2002, Zomba joined majors EMI, Universal and BMG, with approving some of their Jive catalog for release on the new DataPlay media. Though the media was largely unsuccessful, the move illustrated Zomba's competitiveness with the major labels in the growing digital world. However, a negative outcome of the changing times was the closing of some of Zomba's Battery Studios and Dreamline equipment rental businesses towards the end of 2001.
Teen Pop explosion
Around 1993, Clive Calder began his uneasy relationship with Lou Pearlman. Pearlman had put together a new group, Backstreet Boys, which was languishing on Mercury without any hits. He presented the group to Calder along with David McPherson. Though initially uninterested due to the dominance of grunge and alternative rock, Calder thought that the group could help expand his operations overseas. Zomba bought out the boys contract for $35,000 and moved the group over to Zomba imprint Jive. Calder immediately sent the group to Sweden and matched them with a group of producers recently found by Zomba scouts: Dag Volle and Martin Sandberg. In mid-1995, the band recorded their three songs including their first single at Cheiron Studios in Stockholm. Next Calder matched them with an old friend, Stuart Watson, who ran SWAT Enterprises, a company specializing in promotion in Asia. The group went to Asia began touring relentlessly and released their first album which sold one million copies in three weeks. In 1997, when Calder thought the grunge phenomenon had sufficiently passed, he took the group back over to the United States where their North American debut ended up selling upwards of 14 million copies, creating the first in a run of many hits that Zomba and the Backstreet Boys would enjoy together.
While Pearlman and Watson were breaking the Backstreet Boys overseas, Jive A&R man Steve Lunt was busy in the US seeking a female star, and was greeted with fifteen-year-old Britney Spears. Initially horrified by Spears karaoke demo of a Toni Braxton song sung in the wrong register, Lunt was intrigued by a brief moment at the end where he heard the "kind of soul she had." As was the virtually the standard at Zomba, Lunt took Spears to in-house songwriter and producer Eric Foster White in the company's publishing division, and the two recorded "You Got It All." Like the Backstreet Boys, Spears was hooked up with Cheiron producer Max Martin. Within thirty days of letting a music director at Star 100.7 in San Diego hear "...Baby One More Time", the song was number one on the charts in 1999.
In 1999 Zomba was involved in a "boy band controversy" when trying to sign another group that Pearlman had put together himself, *NSYNC. *NSYNC had recently left RCA due to allegations that Pearlman had taken approximately 50% of their profits and not the one-sixth that he had agreed to. Seeing the group as a "free-agent," Jive quickly signed them and prepared to release their next album. On 12 October, Pearlman's company Trans Continental, in conjunction with RCA owner BMG Entertainment and BMG Ariola Munich sued Jive Records, Clive Calder, and the members of *NSYNC for $150 million citing, among other things, breach of contract. Pearlman sought an injunction against the release of the band's new album and that the recordings be given to him, but it was denied in court. As a response to the suit, and in reference to treatment by Trans Continental, *NSYNC released a statement citing the company's poor conduct as "the most glaring, overt, and callous example of artist exploitation that the music industry has seen in a long time." The lawsuit was settled on 23 December with undisclosed terms, but left Jive free to release future *NSYNC albums.
The lawsuit, which Rolling Stone called "the music industry's nastiest legal skirmishes in years," was problematic for Zomba for two main reasons. First, having heard that 'N Sync was signed to Jive, the Backstreet Boys did not want to be a part of the label anymore. Second, the lawsuit temporarily strained Zomba's relationship with BMG, whose distribution deal with Zomba was coming to a close. Jive initially announced that they would not renew their deal with BMG, but reconsidered following the lawsuit with BMG and Trans Continental. The distribution deal may have been a determining factor in the outcome of the lawsuit, since distributed Zomba product accounted for 5.5% of BMG's US market share, and company CEO Strauss Zelnick was under pressure not to lose that. They also signed a new deal with the Backstreet Boys that gave the band a 20% royalty rate.
From BMG to Sony, and recent activities
BMG had owned 25% of Zomba's publishing business since 1991 and 20% of its recording business since 1996. As part of BMG's 1996 agreement with Zomba, the music giant was required to follow through on a put option and buy the remaining shares it did not already own before 31 December 2002. In June 2002, Clive Calder decided to exercise the put option. Effective 26 November 2002, BMG Entertainment concluded its deal with Zomba for the purchase of the company's entire assets. While Calder had originally requested $3.2 billion for his shares in Zomba, valuation of the label's assets varied from $1.6 billion to $2.4 billion. Following the purchase negotiations, a price of $2.74 billion was agreed upon, the biggest purchase of an independent at the time. Zomba's sale had been the latest in a series of independent label sellouts including Island Records and Geffen Records (both sold to Universal for $300 million and $550 million respectively), and Virgin (sold for $950 million to EMI). The $2.74 billion paid for the Zomba Group was more than was paid for the purchase of many others labels including Island, Geffen, Virgin, A&M, Motown, Chrysalis, and Def Jam, combined.
Initially, BMG took its time in integrating Zomba with the rest of its labels, hoping that the former independent would lift BMGs worldwide rank from fifth to fourth-largest record company. Calder resigned his position as CEO immediately after the purchase, but stayed on in an advisory position for about another year. In mid-2003, BMG began its worldwide integration of Zomba cutting hundreds of jobs through the consolidation of regional operations. While many of the key managers stayed, and the large offices in the US and the UK remained operational, all of the other regional offices were assimilated into BMG. In addition to the regional mergers, the Zomba and BMG publishing companies were integrated. The US and UK offices remained as stand-alone units, but many of the back-office functions were consolidated into BMG. The Provident Music Group, Zomba's foray into the Christian music market, was reassigned as a RCA sub-label. By 2004, the record labels were reorganized under the Zomba Label Group.
In 2004, BMG and Sony Music Entertainment merged to form Sony BMG Music Entertainment taking Zomba with it. Though the merger was plagued with controversy and eventually ended with Sony buying out BMG's stake in late 2008, Zomba executives continued to expand the company's operations in various aspects. In 2007, as part of Sony BMG integration and consolidation, RCA Music Group and Zomba Label Group merged their international, sales and field staffs to form the BMG Label Group under Sony BMG. RCA and Zomba kept separate groups under BMG, but this configuration was short-lived due to the dissolution of the Sony BMG merger. Zomba is currently owned wholly by, and operates under Sony.
On 2 November 2004 the American Federation of Musicians announced that it had entered into an agreement with Zomba. Effective 1 January 2005, the labor union covered all artists on any Zomba subsidiary labels (and any future labels) under the Federation's Sound Recording Labor Agreement. The deal ensured that all artists under the Zomba aegis would receive, for the first time, a full range of benefits and protections, among which are scale payments, industry standard working conditions and pension contributions.
In 2005, Zomba formed Zomba Gospel under the Zomba Label Group in an effort to collate its recently expanding gospel labels. Zomba's interest in gospel began in the form of a distribution deal with GospoCentric Records (and sublabel B'Rite Music) in October 2001, which Zomba later purchased in 2004. Verity Records president Max Siegel was charged with heading the new entity which included Zomba labels Verity and GospoCentric, as well as four artist owned imprints: Quiet Water Entertainment (Donald Lawrence), Fo Yo Soul Entertainment (Kirk Franklin), New Life Records (John P. Kee) and F. Hammond Music (Fred Hammond). Distribution was handled by Provident-Integrity for the Christian Bookselling Association, and through Sony Distribution (formerly Sony BMG) for the mainstream market.
Zomba's publishing division also continued its expansion. In 2006, Zomba Music Publishing purchased the catalogue of the UK-based Strongsongs Music Publishing from the Telstar Music Group. This large acquisition gave expanded Zomba's rights to many international hitmakers to include Metallica, Craig David and Dannii Minogue among others. Beginning with the appointment of David Mantel in 2005 as the head of Zomba Music Publishing US operations, the company began to take a different signing approach that focused on unknown or unsigned artists. Mantel's first signing was T-Pain, whose two singles "I'm Sprung" and "I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)" hit number 8 and 5 respectively on the Billboard Hot 100. This type of signing was also used in the records division were artists or producers were given their own imprint. In October 2008, Zomba made an all-inclusive multiyear joint-venture deal with Hitz Committee Entertainment, and imprint in the making for almost 5 years by Jive A&R VP Micky "MeMpHiTz" Wright. Beginning in 2008, Hitz Committee consists of a record label under Sony, music production, music publishing, artist and producer management, and TV and film projects.