In an age of streaming services and digital music where "Old Town Road”, the song that Lil Nas X made on a 30 dollar budget and streamed on Triller and TikTok, ended up becoming the most-streamed song of the past 10 years, (albeit even this one needed a shoulder push from a record label), record labels are still holding their own.
According to BuzzAngles, the music research and data firm, the top 25 songs, albums, and artists of 2019 were all owned and/or distributed by a major label. A report by Nielsen Music says Universal Music Group, the largest record label, still dominates the market, controlling 38.7% of the market share in 2019 up from 38.1% in 2018.
With stricter copyright laws, recording contracts, worldwide tours et al, the recording executives of yore are still scouting and hustling to get bigger deals and artists on their label. Just that the hustling is now done based on social media followings and distribution too.
Artists may now have the option of dropping music on stream or going viral through social platforms, however, for sustenance, recall, advertising might, and the celebrity status, aligning with the big name is essential.
There are many naysayers for the lasting power of these record labels. However, going by their resilience, they might do some shapeshifting and realigning, but their staying power to date is undisputed.
Here is a list of the biggest record labels of the 2010s.
Universal Music Publishing Group
Revenue: $2.93 billion
Major Artists: Abba, Adam Ant, Adele, Jhené Aiko, Alabama Shakes, Alex Da Kid, Axwell & Ingrosso, J Balvin, Bastille, Beach Boys, Beastie Boys, Bee Gees, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Jeff Bhasker, Justin Bieber, Benny Blanco, Chris Brown, Kane Brown, Mariah Carey, Michael Chabon, Desmond Child, The Clash, Coldplay, J.
Universal Music Publishing Group is the largest record label company and posted a revenue of $2 billion in the last quarter. It dominates 98% of the world’s music market. It has offices in 68 countries and has a music catalog dating back decades.
Universal Music Group's record labels include A&M/Octone, Angel, Astralwerks, Blue Note, Capitol Records, Decca, Def Jam Recordings, Deutsche Grammophon, Disa, Emarcy, Fonovisa, Geffen Records, Interscope Records, I.R.S., Island Records, Lost Highway Records, Machete Music, Manhattan, MCA Nashville, Mercury Nashville.
It is a subsidiary of French conglomerate Vivendi.
Sony Music Entertainment
Revenue: $1.9 million
Popular artists: AKA, Air Supply, Alicia Keys, Art Garfunkle Avici, Adele, Avril Lavigne, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Cher, David Mathews band, Davie Bowie, Faith Hill Harry Styles, James Blunt, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj
Sony Music was founded in 1929, it was renamed as Columbia Recording Corporation, and in 1991 it got its current name. Headquartered in New York City, Sony formed a joint venture with Michael Jackson in 1995, merging the music publishing operations with Jackson's ATV Music to give birth to Sony/ATV Music Publishing. It has operations in over 40 countries. Its labels include Columbia Records, RCA Records, Epic Records Arista Nashville, RCA Records Nashville, Columbia Nashville, Legacy Recordings, Sony Music Latin.
Sony Music has had a tough few years with hacking of its emails and the payola scandal.
Revenue 1.13 billion
Artists Bruno Mars, Coldplay, Cardi B, Chicago Dua Lipa, Duran Duran, Eric Clapton, Ed Sheeran, James Young, James Blunt, Kid Rock, Lilly Allen, Meat Loaf, Mark Knopfler, Micheal Buble, Nil Young, Prince, REM, Van Morrison, Woodstock
Warner Music, formerly a part of the Time Warner stable, separated in 2011. It operates in over 50 countries and has entered into a deal with YouTube for streaming its music. It boasts of 29 of the 100 best selling US albums of all time.
It has given birth to flagship labels, including Warner Bros. Records and Atlantic Records.
Revenue: $680 million
Artists: Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Ed Sheeran, Led Zeppelin, BeeGees, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Foreigner, Genesis, Kelly Clarkson, Phil Collins, Roberta flak, Rush, Rolling Stones
Atlantic Records is known for its soul, jazz, and rock and roll music focus. It was started by Ahmet Ertegun, a Turkish American songwriter and Herb Abramson in 1947. In 2008, Atlantic became the first U.S. label to make most of its revenue from digital, and it hasn’t looked back.
BMG Rights Management
Revenue: $305 million
Artists: Afrojack, DJ Snake, Avril Lavigne, John Legend, The Black Eyed Peas, Frank Ocean, DJ Khaled, will.i.am and MGMT.
BMG Rights is an international music company based in Berlin, Germany, founded in October 2008 after Bertelsmann sold its stake in Sony. BMG was Established in 2008 between Bertelsmann and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) as a joint venture. BMG is the youngest international music company and has offices in Berlin, Sydney, Stockholm, Madrid, Sao Paulo, Paris, London, Los Angeles, and more.
Def Jam Recordings
Revenue: $2.4 million
Artists: Iggy Azalea, Rihanna, Ludacris, BTS, Pusha T, Desiigner, Kanye West, Jeezy, Jeremih, and Mother Mother
Def Jam is owned by Universal Music Group and is focused on urban and hip-hop music.
Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons started it in their New York University dorm in 1984. They released a single under the band name Hose.
The label founded subsidiaries like South Island Records
Death Row Records
Sold to Hasbro for $4 billion
Artists: SnoopDogg, Tupac, Jewell, Yaki Kadafi, Danny Boy, Thug Life
Dr Dre and Suge Knight co-founded Death Row records in 1991. They signed up rappers and hip hop singers like Snoop Dog and Tupac. Death Row splintered after Tupac’s death and Dr Dre leaving the record to found Aftermath Entertainment
Suge Knight was arrested in 1997. The label filed for bankruptcy in 2006. In 2015, Knight again went to prison, and in 2019 it was sold for $4 billion to Hasbro, the toy company.
Entertainment One Music
Revenue: $202 million
Artists: 2Pac, 98 Degrees, Ashanti, Dj Khaled, Lil Kim, Scorpions, Lumineers
Also known as eOne Music, it is owned by Canadian company eOne, itself a subsidiary of toy company Hasbro. It is based in the USA. Its labels include Dualtone (Lumineers), Last Gang (Arkells, Mondo Cozmo), Light Records, and Death Row (Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac).
eOne Music was earlier known as Koch records and concentrated on country music and rock and signed up artists like Ringo Starr, Joan Baez, Chris Brucbeck, and Bob James. With the acquisition of Death Row, it expanded to hip hop.
It is a top indie label music company.