The third biggest music rightsholder in the world, Warner Music Group (WMG) runs its global operation from headquarters based in Manhattan, New York.
The company’s frontline record label family includes Atlantic Records (home to Ed Sheeran, Cardi B, Bruno Mars, Twenty One Pilots and many more), as well as Warner Records (Neil Young, NLE Choppa) and Elektra Music Group (Tones & I, Panic! At The Disco).
Warner Music Group is also home to the world’s third biggest music publishing company, Warner Chappell Music.
In calendar 2019, Warner Music Group’s recorded music division turned over $3.88bn, up 11% YoY. Overall, WMG – including recorded music, music publishing and other activities – turned over $2.22bn, up 21% year-on-year.
Warner Music Group history through the 1960s
The origins of WMG can be traced back to the movie studio Warner Bros., which launched Warner Bros Records in March 1958.
In 1963, Warner Bros Records acquired Reprise Records – the record label founded by Frank Sinatra – in a deal that brought across the exec widely credited with building WBR’s stellar legacy, Mo Ostin.
Warner Bros was then sold to Seven Artist Productions in 1967, creating Warner Bros. Seven Arts.
In October 1967, Warner Bros Seven Arts in turn acquired Atlantic Records from its founder, Ahmet Ertegun – bringing across not only a legendary label, but a host of talent and catalog from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Booker T & the MGs, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.
The buyout also meant that Warner took ownership of a host of recordings from Stax, thanks to a clause in the distribution contract that label held with Atlantic.
Warner Music Group history through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s
Another corporate shake-up came in 1969, when Warner Bros. Seven Arts was acquired by the Kinney National Company in a $400m buyout.
The following year, Kinney acquired Jac Holzman’s Elektra Records and sister label Nonesuch Records in a $10m deal.
Kinney then merged all of its record labels under a new parent company, WEA, also known as Warner Music Group. (Despite this merger, Ahmet Ertegun fought, successfully, for Atlantic Records to maintain autonomy within the group – an executive tussle which ultimately led to the elevation of Mo Ostin to the position of President of Warner Bros. Records in 1970.)
In 1972, Kinney sold off its non-entertainment assets and rebadged itself as Warner Communications Inc. That same year, it bought David Geffen’s Asylum Records for $7m, bringing in artists such as the Eagles, Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell.
In 1987, four years after a proposed international merger between PolyGram and WEA was blocked by the US Federal Trade Commission, PolyGram sold publishing house Chappell Music to Warner for $275 million.
Another big moment in WMG’s corporate history came in January 1990, when Warner Communications sold to Time Inc, forming Time Warner, for $14.9bn.
Eleven years later on January 11, 2001, Time Warner itself merged with AOL to form AOL-Time Warner, but this new company eventually dropped the AOL brand from its name in 2003.
Warner Music Group history through the 2000s and 2010s
Time Warner sold Warner Music Group to a group of investors led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. for $2.6bn in February 2004.
WMG held an initial public offering of stock on the New York Stock Exchange in 2005, and remained publicly traded until its next big sale six years later.
In May 2011, Warner Music Group was sold again, this time for $3.3bn, to its current owner Access Industries, controlled by billionaire Len Blavatnik.
In July 2013, WMG completed the £487m acquisition of Parlophone Label Group from Universal Music Group, following the latter’s buyout of EMI Music.
Parlophone Label Group was sold by UMG as an enforced condition of its acquisition of EMI under an agreement with European Commission regulators.
In June 2020, following double-digit growth in the streaming era, Warner Music Group once again floated a portion of its company on a stock exchange, via an IPO on the NASDAQ.Music Business Worldwide