Universal Music Group

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••• Erika Goldring / Stringer / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Imgaes
  • What?: Big Four major record label
  • Owned by: Vivendi SA
  • Company Headquarters: Santa Monica, CA, USA and New York, New York, USA (with a number of offices scattered in different countries)

It All Started with The Pictures

In its early years, Universal Records was a relatively unimportant extension of the Universal Pictures Group, one of the most successful movie studios in Hollywood. Universal Records was the label on which Universal Pictures would release soundtracks from their films. Throughout the years, however, Universal Records became an interest in its right and grew and evolved until it became the mega-label it is today. Vivendi took over ownership of the label in February 2006.

The Universal Label Stable

Sony BMG may be the biggest label in the world, but Universal is the top SELLING label (according to the IFPI. The reason for that is simple. In addition to having branches of the Universal label in nearly every country in the world, Universal owns, or at least partly owns, well over 100 other labels. Some of these subsidiary labels are among the best-selling and most recognizable names in music in their right. Some examples:

  • Interscope
  • Geffen
  • Motown
  • Def Jam
  • Island
  • So So Def
  • Roc-a-fella
  • Verve

Keep in mind that each label has its own set of subsidiary labels that it brings to the table.

Universal Music Group Artists

The labels that fall under the Universal Music Group umbrella represent an eclectic mix of music genres, and the artists on these labels are often some of the top selling artists in their genres. Among the artists signed to Universal Records or a Universal Music Group label are:

Payola Court Case

Much like Sony BMG, Universal Music Group got caught up in the Payola investigation launched in 2005 by New York Attorney General Eliott Spitzer. After much back and forth, Spitzer's office and Universal reached a settlement in which Universal top brass blamed "independent promoters working on behalf of the company" for the payola practices - and ‚Äčpaid a $12 million fine. According to the court case, Universal paid overhead costs for some radio stations, had employees phone in bogus song requests, and paid a hotel bill for a DJ in return for playing Nick Lachey songs.