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Rix Roundtree-Harrison

  May 4, 2013

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Life Is Music
it's a UNIVERSAL Picture
By: Rix Roundtree-Harrison

Life Is Music
it's a UNIVERSAL Picture
by Rix Roundtree-Harrison

Other kids in the neighborhood had favorite sports teams, TV shows, magazines, books, and games. Me, I was different, I had a favorite record company.....yes I was a weird kid. My favorite record company was Mercury Records simply because at the time I was into Lesley Gore, the Gap Band, and the Ohio Players all were artist on Mercury Records. Plus, my mom was diggin' "The Ice Man," of soul, Jerry Butler, who was also signed to Mercury, and my Aunt T possessed some old Dinah Washington Mercury records that I loved to listen to. Add to all that, I thought the Mercury record's label logo that featured an encircled winged headed Greek God Mercury (or, the "Mercury Man" as he was called) was like....the coolest.

As I grew into adulthood my favorite record company became PolyGram Records as at the time their stable of artist were producing the bulk of the music I was buying with artist like Bananarama, ABC, the Jam, Kool & the Gang, Tears For Fears, the Vels, Shakespear's Sister, Level 42, Jimmy Sommerville, and, the Style Council.

Today my favorite record company is the music behemoth known as the Universal Music Group. Universal is my fave because it is the home of many of my favorite record labels such as Mercury, Island, Geffen, A&M, Motown, DECCA, Capitol, Virgin, Imperial, and Verve. I'm so into Universalism because there I can find the back catalogs of many long defunct but legendary record labels like, Liberty, Dot, ABC, RSO, United Artist, MGM, and 20th Century.

I'm a Universal lover because the works of some of my most favorite timeless recording artist are found there. A celestial roster of legendary artist whose music has stood the test of time and will always find receptive audiences in future after future of new generations; Stan Getz, the Temptations, Ella Fitzgerald, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, the Supremes, Donna Summer, Louis Prima, James Brown, Patsy Cline, the Jackson 5, Hank Williams, the Beach Boys, Nat "king" Cole, ABBA, Bing Crosby, the Platters, and the legend who single handedly ignited the flame of jazz age Universality, Louis Armstrong.

I love music in all of its various exciting genres. My favorite genre is electronic music, specifically its sub-genre, synth pop. The Universal library possesses back catalogs of the biggest names and legends of synth pop. Visage, Strange Advance, Talk Talk, Georgio Moroder, Pseudo Echo, Peter Godwin, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Our Daughter’s Wedding, Kraftwerk, Duran Duran, Yello, Berlin, Celebrate the Nun, Heaven 17, Xymox, Soft Cell, and the band whose critically acclaimed album, "Dare," has been credited as being the album that ushered in the synth pop era, the Human League, are all part of a pulsing electronic Universal cosmos.

In 1958 Capitol Record's artist Laurie London had a big hit with "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands." Well today Universal practically has the whole music world in its hands. How did this Universal mega company come into being? Well, it’s a complicated convoluted story involving a plethora of record companies and it gave me a headache just working through it all. But after much note taking and head scratching I finally figured it all out and I'm going to share it with you; it all began for Universal in 1898.

Masters of the Universe

The first phonograph and crude cylinder records were invented by Thomas Edison in 1877. After a few years cylinder technology improved and the "recording industry" Universe as we know it today came into being in 1887. In 1888 this Universe expanded when German born American inventor Emile Berliner invented the flat disc record gramophone. Then in 1898 Berliner founded Deutsche Grammophon Records in Germany....remember that, it's the moment of the Universal big bang.

Once upon a time at the dawn of the 21st century U.S.A, the record industry was comprised of the "Big Three" major record labels, Edison Records, Columbia Records, and Victor Records. Edison Records was founded in 1888 by famed inventor and icon, Thomas Edison, the man who introduced the electric light bulb, and the world sang as Hank Williams did, "I Saw the Light." Inventor of the telephone Alexander Graham Bell partnered with his cousin Chichester A. Bell founded the phonograph company Volta Graphopphone Company in 1886 and sought investors for their creation. They found investors and the company name was changed to American Graphophone Company in 1887, and then Columbia Records in 1888 (by the time this happened neither Alexander Graham Bell nor his cousin Chichester Bell were associated with Columbia Records as they had sold the investors their shares of the company). In 1901 businessman Eldridge Johnson, who manufactured phonographs though his Victor Talking Machine Company, founded Victor Records.

The Cylindrical Concentric Circle Conundrum

Cylinder records were the forerunners to disc records, 8-Track and cassettes tape, compact disc and downloaded music files. What was a cylinder record? Think of an empty cardboard toilet paper roll.....that was a cylinder record, only they were made of a hard wax. Audio music was engraved on this cylinder which gave about two minutes of music and would last for about 20 plays. Cylinder records were sold in cardboard tubes which gave them the nickname "canned music." Cylinder records were extremely popular from 1888 - 1915, but they had their disadvantages. Due to their shape (cylindrical) they were difficult to store, the pre-recorded music on them degraded rapidly, and the phonographs that played them were somewhat expensive to manufacture.

In 1901 Columbia Records began selling flat single sided disc records. Between 1901 and 1908 cylinders and disc battled it out for dominance. But in 1908 Columbia was the first to sell double sided discs and they sold like hotcakes. Others record companies followed Columbia's lead and by the start of World War I (1914) the flat record disc had won the music format war and became the dominant form in which the music loving public wanted to listen to their music.

There were obvious advantages that the disc record had over the cylinder. They were easy to store, being flat they could be stacked in a corner on a shelf or they could be lined up side by side like books on a bookshelf. The phonographs that played the disc were cheaper to mass produce than cylinder phonographs, they had better sound quality, you got more plays out of them (many disc still exist today) and the disc themselves were less expensive to produce.

Victor Records had the era's biggest talent, Enrico Caruso, Victor Herbert, Sergei Rachmaninoff and John Phillip Sousa. They also signed the founders of country music, legends Jimmie Rodgers, and the Carter family

Edison Record discs did not sell too well as they did not invest in new popular talent and the record company was considered by the music buying public to be unhip and too conservative. As Edison's market share slipped things got worse for them when Brunswick Records was founded in 1916 and they became a major player in the record industry.

Hot Jazz on the Radio

There was one annoying thing about the popular disc records; from 1897 until 1924 there were a wide variety of record speeds, anywhere from 60 to 130 rpms (Revolutions Per Minute). But in 1925 the speed of 78 rpm became the industry standard.

More than just record speed changes happened in the 20s, the "Jazz Age" began. Jazz music, an American creation defined the 1920s. It brought a new generation of young people together. Black, white, Latino, Asian, all social and economics types were jazz crazy. Jazz was as, vibrant, exciting, free and uninhibited as the people who listened to it. Today we have no concept of just how big jazz was in the 1920s, but it was huge, think the coming of rock and roll, the 60's British Invasion and the disco era combined. Jazz was probably the United States' first cultural export to the world. Jazz was bootlegged liquor, multiple orgasm premarital sex, bathtub gin, marijuana and other vices set to music, it was the perfect complement to the prohibition era.

Prohibition, the national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol in the United States began in 1920. This prohibition of alcohol led to the coming of the speakeasy, an establishment (club/bar) that illegally sold alcoholic drinks. These clubs were called speakeasies because the patrons spoke about them in hushed, guarded quiet tones as not to alert the police about their locations. The speakeasies flourished and jazz was the music the speakeasy patrons partied to.
Many, particularly older Americans, considered the "Jazz Age" as a time of immorality as along with the hot Jazz music, sex, drugs and drink were sought to accompany it. It is considered the music that corrupted the values and culture of America and gave the decadent decade it infamous nickname "The Roaring 20's." Many others saw the jazz age as a time of enlightenment as minorities were beginning to be treated as equals, blacks and white went to some of the same clubs and danced together, and gays and lesbians became visible and somewhat excepted in larger metropolises like New York City.

Columbia Records had a large stable of jazz and blues artist, among them, Bessie Smith, Paul Whiteman, and Louis Armstrong, jazz's living legend and ambassador. Armstrong was jazz and due to this he was the first African American man to receive international Universal fame and recognition. Columbia also delivered "Hillbilly" music from Clarence Horton Greene, and "Fiddlin" Charlie Bowman. You could also find the pop sounds of 20's superstar Ruth Etting on Columbia (go to Youtube and listen to Etting's "10 Cents A Dance," man that song is good).

Over in Germany, Polydor Records was formed in 1924. Make a note of that, it's of Universal importance.

Columbia and Victor' record's jazz artist dominated the marketplace. Edison Records, with its stodgy conservative, unhip image did not sign any jazz artists as its founder, inventor, Thomas Edison abhorred Jazz music. This turned out to be a big mistake for Edison Records. With no jazz acts and a reputation for being unhip, Edison sold very few records and the company folded in 1929. Also in 1929 Victor Records was purchased by RCA (Recording Corporation of America) and changed it's name to RCA-Victor. With living legends like Al Jolson on it's roster along with up and coming superstars like Duke Ellington, Brunswick Records had become a major record company. With Edison defunct, the big three record companies at the end of the 1920s were now RCA-Victor, Columbia, and Brunswick.

Radio sweeps the nation during the 1920's when station KDKA signed on in November of 1920 in Pennsylvania. KDKA was the nation's first commercial radio station. Numerous stations followed and by 1922 one million radios and been sold to consumers thus beginning the "Golden Age of Radio." During this golden age radio stations entertained listeners with thrillers, drama, mystery, comedy, horror, romance, news, and of course, music. Live classical, popular, opera, and country music flowed from that little electric tubed box.

In the United Kingdom, British DECCA Records was created in 1929. This is an important moment in the creation of the Universe.

Strike Up the (BIG) Band

Prohibition and speakeasies ended in 1933, but jazz did not and was still hot as ever as the popular big bands of Cab Calloway, the Dorsey Brothers, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton offered another style of jazz called "swing." You've heard the phrase that was coined about it, "It don't mean a thing if if ain't got that swing."

In the 1930s the American Recording Company (ARC) became a major player in the record industry when they purchased both Brunswick and Columbia Records. DECCA Records (US) was founded in 1934 and instantly became a Universally major player when they signed popular acts like Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Jane Froman, the Boswell Sisters, and the Mills Brothers. The legendary jazz label, Blue Note Records, was founded in 1937.

The big three major records companies of the early 30's were ARC, RCA-Victor, and DECCA. But when 1938 came along ARC (composed of Columbia and Brunswick records) was purchased by the radio giant CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System), who changed the name of their acquisition from ARC back to Columbia Records and then put their other acquisition Brunswick Records up for sale. Now the big three record companies were Columbia, RCA-Victor, and DECCA.

Croon & Swoon as Bombs Go Boom

America entered World War II on December 7th 1941. While many were off overseas to do battle with the axis powers, on home front radios artist like Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone, Frankie Laine, Dean Martin, Perry Como, and Dick Haymes crooned and made the hearts of young girls swoon.

The war years were a busy time for the record labels. The three majors were Columbia, RCA-Victor and DECCA, but they had young upstarts nipping at their heels when three new stars, Capitol, MGM and Mercury Records were born into the Universe. In Los Angeles, Capitol Records was formed in 1942. The record that put Capitol on the music map was Ella Mae Morse's explosive hit "Cow Cow Boogie." Miz Morse's Cow Cow Boogie was a potent musical mix of rhythm & blues, country western, and swing all thrown together in a cauldron of pre-rock and roll grooves, "it's just toooo much," and you must go to Youtube and check it out. The other two record company upstarts were MGM Records, founded by Hollywood studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer in 1946, and Chicago's Mercury Records founded in 1947. Also of note, jazz label Clef Records was established in 1946.

The war between the allies and axis forces were not the only battles that were raging in the 1940s. While Capitol, Mercury and MGM Records were building their rosters and reputations Columbia and RCA-Victor Records were at war with each other. In 1948 Columbia introduced the 33 1/3 rpm long play record to replace the standard 78rpm. To counter Columbia's brilliant strategy RCA-Victor released the 45rpm single record. But as it turned out this musical format war had no losers, only winners as both the 33 1/3 rpm long play record and the 45rpm single were so popular that the record buying public embraced both formats. Then both adversaries ended up embracing the other's format. But while Columbia and RCA-Victor were at war with each other they took their eyes off the record company playing field allowing Capitol, Mercury and MGM the chance to make inroads in the recording industry to become dominate players and positioning themselves to become (the new) major record companies.

While Capitol, Mercury and MGM were making themselves known and RCA-Victor and Columbia were at war DECCA was eating and growing when it bought Brunswick Records from Columbia in 1942. Then suddenly, due to the real world war, DECCA's growth was halted when the war caused the link between DECCA US and DECCA UK to be severed and DECCA had to split itself in two separate companies. As a result a new label entered the Universe when DECCA UK created London Records in 1947 as a label to place American recording artists since they could no longer be signed to DECCA UK. Also in 1947 Imperial Records was founded.

You Rock Around the Clock: I Refuse to Rock and Roll

Historians agree that it was the phenomenal record "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets (issued by DECCA Records) that was the spark that ignited that nuclear explosion that was rock and roll. Just like with the jazz age, everything changed musically and culturally as rock and roll spoke to America's youth and galvanized them. But an unexpected generational divide occurred because older music lovers and the pop vocalist they listened to were not about to cede ground to youthful rock and rollers.

After the super success of "Rock Around the Clock" the record labels snapped up rock and rollers and rhythm and blues artist. The kids did shake rattle and roll to the sounds of Eddie Cockrum, Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Platters, Jack Scott, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Chuck Berry, Laverne Baker, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Ricky Nelson. From 1954 to 1958 labels issuing rock and roll and r&b dominated the charts and the market share for the major record companies decreased because with the exceptions of DECCA's Bill Haley and the Comets and RCA-Victor who signed Elvis Presley the majors of didn't really bother with rock and roll.

In 1952 DECCA Records bought Universal Pictures. Okay I see that little glimmer in your eyes, you're thinking, "Now we get to how Universal Records got its name." Well almost, but hold on as we've a lot more changes, acquisitions and mergers to go through before we get to the name change. Capitol Records became 4th biggest record company in 1955 when they were purchased by EMI and became Capitol-EMI.

The 1950s gave birth to many new record labels, some that that would eventually become a part of a new Universe. Legendary r&b label Chess Records, pop labels Philips Records, and DOT Records were all formed in 1950. Kapp Records was born in 1954. In '55 the American Broadcasting Company (ABC TV) founded ABC Records, and Liberty Records was also born that year. Iconic jazz label Verve Records was created in 1956 and Clef Records was folded into it. United Artist Records was founded in 1957. Warner Brothers Records was formed in 1958 as was 20th Century Records, and Dolton Records. In 1959 both Motown and Island Records, came into being.

When the 1950s came to an end the big six record companies were Columbia, RCA-Victor, DECCA, Capitol-EMI, Mercury, and MGM.

The British Invade A Twisted U.S.A

From 1960 to early 1963, the Twist was the king of dances had Americans of all ages, ethnicities, sexes, races, religions and political persuasions twisting with frenzied unbridled abandon. It was the unofficial national dance of the USA as folks were twisting at parties and teaching others the easy steps of this new sensation. There were twist fashions and movies with thin plots, with stories built around the overwhelmingly popular dance, the twist.

While doing my research on the Twist I watched several old movies and old film clips about this dance sensation. I came to the conclusion that the Twist must have been one exciting time as this dance brought people together at a time when many people of the nation all seemed to be coming together and becoming a somewhat unified country.

To do the Twist you stand with the feet shoulder width apart. Square your torso to the knees and hips, or turn the torso at an angle so one foot is farther forward than the other. Hold your arms out from the body, bent at the elbow. Then rotate the hips, torso, and legs on the balls of the feet as a single unit keeping the arms stationary. Grind the feet back and forth on the floor. Occasionally one leg is lifted off the floor for styling, but generally the dance posture is low and with the feet in contact with the floor with very little vertical motion.

One of my favorite family stories that is told every Christmas when the family gets together is about my Grandmother. I’m told that even my Grandmother Kate did the Twist. In her green paisley print mini dress, white fish net stockings, white go-go boots and her Marlo Thomas “That Girl" wig with its flamboyant flip on the ends, she twisted the night away, while enthusiastically shouting, “Don’t call me grandma!"

The song "The Twist," by Chubby Checker was blasting from the AM radios of the early 60's. The Twist was such a sensation that it led to others hit songs that were crazily twistable such as Dee Dee Sharp's "The Mash Potato Time," the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman" (Motown Records), the Angels' "I Adore Him" (Smash/Mercury Records), King Curtis' "Soul Twist," Boris Picket's "Monster Mash" (Garpax Records), Sam Cooke's “Twisting the Night Away," Joey Dee & the Starliters' "Peppermint Twist," and the Isley Brothers' “Twist and Shout"

The Beatles remade the Isley Brother’s "Twist & Shout" and it too was a massive hit. But ironically it was the Beatles, who spearheaded the British invasion that was the death knell for the Twist, even though the Beatles’ 1964 release "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was oh so twistable.

The Beatles hit the shores of the USA and the legendary 60's invasion of British culture music, fashion, and attitude began. Along with the Beatles came a horde of British invaders who would (years later) end up in a star studded Universe like the Animals, Tom Jones, the Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, the Bachelors, the Moody Blues, Marianne Faithful, Freddie & the Dreamers, the Searchers, Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders, Shirley Bassey, and the Zombies

The danceable Motown sound went toe to toe against the marauding invaders with the Temptations, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Junior Walker and the All Stars, Martha and the Vandellas, and the Miracles. Motown, based in Detroit would relocate to Los Angeles in the late 60's, they would relocate again, but their next move would be to another Universe.

When the Brit invasion began to wane the good ole USA went on the offensive with it's own musical secret weapon, Sunshine Pop. Sunshine Pop was richly produced upbeat pop music with warm sounds, exquisite vocal harmonies, and just a hint of psychedelica. The Beach Boys spearheaded the sound and were joined by future Universal inhabitants, the Mamas & the Papas, Spanky & Our Gang, the Cowsills, Friend and Lover, and the Peppermint Rainbow.

As far as movement in the industry went, the 60's began quietly with MGM Records buying Verve Records in 1961. But things began to heat up in 1962 when A&M records was founded and the Music Corporation of America (MCA) wanted Universal Pictures and to obtain it they bought its parent DECCA Records, and they also bought Kapp Records. Phillips Electronics who owned Phillips Records bought Mercury Records and placed it along with Philips Records under the new Phonogram record company that they had created. In 1963 Dolton Records merged with Liberty Records who had purchased Imperial Records. Parrot Records was founded in '64. Liberty acquired Blue Note Records in 1965. Garpax Records was created in '62 then sold to London Records in 1965. Dunhill Records was founded in 1964 and bought by ABC Records in '67. In 1969 De-Lite Records was created and United Artist Records merged with Liberty Records. By the end of '69 the big six record companies were Warner Brothers, Columbia, RCA-Victor, Capitol-EMI, Phonogram, and DECCA.

In 1962 Philips Electronics invented the cassette tape. In 1964 the 8 Track tape was introduced by Ford Motors, Motorola, and RCA-Victor as an option in new Ford vehicles. The home 8 Track was introduced in 1966. Mercury Records sold the first prerecorded cassette tape in '67 and by 1969 over 2 million cassette players had been sold.

Disco Dy-No-Mite!

Disco music was big and everyone was making disco records, from little kids like France Joli and her huge disco hit "Come To Me," to rockers like Rod Stewart who danced the world dizzy with "Do You Think I'm Sexy," to golden oldie folks like 30's 40's and 50's superstar Ethel Merman who delivered the "The Ethel Merman Disco Album."

Everyone was headed to the discothčque to become enraptured in their favorite disco tunes and dances. All the record labels jumped on the disco bandwagon, but it was the labels Casablanca Records and RSO Records, both formed in 1973 (who would both become a part of a much larger Universe), that had the two biggest acts, Donna Summer and the Bee Gees, respectively. Polydor Records had a monster hit with Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive," while Capitol Record's Desmond Child and Rouge released the cult disco classic "Our Love Is Insane." You absolutely must go to Youtube and listen to the 5 minutes and 14 seconds version of this song, it's so strange, so weird, so good, and it's insanely mesmerizing.

The 70's were all about dancing so the record company rumba continued in the 70's as Virgin Records was born in 1972, the same year that Music Corporation of America, the owner of DECCA Records changed DECCA's name to MCA Records and bought ABC Records. EMI Records created EMI-America in '78, purchased Liberty Records in 1979 and put it under United Artist Records. Polydor Records merged with Phonogram Records and became known corporately as PolyGram, purchased MGM Records, De-Lite Records, and Mercury Record's named was changed to Phonogram Records but continued to use the Mercury logo. RCA-Victor Records dropped the Victor and was known simply as RCA Records. London Records acquired Parrot Records in 1979.

When the 70's came to a close PolyGram, Warner Brothers, Columbia, RCA, Capitol-EMI and MCA were the big six record companies.

Conservatism's Liberal New Wave: Image Is Everything

Ronald Reagan was the conservative president of the United States and the conservative Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher was leading the UK. Yet in this time of conservatism the music was so liberally leaning to the left. There were openly gay acts like Bronski Beat and Boy George. There was the androgyny of Visage and Dead or Alive. Musical acts represented everything that had gone before, emulating musical styles and dress of the 40's (Ultravox), 50's (Stray Cats), and the 60's (Josie Cotton). Now Adam & the Ants and Dexy's Midnight Runners with their swashbucklers and ragamuffins, I don't know what they were trying to represent, but they sure were interesting to look at. This visually captivating anything goes era that brought imagery and glamor to the forefront was launched in 1981 with the arrival of cable music channel MTV which played music videos 24/7.

On the record company front, in1980 Geffen Records was founded with a superstar roster that included John Lennon, Donna Summer, and Peter Gabriel. In the early 80's PolyGram Records purchased DECCA Records UK, London, Casablanca and RSO records. In 1981 PolyGram shut down Phonogram records, officially became PolyGram Records which would now be the official name of the company and this name would be found beneath the logos all its labels and imprints such as Polydor, Mercury, Philips, etc. The next year, 1982, PolyGram purchased 20th Century Records. Def Jam Records, home of the Beastie Boys, was founded in 1983.

Compact Disc technology was developed jointly between Philips Electronics and Sony Corporation in 1980. Philips Records was the first record label to issue Compact Disc records to the public in 1983. Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) bought RCA Records in 1986 and in 1988 Sony Corporation bought Columbia Records from CBS and they became BMG Music and SONY Music respectively. In 1988 MCA Records bought Motown Records and in 1989 PolyGram Records purchased Island Records.

The 80's ended with SONY, Warner Brothers, BMG, Capitol-EMI, PolyGram, and MCA as the big six record companies

Bridge to the 21st Century and a New Universe

When President Bill Clinton was running for reelection in the second half of the 90's, he kept repeating the mantra that the people should reelect him to "lead the nation over that bridge into the 21st century." Traffic going across this bridge was moving fast during this final decade of the 20th century which picked up a nickname "the roaring 90's."

The 90's music scene was moving fast with the alternative grunge of Bush, Nirvana, Ween, Magnapop, and Veruca Salt. As musical changed continued to move quickly the grungy alts were soon pushed aside by the 130+ bpm dance sounds of Euro dance acts such as Corona, Haddaway, Amber, Labouche, LeClick and Real McCoy.

The controversial (and infamous) rap label Interscope Records was founded in 1990. PolyGram Records bought A&M Records in '91. EMI bought Virgin Records in '92. Okay, time to pull out the trumpets and assemble the heralds, it’s about to happen….you ready. In the mid 90's MCA Records changed its name to….ta da! Universal Music (there you have it, the birth of Universal), and then bought Interscope Records. In 1999, like two giant galaxies colliding, Universal Music and PolyGram Records merged to become the mammoth Universal Music Group and in doing so unified the long separated DECCA Records US/UK catalogs.

After over four decades of six big record companies dominating the industry, in 1999 we were now down to five, Universal, Capitol-EMI, Warner, SONY, BMG, and the number would continue to shrink.

21st Century: The Golden Age of Space Exploration

Today telescopes like Kepler and Hubble have shown us that our ever expanding Universe is filled with extra solar planets in far flung galaxies. These discoveries have given us clues to the Universe's beginnings from the single point of the cosmic big bang.

The late 19th century big bang that was the birth of the record industry brought into being the first record companies, Edison, Columbia and Victor records. But at the dawn of the 21st century SONY Music, the owner of Columbia Records bought BMG, owner of RCA Records making former rivals Columbia and RCA sister labels. This was not the only major purchase as Universal Music Group bought Capitol-EMI. With these purchases just like at the beginning of the 20th century we are now back to three big major record companies, SONY, Warner Brothers, and Universal.

Many music enthusiast and artists don't care for today's big three as they feel that they are self-absorbed, out of touch, have devoured the recording Universe and have a monopoly on it, controlling it. I won't argue with that but I do feel that the majors serve an important purpose. They have the money and resources to buy labels when public music taste change and labels fail at producing recordings that people want to hear. The majors by buying these labels and their catalogs preserve the music. They have the resources to store the record masters and record artwork, maintaining them; they are the conservators of music history. No I'm not naive; I know that they also want to make a profit off their musical investment. But to make a profit that means that they have to take the music, pull it out of storage, repackage it and introduce it to new generations of listeners. I think they do an excellent job of this.

Of the original turn of the 20th century big three record companies, Edison, Victor and Columbia records, only Columbia remains. But Columbia Records is no longer an independent record company, it is an imprint label under the SONY Music umbrella; but it is the industry's oldest trademarked brand name. Universal's Deutsche Grammophon Records, founded in 1898 is the industry's oldest surviving functioning record company. In a way that makes Universal as old as the Universe itself, okay, I exaggerate, Universal may not be as old as the Universe, but having Deutsche Grammophon does make Universal the oldest record company in not just the world but in the Universe. The irony in all this is that the name Universal Music Group due to its historical connection to Universal Pictures is no longer apt as Universal Pictures is no longer a part of this Universe as the film unit was sold to General Electric in 2004.

I wonder what the music industry will look like at the beginning of the 22nd century. I'm positive that it won't look as it does now because all of the celestial scientists agree......the Universe is expanding.

(C) 2013 Rix Roundtree-Harrison

 Written By:  

 Rix Roundtree-Harrison


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