Iconic Record Labels That Have Changed The Sound Of Music
Bands bring the talent, but without the right management and record label, they often don’t get very far. Labels handle everything, from setting up distribution to calming down the chaos and even developing the current sounds we hear on the radio.
Over the years, some labels have become more prolific than others. Join us as we take a look at the most successful and influential record labels of all time. From scandals to press releases, the music giants have covered a lot of ground between them.
Hut Launched Some Impressive Careers
You might not have heard of this one, as Hut was only around for 14 years. That’s a hot minute in the music industry. The British label was a subsidiary of Virgin Records. Ran by Dave Boyd, Hut focused on indie bands with a lot of attitude and it largely paid off.
Smashing Pumpkins, Verve, Marianne Faithfull and Placebo were among dozens of artists that called Hut home at one point. When the label was discontinued in 2004 due to a shake-up at Virgin, 20% of the artists were dropped, while the other 80% were moved to different labels owned by EMI.
Def Jam Recordings Was Created In A Dorm
The colossal music giant Def Jam Recordings was created in a dorm. Initially, founder Rick Rubin just wanted a way to put out his punk band’s single. After being introduced to Russell Simmons, things changed. Rubin attributes the success of the label to Simmons, saying, “He was five years older than me, and he was already established in the music business. And I had no experience whatsoever.”
Despite signing big names like Jay Z and Beastie Boys, things weren’t always smooth sailing. In 1992, despite their success, the label had a ton of financial problems. PolyGram purchased 50% of Def Jam, saving the day.
Creation Went From Indie Rock To Mainstream
Creation’s logo boasted it was “the greatest in Britain” and for a time, it was. The indie label was founded in 1983, focusing on alternative rock and Britpop records. Among some of the artists it managed to sign was the legendary Gallagher brother venture, Oasis.
After Creation sold half the company to Sony, Oasis released their incredibly successful debut album Definitely Maybe. Managing them would prove difficult at times. Creation was deemed such an important part of British cultural history that founder Alan McGee was asked to spearhead the Labour Party’s media campaign for youth culture. Numerous movies and documentaries have been made on the company, which McGee dissolved in 1999 for personal reasons.
Factory Records Was Front And Center In A Rising Music Scene
It’s a tough market for independent labels. So much so that they rarely get off the ground when faced with the competition of multi-million-dollar corporations. Factory Records ended up breaking the mold, bursting onto the scene in Manchester in the late ’70s thanks to legendary music man Tony Wilson.
Joy Division were one early signing, but things went south after lead singer Ian Curtis took his own life in 1980. The remaining members of the band went on to form New Order and together, Factory Records and the band bought a nightclub which would become infamous. The Hacienda was the center of Manchester’s music scene. Factory went on to sign Happy Mondays. The label collapsed in 1992, but left a lasting mark.
Aftermath Entertainment: The Brainchild Of Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre’s brainchild, Aftermath Records is 23-years-old this year. After leaving Death Row Records in 1996, Dre decided to open his own label, focusing on “quality over quantity.” Perhaps one of the biggest artists to jump on board was Detroit’s Eminem. Under Dre’s guidance at Aftermath, Eminem’s debut album The Slim Shady LP was a huge hit.
Aftermath has also represented the likes of 50 Cent, The Game, and Busta Rhymes. The hip-hop roster continues to expand as the years go by, proving that Dre really does have the golden touch when it comes to music. Current acts include Eminem, Dre, Kendrick Lamar and Anderson Paak.
Parlophone has had such an impressive roster of artists over the years that it’s hard to beat in terms of notoriety. Established way back in 1896, it was one of the first record companies on the scene. The Pet Shop Boys, Coldplay, David Bowie and Blur (pictured) are just some of the uber-famous names Parlophone worked with.
Perhaps most famous of all is the Beatles, whom Parlophone had up until Magical Mystery Tour album. Although it isn’t necessarily one of the most famous labels out here these days, the company is still going strong after all these years.
XL Recordings Snagged Adele
XL Recordings might sound like a terrible name for a label, but the proof is in the pudding. Established in 1989, XL has worked closely with Dizzee Rascal, Radiohead, The White Stripes and Basement Jaxx. Primarily focused on dance music at first, XL branched out to include a wide variety of acts.
As of 2018, singing sensation Adele called XL home, as does Frank Ocean. Adele is an impressive string to have in any record company bow. She could go anywhere she wanted, so they must be doing something right if Adele is sticking around. XL is still a small label in comparison to the likes of Columbia, but it’s growing by the minute.
Columbia Is Still A Kingmaker In The Music Industry
To be signed with Columbia is to be in the presence of rock and roll history. Every young musician hopes for a record deal with the Sony-owned label. Some of the biggest names known around the world are signed with Columbia, from Mariah Carey to Beyonce. Country superstar Johnny Cash (pictured) signed on the dotted line, too.
The back catalog alone is enough to keep Columbia going, but they just keep bringing in the best of the best. Columbia has hit headlines for less than savory reasons in the past, thanks in part to former president Clive Davis. Davis was fired in the early ’70s for receiving and obtaining company funds for personal use. The FBI also investigated connections between Columbia and the mafia.
Moshi Moshi Started As A Passion Project
Cute name, but are they big in the game? Three friends started the London-based label in 1998, purely as a hobby. All they wanted to do was work with brands they loved, but it ended up surpassing their wildest dreams. Although still small, Moshi Moshi has released music by Bloc Party, Hot Chip, Kate Nash and Florence + The Machine.
The label worked hard to promote itself by putting on monthly live events at the Servant Jazz Quarters on Bradbury Street in Dalston. Founder Stephen Bass is keen to state it’s a passion project more than anything else. “It’s about 4 or 5 years now that it’s been more full-time, for Michael, at least, but it still doesn’t make much, or really any money – at least at the moment.”
2 Tone Has The Least Stringent Contract In The Recording Industry
British group Madness ushered in a new trend in ska music in the late ’70s and ’80s, but it was all thanks to 2 Tone records. Jerry Dammers (pictured) of the Specials was at the helm, in partnership with Chrysalis Records. It didn’t take long for them to sign Madness and The Beat…but neither stuck around for long.
2 Tone had an interesting clause in their contract that allowed acts to leave after releasing one single. As record labels often lock artists down for years, that was a particularly lucrative prospect for artists. 2 Tone also put out music by Elvis Costello and the Higsons. By 1985 the label was defunct, but it was still closely associated with the rising of the ska craze.
Island Records Continues To Grow
Island Records is another big name in the game. Founded in 1959, the label eventually sold to PolyGram in the late ’80s. The roster of artists has been (and continues to be) impressive. One of their biggest successes to date was with Florence + The Machine (pictured).
The label snapped up the Dog Days singer after she dropped out of college, going on to release her 2009 debut Lungs. The album became the British Album of the Year in 2010 after selling four million copies. It doesn’t always work out for artists though. Iggy Azaela was dropped by Island after just one summer.
MDDN Continues To Foster Artist Talent
While it may not be as famous as some of the other big names on this list, MDDN is on its way to great things. Created by Good Charlotte band members and brothers, Joel and Benji Madden, the label represents some very on-trend artists.
Chase Atlantic were nurtured by the label, which helped them sign with Warner Bros. Music. Other artists include Sleeping with Sirens, Architects and Antiflag. They may have some way to go yet, but this passion project is spoken of very highly by its artists. Watch this space, it won’t be long before they’re changing the game in a big way.
Motown Developed An Entire Genre Of Music
Two words: Michael Jackson. When you manage to snare the King of Pop, things can only go from strength to strength. Motown has seen a lot of changes in its 50 years, but continues to make a mark on the industry. Gladys Knight, The Supremes and Stevie Wonder have stuck with Motown through thick and thin.
Interestingly, founder Barry Gordy (pictured with Michael Jackson) and his wife tried everything to make the label work way back when. Raynoma Liles worked as a part-time escort when they struggled to survive on such a low income while launching the label. According to Liles’ memoir, Gordy even acted as her pimp.
Death Row Records Signed Everyone Then Fell Apart
Death Row Records was no stranger to controversy. The label was founded by three huge names in the hip-hop world, Dr. Dre, The D.O.C, and Suge Knight. 2Pac was the label’s biggest artist, but he started a feud with Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Records that would go down in history.
Stories of drive-by shootings and gang beatings emerged. Eventually, Dre left Death Row because of all the infighting, creating issues between himself and 2Pac (center) Some believe the East Coast/West Coast rivalry was ultimately to blame for 2Pac’s murder when he was shot on September 7, 1996. After he passed and Suge Knight was incarcerated, the label became defunct.
Geffen Records Was Full Of Big Acts And Plenty Of Controversy
Geffen Records had Donna Summer as their first artist. They started with the best and continued to hit all the right notes. Their next release was Double Fantasy by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, but the high was bittersweet. Two weeks after it hit the charts, Lennon was shot dead.
Geffen would also become the home to Nirvana (pictured). The label would often butt heads with front man Kurt Cobain. An angry letter from Cobain to David Geffen went up for auction in 2016, in which the singer attacked the label head regarding an article published about his wife, Courtney Love.
Epic Went From Jazz to Mariah Carey
It’s all in the name. Owned by Sony Music Entertainment, Epic was originally founded in 1953 to represent jazz and classical artists. Things have changed considerably over the years, as the company has gone on to rep artists from a wide span of genres.
The list of artists currently represented by the label is as long as it is vast. ABBA, Camila Cabello, Mariah Carey, and Nipsey Hussle currently record for the label. Music executive L.A Reid (pictured with Carey) served as the CEO and chairman from 2011 to 2017, while also appearing as a judge on The X Factor. Sources claim that Reid’s swift exit was down to claims of “unlawful harassment of an employee”. The female in question alleged Reid made comments about her clothing and propositioned her repeatedly.
Atlantic Records Is About As Diverse As They Come
Founded by Turkish brothers Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic focused on jazz and rhythm and blues. After convincing the family dentist to invest, things started to take off. As the years passed, the label became a corporate powerhouse.
Like any good label, there have been some controversies. In 2006, “Weird Al” Yankovic (pictured) asked for permission to release “You’re Pitiful”, a take on James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.” Blunt agreed, but Atlantic refused, stating it would damage Blunt’s career. Yankovic never quite got over it. He took to wearing “Atlantic Sucks!” T-shirts and even defaced Atlantic’s Wikipedia page in a music video, replacing everything with “You Suck!”
Shady Records Watched Its Own Artists Feud Among Themselves
What better person to pioneer rap artists than the Rap God himself, Marshall Mathers? Eminem started his label early on in his career, just a year after releasing his debut album. Since then, Shady Records has signed over 14 acts and has half of those currently on the roster.
Like a lot of hip-hop labels, it’s had its fair share of beef. Former affiliates Royce da 5’9″ (pictured) and Murder Inc feuded with other artists still on the label, as did previous owners of The Source magazine. Shady Records keeps its artists roster small, but that allows them to produce top quality music.
Warner Bros. Has Feuded Publicly With Its Own Artists
It’s not just about the movies. Warner Bros. are a huge name in the music industry too. Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Blake Shelton and even Paris Hilton have been on the books over the course of the years.
Linkin Park (pictured in 2005) were – and continue to be after Chester Bennington’s death – signed to the giant corporation, but the relationship stalled in 2005. Warner Bros. reportedly asked the synth-rock band to perform at an event to celebrate the company’s $750 million initial public stock offering. As the company had just let staff go to cut costs, the band disagreed and asked to be released from their contract. After some brutal back and forth in public statements, they were able to move forward.
Fueled By Ramen Has Fueled A Lot Of Brilliant Careers In A Short Period Of Time
Not only does Fueled By Ramen have one of the best label names in history, but they’ve also got some kick-butt artists. John Janick and Less Than Jake lyricist Vinnie Fiorello founded the company, signing Jimmy Eat World. From then on, FBR managed to snare brilliant rock and indie bands.
Panic! at the Disco, Paramore (pictured), Twenty One Pilots and Dashboard Confessional are still on the books, while Fall Out Boy, Gym Class Heroes and Yellowcard are alumni. For bands in that genre, there’s no better place to be than Fueled By Ramen.