a media industry resource

Warner Music


Warner Music is an international recording amd music publishing group. It was established in 2003 when the Time Warner conglomerate - discussed in detail here - sold its record and music publishing arm to a consortium led by Edgar Bronfman Jr.

This page covers -

  • The group
  • History
  • Labels
  • Publishing
  • Other
  • Studies

The group

Warner Music Group (WMG) operates internationally and is essentially structured as three units - recording, licensing and publishing.

WMG labels included Atlantic, Bad Boy, Elektra, Lava, Maverick, Nonesuch, Reprise, Rhino, Sire, Warner Bros. and Word.

WMG's Warner Music International operates through 37 affiliates and numerous licensees in over 50 countries.

WMG's publishing arm - Warner/Chappell Music - is one of the 'big three' music publishers, with a catalogue of over one million copyrights worldwide.


Warner Music traces its origins to the Chappell music publishing house - established to print, distribute and licence scores and lyrics - and to record companies acquired by the Warner Bros film and comic publishing group.

The Warner Bros studio entered the music business in 1930 with acquisition of Brunswick Records and four music publishers for US $28 million. Those operations were sold by the end of the decade. Warner Bros. Records was launched in 1958, gaining attention for a 1960 deal with the Everly Brothers - supposedly the first million dollar record contract. In 1963 it acquired Reprise Records, founded by Frank Sinatra in 1960. In 1967 Jack Warner sold his stake in Warners - and thus control of the group (inc Warner Bros. Records and Reprise Records) - to Seven Arts Productions for around US$95 million.

Seven Arts (rebadged as Warner-Seven Arts) purchased Atlantic Records in 1967 and in 1969 was acquired by Kinney National, the comics, talent agency, parking-lot, cleaning and funeral parlour conglomerate. Kinney acquired Elektra records (founded by Jac Holzman in 1950) for US$10 million in 1970, subsequently sanitising its scandal-plagued image by rebadging itself as Warner Communications. The group's music operations were reorganised under the Warner Elektra Asylum (WEA) banner and later formed part of the Time Warner - and then AOL Time Warner conglomerates.

An attempted merger of WEA with Polygram (later absorbed by Universal and in turn by Vivendi) was unsuccessful and a later bid by EMI did not proceed, with both proposals having raised concerns among regulators in Europe and the US.

In 2003 Time Warner - suffering from management disagreements, a sagging share after the collapse of the dotcom bubble and uncertainty about the future of the music business in 'the Age of Napster' - announced the sale of its music operations to an investor group led by Thomas H. Lee Partners, Lexa Partners (US$150 million from Edgar Bronfman Jr, drawing on sale of his family's stake in Vivendi), Bain Capital and Providence Equity Partners. The terms provided for around US$2.6 billion in cash and other consideration, including the option of Time Warner buying into WMG on favorable conditions.

Following establishment in 2003 the group has been downsizing, offloading marginal or low revenue units. It has for example started moving out of record production (particularly in high cost locations such as the US and the Netherlands) by closing or selling disk-pressing plants.

In 2005 it sold Warner Bros. Publications to Alfred Publishing, founded in 1922. Miami-based Warner Bros. Publications printed and distributed a broad selection of sheet music, books, educational material, orchestrations and arrangements, and tutorials. The sale excluded the print music business of WMG's Word Music (church hymnals, choral music and associated instrumental music).

Bronfman, Lee, Bain and Providence Equity are understood to have recouped their investment by May 2006 through dividends, refinancings and Warner's flotation in May 2005.

In 2006 EMI and Warner Music engaged in a bizarre, bitter takeover battle with each rejecting an unwelcome US$4.6bn bid from the other. EMI announced that it had rejected an offer to be acquired by Warner Music, its smaller rival, calling the proposal "wholly unacceptable" and increasing its offer for Warner Music. That offer was in turn rebuffed.


The group's labels include -

  • The Atlantic Group
  • Atlantic Classics
  • Atlantic Jazz
  • Atlantic Nashville
  • Atlantic Theater
  • Big Beat
  • Blackground
  • Breaking
  • Curb
  • Igloo
  • Lava
  • Mesa/Bluemoon
  • Modern
  • 1 43
  • Rhino Records
  • Elektra Entertainment Group
  • Elektra
  • EastWest
  • Asylum
  • Elektra/Sire
  • Warner Brothers Records
  • Warner Brothers
  • Warner Nashville
  • Warner Alliance
  • Warner Resound
  • Warner Sunset
  • Reprise
  • Reprise Nashville
  • American Recordings
  • Giant
  • Maverick
  • Revolution
  • Qwest
  • Warner Music International
  • WEA Telegram
  • East West ZTT
  • Coalition
  • CGD East West
  • China
  • Continential
  • DRO East West
  • Erato
  • Fazer
  • Finlandia
  • Magneoton
  • MCM
  • Nonesuch
  • Teldec


Warner/Chappell Music (publishing company)


  • WEA Inc. (sales, distribution and manufacturing)
  • Ivy Hill Corporation (printing and packaging)


For pointers to works on the prehistory of Warner Music see the profiles on Time Warner and Vivendi.

Items of interest include Fredric Dannen's Hit Men: Power Brokers & Fast Money Inside The Music Business (New York: Vintage 1991) is an acerbic expose of fine times among the contemporary music business. Norman Lebrecht's When The Music Stops (New York: Simon & Schuster 1996) provides a similar account of classical music recording.

Works on Edgar Bronfman Jr and his family, such as The Bronfmans: The Rise and Fall of the House of Seagram (New York: St Martins Press 2006) by Nicholas Faith, are highlighted here.

Tom King's David Geffen: A Biography Of New Hollywood (London: Hutchinson 2000) suggests that while industry structures have changed - more independent production for example - the personalities haven't. Stephen Singular's The Rise & Rise of David Geffen (New York: Birch Lane 1997) is less substantial.

There is a gentler portrait of Geffen in John Seabrook's Nowbrow: The Culture of Marketing, the Marketing of Culture (Knopf: New York 2000), much hyped but largely devoted to angst about whether the author should wear a t-shirt with his tailored suit and whether Tina Brown really is the Wicked Witch of the West.

For Atlantic see Music Man: Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic Records, & the Triumph of Rock 'n' Roll (New York: Norton 1990) by Dorothy Wade & Justine Picardie and Making Tracks: Atlantic Records and the Growth of a Multi-Billion-Dollar Industry (London: Panther 1975) by Charlie Gillett.