Every budding music artist dreams of the day that a major record label contacts them and offers them a contract. There are hundreds of such record labels located in all four corners of the world, yet three of them are that large and powerful that they sell almost two-thirds of the music listened to worldwide. A study in 2016 revealed that the three major labels account for 62.4 percent of all music sold, streamed and downloaded around the world; this figure increases to an enormous 77 percent in the United Kingdom and a staggering 84 percent in Finland.
Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group are by far the biggest and most powerful record labels on the planet. There used to be a fourth major label but Universal Music purchased EMI for an eye-watering £1.2 billion in 2012 to leave only three major players.
Universal Music Group is the largest of the “Big Three Record Labels” and was founded 83 years ago in September 1934. The company is a subsidiary of French media conglomerate Vivendi and boasts of revenues of more than $1.55 billion per year. The UMG has some of the biggest names in the music industry on its label. The likes of Sam Smith, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande and Eminem are all tied to the giant label, and they still receive royalties from companies playing and streaming song from groups and artists such as ABBA, The Beatles, Bob Marley, The Eagles, Madonna and George Michael.
Second, in terms of size and power, is Sony Music Entertainment that has gone through several rebrandings and owners since launching as the American Record Corporation 88 years ago. The SME has more than a dozen labels under its control, including Columbia Records which has been around for 130 years. Like its major rivals, the SME has some of the biggest names in music on its books. Stream a song from Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen, Craig David, Daft Punk, Foo Fighters, Frank Sinatra, Mariah Carey or Oasis and SME have their pockets lined.
The last of the Big Three is Warner Music Group, which owns and operates some of the largest and most successful record labels in the world, such as Atlantic Records, Parlophone and Warner Bros. Records. This company has been part of a number of controversies over the years, including artificially inflating the costs of compact discs, continuously blocking and muting videos on YouTube that show its artists and stopping licensing its songs on free music streaming sites.
The main problem with such a lopsided system is that artists are left with little, and sometimes no control over they work as the major record labels are so massive that they dictate what can and does happen to the artists’ careers. It can also result in some artists having to move to smaller independent labels or even resorting to self-publishing so they can have some control over their works, which can sometimes see them disappear from the limelight due to the huge costs involved in advertising and marketing.