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Universal Music Information

Universal Music Group

The Universal Music Group (UMG) is not only one of globe's 'Big Four' record labels but with a 25% hold over the world market and operations and licensees in 63 countries, it is also the largest business group in the entire record industry.

This success is in a large part due to its sizable portfolio of record labels- a selection of these include Geffen, Mercury, Polydor, Vertigo, Verve, Wing, A&M, Island and Decca. It also manages one of the largest music publishing companies in the world, the Universal Music Publishing Group.

The Universal Music Group derives from the Music Corporation of America (MCA), a company initially founded in Chicago in 1924 as a music booking agency. It entered the music business in 1962 with the purchase of the US Decca branch. As Decca owned Universal Pictures, MCA therefore assumed ownership of Universal.

In 1966, MCA formed Uni Records in Universal City, California and in 1968, established the MCA label outside North America to issue releases by MCA's labels.

In 1979 MCA acquired ABC Dunhill Records along with subsidiaries ABC Records, Paramount Records, Impulse Records, Dot Records and Dunhill Records. Chess Records was bought out in 1985 and Motown Records in 1988. GRP Records and Geffen Records were acquired in 1990 and in the same year, MCA was purchased for $1.6 billion by Japan's Matsushita group, best known as the parent of Panasonic Electronics.

In 1995, Matsushita, underwhelmed by their purchase's performance, accordingly sold an 80% $5.7 billion controlling stake to the largest distiller of alcohol beverages in the world, the Seagram Company Ltd. The following year the new owners dropped the MCA name and renamed the music division Universal Music Group.

In 1998 the 'Big Six' record companies that accounted for 80% of the world market- Sony, Universal, BMG, PolyGram, EMI and Warners - became the 'Big Five'. Seagram acquired PolyGram from Philips and it was absorbed into the UMG. When Seagram's drinks industry was bought by France's Pernod Ricard in 2000, all its media holdings (including Universal) were then sold onto Vivendi SA, which renamed itself Vivendi Universal to reflect the purchase.

In February 2006 the French company bought out the remaining 20% from Matsushita, thereby becoming the sole owner.

Haydn Mullineux, 2006
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Interviews with A&Rs at Universal Music

Interview - Kevin Law, A&R for Nelly, Oct 3, 2002

“My advice to acts is that it always comes down to one thing...”

picture Kevin Law is A&R for Nelly. Nelly's debut album “Country Grammar” (2000) sold 8 million copies in US, and “Nellyville”, his second album, released in June 2002, has to date sold 3 million. Kevin is also the A&R for St. Lunatics, the group that Nelly is a member of, and which have sold 1 million copies of their 2001 debut album “Free City”.


What were the important factors in Nelly's development?

With Nelly we took our time. He came from an area in the US (St. Louis, Missouri) that is virtually untouched in terms of the hiphop community. Most of the records at the time were coming from New York or down South or the West Coast, so for me it was an exciting opportunity to brand him as the Midwest star.

We wanted the entire campaign for Nelly to be regional. We wanted to be embraced by St. Louis and by the Midwest. We wanted that region of the country to claim him and feel pride in him. It was also a big family affair, because we had the St. Lunatics, who Nelly and I also signed. We had various resources from that organization and we always made sure in his development that we kept true to where he came from, and we still do to this day, as you can tell from his songs. The fact that he's believable is one of the reasons why he’s so loved.

You released the second single “Dilemma” from the album “Nellyville” while the first single “Hot In Herre” was still at No.1. What were your thoughts behind doing so?

Actually, we didn’t release “Dilemma”. US radio stations took the song from the clean version of the album and started playing it themselves. We would never have gone for a second single that early. I would have preferred more space between the first and second singles, but it’s hard to determine whether the proximity of the two singles had a negative impact since they were both such massive hits, one replacing the other at the top. It was the first time in Billboard history that songs from the same artist swapped positions between No.1 and 2.

What artists are you currently working on?

Right now we’re making a record with Murphy Lee, one of the members of the St. Lunatics, and I’m also developing a 16-year-old, a very talented girl named Sonna. She's an Indian singer based in London.

Do you accept unsolicited material?

Generally, no.

What are the most important factors to consider when listening to a demo by an unsigned rap artist?

I look for vocal quality, the quality of the song, and I like it to be melodic. I look for an artist that says something different in a different style. I do not go for things that are derivative.

Unsigned rappers have a hard time making good music to rap to. How important is the music when you listen to a demo?

When you listen to a piece of music you can’t really separate the parts. The music, the lyrics, the delivery and the style are all reflective of that artist. If they chose to rhyme to a certain beat and submit it to a record label, then logic would dictate that they feel it’s representative of the type of music they want to make.

But if there is a particular rapper whom I think is incredible, and the lyrics and the delivery are sensational but the music isn’t up to par, on occasion, I will meet that artist, and see if there is somebody else who would be a better counterpart in terms of production and writing music for him. But in general, I judge it for what it is and try not to separate the elements too much.

Which one of your artists did everything right in order to get noticed by major labels before you signed them and what did they do?

None of them. The artists all have unique backgrounds and for each of them the situation in which they got signed was different. There’s no blueprint on how to get signed or discovered.

One common trait of all the people who have made it is that they are resourceful. Every artist I’ve signed was resourceful enough to get my attention and then make the most of that opportunity. But I don’t think anyone has done it perfectly. If somebody did it perfectly, then that would be the blueprint.

Typically, the artists I’ve signed have come to me through very legitimate practices, whether it’s through a manager, an attorney or a producer in the business, or somebody that I know or who knows someone and gets in contact with me.

People have done outrageous things, from sending lunch with a demo in it, to sending provocative pictures or gifts with demos in them. Some of the packages are amusing enough for you to wind up listening to the demo because you admire the person’s resourcefulness and ability to get your attention.

What advice would you give unsigned acts on how to start building a career at an independent level?

My advice to acts is that it always comes down to one thing: the song. Focus on making the best possible songs, one at the time, and try not to run before you can walk. People make posters and promote material that’s inferior, but the material has to be superior before you do anything.

Everyone’s so anxious to promote stuff that they’re not really 100% behind. So many people say, “This is not even our good stuff, we haven’t even started to make our best records yet.” When they say that, I have to wonder why they're even promoting something that they don’t feel confident about and don’t even believe is their best work. That’s a waste of both their time and mine. I think artists should concentrate on putting their best foot forward, not just some of the time but all of the time, because that’s how you get credibility.

Considering the costs for releasing a new artist, how sure do you need to be that it will sell?


... to read the continuation of this article, click here.


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Interview – Jim Chancellor, A&R Fiction/Universal UK - Oct 26, 2005

“If I was an artist, I would probably evaluate A&Rs and record labels on the careers of acts that I respect. That’s about the only way you can look at it,”

picture … says Jim Chancellor, A&R at Fiction Records UK. He is credited for signing Snow Patrol - who have sold quadruple platinum in the UK - as well as putting debut artist Stephen Fretwell and Stone Roses singer Ian Brown high on the charts.

Read about how a small label (Fiction) functions under the umbrella of a larger label (Polydor) without losing the feeling of “a boy’s bedroom”, how they work with new artists, and the path Snow Patrol took from being unknown to being an international success.


How did you get started in the music biz and what has been your route to becoming an A&R?

I started my own label with a friend of mine about fourteen years ago. It was called Mad Minute. We signed a couple of bands, made some records, and put them out. We ended up doing all the things you would do from a bedroom label point of view, like driving the bands around and booking the gigs. Mad Minute does still exist, but it’s dormant.

What experiences in particular have been important for you in developing your A&R skills?

Being involved in every single aspect of making a record serves you well when approaching a band. Everything from finding a band to finding a studio to finding a sound to manufacturing a record. Because you can talk about the whole process rather than just: “I think you’re great, and I’d like to sign you.”

What is Fiction Records?

Fiction Records is The Cure’s old label, which was started by Chris Parry in 1978. It was bought by Polydor some fifteen years ago and since then rolled into the Polydor system, but it’s lain dormant as a label name. Obviously it was carried on every single The Cure record that was re-released.

A year and nine months ago it was decided that myself, Paul Smernicki and Joe Munns from Polydor, who were working on the Snow Patrol album, should re-invigorate the label Fiction to give Polydor a bit more of a guitar stronghold. The vision was to give a degree of separation from Polydor regarding the pop music side and the rock music side. It was about domestically signed guitar bands. At Fiction there are six of us. Me, Joe and Paul make the decisions ultimately.

Fiction is wholly owned by Polydor. Polydor is one of the three main labels within the Universal system. We’re like a satellite of Polydor, but Polydor being a wholly owned Universal company, it’s effectively all Universal. When we sign an artist they are technically signed to Universal, but Fiction has its own budget within the Universal system.

How did Fiction manage to grow as a label?

My job as an A&R, along with my scout Alex Close, was to bring in acts. We got out there and brought in quite a few new UK based acts, and we inherited Ian Brown. Gradually over the twenty months that we’ve been operating we’ve gathered together what you could consider as a stable of artists. We’re just starting to build on that now.

We had an amazing start with Snow Patrol, and now we’ve had a bit of success with Stephen Fretwell. And then Ian Brown has always been pretty successful anyway. We’re helping Ian along with his career at this point - he’d worked with Joe and Paul on previous records, so it made sense to be a part of this.

What does Fiction as a label do and not do, and how does that affect the artist?

We act more as an indie label with acts, in the sense that there are six of us sitting in an open plan office and we just chuck ideas around rather than being all in our own little compartments beavering away. Fiction is like a boy’s bedroom.

What is the label Fiction compared to its mother record company?

It’s the same thing but it’s smaller. We like to think that at Fiction we think about our artists a lot more. It has the whole bedroom approach. All six of us have to love what we’re involved in. It’s just driven out of passion and love for what we’re working with.

I don’t think it differs hugely from the major label. It depends on the major label. Polydor is a great company and there’s a load of great people in it. We’re just another segment of that system.

Do you make and take more time to concentrate on your artists?


... to read the continuation of this article, click here.


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Interview - Thomas Kowollik, A&R at Universal Germany - Feb 8, 2005

“If it’s the wrong manager I don't sign the artist”,

picture … says Thomas Kowollik, A&R at Universal Germany. He signed and developed Juli, the biggest German breakthrough act of 2004. For this, he was awarded No.2 on the World Top 20 A&R Chart, the highest position ever for a non-American A&R.

What has been your route to become a senior manager and A&R?

I was studying economics here in Berlin and parallel to that I was a DJ. It was the time when the wall broke down and the club scene, especially in East Berlin, really exploded. The major record companies realized that, and dance music in Germany became very successful. I worked at The Tresor, a well-known club which still exists. During this time I also made some contacts within the music business: all the major companies and big publishers were recruiting DJ's, and I came to EMI Publishing in Hamburg as a junior dance A&R.

I stayed there for two and a half years, and then became a regular A&R. After having got an offer from Polygram Songs, I changed to them in 1996. I was working there for two years before I switched to Zomba Music Publishing in Cologne, where I worked for another five years, and then finally got the offer from Universal.

Before becoming an A&R, you worked as publisher at various labels, how has that affected your work as an A&R?

I was an A&R from day one in the music business; even in my days at EMI I was doing A&R. Working as an A&R at a publishing company is very similar to the work as an A&R at a record company. Of course, they’re two totally different business models and the payment is totally different, but the idea behind it; looking for new talents - it's quite similar.

How did you, as a publisher, find new talents?

The working process was almost the same as it now is at a record company: go to concerts and speak with producers and management agencies. But the subjects differ a bit - as a publisher you focus on issues related to the publishing, if they still are available. Now I ask what the guys are producing. As an A&R in a record company it's more work to do, because you have to care for the artist side as well. Otherwise the work is pretty much the same, to go out and go to clubs. You do the same work outside the company and you speak with the same people.

As a publisher, did you set up meetings, so songwriters could co-write?

Yes, of course. The work I did at that time was to involve foreign songwriters from Sweden, England and some from Denmark into the German market. My job was to introduce them to record companies and management teams. Of course, I was also looking for new talents from Germany.

When you listen to music, is there a certain aspect that is emphasized, or just an overall feeling?

I would characterize myself as a “song man”, who goes for fluent melodies and killer hooklines. I do care about whether I can sing the song out loud. What is important is if I can remember the hookline, and if it’s fun to sing. Do I like to listen to it in my car, is it catchy? That is what I go for.

What impact have your experiences in the music business had on your listening?

I grew up with rock music, but my time in the dance scene as a DJ changed my listening. It made me more directed towards mainstream and commercial music. I came from the groove, from the beat, but now I'm totally into hooklines and into great songs.

Can you separate professional listening from how you appreciate or enjoy music privately?

Yes, of course. When I work in the office, the emphasis is always on whether the music is suitable for the German market right now. Can we sell records? But privately I listen to quite other music. But the job of an A&R requires that you can separate your private music taste from business. What counts is: how is the market?

How important, from a publisher’s perspective, is it for a demo to have a good production?

Officially, I have to say “not that important”, because a good song is a good song. But unofficially, I admit that a song with a pre-production impresses me more than a cheap demo. Because then I can more easily imagine how it would sound for my artist. If you send me a demo, and there is just an acoustic guitar and some lyrics on it, I would not be as impressed as if the song has got a pre-production.

Do you have any experience of songwriters that refuse an artist a song, because the artist's repertoire would have a negative impact on the songwriter’s career?

No, my experience with songwriters is that they are happy if they get their songs played by valuable artists. But if songwriters are very convinced about their songs they might say: “This is a killer single, a top10 hit”, and then “You can only use it if it is a single, not just an album track”. Songwriters do care about their status, but all the artists I have worked with in my time have had a kind of credibility, so that has never been a problem.

Besides having a good sense for listening, what other characteristics do you find important as a publisher?

The song should be exceptional. There are a lot of good songs, especially from those professional songwriting camps like Murlyn Music or LaCarre. When you get a CD from them or from the major publishing companies, you can be sure that the material has a really high level of quality. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can use them. You always have to ask: does the song fit the artist? Is it that exceptional, the song we need to bring us forward? The answer to that is mostly, “no”, but that doesn’t mean that the songs are bad. That might be the song for another artist.

When you sign a new writer, what in general does the agreement include?


... to read the continuation of this article, click here.


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How to benefit from HitQuarters

HitQuarters is the world's most extensive directory of A&Rs, managers, publishers and producers, based on their track records. We also publish the weekly World Top 20 A&R Chart and in-depth interviews with people in the music industry. As a HitQuarters member, you can send your music to our A&R Panel, which includes several of the world's most successful A&Rs, and present it on your own web page at www.HitQuarters.com/TheNameYouChoose.


Artist

Find the contact information to the world's most successful A&Rs, managers and producers in the HitTracker (top left of the site). You can also send your music to our A&R Panel, which includes several of the world's most successful A&Rs, and present your music and photos on your own web page.

Reading the in-depth interviews we regularly publish will provide you with a great deal of knowledge on the music industry. You can also discuss the issues that concern you with other members in the HitQuarters Forum.

To become a HitQuarters member for only USD15 per half year, please click here. To gain a better understanding of how HitQuarters works, please read the Advisory Text.


Producer

Find the contact information to the world's most successful A&Rs, managers and producers in the HitTracker (top left of the site). You can also present your music and photos on your own web page.

Reading the in-depth interviews we regularly publish will provide you with a great deal of knowledge on the music industry. You can also discuss the issues that concern you with other members in the HitQuarters Forum.

To become a HitQuarters member for only USD15 per half year, please click here. To gain a better understanding of how HitQuarters works, please read the Advisory Text.


Songwriter

If you are a songwriter, we suggest you use SongQuarters, our music publishing and songwriting service. In it we present the recording status of the world's 500 most successful artists, including who is currently looking for songs, in what style, whom to contact and their contact details. SongQuarters also features information on newly signed and developing artists who are currently looking for songs, and samples of these artists' songs.

The SongQuarters membership includes HitQuarters membership, which gives you access to in-depth interviews that will provide you with a great deal of knowledge on the music industry. You can also present your music and photos on your own web page and discuss the issues that concern you with other members in the HitQuarters Forum.


Manager

Find the contact information to the world's most successful A&Rs, managers and producers in the HitTracker (top left of the site). You can also send your music to our A&R Panel, which includes several of the world's most successful A&Rs, and present your music and photos on your own web page.

By reading the in-depth interviews we regularly publish, you can gain further knowledge of the music industry. You can also discuss the issues that concern you with other members in the HitQuarters Forum.

To become a HitQuarters member for only USD15 per half year, please click here. To gain a better understanding of how HitQuarters works, please read the Advisory Text.


A&R

If you are an A&R, find a wide range of artists presenting their music at HitQuarters: you can either search for an artist or view the artists that have previously been chosen by our A&R team as Artists Of The Week.

If you are a HitQuarters member, you will find the contact information to the world's most successful A&Rs, managers and producers in the HitTracker (top left of the site). By reading the in-depth interviews we regularly publish, you can gain further knowledge of the music industry. You can also discuss the issues that concern you with other members in the HitQuarters Forum.

To become a HitQuarters member for only USD15 per half year, please click here.


Music Publisher

If you are a music publisher, we suggest you use SongQuarters, our music publishing and songwriting service. In it we present the recording status of the world's 500 most successful artists, including who is currently looking for songs, in what style, whom to contact and their contact details. SongQuarters also features information on newly signed and developing artists who are currently looking for songs, and samples of these artists' songs.

The SongQuarters membership includes HitQuarters membership, which gives you access to in-depth interviews that will provide you with further knowledge on the music industry.

SongQuarters

SongQuarters - Songwriters & Publishers!
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SongQuarters gives you constant updated information on which of the world's Top 500 artists are currently looking for songs, including contact info, deadlines, song samples and more. SongQuarters average more than 50 quality leads per month to high-profile, newly signed and developing artists worldwide.



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