History of Record Labels and the Music Industry: 1990s
by Alex Cosper

Introduction 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s

see also American Radio History


- In 1990 MCA was bought by Matsushita of Japan for $6.6 billion as EMI acquired Chrysalis Records a year after acquiring SBK Entertainment. Also in 1990 Jimmy Iovine and Ted Fields launched Interscope Records. The RIAA reported that the cassette continued to be the dominant configuration of record music purchases in 1990. The cassette had 55% of the market compared to 31% for CDs and just under 5% for vinyl LPs. The cassette surpassed vinyl as the most popular configuration in the mid-eighties. CDs finally became the most popular configuration in 1992.

- The World Wide Web was formed (circa 1989-1990) based on the works of Tim Berners-Lee. In 1992 the Moving Pictures Experts Groups (MPEG) approved MP3 as the new medium of storage for computer audio files which approach CD quality.

- PolyGram acquired A&M Records in 1991. EMI Music purchased Virgin Records in 1992. New record labels launched in 1992 included Madonna's Maverick Records (in partnership with Warner Brothers) and the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal (under the Capitol umbrella). Rick Rubin's Def American label changed its name to American Recordings in 1993. Elektra bought 45% of SubPop for $20 million in 1994. SubPop was the original label of several late 80s/early 90s Seattle scene artists such as Nirvana.

- Rhino Records bought the Sugar Hill Records catalogue in 1995, nine years after the rap label went bankrupt.

- David Geffen sold Geffen Records to MCA in 1995 so that he could form a new label with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. The new label became DreamWorks. Former Virgin Records owner Richard Branson formed V2 Records in 1996. Alan Meltzer and Steven Lerner launched Wind-Up Entertainment in 1997.

- In 1996 Universal Music Group was formed when Seagram purchased MCA. One of MCA's subsidiaries called Rising Tide, founded by Doug Morris a year earlier, became Universal Records, which acquired Interscope. UMG became the world's leading music company when they acquired PolyGram in 1999. Under this new umbrella, Island Records merged with Def Jam and Mercury. Also under UMG that year Geffen, MCA and A&M all merged together. MCA became Geffen in June 2003.

- In 1996 Thorn EMI de-merged into EMI Group and the Thorn Company. EMI acquired Priority Records in 1998.

- On 10/28/98 President Clinton signed the Digital Millennium Copyright bill. Also that year, Diamond Multimedia introduced the portable MP3 player.

Introduction 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s

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