Record Player
Record Player. Getty Images By: 12345

EMI: The Basics:

  • What: One of the Big Four major record labels
  • Company Headquarters: London, England

The Early Years:

EMI got its start in 1931 as a manufacturer of gramophone record players under the name The UK Gramophone Company. While EMI had much success in the record player market, it is as a record label that the company really exploded.

Also in 1931, EMI opened the Abbey Road music studios in London.

Abbey Road, of course, has huge significance in the music industry, thanks to The Beatles - the artists who would later put EMI on the map. The studio remains a musician "dream studio" to this day.

EMI had early licensing arrangements with:

  • RCA Records
  • Columbia Records

EMI severed ties with these companies in the 1950s

Hello, America:

Until 1957, EMI was primarily a European label. In that year, the company purcashed the controlling stake in US label Capitol Records. The relationship with Capitol Records marked the beginning of a period of major commercial international success for EMI (again, thanks largely in part to The Beatles). During this time, EMI launched several subsidiary labels:

  • HMV
  • Parlophone
  • Columbia Gramophone

Enter: The Beatles:

EMI A&R man George Martin brought the label a little band called The Beatles (it is interesting to note that one label had already turned the band down and that they had already been turned down by three EMI employees before coming across Martin).

The rest, as they say, is rock and roll history. The Beatles became the best-selling band in the history of music, and by association, EMI (and their Capitol label imprint in America) became one of the most powerful labels in the world.

When the Beatles started their own Apple label, EMI acted as distributor for the label and retained ownership of The Beatles catalogue.

Other Important EMI Artists:

It's hard to get bigger than The Beatles, but EMI has been home to many other top selling artists over the years, including:

EMI also licenses and distributes albums from a significant and ever-changing number of independent labels, including Mute Records and Astralwerks.

Apple Controversy:

The Beatles' Apple Records label filed a lawsuit against EMI in December, 2005, claimed that EMI owed Apple millions in unpaid royalties. After nearly two years of legal wrangling, a settlement was reached between the two labels in April, 2007. The exact terms of the agreement were not made public.

Big Three??:

In 2006, fellow Big Four major record label Warners Music launched a takeover bid for EMI Records, which would have created the world's biggest record label. The EMI board rejected Warner's bid.

EMI and Citi:

EMI was almost taken over by Citibank in 2010, when it appeared that the struggling label would be unable to meet a $155 million loan payment. At the 11th hour, the label was able to raise the money to make the payment and bought itself a new lease on life - at least until March, 2011, when the next loan payment is due.

Fun EMI Fact - A Sex Pistol Slagging:

The Sex Pistols were briefly signed to EMI, in a deal that lasted from October 1976 to January 1977. EMI was supposed to release the debut album by The Sex Pistols, but things went so wrong between the label and the band that EMI dropped The Sex Pistols. In retaliation, The Sex Pistols raged against the label in the song E.M.I. in their Never Mind the Bollocks album, which was eventually released on Virgin.

That album went on to become a big money maker for Virgin, and indeed a classic album, period. Last laugh for The Sex Pistols? Nope - EMI bought Virgin, and now EMI collects the checks for Sex Pistol sales.