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What Are the Five Major Record Labels?

The U.S. and global recorded music markets are domintated by five major labels.
record image by Pefkos from Fotolia.com

"Record label" is a term originally coined to describe the physical label on a vinyl record, which would display the manufacturer's name. Over time, record labels have developed into big companies that brand and promote music. The current music market is dominated by five of the biggest record labels. These big companies are known as major labels, in contrast to the smaller independent labels which, between them, have a one-fifth to one-quarter share of the U.S. music market.

Universal Music Group

Universal Music Group is the biggest record label. In the U.S., which is the largest music market in the world, Universal Music group has a market share of almost one-third overall. Universal Music group either owns or has a significant share in labels including Interscope, Geffen, A&M, Island Def Jam Music Group, Decca and V2. Universal also has large labels specializing respectively in classical and Latin music.

Sony Music Entertainment

Sony Music Entertainment, based in Japan, has approximately a one-quarter market share in the U.S., ranking as the second-largest of the major record labels. Sony Music Entertainment owns labels including Columbia, Epic, RCA and Jive. Artists ranging from AC/DC to "Weird Al" Yankovic are signed to Sony Music Entertainment.

Warner Music Group

With a 15 percent share of the U.S. market in 2006, Warner Music Group is the third-largest record label. Existing in its current form since 2004, Warner Music Group was previously part of Time Warner. WMG owns labels including Atlantic Records Group and Rhino Entertainment. At the end of 2008, negotiations between WMG and YouTube.com broke down with the result that WMG moved to have all videos by its artists removed from YouTube.com.


Based in the U.K., EMI Group has a U.S. market share of approximately one-tenth. The British band Blur is one of EMI's biggest artists in the U.K., with a significant market presence in other countries too. In the 1990s, many British popular bands were signed to EMI. Now the label is branching out into newer genres such as "grime," with the signing of U.K. rapper Dizzee Rascal.

BMG Entertainment

BMG Entertainment was considered the fifth major record label in the "big five", but in 2004 BMG merged with Sony to form Sony BMG Music Entertainment. Initially a joint venture between the two labels, the structure of the merged company changed in 2008 when Sony Music Entertainment Inc. took full control of BMG.

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