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Sony Music buys Ministry Of Sound Recordings

By | Published on Thursday 11 August 2016

Ministry Of Sound

Sony Music yesterday announced it had acquired the Ministry Of Sound record label. The deal means that the major now owns the Ministry Of Sound Recordings business outright, including its current roster of artists, back catalogue and compilations operation.

A spin-off from the super club, the Ministry label was launched in 1993 and became one of the UK’s most significant independent record companies. Though a big part of that success was down to its compilations business, which licensed in recordings from other labels that were then packaged under the Ministry and other spin-off brands, with key releases shifting phenomenal units at the label’s peak.

The shift from physical to digital created some specific challenges for the compilations side of the record industry, of course, and even more so for those compilation labels that relied heavily on recordings controlled by third parties, rather than exploiting their own back catalogues.

With the early days of downloading dominated by single tracks rather than albums, and with back catalogue sales now much easier for other record companies once they’d pumped their content into the iTunes store, compilations became less attractive to both consumers and licensors.

Though with some clever pricing, and a general increase in the sale of digital albums, some of the bigger compilation brands managed to weather the storm and actually go back into growth. Except then the download-to-streaming shift occurred, and the compilations market faced an even bigger challenge: where do compilation brands fit in on the streaming platforms where curation comes via free-to-access playlists.

Given that challenge, it’s perhaps not surprising that the Ministry Of Sound label has been a reluctant participant in the streaming music revolution, at one point taking Spotify to court over the fact users of the digital platform had set up the tracklistings of its compilations as playlists without permission. Had it got to court, the dispute would have been an incredibly interesting test case on whether or not tracklistings are protected by copyright.

In the end Ministry and Spotify settled, though the former’s CEO, Lohan Presencer, has remained a vocal critic of the streaming music platforms ever since. The Ministry chief is famously out-spoken, of course. And while he has been mainly vocal about streaming in recent years (alongside licensing issues affecting his clubbing business), in the past he wasn’t afraid to hit out at other record companies, including other indies, most famously when the independent community was being courted by Warner Music which was, at the time, plotting a merger with EMI and hoping to avoid opposition from the indie sector.

In more recent years, while tackling the challenges facing the wider compilations market, the Ministry label has grown its artist albums business. This has included forming a couple of alliances with Sony Music to secure international distribution for some key artists, which presumably set things in motion for the major to actually take ownership of the Ministry Of Sound’s recordings business.

The deal enables Sony to boost both its dance music credentials and portfolio of compilation brands, while Ministry Of Sound says that, by becoming part of the Sony Music empire, it will be able to “grow its recorded music offering on a truly global scale”.

Confirming the deal, Presencer said yesterday: “I’m delighted we have found the right home to grow Ministry Of Sound Recordings at a global level while keeping its unique identity. Sony Music is a world-class company that understands our ethos of exceptional curation and developing young talent. Ministry Of Sound Recordings had its most successful year to date in 2015. Sony has the scale and strength within the industry to project our artists and music onto an even bigger platform”.

Meanwhile, overall Sony Music boss Doug Morris said in a statement: “This agreement underscores our ongoing commitment to investing in great artistry and hit music. On behalf of the entire Sony Music family, I’m excited to welcome the wonderful artists and talented team at Ministry Of Sound Recordings to our line-up of world-class creative centres”.

Sony Music UK chief Jason Iley also bigged up the deal, and Ministry Of Sound label execs David Dollimore and Dipesh Parmar, saying: “Ministry Of Sound is one of the greatest brands in music. I’m delighted to welcome one of the most innovative, smart and pioneering labels to the Sony Music family. David and Dipesh’s track record, alongside one of the best curation teams in the business, speaks for itself and the label will be another hugely exciting addition to Sony Music UK’s vision for the future”.