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Universal rebrands its label services business as Virgin Music

By | Published on Friday 19 February 2021

Virgin Music Label & Artist Services

With the spotlight back on the major record companies’ manoeuvrings in the artist and label services domain – thanks to Sony’s big old buy of all that AWAL goodness – Universal has decided it’s time to give its services division a bit of a refresh.

That division has mainly operated under the Caroline brand in recent history. But who the fuck is Caroline? No one knows. It’s a total mystery. And in a strand of the business where people like to talk about transparency a lot, the one thing you don’t want is mysteries.

So let’s get rid of Caroline. But what name to use instead? Well, Universal has had a good old rummage around its cabinet of unused brands and pulled out the Virgin logo. Ah yes, the Virgin logo! All hail Virgin Music Label & Artist Services.

And with all this talk of Virgin Music, it feels like it’s time for a music industry history lesson. Don’t worry, I’ll make it quick. Just in case the TikTok generation have tuned in.

It’s the 1970s. Look, there’s Richard Branson. It’s a Virgin music mail-order service for students. It’s a Virgin record shop. It’s Virgin Records, a proud, rebellious, game-changing independent record company. Now it’s the 1990s. And it’s Virgin Records, a slightly less proud, slightly less rebellious, slightly less game-changing, somewhat sell-out of an EMI division. Branson’s busy playing planes.

Hey everybody, it’s the 2000s, the record industry is collapsing and EMI is fucked! Oh look, private equity firm Terra Firma is here to save the day. Hurrah! Oh hang on, now EMI is really fucked! Like, really fucking fucked. Phew, Universal buy-out.

Let’s combine the EMI and Virgin brands to make a new UK division of Universal Music. What fun! Actually, no, EMI Records. That sounds better. Fuck Virgin EMI. Stick Virgin in the brands-we-forgot-about cabinet. Who cares about Virgin? I mean these days it’s all about rubbish trains and wobbly internet connections and billionaires demanding bailouts.

Oh hang on again, what’s that? We’re lagging behind in the artist and label services domain? We need to ramp it up? Yeah, but who the fuck is Caroline? No one knows. We need a rebrand! Rummage, rummage, rummage. All hail Virgin Music Label & Artist Services.

“Virgin has long been a name synonymous with disruptive innovation, musical creativity and entrepreneurialism”, reckons Universal Music boss Lucian Grainge. Yeah, whatever.

“We are THRILLED”, he adds, “to announce the reinvigoration of this iconic music brand as a new model for global distribution and label services – combining UMG’s unrivalled regional executive teams with dedicated resources and best-in-class services and technology, to help foster long-term partnerships and deliver global success for the next generation of independent labels and artist talent”.

Thanks Lucian. You did remember to get the customary “this is nothing to do with me but I still dig it” quote from Branson, right?

“I’m proud that half a century after we opened our first independent record shop in London, the Virgin Music name continues to represent the very best entrepreneurs, innovators, and artists from the world of music today”, says Branson. Thanks Branson.

And now for the logistics. Caroline US becomes Virgin Music Label & Artist Services US, part of the Capitol Music Group. It will still be run by Jacqueline Saturn. Caroline France becomes Virgin Music Label & Artist Services France, led by Thomas Lorain. Caroline Japan will be morphed and expanded into Virgin Music Label & Artist Services Japan, led by Hirokazu Tanaka.

Out of Germany, Caroline’s operations in Central Europe will become Virgin Music Label & Artist Services’ operations in Central Europe.

Though – and I can’t stress this enough – this new division must not be confused with the Virgin Records label that still operates in the German market. That’s a boring old record label. Don’t be confusing the all new Virgin Music Label & Artist Services with a boring old record label.

There’ll also be a new Virgin Music Label & Artist Services division in the UK led by Vanessa Higgins, who joins from her own independent music business Regent Street Records.

Not only that, there’ll be some all new Virgin Music Label & Artist Services gubbins going on in Latin America as well, and very soon too. Oh, you just wait and see how much Virgin Music Label & Artist Services gubbins there’ll be going on in Latin America. Lots I tell you! Lots and lots.

And finally, the London-based division previously known as Caroline International – led by Michael Roe and Jim Chancellor – will also become part of Virgin Music Label & Artist Services, charged with supporting “the leaders of Virgin worldwide to ensure that Virgin Music Label & Artist Services continues to represent and distribute the best in independent talent and labels around the world”. Yeah, whatever.

Universal Music also owns another label and artist services business called Ingrooves, of course. But it wasn’t mentioned in the big announcement about Virgin Music Label & Artist Services yesterday. So it would just seem rude for me to mention it here. Ah, so many music distribution businesses.

Now I come to think about it, back when it was a proud, rebellious, game-changing independent record company, I’m pretty sure Virgin Records had a distribution division. What was that called again? Oh yeah, I remember, Caroline. Who the fuck is Caroline?