Record company’s judgment of success or failure of an artist

Success will normally mean that an artist is selling sufficient quantities of records to become an established artist who has a significant fan base, has had chart success with single and album releases, and whose records can be exploited internationally.

  • Since 1985 at least 20 artists a year have been established in the UK market, in the sense of releasing their first 100,000 selling album.
  • Of around 330 artists established between 1981 and 1992 on this criterion, some 38 per cent were signed to independent companies at the time of their success.

Record companies may not simply look to consistent sales growth or profit in determining the success of an artist. A company may be prepared to support an artist over a long period of time if it believes that ultimately the act will succeed or if it believes that the artist’s music has great merit. For example, Island signed U2 in the early 1980s but it was not until 1988 that U2’s album The Joshua Tree established the group as an international success. Some established artists are unable to repeat the huge success of an album with subsequent releases.


Some successful artists have chosen to move to another company, usually when commercial terms could not be agreed for an extension of an existing contract. An example is the move of ZZ Top from Warner to BMG. The relationship between an artist and a record company can break down and, either following litigation or simply as a result of agreement between the artist and the record company, the artist may then be able to move. Examples of this are Level 42 moving from PolyGram to BMG and Spandau Ballet moving from Chrysalis to Columbia (Sony).

For example, Rick Astley moved from PWL to BMG and Betty Boo moved from Rhythm King to Warner. When movements of this kind take place it is normally the rights in the artist’s future recordings which are acquired by the next succeeding record company. Rights in the artist’s previous recordings normally remain with the previous record company. However, certain major artists (eg David Bowie and The Rolling Stones) have negotiated ownership of the rights in the `back catalogue’ of their previous recordings.

(Another highlight from the British 1994 report on recorded music by the Ministry of Mergers and Competition)

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