The EMI Group (Electric & Musical Industries Ltd.) is a British music company. It is the fourth-largest business group and family of record labels in the recording industry, making it one of the "big four" record companies and a member of the RIAA. EMI Group also has a major publishing arm - EMI Music Publishing - based in New York City. The company was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index but is now wholly owned by Terra Firma Capital Partners.
The Electric and Musical Industries Ltd was formed in March 1931 by the merger of the UK Columbia Graphophone Company and the Gramophone Company, with its "His Master's Voice" record label, firms that have a history extending back to the origins of recorded sound. The new amalgamated company produced sound recordings as well as recording and playback equipment.
The company's gramophone manufacturing led to forty years of success with larger-scale electronics. Alan Blumlein, a skilled engineer employed by EMI, conducted a great deal of pioneering research into stereo sound recording. Blumlein was killed in 1942 whilst conducting trials on an experimental H2S radar unit. During and after World War II, the EMI Laboratories in Hayes, Hillingdon developed radar equipment and guided missiles. The company later became involved in broadcasting equipment, notably providing the first television transmitter to the BBC. It also manufactured broadcast television cameras for British television production companies, mostly the BBC, although the commercial television ITV companies used them as well alongside cameras made by Pye and Marconi. Their most famous piece of broadcast television equipment was the EMI 2001 colour camera, which became the mainstay of both the BBC and several ITV companies in the 1970s and early 1980s.
In 1958 the EMIDEC 1100, Britain's first transistorised computer, was developed at Hayes under the leadership of Godfrey Hounsfield. In the early 1970s, Hounsfield developed the first CAT scanner, a device which revolutionised medical imaging. In 1973 EMI was awarded a prestigious Queen's Award for Technological Innovation for what was then called the EMI scanner, and in 1979 Hounsfield won the Nobel Prize for his accomplishment. After brief, but brilliant, success in the medical imaging field, EMI's manufacturing activities were sold off to other companies, notably Thorn (see Thorn EMI). Subsequently development and manufacturing activities were sold off to other companies and work moved to other towns such as Crawley and Wells.
Emihus Electronics, based in Glenrothes, Scotland, was owned 51% by Hughes Aircraft, of California, U.S., and 49% by EMI. It manufactured integrated circuits and, for a short period in the mid-1970s, made hand-held calculators under the Gemini name.
Early in its life, the Gramophone Company established subsidiary operations in a number of other countries in the British Commonwealth, including India, Australia and New Zealand. Gramophone's (later EMI's) Australian and New Zealand subsidiaries dominated the popular music industries in those countries from the 1920s until the 1960s, when other locally owned labels (such as Festival Records) began to challenge EMI's market near monopoly. Over 150,000 78-rpm recordings from around the world are held in EMI's temperature-controlled archive in Hayes, some of which have been released on CD since 2008 by Honest Jon's Records.
In 1931, the year the company was formed, it opened the legendary recording studios at Abbey Road, London. During the 1930s and 1940s, its roster of artists included Arturo Toscanini, Sir Edward Elgar, and Otto Klemperer, among many others. During this time EMI appointed its first A&R managers. These included George Martin, who later brought the Beatles into the EMI fold.
When The Gramophone Company merged with the Columbia Graphophone Company (including Columbia's subsidiary label Parlophone) in 1931, the new Anglo-American group was incorporated as Electric & Music Industries Ltd. At this point RCA had a majority shareholding in the new company, giving RCA chair David Sarnoff a seat on the EMI board.
However, EMI was subsequently forced to sell Columbia USA due to anti-trust action taken by its American competitors. By this time the record industry had been hit hard by the Depression and in 1934 a much-diminished Columbia USA was purchased for just US$70,500 by ARC-BRC (American Record Corporation-Brunswick Record Company), which also acquired the OKeh label.
RCA sold its stake in EMI in 1935. RCA retained the Americas rights to the "Nipper" trademark (which was used by EMI's HMV label in other countries) because of its earlier takeover of the Victor label, which owned the US rights to the mark. In 1938 ARC-Brunswick was taken over by CBS, which then operated Columbia as its flagship label in the United States and Canada.
However EMI retained the rights to the Columbia name in most other territories including the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and it continued to operate the label until 1972, when it was retired and replaced by the EMI Records imprint. In 1990, following a series of major takeovers that saw CBS Records acquired by the Sony Corporation of Japan, EMI sold its remaining rights to the Columbia name to Sony and the label is now operated exclusively throughout the world by Sony Music Entertainment; except in Japan where the trade mark is owned by Columbia Music Entertainment,
EMI released its first LPs in 1952 and its first stereophonic recordings in 1955 (first on reel-to-reel tape and then LPs, beginning in 1958).
In 1957, to replace the loss of its long-established licensing arrangements with RCA Victor and Columbia Records (Columbia USA cut its ties with EMI in 1951), EMI entered the American market by acquiring 96% of the stock of Capitol Records. From 1960 to 1995 their headquarters, "EMI House," was at 20 Manchester Square. The stairwell is on the cover of the Beatles' Please Please Me album. An unused shot from the Please Please Me photo session was used for the cover of Beatles' double-album compilation 1962-1966 (aka "The Red Album"); a matching group photograph taken in 1969 by Angus McBean (originally intended for the Let It Be album) was used for the cover of the 1967-1970 double album (aka "The Blue Album").
Its classical artists were largely limited to the prestigious British orchestras, such as the Philharmonia Orchestra. During the LP era very few U.S. orchestras had EMI as their principal recording company; an exception was the Pittsburgh Symphony Band, particularly during the years of William Steinberg's leadership.
Under the management of Sir Joseph Lockwood from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, the company enjoyed huge success in the popular music field. The groups and solo artists signed to EMI and its subsidiary labels—including Parlophone, HMV, Columbia and Capitol Records -- made EMI the best-known and most successful recording company in the world at that time, with a roster that included scores of major pop/rock acts of the period including Frank Sinatra, Cliff Richard, The Shadows, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Hollies, Cilla Black and Pink Floyd.
In 1967 EMI converted HMV to an exclusively classical music label, shifting HMV's pop music roster to Columbia. In 1969, EMI established a new subsidiary label, Harvest Records, which signed groups in the emerging progressive rock genre, including Pink Floyd, who had debuted on Columbia.
Electric & Musical Industries changed its name to EMI Ltd in 1971 and the subsidiary The Gramophone Company became EMI Records Ltd in 1973. In 1972, EMI replaced the Columbia label with EMI Records. In February 1979, EMI Ltd acquired United Artists Records and with it Liberty Records and Imperial Records.
In 1989 Thorn-EMI bought a 50% interest in Chrysalis Records, buying the outstanding 50% in 1991. In one of its highest-profile and most expensive acquisitions, Thorn-EMI bought Richard Branson's Virgin Records in 1992.