Elektra Records logo
|Parent company||Warner Music Group|
|Distributor(s)||Atlantic Records Group
(In the US)
(Outside the US)
Rhino Records (re-issues)
|Country of origin||United States|
Elektra Records (now Elektra Entertainment Group Inc.) is an American major record label owned by Warner Music Group (WMG). It was founded in 1950 by Jac Holzman, and played an important role in the development of contemporary folk music and rock music between the 1950s and 1970s. In 2004, it was consolidated into WMG's Atlantic Records Group. After five years of dormancy, the label was revived as an imprint of Atlantic in 2009, and is now run by Jeff Castelaz.
Elektra was formed in 1950 by Jac Holzman and Paul Rickolt in Holzman's St. John's College dorm room. Each invested $300. The usual spelling of the Greek mythological Pleiad Electra was changed. Holzman famously explained, “I gave her the ‘K’ that I lacked”. He found the 'C' in the original name "too soft" but liked the "solid bite" of the letter 'K', citing its use in the Kodak name.
The first Elektra LP, New Songs (EKLP 1 released March 1951), was a collection of Lieder and similar art songs, which sold few copies. During the Fifties and early Sixties, the label concentrated on folk music recordings, releasing a number of best-selling albums by Theodore Bikel, Ed McCurdy, Oscar Brand, Judy Collins, and protest singers such as Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton. Holzman also recorded Josh White, who was without a record deal as a result of McCarthyite blacklisting.
In 1964, Elektra launched Nonesuch Records. This classical budget label was the best-selling budget classical label of the era. Other labels followed suit by starting their own budget series, but Nonesuch remained the most popular and Jac Holzman states in his book that profits from the budget classical label made it possible for Elektra to experiment with their pop releases by the mid-sixties.
In 1965, Elektra began a short-lived joint venture with Survey Music called Bounty Records which was Elektra's first foray into pop music. The most notable signing for Bounty was the Paul Butterfield Band who was moved over to Elektra when Bounty folded.
Elektra's entrance into pop gained the label considerable prestige on the music scene by being one of the first labels to sign up leading acts from the new wave of American psychedelic rock of 1966–67. The label’s most important signings were the Chicago-based Paul Butterfield Blues Band (with Mike Bloomfield), the Los Angeles bands Love and The Doors, and the Detroit bands The Stooges and MC5. Included in Elektra's LA signings were Tim Buckley and Bread. In 1968, the label also signed pioneering rock guitar soloist Lonnie Mack to a three-album deal.
Also in 1967, Elektra launched its influential Nonesuch Explorer Series, one of the first collections of what is now referred to as world music. Excerpts from several Nonesuch Explorer recordings were later included on the two Voyager Golden Discs which were sent into deep space in 1977 aboard the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes.
The Asylum Records merger
Elektra, along with its Nonesuch Records subsidiary, was acquired by Kinney National Company in 1970. Soon afterwards Kinney consolidated their label holdings under the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic umbrella. Holzman remained in charge of Elektra until 1972, when it merged with Asylum Records to become Elektra/Asylum Records; Asylum's founder, David Geffen, would head the newly combined label. Holzman, in the meantime, was appointed senior vice president and chief technologist for Warner — ushering the company into home video and the first interactive cable system. Holzman also went on to acquire Discovery Records. In 1975, Geffen stepped down due to health problems. He would be replaced by Joe Smith, who later went on to become CEO of Capitol Records.
Joe Smith, whose leadership resulted in the biggest market share and gross revenues Elektra Asylum was to have, inherited the A&R services of Chuck Plotkin, famed later for producing many of Bruce Springsteen's greatest records, followed up by George Daly, who is credited as bringing in seminal new wave band The Cars, setting Elektra, again, on another artist direction.
Although the company was technically listed as “Elektra/Asylum Records” on the label credits, as the years went on the company began to unofficially call itself Elektra Records again (with Asylum operating as a subsidiary label). In 1982, Elektra launched a jazz subsidiary called Elektra/Musician. The following year, Bob Krasnow became president and CEO of Elektra; under his leadership, the label would reach its commercial peak throughout the rest of the 1980s and early to mid-1990s.
Elektra Entertainment Group
In 1989, the company officially changed its name to Elektra Entertainment. During this time, Elektra developed a relationship with the UK-based label 4AD, becoming the North American distributor for 4AD acts such as the Pixies, the Breeders, Frank Black and the Amps. This eventually led to Elektra's sister label Warner Bros. Records signing an exclusive American distribution deal for nearly all 4AD releases from 1992 to 1998.
Like its sister labels, Elektra's fortunes began to wane in the mid-1990s, in part because of a series of bitter corporate battles between senior Warner label executives which seriously damaged the collective reputation of the group. Unhappy with major structural changes enacted by then Warner Music Group chairman Robert Morgado, Bob Krasnow abruptly resigned in July 1994, and others soon followed—the highly respected Warner Bros CEO Mo Ostin decided not to renew his contract and left in December 1994, and Ostin's friend and protégé Lenny Waronker left early the next year. Krasnow was replaced by Sylvia Rhone and during the year the label was renamed Elektra Entertainment Group.
In September 1994 another damaging controversy erupted when top heavy metal band Metallica filed suit against Elektra to terminate their contract and gain ownership of their master recordings. The group based its claim on a section of the California Labor Code that allows employees to be released from a personal services contract after seven years. By this time Metallica had been with the label for more than a decade and had racked up sales of over 40 million records, but they were still operating under the terms of their original 1984 contract, which provided a relatively low 14% royalty rate. The group also claimed that they were taking the action because Robert Morgado had refused to honor a new deal they had worked out with Bob Krasnow shortly before he quit the label. Elektra responded by counter-suing the group, but in December New York magazine reported rumours that then Warner Music US chairman Doug Morris had offered the group a lucrative new deal in exchange for dropping the suit which was reported to be even more generous than the earlier Krasnow deal. In January the group and Elektra jointly announced that they had settled the suit, and although a non-disclosure agreement kept the terms secret, media sources claimed that "a significant increase in royalty payments to the band as well as a renegotiation of the group's recording contract were key factors in Metallica and Elektra coming to terms."
Despite having a large stable of noted acts, as the 1990s drew to a close, Elektra began to see a slump in revenue, while noticeably underperforming on the charts. It also developed a bit of a sullen reputation in the industry for not properly promoting many of its releases, thus earning the nickname "Neglektra" by many of its acts, and was easily lagging behind its sister labels Warner Bros. Records and Atlantic Records.
Looking for ways to save money, the new owners of WMG decided to merge Elektra and Atlantic Records. Because it was the lesser performing label of the two, 40% of Elektra's operations were put into the new venture, while a commanding 60% of Atlantic's went in. Subsequently, the new company was called "Atlantic Records Group" with Elektra breaking off into a subsidiary which became dormant until the label was revived in 2009 (though longtime time Elektra artists such as Tracy Chapman, Björk, and Yolanda Adams continued to have releases on the label while newer signees such as Jason Mraz and Jet were transferred to Atlantic).
Elektra's catalog continues to be released/reissued by Rhino Records, which released a 5-CD box set various-artists compilation titled Forever Changing: the Golden Age of Elektra Records 1963-1973 in November 2006.
Atlantic Records Group announced the revival of Elektra Records as an independent entity within Warner Music on June 1, 2009. The revived label is headed up by two new co-Presidents: Mike Caren, Exec. VP of A&R for Atlantic Records, and John Janick, founder and President of prominent indie label Fueled by Ramen. The revived label uses a modified version of the circa-1970s Elektra logo.
The first release of the new label was the original soundtrack of the HBO show True Blood, and the first album released was Charlotte Gainsbourg's IRM. The label is now home to artists such as Uffie, Little Boots, Justice, Bruno Mars and Cee-Lo Green.
Elektra Records artists
- "iTunes Store". Retrieved 9 March 2015.
- "Warner Music Struggles to Restore Its Luster". NPR.org. 11 October 2005. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
- Follow the Music p6
- Ηλέκτρα in the original Greek.
- Nielsen Business Media, Inc (1965-09-25). "Billboard".
- Nielsen Business Media, Inc (1965-06-26). "Billboard".
- "Chuck Plotkin". Retrieved 9 March 2015.
- "Heavy Metal Band Sues Record Label", New York Times, 28 September 1994
- Pat Wechsler & Roger D. Friedman, "Heavy Metal Gets the Heavy Bucks", Intelligencer section, New York magazine, 19–26 December 1994, p.26
- SFGAte.com, 6 January 1995
- "Elektra Flies Again". Atlantic Records Group news release. June 1, 2009. Retrieved June 3, 2009.
- Todd, Martens (October 4, 2009). "Dangerbird co-founder Jeff Castelaz to head Elektra Records". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 22, 2014.
- Jac Holzman and Gavan Daws. Follow the Music: The Life and High Times of Elektra Records in the Great Years of American Pop Culture. First Media Books (1998). ISBN 0-9661221-1-9.
- Mick Houghton. Becoming Elektra. Jawbone Press (2010). ISBN 978-1-906002-29-9.
- Official website
- The Elektra Story from BSN Pubs
- Elektra discography to 1973
- 60th Anniversary Web page