From journalist Peter Ames Carlin, Sonic Boom captures the rollicking story of the most successful record label in the history of popular music, Warner Bros. Records, and the remarkable secret to its meteoric rise.
The roster of Warner Brothers Records and its subsidiary labels reads like the roster of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Prince, Van Halen, Madonna, Tom Petty, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, and dozens of others. But the most compelling figures in the Warner Bros. story are the sagacious Mo Ostin and the unlikely crew of hippies, eccentrics, and enlightened execs. Ostin and his staff transformed an out-of-touch company, revolutionized the industry, and, within just a few years, created the most successful record label in the history of the American music industry.
How did they do it? One day in 1967, the newly tapped label president Mo Ostin called his team together to share his grand strategy: he told them to stop trying to make hit records/
"Let’s just make good records and turn those into hits.”
With that, Ostin ushered in a counterintuitive model that matched the counterculture. His offbeat crew recruited outsider artists and gave them free rein, while rejecting out-of-date methods of advertising, promotion, and distribution. And even as they set new standards for in-house weirdness, the upstarts’ experiments and innovations paid off, to the tune of hundreds of legendary hit albums.
Warner Bros Records conquered the music business by focusing on the music rather than the business. Their story is as raucous as it is inspiring—pure entertainment that also maps a route to that holy grail: love and money.
Includes black-and-white photographs
Music journalist Carlin (Bruce) relays in his characteristic colorful style how music mogul Mo Ostin built Warner Bros. Records into an industry leader. In 1960, Frank Sinatra formed Reprise Records, asking his friend Ostin who had earned Sinatra's respect at jazz outlet Verve Records to run the label, which Warner bought in 1963, becoming Warner/Reprise Records. Ostin succeeded at Warner, Carlin writes, because he focused on producing strong albums rather than "surefire" singles: "Something good was always going to happen because you'd just made a great record." Between 1967 and 1970, the label signed 90 new acts among them Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Fleetwood Mac, and Alice Cooper most of which eventually, through marketing and artist development, found commercial success. Through the '80s and early '90s, Ostin brought in an eclectic array of artists, including soul singer Chaka Khan and blues guitarist Bonnie Raitt and notably, Prince and Madonna. Those looking for a gossipy tell-all won't find one here; Ostin stuck with a formula, trusted and invested in his artists, took the music seriously, and honored the intelligence and taste of his customers. This brisk portrait of the man who made Warner Bros. into a powerhouse offers essential reading on the business and history of popular music.