Record company executive, songwriter, and producer
Addresses: Office—Universal Music Group, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404; 1755 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Staff songwriter, Robert Mellin, Inc.; songwriter and producer, Laurie Records, 1965, then vice president and general manager; founder and owner, Big Tree Records, 1970-78; president, ATCO Records, 1978-81; president, Atlantic Records, 1981-90, chief operating officer, 1989-90, named co-chairman and co-chief executive officer, 1990; chairman, Atlantic Group, c. 1991; president and chief operating officer, Warner Music Group, 1994, chairman and chief executive officer U.S. division, c. 1994-95; chairman and chief executive officer, Rising Tide Entertainment (later known as Universal), 1995; chairman and chief executive officer, MCA Entertainment Group's music division (known as Universal Music Group after 1996), 1995—.
Awards: Record Company Executive of the year, The Gavin Report, 1991.
After beginning his career as a somewhat successful songwriter and producer, Doug Morris moved into the business end of the music industry. Morris served as an executive for Atlantic Records, and later, the Warner Music Group after the companies merged. When he was fired from his leading post with the company, he went to MCA/Universal (later known as the Universal Music Group) and helped rebuild the floundering record company into a international power that beat his former employer in world-wide market share. Many believed that some of Morris' success could be attributed to his credibility with musicians and ability to relate to them because of his own beginnings in the business.
Morris was born on November 23, 1938, in New York, the son of an attorney father and ballet instructor mother. He grew up on Long Island, New York. For college, Morris won a scholarship to attend Columbia University. He was already working as a songwriter while studying at the university. After he graduated, he served in the U.S. Army for a time and was stationed in France.
When Morris was discharged from the Army, he went to New York City and found a job as a staff songwriter for Robert Mellin, Inc., a music publisher. In 1965, Morris joined Laurie Records, working as both a songwriter and producer. Within a short amount of time, he was named vice president and general manager of the label. He wrote the biggest hit of his career in 1966, the Chiffons' song "Sweet Talkin' Guy." Morris also produced the 1970 hit single, "Smokin' in the Boys' Room," which was written by Cub Koda of the band Brownsville Station.
In 1970, Morris ventured out on his own in the music business. He founded his own label, Big Tree Records. The small label soon had a distribution deal with Atlantic Records. In 1978, Morris sold the label to Atlantic (some sources say Warner Music, Atlantic's parent company).
After the sale of Big Tree Records, Morris joined Atlantic Records as the president of their ATCO Records subsidiary. Three years later, he was promoted to president of Atlantic Records. At the time, the label did not do well creatively or economically. Yet Morris was able to sign good acts to the label including Pete Townsend and Stevie Nicks. Because of his success, in 1989, he was given additional duties, serving as chief operating officer in addition to president.
In 1990, Morris was named co-chairman and co-chief executive officer of Atlantic Records. He was hand-picked by the head of the Warner Music Group, Robert J. Morgado. Atlantic was doing well, with a solid market in rock, R&B, dance, and other genres. The label had rebounded from the problems it had in the 1980s. A rival record executive, David Geffen, told Ron Stodghill II of BusinessWeek, "Until recently, this was a company that was doing very badly and it was doing badly because it wasn't doing all the things that Doug is doing: signing labels, taking risks."
Morris was able to expand Atlantic by taking such chances. He helped create and/or buy smaller labels to give Atlantic a hipper edge. EastWest Records was one such label that proved valuable, as was Atlantic Nashville, which was created to exploit the growing lucrative country music market. Though Atlantic lost money in 1992, it soon proved profitable. In 1993, Atlantic scored a big coup when it acquired Rhino Records, a label which repackaged older hits into new sets for release. Such releases were very profitable since they consisted of a known quantity that was already produced and popular.
By 1994, Morris was serving as the chairman of the Atlantic Group, an overseeing company of Atlantic Records. The company also produced fitness videos and other products. He took over from Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records. When Morris was in charge, the company remained successful. Atlantic had a number of hits on the charts and saw a vast increase in revenues. In 1990, revenues were $400 million, and by 1994, they had reached $900 million. Atlantic also had the largest market share of all the labels in the United States with 9.4 percent.
In July of 1994, Morris was again promoted to the head of the Warner Music Group, serving as president and chief operating officer. The Warner Music Group owned Atlantic as well as the Elektra and Warner Bros. labels. Morris oversaw all three labels and directed the shuffling and mergers of other imprints. Morris had to work with Morgado, who was the chairman and chief executive officer of Warner Music Group. Morris was given the position because the company as a whole did not do well financially in 1993. He was expected to do for Warner Music Group what he had done for Atlantic.
Morris's promotion led to the resignation of the other executives. He feuded with Morgado, but won out when he was named the chairman and chief executive officer of the U.S. division of the Warner Group. Morgado was later fired as chairman of the Warner Group. In Morgado's place, Michael J. Fuchs was hired in 1995, though Fuchs had no experience in the music business. Initially, Morris was to handle day-to-day operations while Fuchs focused on the big picture. However, Fuchs believed that Morris and his minions were trying to destabilize the company so that Morris could be named chief executive officer of Warner Music. Morris had also wanted the international division and music publishing arm of Warner Music to report to him.
Morris was also controversial at Warner because he wanted to buy an equity stake in Priority, a gangsta rap label. By this time, gangsta rap was a controversial music form because of its harsh, sometimes offensive lyrics. Morris had already convinced Warner Music to buy a 50 percent stake in Interscope, a label which featured many rappers. Warner was taking a beating in the public eye because of its support and profiting from gangsta rap, though Morris was unwavering in his support of it. Because of such problems, Morris was ousted by Fuchs on June 21, 1995. Some observers believed that Warner erred in getting rid of Morris, who was popular among artists and their managers.
After his firing, Morris sued Warner Music Group for breach of contract and asked for $50 million in damages and compensation. Though it was not initially a reason for his dismissal, he was countersued for $10 million by his former employers for improper sales practices. This was related to a scandal in which there were allegations of newly pressed discs being stolen and sold to wholesalers and retailers. The suit claimed Morris was fired because he did not let his superiors know about the scheme, which involved Atlantic employees.
Within weeks of his firing, Morris went into business with one of Warner's main rivals, MCA, Inc., which owned MCA Records and Geffen Records, as well as distributing DreamWorks SKG. Morris was given a multi-year contract to form a joint company with MCA called Rising Tide Entertainment. Morris and MCA each owned 50 percent of the company. Morris served as chairman and chief executive officer of the new company.
While Morris continued to work with Rising Tide, he was named chairman and chief executive officer of the MCA Entertainment Group's music division in November of 1995. Its former head, Al Teller, quit because of differences with management. Morris's label was renamed Universal, and Morris hoped to make MCA into a success like Atlantic. Among Morris's first moves was remaking the A&R (Artists and Repertoire) department, and putting a Rising Tide imprint in Nashville. MCA's strength was in country music at the time.
Under Morris's leadership, MCA and Morris's Universal label were doing well in the 1990s. In 1996, MCA changed its name to the Universal Music Group, and Morris continued to serve as chairman and chief executive officer. That December, Morris's company had artists at the top three slots of the Billboard charts. Soon after, when Warner ended its deal with Interscope, Morris bought a 50 percent stake in the company for Universal. This brought many artists in whom Morris believed into the Universal fold. While he still personally struggled with the tone and tenor of gangsta rap, he believed in marketing and profiting from cutting-edge music.
As Morris had done with Atlantic, he conducted phone surveys of radio stations and retailers to discover new talent. This lead to the successful launch of signer Erykah Badu. Despite Morris's hands-on touch, Universal Music Group faced monetary loses the first few years he ran it, primarily because of the cost of investments. However, sales continued to increase, and in 1996 and 1997, market share did as well. Universal was on its way to becoming an important player in the American music scene.
In 1998, Universal Music Group got even bigger when it acquired PolyGram, a large global music company. Though the acquisition cost $10.6 billion, after the merger, Morris's company sold about a quarter of all music in the United States. Although up to this point in his career Morris had focused on the American scene and hiring others to handle the international market, he took charge of the whole company, including overseeing international markets, as the merger was being completed. The merger took some time as the companies consolidated their distribution and labels. The merger also negatively affected Universal's ability to sign artists who were uncertain about the attention they would receive during the consolidation process.
Morris remained chairman and chief executive officer of the merged company, which retained the name Universal Music Group. In 2000, because of his success, he was given a new five-year deal. Universal's parent company, Seagram, was still expanding. It soon merged with Vivendi SA and Canal Plus which were large, European-based operations. After the merger, the Universal Music Group was a division of Vivendi Universal as the parent company was now known. By 2003, the Universal Music Group was the largest record company in the world, selling 25 to 30 percent of the records sold around the globe. Morris remained respected by artists, and was known for his ear for talent.
Morris still faced many challenges. Online music piracy cut into the company's profits, and the number of employees and acts signed to Universal Music Group's labels decreased. But Morris moved the company into new areas, such as concert tours, career management, and merchandising, to increase profits. In 2003, he signed Tommy Mottola, who had been the head of Sony, to a joint venture. Universal hoped to survive the slump in the music industry by adding executives like Mottola who had ties to talent. Despite such hires, Morris had to cut jobs in the company because of internet pirates. While the company saved money by restructuring and still controlled a huge part of the United States market, Universal Music Group had operating losses in 2003. Morris tried to adapt to doing business in this tense environment by reducing prices of some compact discs and making inexpensive downloads available.
Despite such problems, Morris remained upbeat about the music industry. In 2003, he told Sathnam Sanghera of the Financial Times, "This is an incredible industry. It's never been as good . I think about the challenges that the industry faces in relation to digital delivery, and I get really excited. I still get a real kick out of running this group—and I'll be around for a while."
Associated Press, July 10, 1995; November 16, 1995.
Associated Press State & Local Wire, January 17, 2003.
Billboard, July 23, 1994, p. 1; July 1, 1995, p. 1; July 15, 1995, p. 3; December 9, 1995, p. 6; June 20, 1998, p. 1; July 4, 1998, p. 1; December 23, 2000, p. 1; July 19, 2003, p. 1; October 25, 2003, p. 7.
BusinessWeek, June 20, 1994, p. 176.
Business Wire, February 21, 1991; July 11, 1994; June 23, 1998.
Daily News (New York), June 1, 1998, p. 30.
Financial Times (London, England), June 11, 1998, p. 35; January 7, 2003, p. 8; January 7, 2003, p. 10.
Music Business International, February 1997, p. 17.
Music Week, October 25, 2003, p. 4.
New York Times, June 22, 1995, p. D1; June 24, 1998, p. D8.
Variety, June 22, 1998, p. 7.