Warner Records Rebranding Elicits Visceral Reaction Among Music Biz Insiders

If there’s one thing the music industry takes very seriously, it’s an iconic logo. So when Warner Bros. Records announced a major rebranding earlier today — complete with a new name, Warner Records —  the biz responded swiftly and viscerally on social media.

The new black and white logo replaced the WBR shield, which has defined the look of the 61-year-old label for decades. The company described its design as “artful simplicity and impactful typography that are ideally suited to the digital world,” while the circle “suggesting a record, a sun, and a globe, is a nod to the label’s past, present, and future.” To drive the point home, the label posted the logo on Instagram, writing “WeareWarnerRecords: Born in the California sun, at home everywhere on Earth.”

Warner, as the label is known colloquially, enlisted design studio Pentagram for the rebrand. The company also moved into new offices in March — after 44 years in Burbank where the label occupied its famed “ski lodge” building — meticulously rehabbing a century-old former Ford Model-T factory in downtown Los Angeles. The 240,000 square-foot ultra-modern space houses nearly all of Warner Music Group’s west coast operations including publishing arm Warner Chappell, which itself underwent a logo and name change this month.

So what’s the reaction been? Mixed, with some scoffing at the break from tradition. “Warner (Brothers) Records really HAS left Burbank,” wrote Cary Baker, founder of public relations firm Conqueroo in a Facebook post that has elicited more than 60 comments. Julie Gordon, the former moderator of music industry bulletin board the Velvet Rope, was also not impressed with the new design. “Sorry, I think this logo is utterly dull and uninspired,” she wrote. Elsewhere on Facebook, WBR alum Bucks Burnett offered: “As an artist, and a former Warner Bros Records employee, I will say that this new logo simply blows chunks. They’ve traded in the timeless iconic WB logo for something that is generic at best.”

Others took the opportunity to poke fun, with one observer suggesting that “the sun is setting on the record industry,” and another joking on Twitter that the logo was an intern’s creation.

While it’s not uncommon for a label to change its brand identity when a new executive team comes in — the past decade has seen such iconic companies as Capitol and Epic Records phase out 90s-era logos in favor of the more vintage vibe of its older designs, and more recently, Arista Records relaunched with a slick new look — Warner’s imaging move was, in a way, pre-destined.

According to today’s announcement, when Warner Music Group was sold by Time Warner in 2004 to a group of investors led by Edgar Bronfman Jr., it was agreed that Warner Bros. Records, which was founded in 1958 as a division of Warner Bros. Pictures, would continue to use the Warner Bros. name and logo for 15 years. The expiration date fell on 2019, which is fortuitous given that the Warner label has undergone dramatic changes in leadership and artist roster over the past couple of years (Aaron Bay-Schuck joined as U.S. Co-Chairman and CEO in October 2018, following Tom Corson’s appointment as U.S. Co-Chairman and COO in January 2018). In preparation for the new look, artist managers and label stakeholders past and present were notified and/or consulted with, according to a source.

Indeed, those supporting the label’s fresh start note the boldness of the stark black and white design. “It’s a very graphically strong logo,” wrote photographer Beth Herzhaft. Former Warner staffer David Gorman also declares to “dig” the look, as does Concord Music’s Joel Amsterdam. But perhaps best stated is a comment left by Greg Lee, a former Warner promotions executive, who offers: “At the end of the day, a new building and logo are nice, but it’s the music that matters most. … and what will define them as a brand and label.”

Warner Records is still transitioning its email addresses and other offices will follow suit in the coming weeks.

Artists signed to Warner Records include Neil Young, Green Day, Dua Lipa, Gary Clark Jr. and Bebe Rexha, among many others.

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