Universal Music Acquires Iconic British Labels Stiff Records and ZTT

Trevor Horn
Courtesy of Universal Music

Trevor Horn

Two of the most influential British record labels of the 1970s and 1980s, responsible for hits by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Kirsty MacColl and Elvis Costello, among many others, are now under the ownership of Universal Music.

The acquisition of Stiff Records and ZTT from Trevor Horn’s SPZ Group was announced this morning (Dec. 19) with Universal Chairman and CEO Sir Lucian Grainge hailing the imprints as "truly unique and iconic labels that captured the zeitgeist of their generation" and influenced "contemporary music entirely on their own terms."

The deal with SPZ Group, founded by Jill Sinclair and record producer Trevor Horn, covers master rights to the entire ZTT catalogue, including records by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Wreckless Eric, Art of Noise, Propaganda, 808 State, Kirsty MacColl, Shane MacGowan and Lisa Stansfield, as well as select titles from the Stiff catalog -- although notably not any titles by Stiff’s most famous signing, Elvis Costello.

Also included in the terms of the deal is Perfect Songs Publishing, which includes songs by Seal, De La Soul, Eminem, Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Lisa Stansfield and Art of Noise (sampled by everyone from Charlie XCX to Lil Wayne to The Prodigy) among its catalog.

"With Perfect Songs, we are adding an award-winning publishing catalog, rich with hits, acclaim and global success," said Grainge in a statement. He went on to say that Universal is "committed to building upon the legacy of these revolutionary labels, in keeping with the spirit of their founders."

Started in 1976 by Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson, Stiff Records was at the forefront of the British punk and new wave movements, with Elvis Costello, Kirsty MacColl, Madness and Ian Dury among its early discoveries. The London-based label also released what is widely recognized as the first ever punk rock single, "New Rose" by The Damned and later landed one of the biggest Christmas hits of the 1980s with "Stop The Cavalry" by Jona Lewie.

ZTT was born out of the same independent singular vision as Stiff Records and was founded in 1983 by producer Trevor Horn, Jill Sinclair and music journalist Paul Morley. Within a year of its emergence, ZTT was dominating the British charts thanks to a string of hit singles from Frankie Goes to Hollywood, including "Relax" and "Two Tribes," and its all-conquering debut album Welcome To The Pleasuredome

In a statement announcing the label’s acquisition by Universal, Horn paid tribute to his late wife, Jill Sinclair, who died in 2014, eight years after suffering brain damage in a shooting accident.

"Jill started Perfect Songs and ZTT in the 80’s and I’m extremely proud of what she achieved," said Horn. "Lucian Grainge and Jill were really good friends so I’m pleased that these catalogs are going to Universal."

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.