Warner Acquires Musical Theater Label First Night Records

Courtesy of Warner Music Group
Kevin Gore

Warner Music Group’s Arts Music division -- which specializes in classical, musical theater, jazz, family entertainment and film scores -- continues to grow with the acquisition, announced today (July 15), of London-based First Night Records Ltd.

As part of the acquisition, First Night co-founder John Craig will join the major’s Arts Music team under a multi-year consulting agreement, tasked with identifying and recording musical theater productions in the U.K. Taking charge of First Night is Kevin Gore, NYC-based president of WMG’s Arts Music Division.

Founded in 1984 by Craig and Tony Edwards, First Night Records has grown to become of the U.K.’s leading labels specializing in West End and Broadway musical theater cast recordings and has recorded more than 150 productions, ranging from small shows to blockbuster musicals.

First Night’s biggest-selling album is 1985’s Original London Cast Recording of Les Misérables, which marked the label’s first collaboration with theater empresario Cameron Mackintosh. Since then, First Night has recorded every show that Mackintosh has produced in London, a list that includes Follies, Martin Guerre, Mary Poppins, Miss Saigon, My Fair Lady, Oliver and The Witches of Eastwick.

Financial terms were not disclosed for the Warner deal, although Billboard understands the major paid a multi-million dollar price for the label and its full catalog.

“I’ve known John Craig for more than two decades, and I’ve long admired him personally, the business he’s built and the fantastic reputation he’s developed over his 35 years running First Night Records,” said Gore in a statement. “I look forward to our continued partnership for years to come.”

“John Craig was the only record producer to see the potential of the Les Misérables score when it first opened at the Barbican Theatre in London 34 years ago,” added Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who said he was already working on three new projects with Warner and Craig. “It is great news for both our industry and me personally that he has now sold his company to Warner Music and will continue to contribute artistically to the running of that company alongside Kevin Gore.”

Warner’s Arts Music division was launched just over two years ago to capitalize on the large global fan bases that exist for non-pop genres that the record company believes are “largely underserved in the current marketplace." As older and mainstream audiences make the transition to streaming services, the hope among execs is that once-niche genres like musical theater, family entertainment and film scores will continue to grow in popularity.

In addition to First Night, labels that sit under the Arts Music banner include Warner Classics, the revived Erato label and the recently-relaunched Sesame Street Records. The portfolio also includes imprints with Cloudco Entertainment and Build-A-Bear Workshop, as well as a joint venture with Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records, the New York City-based label specializing in musical theater releases founded and run by Kurt Deutsch.

Commenting on the sale of First Night, Craig said he was pleased the business and its catalog was “going to WMG, who in the last few years have shown they want to be in the cast recording business.” He continued, “It will be nice to see some of our iconic recordings given a new lease of life through WMG’s aggressive marketing. Kevin Gore is a real record man, someone who has come up through the ranks and embraced the new media and all its benefits. I think it will be a wonderful partnership.”


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