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Sony Music Chairman Doug Morris Secures Funding to Launch New Label, 12 Tone: Exclusive

Sony Music Entertainment's non-executive chairman Doug Morris has been in talks with Apple executives about launching a new record label, sources tell Billboard.

Sony Music Entertainment’s non-executive chairman Doug Morris has secured funding to launch a new record label called 12 Tone Music, sources tell Billboard.

Morris, 79, ceded his post as Sony Music’s CEO to Rob Stringer last April, but he isn’t ready to retire from the music business when he leaves his chairman role at the end of March, sources say.

Morris has discussed his plan with Apple Music executives recently, though Apple — which makes marketing deals with labels and artists — would not own a stake in the label, sources tell Billboard. Reps for Morris and Apple declined to comment.


Steve Bartels, who was replaced as the head of Def Jam by Eminem’s longtime manager Paul Rosenberg this year, has also been involved in the label discussions, sources tell Billboard. Bartels did not respond to requests for comment.

Morris’s connection to Apple dates back years and he is close friends with Apple Music executive Jimmy Iovine. When Morris was running Universal Music Group from 1995 to 2011, Morris sent Iovine — co-founder and then-leader of Interscope — to meet with the late Apple chief Steve Jobs in 2003, before Apple started selling 99-cent singles from its iTunes Store. In 2006, Morris gave Iovine the green light to develop electronics company Beats with Dr. Dre while Iovine was running Interscope, securing a stake of Beats for UMG in exchange. That stake netted UMG’s parent Vivendi $400 million when Apple bought Beats Electronics and the Beats Music streaming service for $3.2 billion in 2014.

Apple Music, which debuted in 2015, now counts 36 million paid subscribers and could approach Spotify’s paid subscriber count by summer, if the two services continue growing at their current rates. Spotify had 70 million paying subscribers as of January.

Morris’s venture would be one of several emerging music firms with major-label veterans at their helms that could compete with the three big record companies. Former Epic chairman/CEO L.A. Reid is readying to launch his entertainment company Hitco; former Interscope president Steve Stoute raised $70 million for his startup United Masters, which will distribute and promote music for independent acts and help them market to their biggest fans.