In a way, the writing was on the wall. As the music business continues to collectively downsize — the RIAA estimates the value of the industry as a whole has diminished by nearly 50% during the past decade, from $14.3 billion in 2000 to $7.7 billion in 2009 — Epic’s place in the label hierarchy has become increasingly marginalized. Founded in 1953 as a home for jazz and classical music, it expanded its scope during the 1960s and ’70s to include such influential rock acts as the Yardbirds, the Clash and Cheap Trick. By the mid-’80s, Epic was just hitting its stride, releasing massive worldwide successes like Michael Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller (28 million sold and counting) and George Michael’s Faith, which moved 7 million copies in 1987 alone — the same year Sony inherited the label when it bought CBS. But its best days were yet to come: the 1990s brought game-changing bands like Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine to the roster, and they, too, sold in the millions.
It didn’t last. In the post-Napster years, Epic’s market share dipped dramatically, from slightly more than 3% in 1998 to 1.58% a decade later. It was a fraction of Sony Music’s overall share of 28.3% (second only to Universal), and being an independent entity, Epic was doing little for Sony’s bottom line. Bold changes were made to the rap-rock-heavy roster, and it went decidedly pop under the watch of veteran Columbia promotions man Charlie Walk when he took over in 2005. In his three years on the job, he acquired radio-ready acts the Script, Sean Kingston and Sara Bareilles. By the time he left, some of the label’s functions, like promotion, had been integrated with its big brother, Columbia, signaling a possible future absorption. In fact, rumors of Epic folding had been swirling for about six years.