Rhino Entertainment Company History
Burbank, California 91505
Telephone: (818) 238-6200
Fax: (818) 562-9242
Sales: $80 million (1999)
NAIC: 334612 Prerecorded Compact Disc (Except Software), Tape, and Records; 512110 Motion Picture and Video Production; 512230 Music Publishers
At Rhino our mission is to put out great stuff, have some fun, make some money, learn from each other, and make a difference wherever we can.
- Richard Foos opens a Rhino Records store near the University of California, Los Angeles campus.
- A record label is formed.
- Rhino Home Video is formed.
- Rhino has its first gold single and album.
- Kid Rhino label is launched.
- Rhino wins a Grammy in the category of liner notes.
- Putumayo world music series is started.
- Warner Music Group acquires Rhino.
- Rhino becomes part of WMG's Warner Strategic Marketing division.
Rhino Entertainment Company produces novelty records, archival reissues, definitive musical anthologies, and various artists series. Rhino considers itself to be a pop culture archive company, proclaiming that "Rhino Records is the label that collects records so that you don't have to." Others have called Rhino the top catalog development company in the business. Rhino is known for its distinctive packaging, which has garnered a number of industry awards. The company's themed boxed sets have been known to include extensive liner notes, elaborate graphics, 3D elements, and novelties such as jigsaw puzzles and fuzzy dice. Rhino does design work on Warner projects as well as for third party record companies.
Record Store Origins
The story of Rhino Entertainment is largely the story of its president, Richard Foos, and managing director, Harold Bronson. Avid music listeners and collectors, Foos was a sociology student at the University of Southern California in the late 1960s, when Bronson worked at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as a student representative for Columbia Records. Attending a local swap meet, Foos was inspired when he met a dealer who had purchased hundreds of records at a used record store for $3. The vendor was selling each LP for a dollar, turning a healthy profit. Foos went to the same record store, Aaron's, and bought his own $3 pile of records. His entrepreneurial venture began out of the trunk of his car, driving to flea markets to try to sell the old jazz and blues recordings. Rhino Records was born in October 1973, when Richard Foos opened a store on Westwood Boulevard, a few blocks south of UCLA. Harold Bronson began working at the store as an employee.
A lack of traffic in the early days gave Foos and Bronson time to brainstorm about promotions. Bronson began to implement customer-attraction events exhibiting the slightly offbeat Rhino flair, such as Polka Day, Redneck Day, and Hassle the Salesman Day. Two years later, as a 1975 promotion, the first actual Rhino record--a vinyl 45 rpm release entitled "Go to Rhino Records" sung by the eccentric Wild Man Fischer, a street singer discovered by Frank Zappa some years earlier--was issued and given away for free in the store. When local radio stations began to play the record, Rhino earned an underground following, and business picked up.
By 1978, the Rhino label was officially launched by Fischer with a full-length album, Wildmania, recorded partially at Dodger Stadium and produced by Harold Bronson for $500. In November 1978, Rhino carved a niche for itself with its first reissue: a picture disc by the 1960s pop band The Turtles. This disc was the first step in plans to reissue the entire Turtles catalog. The philosophy behind re-releases of novelty tunes and past hits was to create records which did not yet exist that partners Foos and Bronson would want to buy. Reissues were to be a goldmine for Rhino, and the company was off to a good start. The label grossed nearly $60,000 in its first year. Although financial success was upon them, Foos and Bronson maintained a low-budget environment, taking small salaries, using the copy machine at a local stationery store rather than buying one, and even instituting an employee schedule for cleaning the bathrooms.
Growth continued, and in 1983 Rhino was a $2 million company. Employees have always been an integral part of Rhino's philosophy and operations, presenting Rhino's unique take on popular culture and music to the customer. Foos and Bronson were careful to hire people who shared their passion for popular culture and met with them every six months in order to run the company democratically. Employees were encouraged to develop product ideas based on their own musical tastes, and the Big Ideas program offered a bonus to employees who presented innovative ideas. Over the years, employee-centered rituals such as Open Forum meetings were instituted. A portion of every employee's salary was tied to company performance, and credits on Rhino products listed employees who worked directly on that release. Thus, invested in a number of ways in the company's future, employees played a uniquely involved role in the success story of Rhino.
Another unique aspect of Rhino's corporate identity was its emphasis on social responsibility. Back covers of releases were often devoted to information on issues ranging from AIDS to homelessness to animal overpopulation. Further, Rhino's merchandising of reissues was placed in the context of social consciousness, using commercial release of cultural icons as a tool for understanding the not-so-distant past. Proceeds from album sales were often donated to relevant charities, and Rhino has been involved over the years with national causes (such as the Rock the Vote campaign and the "ban the box" campaign for CDs) as well as the local community (specifically the Wooten Center, a Los Angeles inner-city recreation and education center).
Rhino stepped out on another limb in April 1984, releasing Three Faces of Al, a CD by the legendary comedy quartet the Firesign Theatre. The company also released greatest hits collections from The Turtles and Jerry Lee Lewis. The next year marked the debut of Rhino Home Video with the release of My Breakfast With Blassie, a satire of the Louis Malle film My Dinner with Andre, featuring comedian Andy Kaufman and wrestler Freddie Blassie. By the fall of 1985, Rhino was ready to end its independent distribution, signing with Capitol Records for distribution through CEMA.
A Golden "Moment" in 1987
In 1987, Rhino had its first number one hit when Billy Vera's pop-soul ballad "At This Moment" reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. By February, the song was Rhino's first RIAA (Record Industry Association of America) gold single, and by March the entire album (By Request: The Best of Billy Vera & The Beaters) became Rhino's first gold album. The company was selling 50,000 copies of the album each day, and its success almost became a recipe for disaster. Foos and Bronson spent a year trying to come up with another gold single, relenting only after they had wasted significant earnings.
Reissues continued to serve Rhino's consumer market, and the company went back to focusing on what had made it successful in the first place. In 1990, Rhino took advantage of, or perhaps fueled, the nostalgia trend for the 1970s that was sweeping the nation. Rhino released the first five volumes of a 1970s retrospective entitled Have a Nice Day: Super Hits of the '70s. This series was so popular that, by 1996, it would comprise 25 volumes. Another landmark issue that year looked further back in time to the Beat Generation. Launching Rhino Word Beat, a spoken-word label, The Jack Kerouac Collection was a three-volume box set which earned Rhino Grammy nominations for Best Historical Album and Best Liner Notes. Expanding to reach the country music audience, Rhino also released vintage material by country artists Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Buck Owens in 1990.
Children became a new market for Rhino in 1991. Aiming to please the children of America and their music-shopping parents, the Kid Rhino label was launched in February of that year, licensing classic songs from Hanna-Barbera.
A worldwide distribution agreement was forged with Atlantic Records (distributed by Warner/Elektra/Atlantic Corporation, or WEA) in 1992 that entailed cooperative reissues of Atlantic's releases, especially from the 1950s through the 1970s. This deal gave Atlantic a 50 percent interest in Rhino.
The "Atlantic Launch" was Rhino's biggest undertaking to date in terms of promotions and releases. The company also entered into an agreement to distribute Avenue Records, including seven albums by the 1960s group War that had been out of print for a decade. That year, the company earned its second RIAA gold album with The Righteous Brothers Anthology (1962-1974), a two-volume retrospective. Two Rhino releases earned places in the Library of Congress's American Folk Life list of recommended 1992 titles: Jubilation! Great Gospel Performances and Blues Masters: The Essential Blues Collection Vols. 1-5. Revenues were boosted in the fourth quarter by best-selling box sets including Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul: The Atlantic Recordings and Monterey International Pop Festival. The Aretha Franklin set earned the company its first Grammy, capturing the 1992 award for liner notes. The Monterey boxed set contained previously unpublished photos, interviews with festival participants, performance notes, and background on the festival. Net proceeds were donated to charitable organizations. Overall, 1992 was Rhino's most successful year to date, grossing over $55 million for the company.
One reason for Rhino's 1992 success may have been its unprecedented act of going on the road without its artists. Strictly as a name-recognition maneuver, Rhino took a 19-city tour of summer music festivals, investing somewhere from $60,000 to $100,000 to sell the idea of Rhino's institutional identity. Booths were set up at festivals in Austin, Texas; Telluride, Colorado; Boston; Philadelphia; Yosemite Park, California; and elsewhere, with each booth offering catalogs and promotional material and mailing list sign-up sheets. Rhino followed up the festival, sending prize packages of Rhino samplers, merchandise, and fliers to those on the new mailing list.
Several partnerships brought Rhino's product to larger audiences in 1993. The company took on a line of spoken-word tapes from apparel manufacturer Esprit that featured recordings from social issues lecturers such as Gloria Steinem and Jeremy Rifkin. With the clothing, craft, and accessories chain Putumayo, Rhino released a series of world music albums which were sold in Putumayo retail outlets. Kid Rhino and McDonald's embarked upon a new partnership in 1993, working together to create recordings starring McDonaldland characters such as Ronald McDonald. Ronald Makes It Magic, the first product of the partnership, was released the next year. A mega-licensing deal was made with Warner Bros. Animation, securing the rights for Kid Rhino to release audio titles using voices of the classic Looney Tunes characters as well as three new kids on the block (Yakko, Wakko, and Dot). This deal resulted in a highly successful first album which included wacky songs from Steven Spielberg's Animaniacs (a Fox Children's Network TV Show).
Reviving the folk festival tradition, Rhino joined Ben & Jerry's and Concert Associates to present a two-day "Troubadours of Folk Festival" at UCLA in the summer of 1993, inspired by Rhino's anthology of the same name and featuring performances by over 30 folk artists of the past and present. The festival later became a PBS special and was released by Rhino Home Video in 1994 and 1995. Marking the first folk festival of its magnitude in the Los Angeles area in 25 years, the event featured folk artists along with a crafts festival and 200 vendors.
The company was lauded as a serious film producer in 1993 when The Panama Deception, a Rhino Home Video co-production, received an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Adding to the company's laurels, Rhino International received its first gold record, the French release of Aretha Franklin's 20 Greatest Hits. Other new steps were the FORWARD label, which focused on new music by established contemporary artists such as BeauSoleil, Todd Rundgren, Richie Havens, and NRBQ, and the restoration of the Atlantic Records jazz catalog. The company also released the first major retrospective of late 1970s and early 1980s punk, power pop, and new wave music, a nine-volume set called DIY (Do It Yourself). This set was targeted at both older fans who remembered the songs and younger consumers aged 16 to 30 who were part of the punk revival that spawned the Seattle "grunge" sound, with groups like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.
Rhino turned Sweet 16 in 1994, and the company threw a birthday party in the form of a national identity-promoting tour. Accolades for Rhino releases were plentiful in 1994. A third RIAA gold album was certified: Billboard's Greatest Christmas Hits (1955-Present). Two Grammy nominations were received that year: BeauSoleil's La Danse de la Vie was nominated for the Best Contemporary Folk Grammy and the Monterey International Pop Festival box set earned a nomination for Best Historical Album. Finally, The Best of War ... And More received RIAA gold certification.
In the spring of 1994, Rhino and the Library of Congress signed a deal enabling Rhino to compile and release anthologies of historic recordings from the national archive, with the first project slated as a box set of presidential speeches. This agreement was the first large-scale licensing and production deal between a label and the Library of Congress. Rhino also acquired the rights to the Monkees catalog, and videos of the group's TV series and specials were subsequently released, along with the movie Head, a Monkees feature film, and reissues of all nine original Monkees albums with previously unreleased bonus tracks and new liner notes. Two new divisions were established--Rhino Films and Rhino Books. As the 1980s receded further into the past, Rhino unveiled the first five volumes of Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the '80s. Looking to the future as well as the past, Rhino went online in October of 1994 on CompuServe. Sales for the year were record-breaking, surpassing $65 million.
New ventures continued in 1995, when Rhino launched its partnership with Turner Entertainment Co., issuing classic movie soundtrack albums from films released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Rhino Movie Music would release soundtracks in conjunction with the Turner Classic Movies cable television network, including Doctor Zhivago, Show Boat, Meet Me In St. Louis, Easter Parade, North By Northwest, That's Entertainment! The Ultimate Anthology of M-G-M Musicals, and Lullaby of Broadway: The Best of Busby Berkeley at Warner Bros. Turner/Rhino's The Wizard of Oz soundtrack collection was a big seller for the company, and the box set release of John Coltrane recordings in The Heavyweight Champion: The Complete Atlantic Recordings was a highly acclaimed jazz event. A new catalog arrangement with Elektra Entertainment resulted in the release of Love Story, 1966-1972, a double-CD anthology of the 1960s psychedelic band Love. Making its debut in the movies, Rhino Films was preparing to complete shooting of its first original production, Plump Fiction, featuring Julie Brown, Sandra Bernhard, Tommy Davidson, Paul Dinello, Dan Castellaneta, Paul Provenza, and Colleen Camp.
Having achieved a high level of success with its longstanding pop culture audience, Rhino began to tap other markets for its existing releases in 1995. The company directed attention to developing its market in the black community, launching the "Deep in the Groove" campaign to emphasize existing releases and new various-artists series such as Phat Trax and Smooth Grooves. The latter, a four-volume classic romantic rhythm-and-blues series, reached gold status by Rhino standards through the sale of over 500,000 units in 1995. The company also debuted an urban marketing campaign, dubbed "Rhino, Baby! You Didn't Know? Now You Know!," to familiarize young urban music fans with Rhino's existing catalog of R&B, soul, funk, and early hip-hop.
Rhino Home Video had a landmark year in 1995 with its first gold certification, earned for the classic Jimi Hendrix film Rainbow Bridge. The company also earned its fifth RIAA gold album certification for Billboard's Greatest Christmas Hits (1935-1954). Overwhelming advance orders for Rhino Home Video's The Monkees Deluxe Limited-Edition Box Set caused the item to sell out before the end of the year. The Word Beat label, Rhino's Library of Congress partnership, released its first box set, The Library of Congress Presents: Historic Presidential Speeches (1908-1993). Revenues surged again, with more than $70 million in 1995 sales, and the company still had no major debt. The company played an active role in royalty reforms, joining Sony, Atlantic, MCA, EWMI, and Denon to urge a fair share for older artists whose catalog material was reissued.
In 1996, Rhino Home Video began to be distributed by WEA. The company continued to explore new technology, placing a Rocky Rhino site on the World Wide Web. New releases of a Curtis Mayfield retrospective, a National Lampoon Radio Hour box set, Youth Gone Wild: Heavy Metal Hits of the '80s, and John Wesley Harding's New Deal were accompanied by the 23rd through 25th volumes of the Have a Nice Day: Super Hits of the '70s series. Partnership with the Starbucks coffee chain resulted in the production of two special CDs for its caffeinated customers.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich visited Rhino's Los Angeles headquarters in 1996 and praised its continuing democratic attitude toward employee involvement, bestowing Rhino with a corporate citizenship award. (Rhino then had about 140 employees.) Foos simultaneously sent an ironic letter to Bob Dole, who had recently criticized rap music, offering him a copy of Rhino's White Men Can't Wrap, a compilation of pop hits spoken by actors of the 1950s and 1960s.
The name "Rhino" was selected by Richard Foos when he opened that original record store on Westwood Boulevard in Los Angeles to signify the way in which he opened the doors and blindly charged ahead. In 1996, according to Success, only 10 percent of the records produced in the United States were profitable, while 90 percent of Rhino's products earned profits. This track record placed Rhino in the rare position of having no debt and no history of significant earnings loss over the years. With spirit, daring, and unique flair, Rhino has continued to charge ahead with a finely focused vision of how to succeed in the entertainment industry.
The Rhino Musical Aptitude Test (RMAT), a trivia quiz modeled after college entrance exams, was launched in 1997. The RMAT turned into a yearly event taken by thousands of participants. In August 1999, Rhino put on its first RetroFest, a three-day retro concert and memorabilia festival.
Warner Buys Rhino in 1998
Warner Music Group (WMG) acquired the remaining shares of Rhino Entertainment Company from Rhino Records Inc. in May 1998. The deal did not include Rhino's film or book operations or retail stores. Rhino Home Video, which then had a staff of just five people, was included. WMG had previously owned 50 percent of Rhino Entertainment through Atlantic Records. Rhino co-founders Richard Foos and Harold Bronson remained with the company as president and managing director, respectively. The deal brought responsibility for most of the back catalog of WMG's many record labels, including Warner Bros., Elektra, Atlantic, and their imprints and subsidiaries.
Rhino continued to reign as the king of kitsch. '70s Party Killers featured such cringe-worthy hits as "Afternoon Delight," "Feelings," and Sammy Davis, Jr.'s "Candy Man." One popular series of "lounge music" recalled 1960s cocktail parties. Other genres were chronicled, including "power pop." More serious fare was offered in collections relating to Shakespeare and gospel music. Rhino expanded to comedy albums in the late 1990s, releasing career-long retrospectives of comics such as Stan Freberg.
Rhino was also helping put together futuristic music compilations for Wired magazine. Other music and video co-branding partners included the Hard Rock Café, Comedy Central, Discovery Communications, Nickelodeon, Playboy Enterprises, and VH1. These deals aimed to extend Rhino beyond its typical young music enthusiast customer. Rhino Entertainment Ventures was formed in late 1997 to develop joint projects.
Brandweek remarked that the label had the strongest brand identity since Motown. Sales were more than $80 million in 1999, when the company had 160 employees. Its catalog was exceeding 2,500 titles in print. The most elaborate collections, such as the aptly-named Brain in a Box sci-fi music retrospective, retailed for about $100 thanks to its elaborate packaging. The Rhino Handmade imprint was launched in 1999 to provide limited edition titles to collectors.
Rhino Entertainment became a part of WMG's new Warner Strategic Marketing division in September 2001. Warner Strategic Marketing also included Warner Special Products and a commercial marketing unit and was headed by Sony Music veteran Scott Pascucci. Pascucci told the Los Angeles Business Journal it was getting harder to license songs from other labels, leading Rhino to focus on Warner's catalog.
Rhino's distinctive packaging continued to win industry recognition. (Some of its retrospective collections were released under the original recording labels.) According to Medialine, its designers were also tapped for other Warner Music Group projects, such as music DVDs.
Rhino co-founder Harold Bronson left the company in October 2001. CEO and fellow founder Richard Foos followed five months later. Foos soon formed a competing label, Shout! Factory (Retropolis, LLC). Rhino's offices moved to Burbank, California, in December 2002 to share a roof with other Warner marketing operations. An executive told Billboard Rhino was working on 250 titles that year, fifty more than in 2001.
Rhino Vinyl, an imprint dedicated to that most retro of formats, was launched in April 2003. A trio of Grateful Dead LPs were first to be released, followed by other classic rock albums of the early 1970s such as The Yes Album and T. Rex's Electric Warrior.
Rhino had been working with Turner Classic Movies for ten years to produce soundtrack compilations for old films. In the fall of 2004, the partnership began offering dozens of these online through the iTunes Music Store.
Rhino Home Video was also busy, releasing DVDs of the 1971 "Soul to Soul" concert in Ghana and the 70th anniversary celebration at Harlem's history Apollo Theater recorded in 2004. The complete first season of 1980's sitcom Too Close for Comfort was another offering.
Technology provided more new outlets. In June 2004, Rhino Records inked a deal to supply Electronic Arts with music for its EA SPORTS video games. At the same time, Rhino and Verizon Wireless announced the Rhino Retro Club service for downloading ringtones and wallpapers to mobile phones.
Principal Competitors: BMG Strategic Marketing; Retropolis, LLC; Sony Music Entertainment Inc.
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- "Boxed CD Sets Paint True-to-Life Portraits," Packaging Digest, May 2000, p. 64.
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- ------, "Warner Focuses Catalog Strategy," Billboard, March 30, 2002, p. 8.
- Nathan, David, "Rhino Looks to Bring Home Higher Visibility to R&B Releases," Billboard, December 17, 1994, pp. 14-15.
- Nelson, Chris, "A Label Works Unlikely Territory, Searching for Gold," New York Times, October 20, 2003, p. C8.
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- Skierka, Tom, "Laughs Start Here; Rhino Shows It's Not About to Pronounce Comedy Albums Dead Yet," Spokesman Review (Spokane, Washington), December 23, 1999, p. D3.
- Waddell, Ray, "Rhino Records Planning to Take Old Show on Road," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 20, 2000, p. 3E.
- Warshaw, Michael, "How the Rhino Brothers Trained Their Instincts and Turned $3 into $70 Million," Success, October 1996, pp. 28-30.
- Wener, Ben, "The Brains Behind the Box; Ever Wonder How Rhino Records' Collections Come to Be--And Manage to Sell? So Did We," Orange County Register, November 24, 2000, p. 1.
- Whipp, Glenn, "Leader of the Packs: Box-Set Innovator Rhino Records Is About to Release Its Most Ambitious Project Yet," Orange County Register, August 29, 2000, p. F4.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 70. St. James Press, 2005.