Sanctuary Records Group Limited is a record label based in the United Kingdom and a subsidiary of BMG Rights Management. Until June 2007, it was the largest independent record label in the UK and the largest independent music management company in the world. It was also the world's largest independent owners of music intellectual property rights, with over 160,000 songs.
The company was formed in 1979 by Rod Smallwood and Andy Taylor, who had first met as undergraduates at Trinity College, Cambridge, and later organized dance events for students together. In 1979, they discovered (in a London pub) and then managed Iron Maiden. They consequently named the record company after the band's song "Sanctuary", a 1980 single later included on the reissued version of their 1980 eponymous debut album.
Sanctuary Records are noted for preferring to sign artists with long-term appeal, usually the artists are those considered heritage acts, being artists that have had a long career and steady fan base.
Between 1989 and 1991, Sanctuary was co-owned by the Zomba Group, whose music publishing arm still held the music of Iron Maiden in 2001.
In 1994, the company diversified. Amongst the new media interests included a joint venture with screenwriter and producer, Raymond Thompson, which evolved into the Cloud9 Screen Entertainment Group.
Iron Maiden's back catalog was re-issued by Sanctuary in conjunction with Columbia/SME Records in the US in 2002.
Kenny Rogers's 1980s back catalog (originally released on RCA Records) was re-issued by Sanctuary's Castle Music label in conjunction with Kenny Rogers' Dreamcatcher Records in the UK. The albums were only available as imports in the US. Rogers' 2003 release "Back To The Well" was released by Sanctuary in the UK.
Mayan Records was an imprint of Sanctuary Records, under which Lordi's UK album The Monster Show was released.
2006 saw Sanctuary's notable twentieth anniversary release of CD86: 48 Tracks from the Birth of Indie Pop, a reissue of the pivotal UK independent compilation C86.
After a £110m loss in 2005 pressure from the UK financial and business leaders led to Smallwood becoming merely a general manager of the company, Taylor becoming Chief Executive and former British Airways chief executive Bob Ayling being installed as the new Chairman. On 26 May 2006, Ayling dismissed Taylor from the company over severe problems and inaccuracies in previous years' accounting. Sanctuary Group PLC shares had already become drastically reduced in value after a restructuring designed to deal with the previous year's huge loss. In late 2006, Smallwood left the company, taking with him Iron Maiden's management interests.
In July 2006, it was reported that MAMA, the management group behind the Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand and headed by Mean Fiddler chief Dean James, had bid for the group. This proved unsuccessful. On 15 June 2007 Universal Music Group announced it had reached an agreement to buy Sanctuary Records for £44.5 million.
In April 2007 Billboard reported that Sanctuary Records would cease to exist as a new release label in the US that summer, though catalog, licensing, and new media operations would continue. On 22 October 2007, the record company was absorbed by Universal Music Group. By December 2007, it appeared that the Sanctuary name had begun to be airbrushed away, with both Morrissey and Robert Plant being transferred to the Universal-owned Decca Music Group for future releases.
On 21 September 2012, regulators approved Universal Music Group's planned acquisition of EMI from Citibank for £1.2 billion. However, due to conditions imposed by the European Commission, UMG was required to sell Sanctuary. BMG Rights Management acquired Sanctuary for over €46 million. The previous incarnation of BMG had previously distributed Sanctuary in the USA and Russia.
Mathew Knowles, father of Beyoncé Knowles and manager of Destiny's Child, joined the label as an executive in 2003, when Sanctuary purchased his urban music company in America. However, this move proved disastrous when records by such acts as Bizarre of D12, Ray J and De La Soul were delayed, and the main company headed towards collapse.
After restructuring the main company in 2006, it was decided no more records would be released by this American Urban division, while in July of that year Sanctuary came to the agreement that it would sell the MWE talent agency back to Mr. Knowles for £2.7m.