10635 Santa Monica Boulevard
Rhino Entertainment is the music industry's pop culture archival company, predicting, nurturing, and creating musical trends. In addition to Rhino Records, Rhino Entertainment has home video, family (children's), mail order, film, and book divisions. Maintaining a privately owned company, Rhino's co-founders, Richard Foos and Harold Bronson, strive to implement pro-employee, pro-community, and pro-environmental practices. The company preserves and makes widely available original recordings of the best popular music in every genre: nostalgia, pop, rock 'n' roll, blues, jazz, R&B, disco, hip-hop, country, folk, Cajun, Latin, and more, as well as spoken word, comedy, and video.
Rhino Entertainment Company produces novelty records, archival reissues, definitive musical anthologies, and various artists series. The company also operates Rhino Home Video and Kid Rhino (a children's line of entertainment products). 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."
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. Then, Rhino Records was born in October 1973, when Richard Foos opened a store on Westwood Boulevard, a few blocks south of UCLA. Harold Bronson eventually was hired to work in the store.
The store, at that time, was filled with used tables and chairs and crazy ideas. The lack of customers in the early days gave Foos and Bronson extra 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 a local eccentric street singer named Wild Man Fischer--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, retaining the thrift shop furniture, 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. Foos was persuaded to purchase an old copy machine, but the homespun character of the offices continued to prevail. Employees have always been an integral part of Rhino's philosophy and operations, representing Rhino's unique "take" on popular culture and music to the customer. Foos and Bronson ensure that employees share their passion for popular culture, and meet with them every six months in order to run the company democratically. Employees are encouraged to develop product ideas based on their own musical tastes, and the Big Ideas program offers a bonus to employees who present innovative ideas. Over the years, employee-centered rituals such as Open Forum meetings would be instituted. A portion of all employees' salaries would be tied to company performance, and credits on Rhino products list employees who worked directly on that release. Thus, invested in a number of ways in the company's future, employees play a uniquely involved role in the success story of Rhino.
Another unique aspect of Rhino's corporate identity is its emphasis on social responsibility. Back covers of releases are often devoted to information on issues ranging from AIDS to homelessness to animal overpopulation. Further, Rhino's merchandising of reissues is 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 are 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 the first spoken-word/comedy CD in history: The Firesign Theatre's Three Faces of Al. The company also released The Turtles' Greatest Hits and Jerry Lee Lewis' Greatest Hits. 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 fall of 1985, Rhino was ready to end its independent distribution, signing with Capitol Records for distribution through CEMA.
In 1987, Rhino had its first #1 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 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, only stopping themselves after wasting significant earnings.
Reissues continued to serve Rhino's consumer market, and Rhino went back to focusing on what had made the company successful in the first place. In 1990, the company took advantage of--or perhaps fueled--the 1970s nostalgia 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 contain 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 entered with Atlantic Records (distributed by WEA) in 1992, entailing cooperative reissues of Atlantic's releases, especially from the 1950s through the 1970s. 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' 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 bestselling 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 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, featuring recordings from social issues lecturers such as Gloria Steinem and Jeremy Rifkin. With the clothing, craft, and accessories chain Putmayo, Rhino released a series of world music albums which were sold in Putmayo 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 megalicensing 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, present and future. 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 of the past and present 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 coproduction, received an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Adding to the 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 on late 1970s and early 1980s punk, powerpop, 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-resent). 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 slated project a box 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 subsequently videos of their TV series and specials were released, along with the movie Head, a new 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 1970s receded further into the distance, 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 on-line 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., releasing classic movie soundtrack albums from M-G-M films. 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 expected 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 already-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, releases 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 is 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 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. Ironically, Foos simultaneously sent a 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 are profitable, while 90 percent of Rhino's products earn profits. This track record has 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.