Mo Ostin is known as an artist’s friend and one of a very small cadre of music executives who were trusted by recording artists in developing and encouraging creativity, and who put credence into risk-taking. Ostin signed the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Sex Pistols, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. He was at Warner Bros. Records for 32 years, 25 of them as chief executive officer. He later signed on to head the music arm of the entertainment conglomerate DreamWorks SKG.
After graduating as an economics major at UCLA, Ostin took a job at Clef Records, which later became Verve. Owned and run by jazz impresario Norman Granz, the artist lineup included jazz greats Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz and Louis Armstrong.
In the late 1950s, Frank Sinatra tried to buy Verve Records. Verve was eventually sold to MGM Records, but Sinatra was so impressed by the company’s artists and management style, when he decided to form his own company in 1960, he hired Ostin to head it.
Reprise faltered despite good work, possibly due to Sinatra’s edict that the label was not to sign rock and roll acts. Reprise was sold to Warner Bros. Records in 1963. Ostin knew he had to jump on the rock revolution. His first significant rock signing was the Kinks. The group promptly had six top 40 U.S. singles by the end of 1965. Ostin learned to trust his instincts, which led to him signing artists such as Jimi Hendrix.
After seven years heading Warner’s Reprise division, Ostin was named president of the combined Warner Bros./Reprise operation. Two years later, he was appointed chairman/CEO, a position he held until December 31, 1994.
By the mid 1970s, the Warner group, including Atlantic and Elektra, was #1 in the record industry. The label kept up with music, moving over the years from pop and rock, to country, dance, punk, R&B, and heavy metal.
In Ostin’s time, many notable acts were signed by Warner Bros. or it’s affiliated labels, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Black Sabbath, Fleetwood Mac, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead, Paul Simon, the Beach Boys, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, The Who, Emmylou Harris, Madonna, Prince, Talking Heads, U2, Bob Marley, Eagles, John Lennon, Dire Straits, Steely Dan, ZZ Top, Rod Stewart, George Benson, Van Halen, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Quincy Jones, REM, Green Day and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Influential comedians Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin were also signed.
Ostin also signed label deals with such record companies as Chrysalis, Capricorn, Island, Sire, Geffen, Giant, Tommy Boy and Sire, to name a few.
On October 5, 1995, Ostin, along with former president of Warner Bros. Records Lenny Waronker, and former senior vice president of Artists and Repertoire at Warner Bros. and Ostin’s son, Michael Ostin, signed on as the new management team for DreamWorks SKG Records. During that time, Ostin signed such artists as Nelly Furtado, Papa Roach, Rufus Wainwright, Elliott Smith, The All-American Rejects, The Isley Brothers, Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Eat World, Toby Keith, Lifehouse and comedians Chris Rock and Jimmy Fallon.
In 2003, Ostin was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
At the 2006 Grammys, Ostin received the Icon Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Mo Ostin is currently Chairman Emeritus of Warner Bros. Records and a consultant.