Motown is a record label originally founded by Berry Gordy, Jr. and incorporated as Motown Record Corporation in Detroit, Michigan, United States, on April 14, 1960. The name, a portmanteau of motor and town, is also a nickname for Detroit. Now headquartered in New York City, Motown is a subsidiary of The Island Def Jam Motown Music Group, itself a subsidiary of the French-owned Vivendi subsidiary, Universal Music Group. Motown Records was also the name of Gordy's second record label; the first, Tamla Records, began on January 12, 1959. Motown played an important role in the racial integration of popular music, by achieving a crossover success. In the 1960s, Motown and its soul-based subsidiaries were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as The Motown Sound, a style of soul music with a distinct pop influence.
Motown specialized in a type of soul music it referred to with the trademark "The Motown Sound". Crafted with an ear towards pop appeal, the Motown Sound typically used: tambourines to accent the back beat; prominent and often melodic electric bass-guitar lines; distinctive melodic and chord structures; and a call-and-response singing style that originated in gospel music. Pop production techniques such as the use of orchestral string sections, charted horn sections, and carefully arranged background vocals were also used. Complex arrangements and elaborate, melismatic vocal riffs were avoided. Motown producers believed steadfastly in the "KISS principle" (keep it simple, stupid).
The Motown production process has been described as factory-like. The Hitsville studios remained open and active 22 hours a day, and artists would often go on tour for weeks, come back to Detroit to record as many songs as possible, and then promptly go on tour again. Berry Gordy held quality control meetings every Friday morning, and used veto power to ensure that only the very best material and performances would be released. The test was that every new release needed to fit into a sequence of the top five selling pop singles of the week. Several tracks which later became critical and commercial favorites were initially rejected by Gordy; the two most notable being the Marvin Gaye songs, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "What's Going On". In several cases, producers would re-work tracks in hopes of eventually getting them approved at a later Friday morning meeting, as producer Norman Whitfield did with "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and The Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg".