Ariola was founded in 1958 as the recorded music subsidiary for major German publishing house Bertelsmann. The label started as a very conservative outlet for traditional German folk music and schlager, directed only at the domestic market. In the mid-1960s, Ariola released a bunch of Beat singles and albums (The Rattles, Star-Club), which marked the start of the label's international expansion, although German language acts were still its main focus.
From the late 1960s on, Ariola became the exlusive German distributor for most of the world's dominant record labels, including 20th Century Fox, A&M Records, Arista, Chrysalis, Gordy, Island, Kapp, Melodija, Musicor, Pye Records, RCA-Victor, United Artists and Virgin Records. Ariola started international subsidiaries in Spain and the Netherlands (1970), France (1973), United Kingdom (1977) and other markets. Ariola America was founded in 1975 in Los Angeles, with its own roster of artists and a focus on Latin music.
Further expansion of the Bertelsmann/Ariola empire led to the acquisition of Arista Records in 1979, German competitor Hansa Records that same year, and RCA Records in 1983. When Sony and Bertelsmann combined their music units in 2003, Ariola became part of the Sony BMG joint venture. Since Sony bought out Bertelsmann in 2008, Ariola is part of Sony Music Entertainment.