Fred Gaisberg’s progress

Imagine a world where nothing yet has been recorded. 

Almost nobody on the planet has heard sound played back to them. Radio doesn’t exist. Music is played live and exists only for as long as the notes hang in the air.

And imagine then that somebody has developed a technology for recording sound and you have been given the task to go out and make recordings. To gather sounds from the air! Where do you start? What do you record? How do you make a living from it?

Fred Gaisberg is not so well remembered these days but he was the man whose task and privilege it was to be the first to go out and record the world. He was an early employee of Emile Berliner (as the German perfected the recording technology in America) and then he moved to England at the end of the 19th Century and came on board The Gramophone Company (precursor to EMI) as employee number four or five.

Fred was from a musical background and his strength was to spot talent and persuade the musicians to make recordings for his fledgeling company. He was the world’s first A&R man; in fact he invented the role. He set off on lengthy trips to the far corners of the earth to collect and bring back the treasures of the world’s music for all to hear.  

Gaisberg wrote a series of diaries that traced his adventures and we plan to use these writings as a way of highlighting some of the great early recordings that he made and the lengths to which Fred and his colleagues would have to go to obtain them from artists and people suspicious of the new technology.

Early memories of singing for John Sousa

1889 – Gaisberg gets his first job; helping Thomas Edison set up what would become Columbia Records.

1893 – Fred meets Emile Berliner and sees his first disc

1893 – Fred joins Berliner in his gramophone venture

1894-5 Gaisberg helps raise finance to develop the gramophone and en route is turned down by Alexander Graham Bell and FAO Schwarz

1895 – Fred Gaisberg witnesses the birth of Shellac Records

1895 – Gaisberg meets Eldridge Johnson & introduces him to Berliner. J&B later form Victor.

1895 – Fred gets his brother Will a job with Berliner, but the Gaisberg’s father turns it down. Enter stage right Mr William Sinkler Darby who takes the job instead.

1896 – FG moves to Philadelpia with Alfred Clark to set up a permanent recording studio and the first gramophone shop.

1898 – Gaisberg comes over to the UK to set up the country’s first recording studios at Maiden Lane

1899 – A drink or two always seems to help

1900 – April 1st Fred Gaisberg in Russia

1900 – April 8th in Russia:Princesses, The Boer War, the beautiful Radina and the Czar!

1900 – April 9th to 16th: The Tanieffs in St Petersburg and Czar spotting in Moscow

1900 – April 17th to 30th: Warsaw (where the ceiling falls in), Berlin (where a Lady appears) and London (where he falls off a bike)

1902 – April 11th Gaisberg records Caruso in a hotel room in Milan

1902 – Recording more opera the perfumed Pol Plancon

1912 – How not to record the Great Paderewski, Poland’s future Prime Minister and all round superstar


2 thoughts on “Fred Gaisberg’s progress

  1. Fred Gaisberg’s book, Music on Record published by Robert Hale in 1946 is a mine of information about the his many years of recording. It contains most interesting information about the classical artists he recorded and is illustrated with many photographs of them.

    The book was published in America under the title The Music Goes Round,

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