The main problem with starting new businesses…

…is getting all the ducks in a row. The early recording business proved no different.

Emile Berliner decided to set up his European disc pressing factory in Germany rather than England in 1898. In doing so he created the German Gramophone Company – aka Deutsche Grammophon (DG).

Berliner’s European operations were therefore split in two. DG was to manufacture the discs in Hanover. The Gramophone Company (of England)‘s role was to find the artists, make the recordings and sell the resultant discs.

Whilst Fred Gaisberg set up the Maiden Lane recording studio in Covent Garden, London, his old friend from America, Joe Sanders, was establishing the disc factory in Hanover. Fred’s task was perhaps the simpler of the two and he quickly set up the studio and created a backlog of recordings that needed pressing as discs. Sanders struggled to provide a manufacturing solution as quickly. He was dependent upon the pressing machines being first made and then delivered from America. They proved slow in arriving.

In the meantime the company sold the 150,000 records that they had imported from the States. These were quickly running out. The gramophone was already proving a huge success in Europe. Generating sales was not turning out to be the problem for the new business, but they were finding it difficult to make enough discs to meet the new demand. Alfred Clark who ultimately became Managing Director remembers the early days of the business in a later article for Gramophone Magazine (here) and recalls that “from its earliest days the company made large profits”. By Xmas of its first year of business The Gramophone company had established a distribution network of more than 600 shops selling gramophones and discs, including the oldest record shop in the world; Spillers Records of Cardiff.

Joe Sanders received his manufacturing presses in the autumn of 1898 but the factory that was being built in Hanover to house them was not ready. To meet the demand for discs in the run up to Christmas of that year he erected a huge tent next door to where the manufacturing plant was being built and produced the entire European supply of discs from under a big top. Even with such constraints he was able to deliver discs within a month of the recordings being sent from London which is a quite remarkable achievement. The proper factory was completed in 1899 and you can see the presses in action within it, here:

How Deutsche Gramophone was born

We saw how Trevor Williams and William Barry Owen set up The Gramophone Company in England in 1897-8 to exploit Emile Berliner’s new gramophone technology by finding & recording artists and marketing and selling their records – as well as selling the gramophones to play them on.

Under their deal with Berliner, Williams and Owen agreed that gramophones were to be manufactured in the US and then shipped to The Gramophone Company for European distribution. Their first order was for 3,000 machines, which they would sell for £10 (equivalent of circa £910 buying power today).

The Gramophone Company’s first stock of records also came from the States. The initial order was for 150,000 American manufactured discs. Berliner and the European management decided that a European disc manufacturing facility would be needed quickly because the boat from USA was not only too expensive but too slow for the new enterprise.

Berliner decided to set up a separate company to manufacture the European discs. His brother Joseph offered to invest in the enterprise on the proviso that the pressing plant be located in Hanover, Germany, where he lived. Berliner, who was apparently wary of British Trades Unionism, agreed to the plan in 1898. The new company was called The German Gramophone Company – or, in German, Deutsche Grammophon. It would go on to become one of the greatest record companies of all time and remains today a separate label functioning within the Universal Music empire.

Berliner sent over one of his American team, his nephew Joe Sanders, to set up the plant. He’s standing second from the right in this picture of Berliner’s early US team. Berliner is seated front left.

Setting up a record company #2 Finding the right artists

This week we plan to tell the story of how Emile Berliner and Fred Gaisberg set up their record company in America. Seven blog entries on seven days. This is day #2.
Its 1893.Fred Gaisberg has joined Emile Berliner in his attempt to bring his new invention, the gramophone, to the market. It meant Fred leaving behind the Columbia Phonograph Company of Thomas Edison and working from Berliner’s lab at 1410 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

Berliner's team at The United States Gramophone Company, front from left Berliner, Werner Suess. Back from left Gaisberg, William Sinkler Darby, Gloetzner, Joe Sanders, Zip Sanders.

This is a photograph of the early team who nurtured the gramophone project. Fred recalls the very early days when the team was just three people:

“Berliner did the recording, I scouted for artists, played the accompaniments, and washed up the acid tanks. Berliner’s nephew, Joe Sanders, made the matrices and pressed the samples.”

His artist’s were very varied and were selected to show off the potential of the new recording system. The first five were:
1) Billy Golden, who had introduced Gaisberg to Berliner. He sang “Turkey in de Straw”, a famous “negro” song.

2) O’Farrell an Irish comedian who recorded “Down Went Mcginty to the Bottom of the Sea.”
3) George W Graham who was a member of Indian Medicine Troupe who sold quack medicines at street corners and entertained the crowds accompanied by John O’Terrell on banjo. George recorded “his famous talk on ‘Liver Cure'”
4) Donovan, a train announcer, who recodrded nursery rhymes
5) Emile Berliner singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

No classical artists at this point, but from this initial selection of five recordings sprang the great recording catalogues of today.