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The Entertainment Empire

The Origin of the "His Master's Voice" Logo
Recording Artist

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"It will take twenty five years yet to perfect the talking machine. What the future holds in store can only be imagined by those who are learned in this new art. It will play as important a part in future educational matters as has the printing press in the past."

-Eldridge R. Johnson


The Victor Talking Machine Company was founded in October, 1901. Within a few short years, it would establish itself as one of the premier companies in the world-wide music industry. Johnson, ever an innovator, busied himself with the task of improving every aspect of the Talking Machine. With the help of Alfred Clark, who would become a life-long associate, he developed a new sound box that greatly improved its tonal quality. He then turned his attention toward improving the system of disc record reproduction.
Johnson developed a process that allowed for the manufacture of multiple metal record "stampers" from a master. When one "stamper" wore out, a new one could be pressed. Infinite numbers of records could now be produced. The process allowed the company to develop a new marketing philosophy. The first Victor catalogs featured mainly marches, recitations, and comedic songs, very few by established artists. While the public was initially fascinated by the reproduction of any kind of song or sound, the novelty would not last forever

Johnson, and General Manager Leon Douglass, were quick to realize this. They envisioned the Victor Talking Machine bringing high culture into the homes of the average American. The technology, thanks in great part to Johnson's improvements, was now available. To succeed, however, they needed to secure a new catalog of recording artists.

In 1902, Gramophone Company recording expert Fred Gaisberg went to Italy in search of a young Tenor who was taking European Opera audiences by storm. 28-year old Enrico Caruso so impressed the engineer that he immediately secured a contract with the singer. There, at the La Scala Opera House in Milan, Caruso immortalized his voice on what are now considered by many to be the most important recording sessions of all time.

Caruso's recordings were so powerful that they secured him a debut at the Metropolitan Opera of New York the very next year. A young and rising star, he symbolized the dawn of a new era for the "great" artists. Established performers who associated the talking machine with poor quality renditions of bawdy saloon songs, indecipherable recitations, or scratchy recordings of military marches, now were able to hear what the world's greatest recording experts were capable of.

Caruso simultaneously captured the ears of the public, and vaulted his own status to that of an international super star. Many of his contemporaries would soon follow suit. The Victor company would put as much effort into signing the world's greatest artists as it did into its product development.

Victor set up its first recording studio on March 26, 1903, in New York City's famous Carnegie Hall. The strategic proximity to the greatest operatic performers in the city soon paid off, as Victor quickly began to build its classical catalog under the Red Seal Record label, which was reserved for its finest artists. Victor shared cross-licensing rights with the Gramophone Company, and recording experts on both shores were able to secure recordings from the world's most notable artists, to their mutual benefit.

Thanks to Johnson's 3 part process, infinite numbers of best-selling records were available to the eager public. The rise in sales freed up more money for artist contracts, and the first "royalty" agreements were made.

Increasing salaries, and the introduction of royalties, influenced more artists to join the recording revolution. The magic that had fascinated the public now entranced some of the world's greatest artists. The recording race was on.

 

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