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The Early Record Industry in Australia – Part 6

For several years the Australian music industry was dominated by a few players who enjoyed a more or less monopolistic position. In the infant period of the industry Edison Co. dominated the record business with its cylinders and from 1931 on EMI had the monopoly of record distribution in Australia, which was not challenged until the end of World War II. Therefore, the period with a considerable level of competition in the Australian music industry lasted from 1924 to 1931.

 

Apart from the innovative but failed experiments of World Record Company, the market was controlled by Brunswick Records, Vocalian Co., Gramophone Co. and Columbia Graphophone Co. Beside this oligopoly we can find only those importers of cheap records which distributed them through department stores, draperies, petrol station and other non-music retailers. However, these firms were driven out of the market after the duties on imported records were raised in the wake of the Tariff Board Inquiry in 1928. 

Figure 1: Record producers in Australia (1924-1934)

Despite this success the Australian music majors were faced further sales decreases and blamed it on commercial broadcasting. By the early 1930s the increased range and quality of radio broadcasts was stirring concern that music programs on radio were having an adverse effect on the record business. Especially the so-called B-class radio stations, which were wholly depended on advertising income and therefore played popular dance and jazz records, were highly on critique by the record labels and the closely allied music publishers. The main problem addressed by the labels and publishers was that “[t]he public (…) will not buy so long as they can get the items over the air, practically free” (p. 289) as the Sydney Moring Herald quoted a representative of a local record company.[1] In the same article, the record manufacturers announced to boycott radio stations, which broadcast their records without their permission. Since the record companies could only come to an agreement with the A stations, the broadcasting ban was imposed over the B stations in November 1931. However, the record labels had to realize that the ban more severley hurt their economic position than that of the radio stations. After a year of boycott the ban was removed in July 1933, after the B stations had agreed to pay an annual lump sum for the right to broadcast recordings and to make half an hour a week’s special advertising to the records of the labels as well as to announce the make of each record as it was played.

At the end, it turned out that the record companies won a battle but lost the war. Since the radio stations in Australia began to use lacquer discs to pre-record program material, they became independent from on locally-produced records latest in 1934. Hence, the new technology enabled the broadcasters to produce instantaneous recordings without huge investments for pressing plants. In the following, radio stations did not any more promote locally produced records and the record sales slumped to an all time low. The managers of the remaining monopolist EMI were not as farsighted as Pemberton Billing, who tried in his short-lived experiment to use radio as a promotional tool for record sales.

To sum it up, the recession in the Australian music industry started before Great Depression hit the economy on the whole and can be blamed on a lack of competition, a protectionist trade policy, and mainly on the unproductive fight against radio stations. As a result no domestic repertory was produced in country and Australian musicians were forced to start their careers abroad.

 

Laird Ross, 1999, „Sound Beginnings. The early record industry in Australia, Strawberry Hills, NSW: Currency Press. ISBN: 9780868195797

 
 
See also:
The Early Record Industry in Australia – part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5
 
 

[1] Sydney Morning Herald: “Broadcasting – Restriction on records – Manufacturers taking action”, 23 October 1931, p. 9

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